he’s got a string of us, in case he ever needs new kidneys

Last proper seminar of the first year on Friday morning; then Dad arrived and I loaded up far too much computer hardware and not nearly enough clothing into the new car (same basic model as the one we totalled in Wales), and he dropped me and my laptop and pyjamas off in Oxford on his way home for a weekend of orchestral things. It had been far too long since I’d seen Eli, and about the right amount of time since I’d seen Oxford. It’s a wonderful place to have a wander, even with tiny pavements and far too many people about.

Tom arrived on Saturday and we had milkshakes that were basically cakes you should drink through a straw, then the literary festival! We got directed by an extremely drunk-seeming Christchurch porter through an absolute maze of white marquee passages, and eventually (a bit too late to sit in the front row; likely a good thing as they’d have probably found my grin deeply unnerving) came across the correct lecture theatre. The Talented Mr Reeve and The Talented Geraldine McCaughrean (whose books I haven’t read but really must, though there’s an intimidating number of them!) then read extracts from The Death-Defying Pepper Roux and A Web of Air, and interesting stuff happened.

There was as usual (he says, with the exaggerated weariness of someone who’s seen, what, half a dozen of these things at most?) an interviewer/prompter chap with a checklist of topics to raise and a worryingly keen smile. I find these people quite annoying, but I guess not everyone can be as amazingly self-possessed as Eoin Colfer (who was apparently a stand up comedian in a previous life); brilliant authors seem to tend to be modest types who aren’t really ones to stand up and just talk about themselves. The fellow admittedly wasn’t bad; a bit overenthusiastic, but he is a children’s librarian and his job is to get the youth of today excited about books. His patter is, while hardly persuasive for jaded and mercurial students like me, likely rather better for folks in their early teens (though as I recall I was a right cynical little bastard at that sort of age and wouldn’t have been swayed by it then either). But he drew out lots of interesting points and funny anecdotes, and Reeve and McCaughrean played off each other very well (apparently being a longstanding Double Feature in the world of classy children’s literature), and it was all very “good talk a++ would oxford again”. Bought copies (at full absurd high street price for a hardback – yipes, internet has spoiled me – but worth it) of A Web of Air for people and generally basked in authorial wit and cleverness. Carnegie winners (in my limited experience; met 3 so far) are really rather amazing people. Wondering if in emergencies they can pull out their Carnegie medals and combine their power to form a giant robot powered by words.

Tom, Eli and I loitered after the book signing, and on the way out, with the CILIP Rangers and some of Geraldine’s own groupies, we all got slightly lost in the maze of Christchurch and nattered:
Philip: Well, I grew up reading [Geraldine’s] books, I thought she was wonderful long before I was published…
Geraldine: Oh, get away with you, embarrassment, etc.
Me: Well, I grew up reading his books, so if you want the same embarrassment visited upon him…
Geraldine: Hm, so I’m sort of your literary grandmother?

Then we went to a coffee shop and had tea and small pastry things that Philip bought us, and Tom and I showed off sketches of rifles/Stalker armour/land ironclads and wondered about making a Green Storm propaganda film as a summer project; then Tom and Eli disappeared to buy ingredients for the Lasagne of Eternity.

The Talented Mr Reeve and I wandered round Oxford looking for a food place and found an Italian restaurant (my first restauranty meal in… er… I don’t even remember) and talked about books and films and his soon-to-be-published stories and my never-going-to-be-finished stories and the internet and Early Modern Europe and the future of TV and the disenfranchised youth of today. I think I managed to avoid being too enthusiastically groupie-weird (though describing 4chan and having my phone shout “MAGGOTS!” may not have helped…). I won’t flatter myself (this time) by saying he’s how I see myself in twentysomething years, (well, if family genes have anything to do with it, I’m guaranteed to be rather tubbier and much balder at least…) but he’s absolutely what I hope to be like. Though I should really start coming up with an actual plan for Life sometime soon.

Then I stomped back to Chez Eli and we spent the rest of the weekend eating The Lasagne of Eternity, watching Moon, Babel, The Pacific and Generation Kill, reading 4chan and fighter-pilot anecdotes and godawful purple prose off the internet, and on Sunday afternoon Tom and I paid our respects, hopped aboard coach and train respectively, and rolled home.

brain full of nomads

Phone found, no stress. Packing up my room for hometimes, including my desktop… exciting Easter ahead.

Anyway. My weekend. I’m going to Oxford with Tom to stay with Eli and see Philip Reeve doing a talk about Books with Geraldine McCaughrean. I’ll be buying tasty copies of A Web of Air and (assuming he hasn’t died of flu) getting The Great Man to sign them; if any of you maggots want such a thing, say and we can sort out money sometime – James and Lowri, you’re already on the list.

Fun line that turned up in essay, regarding the Hundred Years War: “To use the metaphor of single combat, the infantry served as a shield to the cavalry’s sword; infantry could be very important, but it could not defeat an enemy unless he bashed his head against it.”

from the cold sons of bitches who plot where we steer

Trying out Chrome, since this worthless laptop overheats constantly and I was wondering if it might be Firefox memory bloat. It’s actually… really good, now that it has full adblock functionality, and when I get my desktop up and running again I think I’ll end up using it as default. Only thing it lacks is DownThemAll, who aren’t interested in the platform, and surely some clever beggar will sort that out sooner or later.

Also, /k/ no longer sucks, which is disturbing and wonderful all at once. Normally when channing: go to /k/ looking for anything good -> open a couple of interesting-looking OPs -> disgust at most of thread being calibre arguments and racism -> realise /k/ is just rednecks/retards/racists/trolls trolling trolls trolling trolls -> go to /tg/ and /lit/.

Now, it’s go to /k/ -> tab explosion of interesting looking threads -> stay there posting and refreshing because people are posting interesting stuff and responding sensibly -> accumulate an extra few meg of saved jpgs and threads of wit/knowledge -> wonder where day went.

Yeah.

Phone caused me serious consternation today; it had filled up all its operating memory and hadn’t left enough for it to start. How’s that for a retarded design flaw? Had to hard reboot it again, but contacts were on sim and little of value was lost, apart from time and effort making it shout MAGGOTS again. I might be persuaded into a smartphone less than three generations behind sometime soon… they’re just so damn *expensive*…

WAFS essay is going to be awesome when it’s finished, but that will not be for a while.

One more thing: My friends are rock stars.

the de havilland mosquito: sometimes you get wood, and sometimes wood gets you

Towards the end of last term, Block 12 collectively had far too much in the way of perishable supplies. I remember a blockmate on facebook implored everyone to come and take some of her onions, which got a few plaintive replies of “no, please, take my onions instead!”.

Once bitten, nobody in my flat has bought anything for a week and the kitchen is almost bare. My milk has disappeared, which isn’t something I’d usually get annoyed at except that everyone else’s milk has disappeared too, so I am forced to have my tea Sri Lankan style. I’ve long since lost track of whether or not I’m ahead of the game in terms of onions and potatoes (which all go haphazardly heaped in the same cupboard) but there are none of them left, either. My last week’s nomming is looking like some rice, a couple of kinds of pasta, instant mash, a jar of sauerkraut, various powdered drinks/sauces, half a box of fish fingers, some frozen burgers and a couple of tins of beans/tomatoes/custard. While I will not die, it has already led to some… experimental cuisine. (Phlegm, Rake, I tried cutting spam into little slices and grilling it and it was actually amazing. Especially when mixed with rice and chopped olives.) But we’re on the home straight now and I really don’t want to go shopping again this term. I think I may not be able to avoid doing a run of laundry, though.

The university clothes shop was having a sale, so I bought a hoodie! It is warm and soft and black and proclaims my loyalty to the University of Bromingham in large white impermanent-looking letters, providing a useful and cosy middle ground between overcoat and shirtsleeves.

Another all-nighter to finish my MOTMW essay. This is a terrible habit I really should shake; the proofreading isn’t as good, the sleep disruption hurts and the collection of brown powdered things I stir into hot water with sugar to keep body and soul together are probably at this point causing lasting damage. (You know how energy drinks taste kind of like bile? It’s because they are.) While not perfect, it is finished and I am satisfied that it is probably at least 2.1 material.

I sent some rather strange frantic emails and texts this morning while drunk with fatigue and elation. Hope I didn’t worry anyone.

Handed it in, despite the truly inadequate library printing infrastructure, found Siz and congratulated her on her PhD place and hopefully haven’t caught mumps from her. Sat through the last two WAFS lectures I’ll ever have (we thought the good times would last forever… but we were wrong), which were about gender in war and pacifism… the rule is apparently not to finish strong.

I went to see a lecture pitch for an interesting university scheme which is basically paying students to mentor kids in secondary schools. It sounds overall fun, interesting, satisfying, useful for future job prospect things and also MONEY. It probably also seemed this way to the other two hundred first years in the lecture theatre. I collected an application form and then rewarded the essay with my first fish and chips in ages. Yum.

I am still dead tired (can you tell from the sentence structure?) so about to curl up in bed for a proper night off. Then tomorrow I set about my 4k on the Military Revolution for Friday, which I honestly think will be a doddle.

Costs for last week: £19.80

there are no roads here

It’s a careless land, a dusty, unkempt place that hasn’t noticed men. The ground is flat, but textured by a monotony of scrub and low trees whose dark green waxy leaves all hang drooping from the same height. The earth is red-orange and hot under the sun. Defence mounds rise like pimples out of the stubble, some still with old rusted guns on their turret rings, some stripped and crumbling, all empty. They look like they have been there forever and have looked that way since the day they were made. Here and there huge dome-shaped hills made of rough dark stone stud the flats in patterns that make sense only to them. They have been there forever but they are not worth anything. There are no clouds in the sky, and the land has a feeling that there will not be any clouds for a long time.

The land doesn’t care about the men, but the men care about the land and they are afraid of it. Every hillock fort they pass draws the worried stare of round eyes and rifle scopes. They all carry the same guns and wear the same clothes and their black hair is all cut in the same fashion. The rough, open-topped six-wheeled vehicles they ride are all the same shape and size, and bounce in the same way one after another over the humps and potholes of a road that can only be called a road because the rest of the land around it is even less helpful. They regard the dry place uncertainly behind their dark glasses, and fidget when they realise the camouflage of their uniforms does not match it. There are two hundred of them.

Captain Espera is a bad soldier and he knows it. He could not afford prestige, and the academy whose brass badge he wears nestling among rank insignia and meaningless decorations is not a good one. In his satchel, with his maps and ammunition, he keeps books by old war heroes. When he tells his men to do something by the numbers you can see his lips counting silently. He is afraid of Lieutenant Jafa.

Lieutenant Jafa is a bad soldier too, but he is too aware of the captain’s flaws to care about his own. He knows that it is the young, bright men who go far. He is young, and as bright as he is pleasant. He could afford prestige, and the better quality silver badge he wears gives him another reason to sneer at the captain. He collects curses like men collect butterflies, and uses them on Staff Sergeant Tam at every opportunity.

Staff Sergeant Tam is a good soldier, a pragmatic, unimaginative man who brings the men above him solutions whether or not they ask for them. He is convinced that he will die in uniform. He has seen far too much and there is little left in the world that can frighten him. He knows his place and is not unhappy, though the men quietly despise him.

The enlisted men are mostly aware that they are tiny parts of something too large to really understand them, and that their dirty jokes and love stories and funny habits and quiet, secret ways mean nothing to anyone, and that their lives are worth as little as the careless land on which they will fall.

“Your friends are all dead. Good luck.”

Could any of my American friends help me out here?

For my Practising History module I need to get my hands on Andrew Henderson’s “The history of the rebellion, 1745 and 1746”.

Par for the module (and course), there are no deadtree copies available in the library, the online journal archive requires ten straight minutes of shibboleth hoop-jumping to get to and is an unbelievably poorly made clusterfuck of a site that gives you a scanned page the size of a postage stamp after a minute of loading (the book sums 378 of these, not even joking), Project Gutenberg doesn’t have it and Google Books is being useless and bitchy and not giving me a download despite the book having been public domain for literally centuries.

I found a free ebook on, of all places, Barnes & Noble. I tried signing up myself with a proxy and a convincing fake address and all, but despite the book being absolutely free, it insists on me giving it card details before it’ll give me the bloody book. And my wretched limey card just ain’t good enough for them.

So if anyone with a functioning US credit card could spend a couple minutes setting up a B&N account (if you already have one, even better!) to download the book and mail it to me, I will officially Owe You One and be certain to repay you in epic poetry and/or delicious transatlantic fudge or something. (Reward will also be granted to anyone who can work it out of Google Books; maybe I’m just failing hard but it’s three in the morning here and that thing is more impenetrable to me than a solid tungsten edition of Moby Dick.)

Patty, you are a sexy goddess of sex.