I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas is coming...

It's a bit late — in Melbourne you are apparently supposed to do this around Cup Day — but it's still November, at least, and I am half-way through assembling my Christmas puddings. I really do need a proper camera, but this shot from the phone will have to do: that might look like a teaspoon, but it's a full-size dessertspoon, placed to give you an idea of the size of this mass of raisins, currants, sultanas, cherries, ginger, citrus peel, apricot, peach and prunes soaked in port, the whole pile soaking in brandy. It is extremely delicious. Almost a shame to go to the next stage, really.

This picture is brought to you courtesy of Bluetooth, which I learned over the weekend in a fabulous paper by the excellent Kim Wilkins at a terrific medievalism conference is named after King Harald Blatand (Bluetooth).

From their website:

Bluetooth started as the code name for the association when it was first formed and the name stuck. The name "Bluetooth" is from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blatand - or Harold Bluetooth in English. King Blatand was instrumental in uniting warring factions in parts of what are now Norway, Sweden, and Denmark - just as Bluetooth technology is designed to allow collaboration between differing industries such as the computing, mobile phone, and automotive markets.
Apparently the Bluetooth logo spells the name runically.... So there you go: tenth-century Danes providing a model of communications harmony.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great Minds of the 21st Century

Further to my last post, I can't help feeling this latest invitation — for inclusion in the Great Minds of the 21st Century — might have something to do with my name having fallen into some database, whence I will never be able to retrieve it. Do they think we are made of money? This one offers a medal, a luxury keepsake edition of the volume, and a commemorative plaque, for a grand total of US $1300.

But how's this for a lure? "Great minds are like meteors, they glitter and are consumed to enlighten the world." Gosh. I wonder if I've been consumed yet? And if not, how will I know?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

International Educator of the Year

... is a title to which I have never aspired. But it seems I have been nominated for this "hand-crafted and prestigious Award". Sounds odd? Read on.

My mail box — email and pigeonhole — regularly receives notice of such nominations. Some of them seem legitimate. I've never checked the Who's Who of Australian Women but apparently I'm in it — or will be soon. I've certainly never forked out the money to the various organisations with more or less prestigious signifiers in their title — Princeton, Guinness — though I do know one colleague who very soon regretted giving her credit card details to one such. And in these days where your grant application is measured by your citations, who can blame him/her?

But this one takes the cake, I think. It's from the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England, and features an outline of King's College Chapel on its letterhead. It doesn't say how many people have been nominated, or when the award will finally be made; just that I've been selected as "one of a very limited number of individuals" to receive this accolade which "is bound to raise your status significantly in the international community."

Blah blah blah... I guess there must really be individuals or institutions for whom this would work the required social magic of authority. But what I really love about this is that for a mere US $325 each, I can buy (1) a full colour pictorial testimonial; (2) an official gold-gilt medal of excellence; and best of all (3) a "hand-finished official sash of office."
This silken sash, with golden tassels, has been commissioned by the IBC and is hand-finished by Toye, Kenning and Spencer, makers of Official Regalia worldwide. It is woven in a luxurious Blue and has the Legend of the IBC along with the words INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR embroidered in a golden thread. The recipient's name will be added to the Sash below the Legend.
Oh yes, I can just see me turning up to the Vice-Chancellor's Christmas lunch wearing my sash. Sorry, my sash of office.

But don't you think it's a little uncanny this is sent to the person who writes on Wynnere and Wastoure, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter, when all these texts feature sashes or girdles or belts and embroidery in gold and blue or green? Oh, and Ned Kelly, who wore the green and gold sash he received as a boy, for saving a drowning boy, to the fatal siege at Glenrowan? Or is it just that the symbolism and textile luxury of a sash of honour are further examples of the afterlife of conspicuous medieval consumption? Wonder if the girls in the Miss Universe contest have to pay $325 for their sashes?

What's that blue thing in the pond?

Little routines before settling to work involve stepping out into the garden to feed the fish. But what's that blue thing that looks like a ball or a toy that's fallen in? Oh! it's the head of a rainbow lorrikeet that has somehow fallen into the water. I don't have a working camera, so here's a picture from the web.

I pick up the bird. It's still warm, but clearly dead. Its colours are extraordinary and detailed; its black and green tail feathers elegantly splayed. I turn it over. Its belly is delicately speckled: each feather seems to have several different colours of flame and autumn leaf and blue sky. How did this poor creature come to this untimely end?

Hmm. Last night when I was bringing in the washing, I saw four large black crows in the lemon-scented gum, which the lorrikeets also like. Is this a territorial war in my back garden?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What is Wrong with This Picture ...

... when the teenager stays at home re-arranging his room and doing his music practice while his parents go out to see the new teenage sparklie vampire love storie movie. The movie was washed down with a bag of mixed lollies and some tall glasses of Westgarth's finest sangria. As Chaucer says, "This ys absolutelie the beste teenage sparklie vampyre love storye ich haue evir reade" and the same goes for the movies, too. I've now read the last two books and seen the first two movies, and so while I can't quite remember what happens in Volume 3, I think I have a reasonable grasp of the entire sorry trajectory.

I say "sorry", because although in the first movie I was completely entranced by the brooding mystery of Edward, this movie reminded me that I don't really like vampires very much, despite what Chaucer describes as the "fayre skyn and fashion-sprede slow-mocioun hotenesse of the Cu Chulainn clan, the which have all eaten long ago of the magical Irisshe Salmon of Really Good Hair (oon byte of this magical salmon and ye shal have good hair for evir)."

There's been an awful lot written and said about Stephanie Meyer being a Mormon, and the programmatic chastity of the Twilight sage: no sex — or becoming a vampire — until you are married. Again, I'll quote Maister Chaucer (who's proving himself a most adept textual and cultural critic), when he remarks, "Ther is considerablie moore sexual tensioun than in Piers Plowman."  This is undeniably true. But there's something disturbing, and I would have thought rather un-Mormony about the idea that you might well have a soul; but that you would willingly destroy it for love. I can see romance fiction not being bothered with the idea of a soul, but once you invoke that metaphysic, don't you have to do something with it? Not easy, of course: and even Philip Pullman, for all his brilliance, couldn't quite bring it all off. If Meyer — and the films — get away with invoking the idea of a soul as a plot device, but countenancing perpetual everlasting romantic love and sexual desire and a prodigious child as sufficient compensation for its loss, it's not in any easy agreement with any model of Christianity I'm familiar with.

So the easy dismissive reading of Meyer — that she is somehow cynically exploiting teenage desires to push a Mormon model of sexual restraint— seems to me rather a thin one. Or perhaps it's true that for this religion, morality is more important than spirituality.

But where do we put it?

It's been raining all night. The gutters on the shed out the back are overflowing, but it's too wet to get up on the roof and clear them out. The two big water tanks are full. There are little runnels in the gravel path where rain is running out into the street. The upstairs windows are almost clean. The ponds are full to the brim. It's still raining, and the little frog is unaccustomedly croaking in the morning. The creek will be full and the bike paths flooded.

But now that all possible receptacles for water are full, what do we do with the stuff that keeps coming down? After training ourselves to use less and less, and to save every drop, it seems like a shocking waste. The bucket in the shower? I'm going to have to pour the water down the drain. Guess we just hope it's falling into the catchments, now. I bet I won't be the only one checking the dam storage levels when they're updated this afternoon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pressing "send"

Had you been close to my house ten minutes ago, you would have heard a loud "squeak". That was the sound of me pressing "Send" as I sent off the first six chapters of my book on the Order of the Garter to the very patient editor at the big US press I hope will publish this book. We've never signed a contract to publish, which was a good idea as I would never have met a deadline, and it would have just been a source of stress (as I'm writing this post, I can see in the email "progress" window that a quarter of the ms. has now been sent).

The deal is that these chapters can now go out to be read, while I finish the last, a third of which is drafted.

There are many stages to go, of course. If the reports are positive, I hope we'll then sign a contract; and while I secretly hope and believe the readers will think it's perfect as it is, there will certainly be changes to make. Then there's final approval, copy-editing (half of the message has now gone), tracking down of permissions for images, checking, and cross-checking of references, compilation of bibliography and all the rest of it.

Still, this is a big day: the first, very big milestone on the last stretch towards completion.

What am I going to do now?

I'm going to go outside and feed the goldfish, then come back in and work on a grant application for an hour or so. And then tonight, I am going to see this. How's that for timing?

And how's this? Entourage has just played its little chimes: message SENT.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flirting with a Handkerchief

In a poem of 1620, Richard Johnson attributes the Honi soit qui mal y pense motto to the queen of France, in his “Gallant Song of the Garter of England.” When her garter falls during a feast, the snickering courtiers seem to accuse her of dropping it deliberately to attract the king’s attention, so it is actually the queen who coins the motto in their reproof:

But when she heard these ill conceits
And speeches that they made,
Hony soyt qui mal y pens,
                        the noble Princes said.
Ill hap to them that evill thinke,
In English it is thus
Which words so wise (quoth Englands King)
                                   shall surely goe with us …

This reminds me of those stupid scenes in Mickey Mouse-vintage cartoons, where a simpering female character would drop her lace handkerchief in front of a male she wanted to attract. He is supposed, gallantly, to return it, and thus start a conversation. 

My question is this: what's the oldest known reference to this kind of behaviour? I did a quick google search and found an allusion, but it was a website selling a C19 French lace handkerchief. http://www.rubylane.com/shops/nicole-la-bay/item/1208LAC: 

At a time when women were not allowed to talk to a stranger, handkerchiefs were literally a means of communication, as ladies would drop these precious pieces of lace on the sidewalk, whenever they wanted to attract the attention of a gentleman.
Gentlemen were of course extremely flattered to pick them up and give them back to their owners.
I've no idea if this is just made up or refers to a "real" C19 practice. So, dear readers, from your wide reading in history, fiction, poetry, textile history, etc., can you think of any examples? I guess Johnson's poem suggests an early suspicion of feminine wiles, but it's the handkerchief that has become the iconic object here. But since when?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Australian undergraduate essay prize: Medieval and Early Modern Studies

A note about a neat essay prize open to Australian undergraduate students...

National Undergraduate Essay Competition 2009: Medieval and Early Modern Studies

The UWA Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (CMEMS) is sponsoring a National Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) Undergraduate Essay Competition in 2009.

The Competition will recognise and encourage excellence in the MEMS area of study at the undergraduate level. The writer of the winning essay will be presented with a $1000 cash prize at an award ceremony at UWA; be offered a two-week research-intensive internship with CMEMS; and be invited to present their essay as part of a CMEMS seminar. Financial assistance with travel and accommodation will be provided where required.

The judging panel will be made up of three CMEMS senior academic staff members, representing different MEMS-related disciplines. Essays will be submitted to the judging panel anonymously. The judges¹ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into concerning the correctness of their decision.

The Competition is open to students enrolled full time or part time in an undergraduate degree in an Australian university, who:
* are undertaking the second or third year level of their degree in 2009,
* enrolled in a unit during 2009 relevant to medieval and early modern studies,
* are available to spend two weeks at UWA at a time to be negotiated.

The Essay:
Students who meet the eligibility requirements are invited to submit an essay:
* of between 3000 and 5000 words on a medieval or early modern topic (defined for this purpose as being between the 5th and 18th centuries).
* The essay may be, or be based on, an essay submitted as part of the student's current course of study, or it may be written specifically for the competition.
* All primary and secondary sources used in preparing the entry must be acknowledged using an appropriate citation system. A bibliography must be included.

The Rules:

Submitting An Entry:
Before submitting their essay, students should ensure they adhere to the
following requirements-:
· The essay should be typewritten in 12 point Times New Roman font.
- Double-spacing should be used.
· Do NOT put your name anywhere on the essay itself. Your name should only appear on the cover sheet.
· Ensure the cover sheet is completed, signed and attached.
· Ensure you have a copy of the essay.
· Emailed documents should preferably be sent as a pdf file

When submitting their essay students should:
* Sign the declaration on the cover sheet provided certifying that the entry is his or her own and unaided original work.
* Ensure their essays have been submitted (either by registered mail or electronically) by Monday 30th November 2009, 5pm WST. No late entries will be accepted.

Each candidate can only submit one essay.

Entry is free.

Submit your essay to CMEMS by 5pm WST on Monday 30th November, by either of
the following two methods:

Email as a pdf file to: cmems-arts@uwa.edu.au

- or -

Send by Registered mail to:
CMEMS Essay Competition
UWA Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies M208
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009

For further information please contact Pam Bond (pam.bond@uwa.edu.au)

Pam Bond
Administrative Assistant
Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Faculty of Arts, Humanities &
Social Science
Administrative Assistant
ARC Network for Early European Research, School of Humanities

University of Western Australia
M208 / 35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009

email: pam.bond@uwa.edu.au
tel: + 61-8-6488 3858
fax: + 61-8-6488 1069
CRICOS Provider No.00126G

Blogging between the covers

As my year of leave from teaching draws to a close, it'll soon be time to contemplate the things I haven't done. At one point I thought (and with no small encouragement from a publisher) that I might write a book about blogging, and about this blog in particular. That didn't happen, for lots of reasons. Not having yet finished the two other books I'm supposed to be writing, let alone another project or two, is just one of them.

Another is the somewhat thorny question of translating blogs to print. So I am intrigued to read, over at In the Medieval Middle, that there is a plan afoot to bring the Chaucer blog into print.* Jeffrey Cohen is writing an essay on medieval blogging (and other online and electronic fora and media) as part of this Palgrave project, and in the collaborative spirit of a collaborative blog with a large readership, he's blogging about the process and inviting commentaries and discussions on-line. So this is my first writerly appearance at In the Medieval Middle in the "post", not the "comments" box. Matthew Gabriele's post is also up, and there'll be others to follow.

I'm hoping these discussions will constitute another layer of background and context for my panel on blogging at NCS next July, too.

In the meantime, for the record, over the last nine and a half months, I have actually been quite productive, work-wise, and am really truly about to send off my first six chapters of the Garter book; and have done other things as well. But I'm especially pleased with the things I've done on my long service leave, when you are supposed to have a real break from teaching and research and everything. Thus, I did have a short holiday in Europe; I did start learning Italian (still going); and I did join a gym (also still going). I haven't painted the back of the house, yet, as I'd planned. And I didn't write that book about the blog either. That's ok: at the moment, the thing I think the world really needs is a fabulously exciting book about the Order of the Garter.

*If you haven't checked out this blog for a while, there's a cracking new entry in part about a medieval teenage sparkly vampire book series: Chaucer Sparkleth in Sonne.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Son of Humanities Researcher Has (Yet) Another Blog

As my family approaches a great festival — my mother's 80th birthday party on Saturday — and as my sister has travelled from London to join the celebrations, we are thinking about generations and families in this household.

Non-Melbourne residents may have heard about our big horse race tomorrow: the highlight of the spring racing carnival that goes on forever (if I see another stupid bit of black tulle perched on the head of some simpering WAG ...), and whose madness has taken over the city so completely that school today, the day before the race-day holiday, was declared "optional" and the main street on which we live is carrying what seems like only Sunday traffic.

Anyway, Joel and I are having a quiet "pyjama day", only showering just before lunch, and talking about what my sisters and I did when we were young, and so forth. What he has been doing is starting a new blog: it's at least the fourth I know about, and perhaps there have been more.

Scroll down for a sight of the piano, and yours truly lounging on the sofa.