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20 February 2019 @ 06:47 pm
In three and a half weeks I am going on holiday. I am ridiculously excited about this, of course. The day begins with checking the weather. I check webcams regularly while at work. I Google images of random mountains. My latest discovery is the website Bratte områder Norge*, which tells you how steep a mountainside is, and by implication its avalanche potential. I gaze at it like an archetypal 60s teenager and a poster of their pop idol. I order new clothes on the grounds that this is reasonable given the fact that it is 16 years since I first went skiing, and the things I bought then are getting a bit past it - namely my jacket has lost its waterproofing, my fleece doesn't fit under my lighter weight jacket, and my gaiters got been left behind at a hotel somewhere.

I am also supposed to be improving my fitness. Unfortunately, as I have a slight bug of the sort that isn't serious, but I don't want to encourage, I am avoiding the exercise bike and anything that might strain me much. Aha! I thought. I shall do strength exercises. Which is why yesterday I apparently did far too many squats, and my thighs are absolutely killing me. Forget about the cold hillside, I can scarcely walk downstairs!

*Norway: the steep bits.

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12 February 2019 @ 05:41 pm
My parents are due to arrive on Thursday. Naturally I have thus spent a substantial proportion of the non-work element of the past couple of days cleaning and tidying. What I resent about this is that it isn't like my parents' current state of impressively spick and span was the norm when I was living at home! We were reasonably clean and tidy in the way that I am reasonably clean and tidy, and yet when they visit now I feel I must be in a state of perfect cleanliness, and that tidiness that can be achieved by shoving everything in drawers... Though I did have a useful hour at the weekend reducing two boxes of collage fodder/memento papers to one, thus allowing me to put emergency Brexit pasta supplies in the other. I have almost reached the point of thinking it is time to buy the tinned fish. Almost. Honestly, I think that one might just go by. Instead I am doing what is surely the archetypal middle-class Brexit panic and buying extra olive oil, and discount Green & Blacks. I am on holiday for a week in mid-March*, I can't leave it to chance!

On the plus side I have got to do this to the Alpine skiing world championships, which saw that very rare phenomenon in sports: two great competitors get to go out on a high with a medal, and yet not too early either. It is impossible not to like Aksel Lund Svindal. Lindsay Vonn I have to admit I find rather harder to appreciate - among other things, she has had times of being an obviously bad loser, which is never attractive in a person who wins a great deal - but she deserves significant credit for being prepared to say frankly she would refuse an invitation to the Trump White House prior to the Olympics, and dealing with the inevitable large amount of flak for it. And her talent and skill speaks for itself.

So, farewell runs to both.

*And checking the webcam obsessively, of course.

ETA: Tidying the bedside/medicine cabinet. I'm definitely not going to need to stockpile medicine, I seem to have a habit of making sure I have a fresh packet of paracetamol/plasters every time I go on holiday...

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10 February 2019 @ 09:44 pm
I have spent much of today (once I recovered from some annoying dizziness in the morning, thank you ridiculous skull), framing a print* that I bought in December. Since going to get it framed felt like too much like hard work and also, like everything in Oxford, promised to be expensive, I bought a cheap frame that included a mount of the wrong size, and decided I could cut the mount down. Which I could, except even with the right tool, which I have**, hand cutting a mount is a pain in the neck and not something I'm great at. With measuring, cutting the mount, cleaning the glass, and assembling the damn thing it all seemed to take much of the day. I did get it done in the end though, and managed to move things round without needing to put up more picture hooks.

This rather trying experience, a recent one of my Mum's concerning a print she made in a class in the autumn, and the fact that I would like to get back into doing some visual art, caused me to reflect on the words of an artist from whom my parents bought a lino print a few years ago. Namely that everything he did for sale, he made of a size to work with a standard Ikea frame frame and mount.

I will definitely be following this example in future!

*It manages to be an oddly accurate representation of my sisters and me, if you are generous in the length of my hair. OK, about 15-20 years ago, peak Regency nightdress fashion :-)

**Well, technically it is my sister's, but it's in my house.

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06 February 2019 @ 02:28 pm
This train of thought is brought to you by the black swans Aragorn spots flying across Anduin, and the black-feathered orc arrows mentioned early in The Two Towers.

Thought one: what are black swans doing in the service of Sauron*? Are they a sign that the Numenoreans discovered the Middle Earth equivalent of Australia and brought back ornamental birds? Is Aragorn's ornithology or eyesight lacking here, or is he indeed being metaphorical and they are not black swans at all, he is remarking on an impossibility? Or just as the Company are mistaken about the eagle-that-wasn't-evil, are the swans not evil at all, but fleeing the bondage of Sauron?

Thought two: if Mordor-Orcs have black-feathered arrows, where are they getting the feathers from? Are they dyed? It's possible. Unlike the black horses, stolen from Rohan, it is probably easier to dye a vat of feathers than a horse, and it hardly seems beyond Sauron's technological powers. We know that the Nazgul's cloaks remain a sinister black despite a journey to Eriador that has left Boromir's rich clothing travel-stained.** But you still need to acquire the feathers.

According to the internet (and the people who wrote the books that get referenced on the internet), goose feathers were used for arrows in Medieval Europe, and in staggering numbers:

Arrows were fletched with goose feathers, which were collected from the peasantry as a form of tax. In 1418-9 Henry V ordered his sheriffs (the royal officials in each county) to collect a total of 1.19 million goose feathers over the course of 10 months, to be delivered to the Tower of London by Michaelmas (on Sept. 29). A similar though smaller order, two years earlier, specified that six feathers should be taken from each goose. (Source.)

That's a lot of goose feathers.

So where is Sauron getting his feathers from? There is no mention of terrible depredations of poultry sheds throughout Wilderland or Ithilien. Is he taking them as tribute from the lands further east? And what of the orcs of the Misty Mountains? Is there a thriving trade (through intermediaries, perhaps) between Moria and the little-known poultry sheds of the Sea of Rhún? And are they goose feathers at all, since other birds can be used, and Sauron is cutting out the dye manufacturers by using black swans?

Which brings me to the Sea of Núrnen and its surrounding slave-tilled fields that feed the armies of Mordor. We're told that it's a "bitter inland sea", so possibly its tributaries rather than it are used for irrigation. In which case, why not use the lake for other things? In short I vote for giant goose (or possibly swan) farms. The resultant guano-based fertiliser can explain the famous stench of the Mordor air.

*And has anyone ever written the Dr Doolittle crossover? What with bird spies who must be given instructions and have their reports understood, and their impressive achievements in training wolves as riding animals, I feel that some at least of the servants of Sauron might have a new Fourth Age career in the entertainment and industrial espionage industries.

**Speaking of which, if Boromir got off on the wrong foot with the Council of Elrond at times, maybe it would have helped if, having turned up at dawn with news of a prophecy, they had put it off for 24 hours to allow him time for a good night's rest and a change of clothes. Especially since they spend the next two months hanging around there.

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03 February 2019 @ 10:55 am
French-Quebecois musical Notre-Dame de Paris made a flying visit to London last week, and [personal profile] antisoppist and I went to see it. I was a bit anxious in advance as to whether I would actually enjoy it as it sounded completely bonkers, but although it is indeed completely bonkers it was also thoroughly enjoyable, and very French*. You can tell it's French because it begins with a treatise on how this is the age of cathedrals, and also because the music just has that faint air of Eurovision, and because you wouldn't get a British show like it in a million years. It's not just the acrobats, or the way that it doesn't really care that much about the show as characters/plot very much (especially plot), but rather of Notre-Dame/Paris the community, or the way that people sing their soliloquies to a background of dancers expressing the singer's inner torment (some of them wearing very little), and that all the male characters except Clopin are basically terrible,** even Quasimodo at times, it's all of it together and somehow it works.

To be honest, [personal profile] skygiants sums it up better than I could:

Notre-Dame de Paris the musical does not care about plot. Notre-Dame de Paris the musical cares about FEELINGS and DIGRESSIONS. Gringoire and Frollo singing philosophically about architecture and the printing press gets four and a half minutes; the trial of Esmeralda takes ninety seconds.

It's actually the second musical adaptation of the same story that I have seen. The first was the American/German musical based on the Disney film, which I saw 2 years ago in Berlin. It's more batshit but I think also better. They are extremely different, this one being infinitely more batshit, but - and I say this as someone who hasn't read the book - I wonder if it isn't a more faithful adaptation of the story. Though the other version definitely has the winning song.

It is weird, it is French, it is immensely entertaining, I am very glad to have seen it, I'm not sure that I would need to see it again, and it made me want to read the book. Recommended.

Have the trailer:

And the best Hunchback song, the original Hellfire:

*As was the audience. They probably brought some new blood to a non-English language musical, but mostly they brought lots of people delighted to get have their favourite show accessible to them. Which is also excellent from my POV because I suspect that the powers that be in musical theatre funding are more likely to do short runs to be attended by everyone French/German/Russian in the area than to do a new production.

**Though even so not as terrible as in the book, in which, Wikipedia tells, me, Gringoire does not save the life of Esmeralda, but does save her pet goat, which he likes more than he does her. The mind boggles.

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28 January 2019 @ 09:03 pm
Realising that you have been inconsistent in your use of the second person pronoun in an annoying way.

Also, what on earth am I going to call it? Tennyson would work, but is unsuitable. Suspect I shall fall back on some sort of 'extract from the Tale of Years' theme. Of the need for a summary, I shall not speak.

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Some years ago, in a minibus on the Gudbrandsdal, I spotted a memorial to what appeared to be some random Scottish solders. And later I looked it up and it turned out to be the Battle of Kringen in which some Norwegian farmers attacked, captured, and subsequently slaughtered 300 Scottish mercenaries en route to Sweden. This did not cause a diplomatic incident on account of King James VI/I being unimpressed that they were there at all, on account of how he was supposed to be allied to Sweden's enemy, Denmark. The National Archives have more of that.

Anyway, I looked it up again the other day as I am heading to that part of the world again in March and discovered there was a ballad, and coincidentally it got mentioned on fail_fandomanon and I thought I should listen, and I did and it is brilliant.

(1) In a dialect called Gøtedansk, AKA Faroese Danish with the consonants reinserted and thus more comprehensible.

(2) The metal version. Actually less metal than the previous one. This band are also Faroese. Clearly the Faroes like their ballads of slaughter, I can't complain.

There is also the community hall version - impressive knowledge of the lyrics, and the usual unimpressed teenagers. Or with female voice in Norwegian this time. Oh wait! Female voice with jazz accompaniment. Like you do.

Lyrics in Norwegian and English here and more modern here.

TL:DR Never go up against a bunch of Norwegian peasant farmers when death is on the line!

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16 January 2019 @ 09:56 pm
[This post was going to be a post about my triumph at having sorted out VPN so I can watch the skiing on Sunday, with a short additional note on Brexit. It has not ended up this way. We begin at paragraph not-originally-one.]

I ought to be writing a post about Brexit, but honestly I am so furious about so many things that I scarcely know where to start. I was never going to be happy at the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, but I might have been reconciled to it by a responsible government that took a cross-party approach and negotiated with parliament and the EU alike in a good faith manner in the actual interests of the country and maintaining strong relationships with trading partners and allies. Instead we get Jacob Rees Mogg and David Davis drinking champagne, while May refuses to say that she won't go for no deal. Theresa May is utterly mad, and only one question remains: since a no deal exit would utterly destroy the Conservative Party, about which Brexit has always really been, why is this apparently a price worth paying for Brexit? And the answer* appears to be "because it keeps the Tories superficially together for just a little bit longer." Because Brexit is, and always has been, not a national affair but one of internal Conservative party politics, the latest manifestation of a long line of failures to contain the Eurosceptics. There is no deal for exactly the same reason that Cameron promised a referendum.

For May herself, I think that her total inability to ever admit she is wrong, or change her mind, is a powerful factor. "Brexit means Brexit", she says, continuing to fail to define the undefinable. Meanwhile the rest of us watch someone trying to do the same thing again and again expecting different results. There are no different results, not if you keep bringing back the same crap and going "What about this time? Do you like it this time? I made you wait a month, so you like it now?" May will not be prepared to budge on anything that might make the Tory Remainers or the opposition parties vote for it, even though that has been the obvious way to get a bill through the Commons for 18 months. She has to gain 116 extra votes without losing any (or at least gain one extra for each lost), and she has no strategy to do it because she is fundamentally incapable of compromise, as demonstrated by the fact that even though at this point a customs union might well fly, she has preemptively ruled out discussing it. The red lines** are apparently immovable. Apparently, the Brexiters would vote for her deal if she got rid of the Irish border backstop: except that the EU will of course refuse that, as has always been obvious, on account of their (1) supporting their continuing member, Ireland, and (2) having a slightly greater aversion to re-starting a civil war than the Conservative MPs apparently did***. The ERG will not budge on anything short of no deal, and even then they'll say you did it wrong because you can never appease a bunch of people who will only be satisfied with (1) making money for themselves and their mates out of chaos, and (2) bombing Brussels with a Lancaster pulling a banner reading "Up yours Delors!" And meanwhile they lie, lie, lie about the sunny uplands full of unicorn farms.

May's goal, I assume, is to preserve herself in power, the Tories in government as a single party in name however divided in practice, and to "Deliver Brexit." Every hour she achieves remaining witlessly in charge of the sinking ship is a success equal to actually patching the hole, because success is measured simply by the fact of having that power even if you can't exercise it. But ultimately she will fall, and she doesn't care that in doing this she is liable to pull down herself, the country, and the bloody Tories with her. No one votes for the party that leaves them without food on the supermarket shelves. No one.

I mean, it isn't everyday I find myself 100% in agreement with the head of the British Chamber of Commerce, but when he says "There are no more words to describe the frustration, impatience and growing anger among business after two and a half years on a high-stakes political roller coaster ride that shows no sign of stopping" I am absolutely with him.

And so, I bring you my solution: the PM will not resign. The Tories will not (yet?) force her out. Therefore we need something that would really shame the Tory donors into action: Theresa May/Boris Johnson/Jacob Rees Mogg deepfake porn. Normally I would be strongly against such things, but in a time of crisis all things must be considered.

*Well, one of them. The other is that people want to make money out of it and this is their vehicle.

**Surely a deliberate reference to the language of empire, mired as the whole project is in such poisonous nostalgia.

*** You would think that having your conference hotel bombed and the then PM nearly assassinated would help MPs to grasp that the Good Friday Agreement is a necessary thing to preserve, but apparently not. I suppose they don't take public transport and thus do not measure civil safety through the presence or otherwise of bins in railway stations, which inconveniences even the people not getting shot.

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14 January 2019 @ 06:59 pm
It turns out that Canadian snowshoe hares* are in fact not vegetarian, but cannibalistic meat-eaters.

National Geographic has the shocking expose.

*For Julian May readers, these are the ones that Teresa makes a blanket out of in Jack the Bodiless.

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28 December 2018 @ 05:52 pm
They haven't read/watched The Day of the Triffids. Seriously, I know that I am not alone in that if a mysterious blue/green flash in the sky were to occur the last thing I would do would be run out to look at it and take a photo. I thought everyone knew that the result of that was that the next day you woke up blind and hunted by carnivorous alien plants.

It has been confirmed that it is not triffids, the following video is therefore confirmed safe to watch. Probably.

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