Monday, January 31, 2005

The heart of Saturday night: Banana bread

Strange as this may sound, often the only chance in Cambridge during term to take a quiet night in is Saturday. The hazard of intense seven week terms where the pace is driven by hyperactive undergrads is that you might try and hold out too long against the simple truth that you’re not eighteen any more, and need sleep.

The week was packed with the usual frenzy of events, a formal dinner, guest-lectures, rehearsals and the like. Friday I went to rehearsals and a friend’s PhD-completion drinks over karaoke, my regular pub night or female jazz vocals at St John’s College.

So Saturday, I planned to have in, expecting that after dinner – around eight – there’d be someone around to sip tea with and chat. It was faintly disheartening that the place seemed kinda deserted. Then, at about 9.30, I bumped into one of the Californians in the corridor.

“Hey, I’m glad to find life in our flat!” she chirped. “Do you have eggs, I’m making banana bread.”

After a rather random debate about the time at which bananas should be eaten, I traded my last egg for an anticipatory share of banana bread. (For the record, I think of ‘ripe’ as slightly soft and mushy, the Californian backed eating ‘em while the skin still has a tinge of green. I claimed her concept of ripe left a weird texture and aftertaste in my mouth, her view was that I left them until they tasted like floury apples or overcooked potato. Who knew?)

I made tea while the Californian went off to barter for more eggs. By eleven, we had banana bread and six around the table eating it and sipping tea and complaining about how we were all slowly falling asleep.

When I crawled into bed, I was amazed to discover that midnight had crept up unnoticed.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The loaded gun on the mantelpiece in Act I
(or, “It’s my novel, I’ll change the rules if I want to …” )

So, as Naylor’s Canberra grinds towards a conclusion (sorry, hectic start to term) I realised I left something out. “Wouldn’t it be useful if there was a knife lying around in this present scene?” I asked myself. I answered, oddly enough: “Yes, yes it would.”

The problem being that there isn’t a knife, and it kind of breaks the rules of foreshadowing not to have flagged its presence earlier. The simple solution is that this is a draft novel, dammit, and I can go back and stick stuff in if I want.

The problem being, of course, that most people won’t know I’ve altered an earlier post. So, I present without further ado, the cheese knife which now resides in an earlier Naylor post:
On the coffee-table next to her Marina had laid out an improvised cheese platter on a deeply gouged chopping board. She had the dinner-party trifecta of a wedge of soft white cheese (probably King Island brie), a small blue-veined wheel and a stolid yellow block of extra-mature cheddar. They were presented in a workmanlike fashion on the scarred board, crackers on the side, and one had the inelegant choice of a table or carving knife to hew oneself a piece.

Realising I was hungry, I took the smaller knife and a piece of the soft cheese. Camembert, but I was still silently backing Tasmanian origins. By the time I swallowed the silence had grown uncomfortable.

“Marina,” I prompted.

Happy? Now read on.

PS Thanks everyone for comments: I hear the constructive criticism that it's getting a tad exposition heavy. A first-draft hazard, but I'll try and tone it down from here to the ending.

An overdue shout-out, while I'm about it, to quantum meruit for his helping me fudge my way through the insurance and bankruptcy law details of Elliot's back-story.

PPS The new dose of Naylor is up, but unfortunately the exposition is still a bit clunking - hopefully a little more situation-driven than before.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The trusted beast, this time last year Posted by Hello
Reprieve from the knacker’s yard

I’ve developed an affection for my bicycle, not enough to treat it well, you understand, but we’ve had our share of adventures together since I arrived in the UK.

Even though I only bought it expecting it to last a year, it was thus still pretty peeving when the chain kept jumping right off whenever I cycled up (or, occasionally, down) a hill.

The first bike shop I took it to said the gear teeth were wearing out all over, that it wasn’t worth fixing, but if I chose to it’d be sixty to seventy quid.


After another bad chain-jumping experience (the rear mud-guard and shopping basket have been falling off too) I ditched it in a college bike shed and went looking at second hand bikes.

The most fun of my bikeless period was being caught in a snow flurry (it seemed like a storm to me, but the Canadians and Swiss here said it was hardly worth mentioning) while making the 30 minute walk to the law faculty. The novelty of arriving in an ice-encrusted overcoat, or watching snow settle in strangers’ honey-and-caramel hair (I will never understand the lightweight clothes and beanie-less heads of English girls in winter) has not entirely worn off.

I also had some adventures borrowing the downstairs neighbour’s bike to go return some library books and go for one of my slightly-less-intimidating-now-thanks conversations with my supervisor (aka “god”). I’d not been warned about the bungee cord dangling from the luggage rack, which swiftly entangled itself in the gears, getting me as greasy-fingered fixing it as I would have been refitting the chain on my old rattler.

Still, once off an moving, an amazing bike. Sporty, silent, deadly – a shark on two tyres. It could also only have belonged to the downstairs neighbour. I’ve never seen her dress in anything but black, white and silver. The bike, weirdly enough, was black, white and silver.

Collecting the keys from her was another story entirely, involving a plaintive note to would-be bike thieves, which I’ll save for another time.

Anyway, I was finally spared taking my lamed old beast out behind the bikeshed and doing the honourable thing by placing a bullet between the handlebars.

All I can say is, hurrah for an honest bike mechanic and a second opinion. I have now had the pedals’ gear-wheel replaced with a second hand part. This has fixed the chain-jumping problem, though the gears are still a bit dicey. This ten-pound fix has given the trusty old steed an extended lease of life, and the bike guy said he’d give me a trade-in on a new second-hand bike if I wanted to think about that later.

Meantime, it’s so good to have an old friend back, and to be on the road again.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Questionable priorities: kill or cure?

Much as I like to tub-thump occasionally about civil liberties being the first casualty of the war on terror among the western democracies, there are equally disturbing social consequences of defence spending in the ‘new’ security environment. The Guardian writes of the UK that:
Almost a third of all public spending on research is funded by the Ministry of Defence - far more than is spent on research by the National Health Service.
British universities are caught up in a new wave of military partnerships, and young researchers have switched to high-technology weapons-based research in a dangerous atmosphere of commercialisation and secrecy.

The fact that the secretive arms trade remains a principal British export is of real concern, especially given its potential for increasing conflict and instability – in direct opposition to Tony Blair’s ostensible foreign policy priority of acting to prevent grave human rights abuses.

It’s also concerning that more is spent in the UK on weapons research than health. The fact that health and other socially important research should suffer for the sake of government-subsidies to the arms industry is, at best, repugnant.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


For those who might be wondering what's happened to Courting Disaster, other than an extended holiday and jet-lag, I've been putting my energy towards finishing Naylor's Canberra by crime-novel-by-blog (see new year's resolutions, the last two years running).

Another shortish installment is now up at the Naylor's Canberra site, as the story draws closer and closer towards a conclusion.

Finishing a draft novel while jet-lagged may not be the best way forward, but at least I don't feel like I'm wasting time I could usefully be spending on PhD research ...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Why I love my flatmates Posted by Hello

Monday, January 17, 2005

Forever departing

I can't believe I've been home four weeks and blogged so little, and now I'm leaving with so many things I'd like to set down before I head off, and precious little time. Unfortunately, the free web access at Sydney airport is playing up so I'll have to keep it brief.

In contrast to the mad flurry of seeing people and hopping between cities that was September, I kept this trip back to Oz simple. I think it was the best thing - I'd said my goodbyes for the coming three years, and it was great to have the time with family and old school friends.

In some ways, with one term of the PhD under my belt, everyone's support this trip back has strangely meant more than it did only a few months ago. My family in particular, have been lovely.

Still, in some ways the great joy of the trip has been spending blocks of time with the old friends (and my sister!) who know me best. Everyone's lives are at a stage when so many interesting things are happening, and many have been making their first big change in career. I couldn't be happier with the people my friends are becoming - the same people they always were.

Ah, I'm getting sentimental. I'd best leave it there. I think (fingers crossed) I finally have a decent seat for the flight back - but I'm too superstitious to boast about it in advance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Holding formation Naylor

I have half an installment of Naylor's Canberra up for the week, I'll finish the week's installment tonight or tomorrow, promise.

Friday, January 7, 2005

Retroblogging 2004

Lyn is right when she says that 2004 was, for most people we know, a momentous year - one that I think we'll all look back on as a turning point. For me it's seen me cement myself in graduate study (making the transition from Masters to PhD student) and equally make a definate commitment to the academic career-path in law. There's also been the huge psychological reorientation of Cambridge becoming "home", a city I while wind up living longer in than any since I was in Canberra.

Personal top 5

Looking back on 2004, I feel enormously grateful and privileged in a number of things, principally being fortunate enough to find funding both for my LLM and now for my PhD. I l know I'm lucky to have succeeded in both, not in that I got there other than on merit - but there are so many equally qualified people competing for these things that there is always an element of luck in the selection. You have a responsibility, in a weird way, to the ten people who didn't get your place.

I was really priveleged being in the last class of graduate students taught by my theory of international law guru. It's a rare teacher who really changes the contents of your head and inspires you to continue what you're doing.

I also had the good fortune to engage in probably more travel than any point since my childhood. Barcelona and Budapest were the two best weeks of my summer. Seeing Singapore, East Berlin, Dublin, Florence, Milan, Prague, York, Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands was also amazing.

Also, in a year of hard work to get the grades I needed to stay on for the PhD, I don't think I missed out on the Cambridge experience. I debated for the Cambridge Union and got back on stage (I need a public performance outlet in my life, and had forgotten how much I enjoyed being on stage). I went to formal dinners and May Balls. (May week is, of course, approximately two weeks in June. You have not seen opulence until you've seen one of the seriously big May Balls.)

I was enourmously lucky in terms of falling into a set of Cambridge communities. My two different sets of "flatmates" in the 2004 calander year have both been fantastic, vibrant, inclusive, interesting people from a variety of educational and national backgrounds. My "law" community has also been good to me: supportive, collaborative colleagues who are fun to drink with. I am particularly grateful, though, for having been accepted by a small, friendly and old College. It's wonderful to be a part of an institution that's cozy without being snobbish and that has a sense of tradition without being stuffy. It may not be the richest college, or the most architecturally beautiful; but it is renowned as the prettiest, and possibly one of the most welcoming. It's nice to feel part of a supportive local "family". One is certainly somewhat institutionalised living in college accomodation, but it's an institution which (refreshingly, after corporate law) makes no demands of conformity.

Obviously, the support of friends and family back home has been incredibly important in coping with the weird culture-shock of being in a place where you speak the language, but are definately a foreigner (if less foreign than some ... )

Okay, that's six - so shoot me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Resolution (a direly belated entry for blogger idol)

Interesting word resolution, suggesting determination - that you've set your mind on something. So, what am I determined to do this year? I'll content myself with the usual self-obsessed shopping list.

(1) I will finish Naylor's Canberra if it kills me and several innocent bystanders. I will finish it by the end of February, honest. I've been good for the last few weeks. I've managed to post here, here and here and again today.

(2) I will start a new novel - but not start posting on-line until I've gotten enough preparation done. I have three ideas, Naylor's Melbourne, Naylor's Cambridge and a piece of weird-ish semi-Victorian science-fantasy (scattered ideas for which can be found over at the notebook, though the name "Trumpington" has left my thnking - thank goodness).

(3) I will maintain the pace on the PhD. I've had a crackingly productive first term, largely aided by my project growing out of my Masters paper and so not needing to spend the time on background reading and formulating a "proper" topic out of a vague proposal. I've been lucky, but if I can keep the pace I'll have a lot more time to polish the finished product in my third year and can avoid the usual panic.

(4) New hobbies: salsa and wine tasting. I'm determined to learn to dance. Better yet, one of the best salsa classes at uni is on Wednesday night straight after grad hall - this will eliminate after-dinner port and the possibility of having my decidedly rubbery arm twisted into heading up to the college bar for a few pints after that.

Thus exercise, a new skill and a decent night's sleep and productive Thursday can replace overindulgence and a somewhat seedy and slothful Thursday. Taking up wine-tasting on Sunday afternoons, of course, could undo that good work, but it's a pleasant way to learn more about something I already find quite pleasant.

(5) I will travel. Especially to see friends from my Masters year in Europe.

(6) I will get down to London more often and keep in touch with London friends, especially the rapidly increasing contingent of ANU lawyers I know who've moved to London in the last year.

(7) I will try not to grow too obsessive about any of my projects. The great benefit of being a student again is the freedom to pace yourself, follow your interests and maintain a work-life balance.

(8) I will work on finding my supervisor a little less intimidating.

(9) I will set up a discussion group/dinner party with some on the new Master's students on legal theory. Intensely geeky, but a nice way to work while socializing - and good preparation for giving supervisions to undergraduates next year.

(10) I will remember that while a student, I am scarcely impoverished: others are worse off and I need to resume charitable giving.

Other eye-catching resolutions (will be added to over the day):