black dog day

Last week things gradually settled down. My presentation for Thirty Years War went pretty well, as did the meeting with Group Research people on Thursday. I seem to have become the organiser/admin bitch for Group Research, sending around the emails and taking the minutes and such – which is fine, if the rest of them will carry me through the actual work. Hope springs eternal.

Nick came over on Sunday, and I made curry for him and Olly. Unfortunately, Rob didn’t show up to the Monday Vietnam seminar, so we basically just pootled aimlessly around campus, and he hardly got The Student Experience. Still, it was good to have a bro around.

I sent an email a week ago to Dan Joplin asking him (nicely!) to explain the miserable shambles that’s the Redbrick site, but he’s not replying. On the verge of saying “sod it” to this whole Redbrick thing. I can’t maintain their website if the idiots who made it last year won’t even talk to me, and I don’t have the skills (or time, or inclination) to rebuild the entire website from scratch, which is what it needs.

I’ve been looking too much at careers/advice/graduate stuff/activism websites like Graduate Fog and Jilted Generation, which seem to say that basically if you’re my age and want the relatively comfortable middle-class existence your parents had, you’re FUCKED mate prepare to fight tooth and nail for the next decade. They’re probably accentuating the negative, but it seems that even the ones studying a worthwhile subject will be saddled with immense debt and have to do unpaid internships for months upon months to get into their field. Because everything in this failing, directionless pimple of a country is “competitive”, which means “exploitative,” or “the ones who lie the hardest on their CVs win,” or “plain bloody luck.” And our benefits are gone, and our house prices are insane, and there aren’t any jobs, and we’ll be paying the pensions and paying off the mistakes of previous generations, and that our politicians are clueless imbeciles just breaking the system further, and that in a time of greater supposed productivity and “wealth” than ever before, we’re going to have to fight harder than any generation alive to get the same security, prosperity and peace of mind. So yeah: they’re accentuating the negative, but from here it’s easy to believe, sitting reading depressing news in the grey rain.

Back on the smaller scale of university, War Studies are getting the short end of the stick anyway. We compete on the same playing field as the regular History students for our options, without getting first stab at the war-related modules. I was fast and lucky with the online signup, so it wasn’t as much of a problem for me, but a couple of the war guys have their option (one of the three regular contact hours – yes, three – we get a week) – as something totally useless and unrelated to their degree. So it could be worse for me.

I don’t know who I can complain to, because while last year it was run by the politely competent Mike Snape, the War Studies majordomo this year is Toby Mcleod, who has, in my admittedly limited contact with him, been rather less use to me. At the start of Rise of Modern War this year, he told us that we couldn’t afford to miss anything; that it was Getting Serious Now and that employers would look at every module; that if we needed help with anything, ask him, it’s what he’s for. So today when I felt horribly ill and incapable of even getting out of bed, I sent him a polite email asking for help catching up. His response? “Ask a colleague for their notes…” That one patronising, useless sentence, with an ellipse tacked on at the end like a condescending drawl. He hasn’t even put the lecture powerpoint on WebCT, or the one from last week.

And the rest of the History department are certainly no better. As mentioned previously, a while ago I sent an email to various people asking to become a student rep, because the department are failing us in a lot of ways. I got thanks and assurances from various academics. There was a meeting last Friday, but I didn’t go to it, because despite the promises nobody told me about it. I got, by email, an attendance question and the minutes. But no inkling the actual meeting was going to happen. And no replies to my requests for such.

Some days I really wish I’d done a real course. Not just because, in this shitty economy and collapsing country, I won’t be able to afford to rent on the miserable shelf-stacking job this arts degree – this laughable excuse for an arts degree – will get me, but because I’d love to know what it’s like to have a faculty that seems to give a toss about its students, to get more than four contact hours a week for the same three grand as an engineer or medic who works five times as hard and will get ten times the payout. I can work, when I have to, I’m doing my reading and book reviews, but I don’t feel like a full-time student; I feel like I’m on a correspondence course. And I’m confounded at every step by the very incompetence I really want to overcome.

But the grass is probably no greener outside the War Studies ghetto, and I don’t know what I’d even do if not this (Law?) because making up essays is the only thing I seem to be capable of. But that’s not the point, really. I just want to feel like I’m working towards something worthwhile, and at the moment I absolutely don’t, because I’m not.

I’m going to bed, and I may be some time.


the future’s bright

Telcos are the devil. They’re all incompetent profiteering scumbags providing unreliable service at insane cost, bombarding you with marketing and terms that are so straight up dishonest (“unlimited internet” anyone?) they’re actually getting taken to court for it, and forcing you to leap through so many hoops of awful web design and sub-awful customer service to change your terms, most customers (myself included) come to just give up and bend over. The sooner they realise they exist as a dumb pipe to sell you airtime, the better. The services they offer are pretty much essential, but picking out which one to use is like trying to choose what kind of artillery piece to be fucked with. Orange, whose contract I am ditching as soon as February rolls around, feel at times like a 68-pdr carronade.

I’m looking at my phone bills online, and they’re £25 rather than the £15 they should be. This contract has a pretty bad history of outrageous bullshit surcharges, but this is something else. I go on the Orange site and the “Your Account” section, which, due to retarded branding nonsense, has a truly, aggravatingly schizophrenic approach to capitalising.

Yeah, they’re charging me £10/month extra for the internet package I called them up and specifically, explicitly cancelled three months ago. The bloke who answered the phone then sounded helpful and earnest. Knew he didn’t fit in.

Beep, beep, dumb audio navigation menus. Boop, boop, wants me to verify by entering my password. Except I’m using a smartphone which has a proper keyboard, and so it doesn’t work the first time. I have to google a horrible dumbphone keypad to enter the right digits. Finally, a human voice. Man; sounds careworn, Northern and middle-aged; the kind of voice I associate with effortlessly competent blue-overalled maintenance types who fix everything.

“Hi, I’m paying for an internet contract I don’t want and thought I’d cancelled months ago. Can I cancel it?”
“I should be able to help you with that, sir. Let’s have a look… oh, yes, the £10/month unlimited broadband?”
“Yeah. I specifically said I only wanted it for one month, and called up at the end of the month to make sure it’d been cancelled, but apparently it didn’t work. If you can track usage, you’ll see I haven’t even used it…”
“Ah, I can find a memo here from the last chap you phoned. He’s written down that you wanted to cancel… but he doesn’t seem to have actually cancelled it. Very odd.”
“I’ll just cancel that now for you, sir, and put £30 credit on your account. Very sorry about that.”

mister console, upload me to steam/make me feel at one with the machine

Time goes more slowly when you’re learning a lot of new things. That’s why the world seemed barely to turn when I was a little boy, and how it’s been spinning faster and faster as I get older, knowing the world around me better and better until I can barely be bothered to see it.

Vietnam went well! In a strictly seminar sense. Besides managing (with a little help from a Viking friend) to find the correct origin of “chickenshit outfit”, I’m learning lots about the country’s last two thousand years of being invaded, though I’m wary of these sweeping generalisations about the Vietnamese culture being an immensely fatalistic one. Fascinating reasoning behind it, but seems a bit too simple, a bit to convenient and a lot too inhuman. I asked Rob whether Nick could sit in on the seminar next week, for his learning-about-universities thing, and he gave an enthusiastic yes. My course-related analysis of associated sources (ie, watching a bunch of Vietnam films, then asking Rob how accurate they are) is also proving satisfactory. The Ride of the Valkyries scene in Apocalypse Now, as it turns out, is pretty solid, except that there would also have been artillery.

First Critical Analysis seminar also went pretty well. Of my subjects, it’s probably the one I’m least educated about, so it’s all exciting and new. We did the usual introduction stuff, the four War Studies chaps made a decent showing, and we did our best not to be put out by the protesters outside banging and shouting. They never seemed to get bored (or hoarse. I wonder if next budget review, I could make a packet fencing bootleg Strepsils and Covonia to the angry young men of the campus.)

They were protesting the Browne Report, which seems fair enough. If my parents want to go and be students again, they should probably apply now… The whole despicable reinvention of class-exclusivity aside, wasn’t “universities will charge what they want and create a market where quality education costs more” the whole principle behind the introduction of top-up fees, which totally failed when the unis all went and charged the maximum £3k? At least my degree is now going to be worth twice the nothing it used to be, but if my class year ends up paying interest I had probably better start putting my pocket money into it (except that I heard some jabber about paying it off early costing more somehow; did I hear wrong? how the hell does that work?)

Then I (like all other Brummie students) got this unbelievably smug email from the vice-chancellor coming down hard in favour of Browne’s conclusion and what “value” it offers students. I was tempted to go back onto campus and start banging and shouting with the do-gooders. Not least because two years ago the VC earned £320k plus various benefits including a chauffeur, a free house and expenses-paid trips everywhere – he sent the email from China. I am filled with righteous disgust, and I’m wondering how one gets to be a vice-chancellor.

Rise of Modern War lecture/seminars are also interesting. I was going to do a presentation with Flash and Jon on the armies of Louis XIV, but Louis asked to swap with me so I am now doing Thirty Years War infantry tactics instead (this Wednesday), which I’m really good on. I’m still not terribly impressed by Toby Mcleod (he of the duff Roman Strategy lecture last year), especially when a polite email asking for guidance on the presentation (that I hadn’t had, because I wasn’t the one originally doing it) and a copy of last week’s powerpoint was answered by a single tetchy sentence of marginal guidance value and no powerpoint, but what can I do?

Using a recipe Bill sent me, I made a Thai chicken curry and it was AMAZING. The coconut milk cost a pretty penny but the result was so creamy and flavoursome and delicious that I found myself actually liking coriander. If I could afford to, I would eat like that every night. I’m trying to make a Lebanese-style garlic sauce, like the one Cedars used to serve, but we don’t have a hand blender of the right calibre. I’m feeling open-minded, throw me your crazy recipes from the ends of the earth.

One of the many pieces of worthless spam the History department hands out to me was for a Green Tea Study, asking for males of a given age range (which I fell into), moderately active (which I also fall into) and who were interested in £100 for their time (which I do not fall into so much as do a running jump and a swan dive.) So I fired off an interested email, to which they replied with a couple of extra inclusion criteria, including not drinking (or having recently drunk) more than 3 cups of tea a day. No amount of money is worth tea-deprivation, even retroactive tea-deprivation.

Things are settling down a bit, but time is going crazy slow for me right now. And yet there’s still not enough time in these giant days to do everything I want.

£51 on new quilt cover
£46 otherwise

telephone burn and a purposeful gait

I’m rushed off my feet.

I have commitments everywhere, to everyone, for complex jobs that need skills I’m learning as I go. I have seminars and tutorials dancing erratically around my timetable, no two days the same. I have reading to do, battles to know, analysis to understand, names to remember. I have a world pulling me in fifteen directions. Apart from at the first staggering kick-start of the day, I keep my bike gears in the top ring, because I’m never going slowly enough to warrant the rest.

And none of it’s easy and none of it works like it should. My bike lock is a piece of shit whose cheap frame-fixing comes loose every other time I secure it. The university website is a creaking, incoherent shambles that falls over all the time; the just-inherited website I’m trying to run is far, far worse. My tutors don’t answer emails or don’t give answers that help. I have friends in desperate need that I’m trying to contact with a phone that’s literally falling apart in my hands.

It’s wonderful. When I get my world back on the tracks I’ll miss the frantic energy this gives me, and the drive that so quickly snatches it away again.


underneath the open sky says:
[02:29:32] ­so just before I florp
[02:29:32] ­recommend me a new font for redbrick
­Wild Bill Hovercraft says:
[02:29:41] ­comic sans
­underneath the open sky says:
[02:29:45] ­*trollface*
Wild Bill Hovercraft says:
[02:30:16] ­I dunno, whichever one is the default in latex

underneath the open sky says:
[02:33:31] ­so just before I florp
[02:33:32] ­­recommend me a new font for redbrick
­distillation, solvent extraction, expression, enfleurage says:
[02:33:39] ­comic sans
­underneath the open sky says:
[02:33:50] ­fuck you both

Year Two, Week One

I’m on a normal, regular sleep schedule! I go to bed not long after midnight and wake up in the morning and it’s great.

Early on the Monday I made myself delicious chicken sammiches and rolled into uni, for what I hoped was my option. I say hoped, because I wasn’t sure; NOTHING of use was on WebCT, the History office apparently being unable to find their arse given an atlas and a Tomtom. My primary source of course and time information at the moment is Flash Glenwright. Who, as it happens, is extremely capable, just this ain’t the way things ought to be. The noticeboards said I was indeed in Rob Thompson’s Monday Vietnam module, in ERI G54. What the hell does that mean? Asked at the helpful reception office and they told me it was in the ghetto off by the Sociology department (is that now defunct? I’m not sure.) Met a pretty international student from South Korea at the ankle of Muirhead Tower and gave her directions to the Business centre, then found the dark red-brick building I was supposed to be in, big and modern and nearly empty. Then Rob Thompson told us lots of fun things about Vietnam and how much we were about to learn. I hadn’t realised how much the marines in Aliens (and their demise) were styled after the American experience in Vietnam. He has offered a prize for anyone who can find the original source of the line “how do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?”

I’d been exchanging messages with Samuel Lear, who has become editor of the student rag Redbrick apparently by sheer force of will, and arranged to come in that afternoon; wandering vaguely towards the Guild, I met fellow war-studier James along the way and discussed Socs (societies, not those blokes who beat up greasers). Found Redbrick offices in the basement and found Samuel doing his thing, his thing in this case being Editing And Running Everything, and looked at their stuff (Macs) and site (ugly) before I was called away to a brief but in-depth War Studies orientation thing from Rob and Toby McLeod, who is now apparently running the show and seems a great chap despite the very discouraging lecture I had with him last year. Back to Redbrick, discussing alterations to their site with their other techy/creative types, setting myself up user accounts and privileges everywhere. Visited Zoe in TC that evening, met her flatmates (who were great) and went to a pub quiz (which wasn’t) before wandering home to florp in my own bed.

(I wrote this at the end of the first day and realised there was no way I was going to have time to do a similarly in-depth account of all the rest, so here’s a much vaguer account of the main points of the rest of the week.)

For the societies fair on Wednesday, I went to the sci-fi and TTG joint thing to sign up, but it was exactly the same bunch of people as last year having exactly the same conversations with no apparent desire to be anything else. It’s not that any of them are anything but nice people, but it’s terribly cliquey, affirming of the worst nerd-cliches, and apparently determined to stay in its little neckbeard ghetto forever (this was borne out by people at Redbrick later talking about how utterly unwelcome they’d felt as newcomers). So I spurned their walkaround to see the Redbrick people do their presentation, and the Guild Council Chambers (the size of a decent lecture theatre) were utterly packed; response to Redbrick has been massive and overwhelming. That went very well, and I spent much of my spare time for the rest of the week hanging around the Redbrick office, getting to know the editorial folks and trying to winkle keycodes and necessary credentials out of the collapsed mine that their IT situation currently resembles. The Redbrickers are nice people, in control of what they’re doing, welcoming and generally seem a good crowd to hang with. I think I’m going to get to know a lot of new people this year. Flash is working hard to get Warsoc running, and while the Guild’s absurd nannyish movie-vetting system have confounded his attempts to get film nights going and the debate next week doesn’t really appeal to me, we had a great and very sociable Warsoc pub lunch today. All nine of us that showed up. Baby steps.

The total confusion I was in about my course at the start of the week has resolved itself into a (surprisingly small) set of certain hours a week all over campus, and a couple of appointments with special tutors for next week. I’ve sent a few emails to history higher-ups with a view to becoming a History student rep, simply because the existing system (of lectures, timetables, noticeboards, emails, WebCT and so on) is a total shambles and needs reform. If I can’t get that I can at least get catharsis from shouting at people.

Lectures have so far not given me any sinking feelings. Vietnam with Rob Thompson promises to be great fun, The Rise of Modern War relates strongly to the Military Revolution stuff I did well in last year, and the Critical Analysis module (read: book reviews are serious business) seems tolerable if not wacky fun. The overall tone of “more work, less help” isn’t getting me down. I know I can do anything here if I put my mind to it and give myself time.

I think I’m going to enjoy this year a lot.

Outgoings this week: