Friday, December 08, 2006


Someone used this word today to describe my blogging, which I hope was a generic critique rather than a stylistic one. I suppose he may have been alluding to what my friend Bo calls my "Queen of the Night" moments. It is true, I think, that ire and indignation make better copy but I do try not to give the impression that I sit over here cultivating hypertension, so please don't start me on the banks.
In any case, I am devoid of bombast today. Instead I am giving thanks for the genius that is the capsule wardrobe, a fine thing in general but one which never, ever comes in more useful than when packing: it literally saves me days of thought and planning. It also enables me to buy expensive basics in colours other than black or camel; hence Saturday's investment in (steel yourselves) moonboots and a puffer jacket in vibrant red. I know, I can't believe it either. They are not exactly elegant. The very best I can hope for is a kind of cosy cute appeal from my rosy face poking out of the fluffy-edged hood and the childlike shiny welly quality of the patent moonbot toes, and even this hope really is pushing it. So I balked considerably at the purchase, but in the end chic black wool overcoats just don't keep the cold out like a big red duvet, as demonstrated by the fact my legs went numb on the way home today. It was only zero degrees. It goes down to 30 below in February. What can I do? The Scarlet Downie Combo is not a thing of beauty, but looking like an inflated tomato with tree trunk legs is, on balance, probably fractionally more attractive than frostbite. I just keep telling myself: shivering is never a good look.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rootless Wireless

I have just been listening to the Archers' Omnibus. Nothing so strange in that: assiduous Archers' listening is one of many markers of my determined descent into middle age, which by this criterion began when I was eleven (first ever plotline: Lizzie's abortion thanks to Cam the Cad. Gripping stuff). However, you will notice that it is not, as I write this, Sunday morning between 10 and 11.30am, so I have done a terrible thing and deviated from my strict regime of replicating scientifically the conditions of normal life by "tuning in" during the proper hours. Worse, I have realised that if it is possible to listen to the Archers Omnibus on my laptop during, say, a Wednesday evening in Toronto, then it is equally possible to listen to it on my laptop on a Wednesday evening while in the UK. This is a very wrong thing indeed.
The purpose of the Archers Omnibus is manifold. Firstly, it provides reassurance that Sunday morning has come around as expected and that you are still alive (there is sometimes room for serious doubt on this question on Sunday mornings). Secondly, it gives you something to listen to in the bath (Desert Island Discs is no good for this: you have overslept, you idle beast, DID is for making breakfast). Thirdly, it tells me that I have got the bed to myself for ninety minutes (my boyfriends having either despised the Archers and leapt from my embraces at the very sound of the theme tune, or else loved the Archers but made the error of being a church organist and so had to go to work). Fourthly, it allows you to smile wistfully at the parts you have already listened to during the previous week (ah, yes, here's the part where David attacks the treehouse) and reflect with alarm on what you could possibly have been doing which caused you to miss those parts you haven't heard (gosh, this church fete must have happened in Friday's episode when I was busy discussing Frege with that chap who spilt the snuff box over me, etc).
None of these offices of the Archers Omnibus is fulfilled by the sacrilegious practice of listening to it on a Wednesday evening. Doing so can only be viewed as a sign of the decline of all standards of moral and civilised life as we know it, reminiscent of the catastrophic demise of the Roman Republic (favourite line from undergrad marking this month: "It was not only perfumes which corrupted Rome, but also new ideas."). I think it is as well for my soul that I am within hours of my return to the land of reason, order and slavery to the vagaries of BBC scheduling. The laptop stays here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I wondered if I couldn't sleep last night because I had had a couple of glasses of wine, but that doesn't normally stop me (or, indeed, have any noticeable effect at all - I'm made of sterner stuff than that). More likely it was the fault of being woken at about 2am by the most infernal racket on the street. Since I quickly diganosed that this was a snow plough, I suppose I had better start getting used to being roused in this nefarious manner. Howbeit, I couldn't get back to sleep by any device whatever, which was most frustrating. I had the same problem when I worked at St Marys, when, although I lived in a little village in rural Oxfordshire, the articulated lorries and other traffic zooming down the hill outside my window would jolt me awake at about 5am, and after an hour or so of silent furious cursing and wishing the most immoderate punishments of motorcyclists, I had to accept I was up for the day. I used to have to go to Streatham (a highly populous and insalubrious district of South London) for a decent night's sleep. No joke.
Last night was the same gig - once woken, no hope of return. I did my Achilles routine of shifting around into every possible position in the hope that the direction I was facing would make some miraculous difference, but nothing. Once you've strted that carry-on you really are awake, and that's fatal: because then the uhtceare start. This fine word is an Anglo-Saxon coinage, a hapaxlegomenon from an anonymous poem called The Wife's Lament. Uhtceare is usually translated as something like "worries around dawn," but I tend to think of it as "that 5am feeling." You know the drill: it's 5am, you can't sleep and every single last tiny insignificant and non-existent anxiety, as well as every huge, important and genuinely pressing one, is crowding in on your mind. No sooner do you manage to chase one away than the next pops up, even uglier and more irrational than the last. They are all distorted and magnified massively because the godless time of day provides no hope of any context, reasoned response, or ability to do anything whatsoever about them, which causes usually manageable but nevertheless deep-seated panic. You have no way of breaking the cycle. You have no perspective. You have no further chance of slumber. What you have is uhtceare.
After a trawl through the standard litany of exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, dead cat; exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, dead cat, etc, I realised that I wasn't going to get to sleep, put the light on, and read Hard Times for an hour or so. Not Dickens best. And in no way preferable to a decent night's kip. But better than lying awake thinking of exams, the trip I haven't packed for, money, or my dead and much-missed cat.

Friday, December 01, 2006

St Andrew's Day

Today being the Feast of St Andrew, patron Saint of the Scots, I expected Scot-loving Canada to be a flurry of saltires. Not a bit of it: no haggis on special offer, no whisky displays in the LCBO window. This is odd because Scots away from Scotland tend to be even more sentimental about Scotland than Scots at home, and that really is saying something. I do find it quite curious how people who have never even visited Scotland can be so jealous in their attachment to the idea that this is their nationality. I am baffled in a different way by the (many) Scots who ship out at the drop of a Higher and are never seen north of the border in their adult lives again except to go home for Christmas and yet their nationalistic zeal and defensiveness rips strips off the people who - my god! - actually live there. I don't suppose it is anything about my own home country in particular: I'm sure if I knew more about Russian diaspora, or Greek (to name but two nations also patronized by Scotland's favourite apostle) then the same would be true, though Scots do seem notorious for this.
I can't put my finger on why I find it irks me so much, since I am greatly in favour both of cultural diversity and of having a healthy affection for one's roots. Yet I still think it is a bit cheap to make your life in Oxford or Plymouth or Sydney or whatever, and then demand everyone do obeisance to your deep-seated patriotism for somewhere else. And it is easy to love a country that only exists in the tea-soaked madeleine, or perhaps deep-fried mars bar, of your imagination. Being one of millions around the world who gets a frisson of nostalgia from the sound of bagpipes is not at all the same as living and breathing all that is good, bad and indifferent about the nation, day in, day out. So I really do not fetishize Scotland, perhaps because I still spend enough time there to be fully conscious of its many failings, but also because I think it irrational as well as sentimental to maintain its intrinsic and mystical superiority over the place where I actually choose to make my life. I am very fond of the old place, but not because it's better. Just because it's home.