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!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big chickens, little fish, long walk

There's some furious work going on at my desk at the moment. Writing a new little section into Chapter One [check], some more polishing of Introduction and Acknowledgements [check]; and now having another look at the final chapter before the last round of revisions, removing excessive punctuation and starting to get footnotes in final order.

So not much blogging or facebooking at the moment. In lieu, some photos.

The chickens are enormous: time for them to go up to Ceres pretty soon, I think.

And the baby fish are growing, too: big enough to start nibbling directly on the fish food: 

Their parents are looking good, too.

And it hardly deserves a mention, because it is so unutterably depressing, but the cricket is on, and the Ashes are gone. Boxing Day at the MCG was awful. The crowd was enormous (89,000?), and most of it very quiet, as we watched one after another Australian batsmen go out. It was freezing cold, with a nasty wind blowing up into the pavilion. There was a rain interruption, and by the time I took this photo the lights were on. It was a very long quiet walk back to the pavilion in the afternoon.

A chirpy Englishman climbed back into his seat near us at one point and said cheerfully, "It's awfully quiet up here!" And we were all so depressed no one had anything to say in reply. And it's just gone from bad to worse since then. 

OK, back to work.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Am The Woman. And so is Bernadette.

I Am The Woman. The woman who looked at Paul's reservation online and saw that his week-long delayed flight from Heathrow just looked a bit fishy. I am also the woman who phoned Qantas to find out it was a "fictitious" booking, a kind of place-holder that bore no necessary relation to any real flight. Because their system was saying he had already flown home.

The lovely Bernadette is also The Woman. She is the Qantas rep who scrounged around and now has booked him on a flight leaving London Wednesday night in time for him to walk in the door just before Christmas Eve lunch.

I am also the woman who couldn't contain her excitement and phoned the man at 2.00 in the morning to tell him the good news. But I feel, all the same, as if I am bringing him home myself.  I have an awful feeling that if he had turned up to Heathrow on Christmas Day, he might not have had a booking at all.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Extremely rare guest post

I am very sorry my love, but I have just come down to do a final check on my flight for today and it has been changed to Christmas day.
I am stuck here!!!
Attached is the latest version of my diary notes. Please distribute it to family and friends as you see fit and apologize to everybody for my absence.
Love and everything,

On Not Getting Home for Christmas, or, Doubting the Joys of Global Travel

Saturday afternoon, 18 December, Heathrow

The designated boarding time of 11.45 am for BA30 leaving London for Melbourne has come and gone, and Qantas is not telling us anything. I keep checking the board and some Iberian flights have been listed as cancelled. People around me are repeating conversations over and over on their mobile phones, and various delegates from our section go forward to the desk only to be told that Qantas plans to fly soon.

A beautiful flurry of snow begins to obscure the view and I take photos of an Air Emirates plane taxing into Terminal 3. A snow plough leads the plane in, and the curving dark line in the snow and the faint colour of the Emirates’ fuselage make a subtle pastel-on-white composition.

Finally, a public address suggests that BA30 has been delayed until a late-afternoon departure. It all seems hopeful and I settle comfortably into reading an airport thriller on the history of typography and working on an essay on Be’er Sheva and a mosque that has been closed since the 1948 Naqbah when hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced from Palestine.

A few hours later we hear that Qantas no longer knows what is happening, but we should wait. I am good at waiting. A week earlier I had waited patiently for a few days (in vain as it turns out) for a visa from the Israeli authorities to get into Gaza, a visa that I had applied for six weeks earlier on a notified five-day turnaround. My four colleagues were allowed entry, but despite a further day of phone calls to embassies and relevant NGOs I received no word. I was never formally rejected, but still do not know if I am to be approved. The backdrop to that occasion was a wind storm that swept in across Syria and made the air gritty and the streets ugly. Here the snow is exquisite.

The snow stops falling outside. This is much more pleasant than Be’er Sheva buffeted by the dust of the Negev desert. The wine in the Lounge is unusually complex, the coffee is drinkable, and the food is sort-of appetizing even though the beef curry is mostly spiced sauce thickened with flour. By late afternoon I am feeling tired and sleep a little.

A few hours pass with a long Qantas silence on what is happening. Eventually, we do receive some news, but not from official sources: it is the BBC news on a wall-mounted television which announces that the airport is now closed for the evening. At the same time ITV news suggests that a few planes are still leaving Heathrow. A number of clearly-influential passengers had been on their mobile phones and seem to know more than the news reporters and Qantas staff. They pack their bags to leave.

A crowd has gathered to find out what is happening. Some are good natured; some less so. One elderly lady reproaches a tall burly Qantas staff member for not telling us anything. Her voice is not loud, but she is stridently insistent, asking the same question three times, and he turns and walks out saying that he feels threatened. His official-looking hat and jacket look unconvincing from behind as he walks away self-consciously. His legs move with mincing care as if he is new to the skill of walking away.

At around ten o’clock an announcement comes over the public address system that our plane is not leaving tonight, but is now rescheduled to depart at 9.30 in the morning. We need to leave the lounge and be back at 7.30 am. Parents with children are distressed; one parent urges solidarity. ‘We should all stick together. We cannot let them divide us.’

It is announced that Qantas has made no arrangements for hotels or buses. ‘All passengers need to find your own way’, they say. More distress. Five police officers arrive—they are carrying guns—and we are told again that we need to leave by 10.30. ‘You are of course welcome to stay until then and eat what is left of the food, but it is impossible to stay beyond the closing time.’ I return to see if there is any curry sludge left, but all the food has been cleared away by the kitchen staff who are rushing to finish their shift.

I decide to leave. My sense of solidarity has wained. Most of the shops have closed in the terminal and people are rushing in different directions not knowing where we pick up our luggage. When we find the collection area all the signs are dead and there is no way of knowing which is the relevant carousel. I walk up and down the carousels with hundreds of other people, everybody relatively careful not to run others down as they successful find their bags.

Then the final ignominy: we all have to go through border control in order to get out of the airport. It takes an hour. I stand with a Canadian couple who joke about four inches of snow causing such chaos. ‘Call that snow!’

We exchange ironies, and just before midnight I stand on the inside of the state border-line thinking about whether it is worth an hour of travelling on the London Underground in order to get a few hours sleep in an expensive hotel before returning to the airport. It hardly seems worth it. I hate waking up at 5.30 groggy after deep sleep. I choose the romance of finding a quiet space in Heathrow, some forgotten corner to sleep quietly till the morning. I am good at sleeping.

3.00 am, Sunday 19 December

Heathrow Terminal 3 has been taken over by people, thousands of people: some standing, some sitting uncomfortably with silver-foil emergency sheets wrapped around their shoulders, and others sleeping on the hard, cold terrazzo tiles. Copies of newspapers have been spread on the ground to slow the emanation of the cold, and a few people over to the other side have yellow thin-foam camping mattresses that were handed out during the night. They are the lucky ones.

The light is cold and bright except for the ‘Departure’ signs glowing warm yellow with back writing. What is that simple san serif typeface? Is it ‘Transport’, clean and clear, developed for the British road system, or ‘London Underground’, developed by Edward Johnston in the midst of the First World War? I’ll check later in the book on typography that I had been reading in the Qantas lounge yesterday. [Note to self: the book does not say; look it up on the web.]

There are people who appear to be sleeping soundly and comfortably, lying on their sides with the legs pulled up to their bodies and their arms wrapped around their chest. I now know from experience that they are neither comfortable nor sleeping soundly. Over time, and despite the cold, your body and mind enters a nether zone in which moving a limb or twisting a torso is barely possible even though you are conscious that it might help. It takes an act of will to shift your body weight so that the accumulating pain is transferred from one part of your body to another. But it is not sleeping as such. Strange how a crumpled soft body on a hard floor can appear to be comfortable when you are not inside that frame to feel how a hip bone grinds against the marble.

I was in one of those nether states when they—whoever they were—came around with the silver-foil sheets and I missed out on the distribution. Despite being clear now that the floor is hard however you lie on it, my second thought was that the people who appeared to be sleeping soundly were at least snugly warm underneath the foil. I had lain against the counter for organizing hotels—now closed—until the terrazzo had sucked all the warmth out of me and I had then walked, shaking with bone-chilling cold, up and down the arrival halls looking for either a warmer place to sleep or one of the magic transporting silver wraps. After about half-an-hour of walking I found a silver wrap left on a plastic seat. I tried the seat for a while, but it was as a hard as the floor and the breeze from the nearby walkway exit was icy. I find a spot on the terrazzo floor away from the exit, and realize that the thin foil made little difference. I am still cold.

6.00 am Sunday

As the morning opens, people mill in small groups and couples, talking in German, Italian, Spanish and English, repeating conversations with each other, and asking parallel questions of any official-looking persons who happen to be coming by. Nobody knows anything for sure, and all the public address does is repeat messages about staying with your luggage and refraining from smoking as a courtesy to other passengers. A young woman stands above me as I type these notes, oblivious to my presence, shifting backwards and beginning to press with her leg against the laptop screen. I put my hand on her calf to signal my presence and she looks surprised, says something in a language that I do not understand, and moves on in a semi-attractive, slow, zombie-like way.

Other people step over my legs and few acknowledge my presence. I move my bags forward to protect my space. People are moving without purpose, perhaps with the notion that soon they will be in the right place, at the right time, as something happens.

A woman tries to step through the narrow space between me and my bags and begins to lifts her leg over my computer. I put my hand up and tell her that I am here and she might consider walking around me. She retreats and finds a different way through the massing crowd, all without looking at me or saying anything.

Then a passing Qantas official says that the only Qantas plane leaving before 6.00 today in the QF32. Four inches of snow yesterday and London’s Heathrow has closed down for another day. Nobody knows anything official—all the important looking people with Business Class purple tags on their luggage have long gone— and the website still has the plane leaving at 3.00 pm yesterday. It is time to retreat from the madding crowd.

This time I leave to go back to the city to find a warm hotel room. Back in the room I turn up the heat thinking that the vagaries of climate change may have contributed to the early snow storm, but I need to use some thick carbon-producing electricity to make me feel better. I hope that I get home for Christmas. However, at least I am more comfortable that the people of Gaza as they struggle with few resources locked inside a five metre concrete wall. I have all the resources of gold-level frequent flier membership and the ‘Priority Club’ at the Holiday Inn.

Sunday evening

There is no notification from Qantas, no email, no phone call — this seems strange given that they had only a few planes flying out of Heathrow on Saturday and I am one of their most important customers. A thoughtful staff member with a web connection could have set up a group email list and kept us informed. I am beginning to doubt that being a gold-level frequent flier counts for very much. Certainly it is excellent for getting those small advantages and status reinforcements such as getting a forward window seat on the plane so that one can disembark three minutes earlier than others. But it made no difference to the bag collection process at midnight after a few inches of snow.

When I go to the website I find that my booking has changed to Monday midday. No fanfare, no accompanying explanation, but very efficient. I register a wake-up call, and excitedly anticipate the next day. I am going home.

Monday morning 20 December

I check the website again. The booking has been changed to 25 December. It seems that I will not get home for Christmas. The last time I missed Christmas with my family was three decades ago when I was eighteen-years-old and on a Qantas flight from Cairns to Port Moresby. But that is another story.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kindly corrections

In the kindest possible way, Hypatia and another friend have reminded me that the saint customarily associated with breasts is not so much Agnes as Agatha. No wonder I couldn't find the reference in The Leopard to the St Agnes cakes. Thanks to my friend (who may not relish being named here) for finding the description:

Scorning the table of drinks, glittering with crystal and silver on the right, he moved left towards that of the sweetmeats. Huge sorrel babas, Mont Blancs snowy with whipped cream, cakes speckled with white almonds and green pistachio nuts, hillocks of chocolate-covered pastry, brown and rich as the top soil of the Catanian plain from which, in fact, through many a twist and turn they had come, pink ices, champagne ices, coffee ices, all parfaits and falling apart with the squelch of a knife cleft; a melody in major of crystallised cherries, acid notes of yellow pineapple, and green pistachio paste of those cakes called 'Triumphs of Gluttony', shameless 'Virgins' cakes' shaped like breasts. Don Fabrizio asked for some of these, and as he held them on his plate looked like a profane caricature of Saint Agatha claiming her own sliced-off breasts. 'Why didn't ever the Holy Office forbid these puddings when it had the chance? 'Triumphs of Gluttony' indeed! (Gluttony, mortal sin!) Saint Agatha's sliced-off teats sold by convents, devoured at dances! Well! Well!'


And for the pics?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas, St Agnes and Hypatia

About four years ago, I blogged about making Christmas puddings with my father, because I was too sick to stand and cut and grate and chop and mix and beat and stir. Two years ago, I blogged about feeling much better, and being able to do it on my own. This year, I'm a little late in making them, but am hoping a liberal extra dose of St Agnes's finest will make up for this in flavour.

Each year we stir and make a wish. And while a wish is supposed to be secret, I'm writing to invite my readers to make a virtual pudding wish. The puddings are currently boiling and simmering away. It's too late to stir them, so it won't hurt if you add your wish in the comments box.  I'm hoping you might think about adding a word for my friend Hypatia, who is having breast surgery on Tuesday, rather sooner, and more radically, than either she or her oncologist had hoped for. She is such a fierce thinker, is Hypatia, and so keen to get back to work and be with her students and colleagues, but she has a few trials to undergo first. So I hope you might, in even just one word, wish her courage or health or strength or concentration or peace or calm: whatever you would wish for yourself should this ever come to you. And even if you don't want to log on or write anything, please spare her a thought or a wish or a prayer or a blessing.

I realised a moment ago the tremendous irony, serendipity or unconscious convergence in my mention of the not-particularly-special brandy, St Agnes's, that I used in the puddings, since many of the legends of St Agnes describe how this third-century Roman martyr had her breasts torn off with pincers before her eventual beheading. She is now the patron saint, among other things, of breast cancer patients.

I can't find a text on line, and don't have a copy at home, either, but I do recall the thrill of reading Lampedusa's account of the little St Agnes cakes —  white icing and red cherries? —  in The Leopard, too.

Well, it's just getting weird, now, so to bring you back up into my world, here and now, here's a clip of the fabulous Ben Winkelman trio. Ben here is playing keyboards, but we had the CD of him on piano and this track filling the house as we breakfasted and as I tied up my puddings. Ben gave Joel half a dozen lessons before he headed off to New York to make his fortune, so we think of him as ours, of course.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Life, death, book

How weird is this? Two lovely bloggers on my not-very-long blog feed (Northern Lights and Sorrow at Sills Bend) are having or have been having pregnancy dreams about kittens. Not wanting to bring them down, at all, but these dreams remind me I am so much in a different stage of the life cycle. My boy is growing up; has been offered two days full work next week at the funky grocery store in Brunswick where he did work experience in July; has just finished year 10; and patiently sat through the first half of the third Twilight movie with me last night in a mother-son ironic indulgence. (We'll watch the other half today: it's not too bad, but what I really loved were the long atmospheric scene-setting scenes and the soundtrack of the first.)

And I am still thinking about my poor beloved Mima. Especially when I come home, I still catch myself looking forward to seeing her, and am still liable to a little sob now and then. We talk about building an inside/outside enclosure for the next cat, to protect the birds, frogs and lizards in the garden, but in a rather abstract way. Truly, I'm far from ready. And my own body? Just feeling and looking a little older, at various points, and the various medical staff I've seen over the last few weeks have only confirmed this, with various philosophical and comforting remarks. So that's ok, really.

But the maternal impulse is still there somewhere. My hatchlings are growing up so fast (will take photos today and update later). And now that's it warm, it's possible to sit outside and watch the fish in the sunlight. The other day I saw a couple of inchlings, one dark, one a splotchy shubunkin. And then I saw some more that were half that size. And then I saw some more that were even smaller, no bigger than mosquito wrigglers, but very clearly fish. I've never seen any that small. Does that mean they have just come out into the open earlier than normal? If they all survive, we'll have an overcrowding problem. I love to think, in an earth-motherish way, about the chickens and the fish and the frogs and the birds in the garden, to say nothing of the bats we seeing fly overhead now it's summer.

But I have almost run out of social energy, and to preserve some for next week, which is very busy, I skipped the Vice-Chancellor's lunch and the Academic Board lunch and final meeting, and the Arts Faculty end-of-year party last week. But that's also partly because I am now working like a demon on my book, pulling it together tighter and tighter. It feels like the difference between an elastic going three times loosely around a ponytail, so it drops down; and going four times around, so that it stays firmly in place. This revision process doesn't feel at all like maternal labour; it's more like the physical work of toning muscles, or the core stability of a Pilates class. Finally, it's feeling good.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Quick update

In Australia, we finish teaching around the end of October. And that's when it really starts to get busy.

The marking (though I'm not complaining here as I've had a very light teaching load this semester). The meetings. The planning. The exchange approvals (this program has exploded in popularity since I was last in charge of granting subject approvals, and I'm seeing or emailing about three students a day about this). The honours applications: my two weeks on fairy tales in Romancing the Medieval is generating lots of interest for honours thesis topics.

The meetings. Did I say that already?

I'm on two job selection committees: we did video interviews for one, this week, finishing 9.30 pm on Tuesday night. Another big one coming up, for which I want to read some of the candidates' work.

The emails.

Booking various tickets (Marriage of Figaro with Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Rigoletto with Emma Matthews; Ashes cricket with ... well, who knows, by then?).

Planning a little holiday in NZ around the ANZAMEMS conference.

Helping organise our School's Christmas party (with the Blue Manoeuvres).

Reading a re-submitted volume of essays for the Late Medieval and Early Modern Series.

Preparing project pro-formas for the first phases of my work in the Centre of Excellence (I'm already late with this: not a good way to begin, though we don't start till next year).

And finishing my book. I'm feeling more confident about being to wrap it all up as an intellectual project; now it's just a question of finding the time. Sadly, that's what my annual leave will be for, starting Wednesday week...

[Update: and while I wasn't watching, my counter counted its 100,000th visitor since July 2006. Go, little blog!]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

That's how the light gets in.

'There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in.' As Leonard Cohen sang these words, from "Anthem" (Ring the Bells) at Rod Laver Arena tonight, I was struck for the hundredth time this evening by his beautiful, flawed, romantic masculinity. Beautiful singing, extraordinary musicianship and grace all round, from detailed introductions, and slow bows to each band member and singer, returned slowly, before each turned to the audience and bowed. Singers and musicians all clothed in various suits and clothes of greys, purples and whites. So dignified and passionate.

But at the same time with the words to this song I was thinking about Aung San Suu Kyi, and wondering if she had indeed been released this evening. It's wonderful to come home and see on the newsites the smiling face of this dignified and gracious woman, finally freed (and hopefully permanently).
These are the people I want to emulate as I grow older. Dignity, grace and passion.

Ring the bells.

A day later: I found a link:

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The chickens have now been out of the egg for about ten days. Whenever we open the lid of their box they jump up and start flapping their little wings, unless it's late afternoon, when they are settled down on their newspaper bed like one big fluffy pillow. Here they are when they were first put into their box after being in the incubator. Some of them are moving faster than others: for example the really blurry yellow one in the bottom left hand corner.

We have since bought them a proper water dispenser so they don't have to walk into the bowl to drink.

Abel came round the other day and showed us how to tell male from female - the woman - as he said. At first it seemed a very imprecise science, though there are things you can look for in the way their feathers develop, when they are very little, and then in their little vent, so you have to hold them upside down and massage them a little. I could kind of see what he meant, but am not giving up my day job yet.

Mother Nature has excelled herself, apparently, producing eight female and seven male chicks, evenly — though confusingly — distributed between dark and light colours.

One of Joel's friends came round on Tuesday, and they spent a good hour just sitting and cuddling the chickens. And Jane from the chook group is coming tomorrow to bring her son to admire them. The more we handle and pet them the better. One of them hopped up on my hand a moment ago, and that was cute. They are rapidly getting too big for this box, though they are far too small to go up to Ceres, so Paul is converting the lower floor of Joel's treehouse (don't ask) for lodgings. But today it's raining steadily, and in any case he is still recovering from being bitten by mosquitoes or spiders the other day.

The chook group is losing Kelly, but before she left for her Very Big Job in Canberra, she spent an afternoon with the chickens up at Ceres, and took these terrific photos.

One of the proud fathers.

"Peck hem up right as they grow and ete hem in."

Another proud father with a group of proud mothers.

This is what free range really looks like: chickens with room to run around under the fruit trees.

End of a long day in front of the camera.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Late with essay: here's a tiny installment

Oh dear. I am running along as fast as I can, whizzing past a series of writing deadlines. I'll keep going, but will just pause to paste a couple of paragraphs:

In yet another display case in the same hall in Canberra are three petitions on bark from the Yirrkala people in Arnhem land, presented to the parliament in 1963, and 1968, requesting that their submission protesting the proposed excision of land from the Arnhem Land reserve be heard before the relevant committee. The petitions are typed on paper, with English translation beneath, and pasted onto bark that is decorated with traditional Yirrkala designs, including fish, turtles and lizards. They are accompanied by an appropriate certification from the Clerk, affirming that their form on bark was acceptable to parliamentary bureaucratic requirements: ‘I certify that this Petition is in conformity with the Standing Orders of this House.’ An information card in the case also draws attention to the medieval antecedents of the form of the petition:

The three bark petitions displayed here are vivid examples of the fundamental right, dating back to the thirteenth century, of citizens to petition parliament concerning their grievances.

There’s a lovely and not atypical contradiction here between the anxiety about the  form of the bark petitions that needs to be reassured with the Clerk’s certification; and the affirmation, taking the longer historical view, that these petitions are ‘vivid’ exemplars of a medieval tradition. These differences may reflect changes in attitudes to indigenous culture between the 1960s and the more recent present: they are just as likely to reflect the contradictory relationship between modernity and its medieval inheritance.

I just remembered why I love my job. Now, back to it!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Chicken scratching for my immortality (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)

The incubator itself is nothing more fancy than a big polystyrene container. There are channels in the bottom to hold water; while the top has a small heater, with thermostat attached, and a small perspex square to look through. There's also a wire tray that sits on top of the water channels. Add a thermometer on a little stand; and that's pretty much it. You select clean eggs with smooth skins, and store them for no more than a few days after being laid before stabilising the temperature at 103, filling one of the channels with water, and laying the eggs on the wire tray. You mark one side with a pencil cross; the other with a zero. For 18 days (for chicken eggs) you turn the eggs morning and night; clockwise, then anti-clockwise. If you keep turning them in the same direction they get all twisted up inside and don't develop. Of course the hen does all this keeping them warm, and humid and turned properly all by herself.

After 18 days you make sure there is water in the outside channel (more in dry climates), turn them for the last time and close the lid. Under no circumstances must you open it until the chicks have hatched.

Before I left for work this morning I could hear a faint chirruping. And now there are about four or five that have come out of their shells, and I can hear them scrabbling around amongst the broken shells, chirping madly. Joel and I watched two come out at the same time, about half an hour ago. The first thing you see is a small triangular piece of shell broken off. Then the baby chick's single tooth breaks through the membrane. There's usually a pause of about an hour while it recovers from this exertion. Then it starts to break the egg in a zig zag pattern, around the broadest part of the egg. This might take half an hour. Then all of a sudden, the egg breaks neatly in two, and panting and puffing, the chick unfurls itself and kicks free of the egg. It's wet, of course, and can hardly hold up its head. Peering into the box, you are very relieved to see it panting and breathing. But within half an hour, it's sitting up; and within another half hour, it's dry and fluffy.

Sitting at my desk, I can hear them moving around so vigorously I think they're going to lift the lid and come out, though I know that's impossible. As I go and peer into the box again, I can see the humidity starting to fog up the little window; one or two more eggs have their first little triangle broken, and are wobbling back and forth; while some are not moving at all. I'll give them another 24 hours, then will have to open the box and start to feed the little ones, knowing that those who've not yet made it out, probably won't, or are unfertilised or damaged in some way.

Watching the two little ones emerge — one pale, one dark — with my own child was pretty extraordinary. He's seen this before, but doesn't remember; and at 15 is suitably intrigued, sentimental and concerned about them.

Warm thoughts tonight, then, of the many friends and facebook friends who've given birth recently: Nicole, Amy, Belinda, Clare, and yesterday, Genevieve; and very soon, Kim; and next year, Melanie. And for all those who nurture, in all ways. Well, it was work-in-progress day for our graduate students today; and I know we all felt so proud of them.

So if you're up at Ceres around about Christmas or the New Year, and see some smaller,  younger hens up there, you'll know you were a bloggy witness to their birth.

And just because we can link, here's Joni, in Japan:

Monday, November 01, 2010

Late Hallowe'en tribute: The Headless Horseman

The streets are quiet today; like a late Sunday morning. And why? Because it's the Monday before the Melbourne Cup. Only in Australia do you end up with a four-day weekend to celebrate a horse race that lasts about two minutes (though I'm sure it seems longer if you have put a lot of money on it).

Anyway, I'm working on my Magna Carta essay; Joel is home because the teachers are only giving them fill-in work if they go to school as they are having some other meeting. And after a little searching, I've found a slightly wobbly video of his vocal group at Melba Hall from earlier in the year. Sound and picture get a little better as they go along: but it's a nice taste of what the group can do.

Actually let's call this a tribute to Hallowe'en and the Melbourne Cup:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad rufous night heron! bad!

Early dusk, and the pale yellow light of a rain-drenched Hallowe'en shone on the huge reddy brown bird, perched solidly on the edge of the fishpond, amidst growth that after all this rain can only be described as verdant. And shining.  I summoned the others to marvel at its beauty, then we ran outside, shouting loudly, to frighten it away from the fishpond. It flew away; but an hour later was back, perching high in the citriodora. We looked it up, and it's a nankeen or rufous night heron. When it's breeding, it has an elegant white plume down the back of its neck. The one we saw had a plume about eight inches long, as opposed to the much shorter one in the picture here. I understand it's feeding itself and its young, but after such a visitation, we don't see our fish for days. And even if we could frighten it away, it would still come back and be feeding at night. It was huge, solid, and placid. And hungry. Trick or treat, rufous night heron?

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Looking for America

After Italian class, popped into La Latteria for burrata and squaquerno cheese, olive oil from Gippsland, then Dench for grain loaf. After lunch, washing up with Joel playing Simon and Garfunkel's "America" which he's hoping to sing in his music class on Thursday (honestly, that class sometimes sounds like something from Glee) and the two of us singing along and harmonising as we went. Reminded me of harmonising Methodist hymns with my family over the kitchen sink, years ago.  I'm supposed to be working on my essay on Magna Carta; and he's supposed to be doing piano practice before we visit Paul's parents. But here am I searching versions of the song on YouTube, while I can hear him trying out the chords to the song on the piano — and now the guitar (which he can barely play). It's enough to make a fond mother weep.

Not really a video here; but lovely music for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Annual mammogram is clear: check!
Annual ultrasound is clear: check!
Annual physical exam is clear: check!
Annual interview with the goddess: brief, but clear! Check!

It's not that I was really worried: apart from a cold, I'm fit as a fiddle. But so I was when I first discovered the tell-tale dimple in the bathroom of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St Louis during a meeting of the NCS congress committee, almost exactly four years ago. So the possibility of a nasty surprise is always in the back of my mind. But as the years and treatment go on, it seems less and less likely I'm up for any kind of recurrence. I've just ridden home from this very reassuring set of appointments. I've also just ridden home again from the clinic wher I found, just where I parked my bike the first time, the hand-made copper earring Paul brought me from Lebanon, which must have slipped out of my ear when I was putting my helmet back on. All these things, on top of a gym session which included a lot of running this morning, have left me feeling extremely fit and healthy and pleased with myself today.

Searching back for that post about my surgeon, I also found this one about elementary meditation; a practice I have let go, rather. I feel I am moving too fast at the moment (the books I'm writing; the committees I'm attending; the plans I'm making) for such a slow activity. But of course, that's probably a sign I should think again about doing something slowly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A quick word from Hypatia

Many thanks to all who've contributed suggestions to Hypatia's reading and listening list. She has emailed to say how grateful she is to everyone — "moved and cheered", she says. And she'll keep checking back, so if you think of anything else, please add it in.

She also says she is very happy for you to picture her as Rachel Weisz, though I must admit this film passed me by completely:

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's quite simple, really

At a book launch recently, I was moaning to someone that I was struggling to finish the last chapter of my book because I wasn't sure how it was going to end. Russell said, brilliantly, "It was an ARC grant, wasn't it? Just go back to the application."

Oh. My. Goodness.

I've just done precisely that, and pasted in a number of finely crafted paragraphs into my chapter to work from. Now I just have to hold my nerve, join up the dots, somehow work in Sir Nilss Olaf, and I'm done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pink breast cancer nonsense time again: but a challenge for you here.

Yes, folks, it's October again; the joyous time of year when "awareness" of breast cancer is being sold, world-wide, to consumers of anything from hair-dryers to teddybears, water to yoghurt. I've written elsewhere (a long time ago) about the insidious association of shopping with medical research and the much-vaunted "awareness" of the disease (anything with "Shop for the Cure" associated with it is deeply problematic, in my view); and others have written eloquently and knowledgeably about the irony of the miniscule donations made to breast cancer research from companies whose products may well contain carcinogens, to say nothing of the dreadful infantilisation, eroticisation and sexualisation of women and the breast ("saving second base!") that characterises many of these campaigns. If you're interested in reading more in this vein, check out Breast Cancer Action or Twisty's recent post, with its excoriating critique of the recent Facebook "it" campaign. There is also this celebrated essay by Barbara Ehrenreich.

But this post is for my new friend: let us call her Hypatia. I met her earlier this year, and while we got on very well, we have become much closer since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, very recently. It's an email correspondence, as she lives in a far northern country. We have much in common. We both love our academic work; and both reeled to see how a diagnosis like this cut such a swathe through our sense of self as thinking, writing women. Her progress through treatment is going to be rather longer than mine, I'm sorry to say, as she is starting with chemotherapy, then moving on to surgery, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy; so she is looking at about a year of being — if not sick all the time — then acutely under the care of the medical profession. She has had her first two doses of chemotherapy: her hair is falling out; her brain has gone mushy, she says; and she had a violent anaphylatic reaction to the first dose. She has a bruised hand from the second; and her ankles and toes are painful. Other side-effects, too. But she doesn't want to join a support group and "have her colours done."

Like me, Hypatia was also diagnosed around October; and has been somewhat spooked, I think, by the horror stories you hear around this time. For me, it was poor Belinda Emmett, who died the week I was having my surgery, the night Kylie Minogue made her first return to the stage after a year away. (This means, yes, I am a week away from my fourth-year mammogram and ultrasound next week: fingers crossed...) There is also the gruesomely normative femininity that is so often the only one available on so many commercial "awareness" sites. We're "aware", already, alright? And some of us are smart and clever, and miss our work and our colleagues when we are sick.

I feel very far away from my friend. And I know you would like her, and wish her well. So this is my October gesture. I'm inviting you to send a message of support to Hypatia in my comments box. Or to suggest something she might like to read or listen to (because there will be days when she won't be able to read a sentence). Or your favourite thinking woman's blog (don't worry if you can't make the link work). Let's put together a collection of things a sick and smart woman (truly, when I met her, she was blazing with intelligence and smartness) might like to read. I don't mean necessarily hi-falutin', either: someone loaned her a boxed set of Little House on the Prairie, and it seems to have gone down a treat, though I bet she just dipped in and out of it, because that's all you can do. But there'll be times over the next year or so when she'll be feeling stronger. And perhaps the list we make might be something you can send to your friends should they ever be in similar straits. This seems to me a good thing to do in breast cancer October.


What a lovely cat she was.

My mother sent me three photos she found of Mima, all taken by my mother-in-law, in May 96. Joel was 14 months old; Mima a few years older. Lots of things to like here: that these photos have been circulated around among two grandmothers and a mother; to see Mima sitting safely on the window sill, observing the baby, and watching over him, but out of his way; and to see Joel's stripey jumper (knitted by Mum), his little red cup which has long disappeared, and his long wispy hair. I'm afraid to say it got quite a bit longer before we thought about cutting any of it off. Also, the Paddington bear rattle at Mima's feet that Whatladder gave him. The photo of Joel would have been taken on one of Nan's Tuesdays, when she would come and play games and sing songs with him all day long. She would have carefully brushed his hair before taking his photo, too.

But here is Mima up close, looking like a goggle-eyed model for a Kliban cat cartoon. In latter years, she had become rather thin: here she is in her furry maturity.

And here she is again, wearing her most noble and wise expression:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Word salads; salad words; salad days

I am now really truly and seriously working on chapter seven. In it are Camilla's tampon; Annie Liebowitz; Virginia Woolf; the little model of St George and the Dragon that replaces the jaguar on the Queen's car when she rides out; a drinks coaster and a packet of chocolates. If only I could get the order right.

But in the meantime, I am driving to Glenroy to pick up a new thermometer for the incubator — and then driving back later that day with my wallet. I'm making a warm salad of zambucca prawns, polenta chips, fresh coriander, and yoghurt cheese. I'm meeting with students and going to meetings, and agreeing to attend lots more. I'm answering emails and paying bills. I'm watching the Australian women's hockey team win gold in Delhi. I'm watching Chilean miners ascend from the earth. I'm starting to think about a lecture I'm giving soon on John Forbes. I'm planning a trip to Perth in a couple of weeks; and wondering how to finish my essay on the Australian parliamentary obsession with Magna Carta before then. Thanks to a facebook friend, Gio Abate, I'm journeying back to the past, listening to Melanie Safka, "Leftover Wine". I'm checking the temperature in the incubator before finally setting the eggs tonight, while improvising a metal tray out of a cake cooling rack because the proper one has gone missing (I'll have to get something bigger in three weeks when the chickens hatch, otherwise they'll fall off the edge of the cake tray: hardly an auspicious beginning to life). I'm tidying up the garden because the designer has entered it into a competition, four years later. I'm experimenting with some new medication. I'm thinking about how to fulfill the annual leave requirements while serving out my term as head.

And I'm waiting for Paul to come home from Sri Lanka (no ordinary research trip, this one), as he's going with some indigenous AFL players to visit indigenous communities in Sri Lanka, a kind of reconciliation program through sport. Oh, and look what I've just found on YouTube: some raw footage of the doco they're making, with a nice soundtrack: keep watching till you see someone — is that Adam Goodes? — pick up the flag at the end of the soccer pitch and make like the didgeridoo with it:

You can't really see Paul here; except sometimes with his camera.

So that was what some of today was like. But it began (and here I'm responding to KG's curiosity after my FB update), with a boxing class at the gym.

Since Sophie, my dear trainer, left the gym a few months ago, I've been working on my own, though have also just started pilates classes. But for two weeks the gym made all its classes free for members, and I signed up for a trial this morning.

I'd done a tiny bit with Sophie, so had a rough idea what to expect. Alex the trainer is pretty tough, though. There were six of us in the group, so after a bit of a warm up, we divided into pairs. I held the pads for another woman for the first 15 minutes, as Alex took us (in his rather heavy French accent) through a sequence of various things. I can't describe them very well, really, but there's lots to remember. Left foot forward; keep both hands up in guard position; and then various crosses and jabs; punching directly into the pad held up before you; or swinging across, almost horizontally into the pad held at right angles; then ducking; then kicking up into the pad held low; then punching down, either quickly or strongly, into the pads the other person holds at thigh height. Then some elaborate sequences of left right, up and down, etc. It took me a long time to work out which bit I was counting, and my partner was very patient. So we'd do a sequence of five movements, with ten, then eight, then six repetitions, etc. Then we swapped; and she held the pads for me. Then we did a mini circuit of 60 second repetitions: skipping rope; jumping backwards and forwards on the rope ladder laid out on the floor; a little push-up assisting machine; steps up and down on a little step; a little wheel you'd roll out and back from a kneeling position; then resting your forearms on a big punching back lying on the ground, and bringing your knees up to kick it. Then another short punching session; then a stretch. I have to say it was a lot of fun. To my surprise (apart from the difficulty of co-ordinating and counting the sequences), I wasn't too slow, or unable to do most of it. There were two men and four women. Some skipped faster; did lower squats; and more full-length push-ups than I did (I'm concentrating on my form, here, to make sure I'm doing them right), but I held my own. And certainly wouldn't have been able to do that 12 months ago.

In keeping with the salad-theme of this post, I have now lost any thread it once had, and so, unusually, I'm not going to edit much. I'm going to bed, instead.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Why a facial recognition problem is a problem

At Readings for a book launch on Friday (the second that week) I was trying to get close to the action and found myself stuck in a long aisle with no chance of seeing anything. I passed a woman who smiled at me and looked familiar, and assuming she was a graduate student in my school (there are lots and lots) I made a cheery remark about what a terrible place it was for a booklaunch. (And it is, in its logistics, though I love that they are willing to have academic book launches there.) You can't see or hear the action very well, and if you are a customer wanting to browse those sections for an hour, it's impossible.  Anyway I explained all this to the poor girl, then went back around and up another aisle and found some people I knew. During the launch speech, I looked over to the cash register where the wine was being served, and sure enough, there she was, obviously an employee. Well, she may also be a graduate student. But I did feel foolish. But have learned that it only makes it worse to go and apologise for my rudeness: viz. "I'm sorry I was rude about your workplace: I thought you smiled at me and I wrongly assumed I should have known who you were — but didn't." And even worse to start explaining about the whole face-blindness syndrome.

Also, what I want to know is this: how many times is it acceptable to refer to your own work when launching a book by someone else? Not that many, I would have said. I have just been invited to do my first launch speech, in December, so my mind is much occupied by the genre.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Gadding about

The last two or three weeks have been hectic. Two events in Perth; and then a day trip to Canberra on the kind invitation of Black Rod for the opening of federal Parliament the next day; then another departure, on holiday, to East Gippsland, with bikes on the train, the day after that. Lots to blog about; as well as many emails to catch up on; and book chapters and articles to finish. And the minutiae of administration: bleah. I'll write properly soon.

In the meantime, here's my certificate from my balloon ride, plus the map with our route from D6 to H4 in green texta. I'd ideally like to see a full stop after my name, but I have to admit I think the syntax on this certificate is pretty good, as such things go...


Actually, I've just realised that to describe an adventure, as opposed to an adventurer, as "flamboyant" is not totally felicitous. I must have been wanting to read that as a description of myself, I think.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rumination, depression and other emotions

The first day of the ASSA/CMEMS/IAS/ARC CHE (etc. etc.) interdisciplinary workshop on the emotions was suitably intense. We met in the beautiful wood-lined original old building of the UWA, which was at one time used as a cricket pavilion (I mean: just look at it). We are a bunch of about 20 psychologists, historians, literary critics and classicists. The workshop is called "Understanding Emotions" but it's really turning out to be about how psychology and the history of emotions can talk to each other.

As you'd expect, we all speak a rather different language — and I think this discussion should ideally have the disciplines of psychiatry and psychoanalysis here — but the format is great. It's mostly 15 minute papers with two ten minute responses and then the rest of the hour for discussion. 

Some amazing papers, but some stand-out moments, too.

A music psychologist described working with dementia patients. Singing provides an amazing restorative because music triggers various memory tracks in the brain — but the most moving thing was to think of the carers seeing their loved ones ... as they used to be. (OK, I shed a little tear here.

A psychologist's response to a paper on academic emotions described the difference between two kinds of thinking: one is the adaptive, perhaps process-driven one that helps surgeons and air-traffic controllers do their job; another is the ruminative, more open-ended kind of thinking that suits disciplines like literary studies. But it is the ruminative thinker who is apparently more likely to become depressed. (He also said there was clinical evidence to suggest that men lie "prolifically" about their emotions...)

The final session of the day was to be a 90-minute round table. We spent quite a while compiling a list of possible topics. A psychologist muttered good-naturedly, "why don't we just starting talking about one of these?" — to which I replied, "but we're ruminating..."

My paper — on various accounts of the Great Fire of London — is on today, just about as the AFL grand final is on. A dear friend is promising to stream the match in the background as I speak.

Since the poor old Bombers finished the season third from the bottom, I don't have much invested, really, in the outcome. But since Essendon is traditional rival with Collingwood, and since it is simply so much fun to have a team you hate —  Go Saints!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The oldest, the slowest and the best

Everything had to be perfect. First, we had to find a day we could both meet the unusual and somewhat demanding schedule. Then we had to wait on the conditions. My instructions were to phone the afternoon before, for a preliminary go-ahead. Then, if all was well, we'd get an early morning call. It took nearly four months for all the pieces to slot into place.

Yesterday, the phone rang at 4.15. We dutifully got out of bed, made a small thermos of coffee and set off in the car. The streets were quiet; and the sky very dark. At the rendez-vous, we met the others and climbed into the van. We were driven into a dark little park in the shadows of the West Gate Bridge. It's reclaimed swampland, and the mutantly large mosquitoes were there to prove it. It took a while to unload all the equipment, and then the giant fan started its work. Suddenly it was time to go. I was first, and climbed in to lie on my back. Two more followed amidst a rush of shouted instructions and frantic movements in the dim light, then gradually the giant basket was tipped upright, the others climbed in, the ropes were released and we were airborne. The sheets and sheets of fabric that had looked so awkward and heavy on the ground assumed their perfect, classic shape as we rose up in the pale morning.

The city gradually took shape below us as we adjusted to the odd rhythms of balloon flight: the utter stillness and silence of moving with the wind — not a breath of air moving across your face — alternating with the rush and the yellow and blue flare of the gas burners, so loud you couldn't hear the voice of the person next to you, and a hot enough flame to make you pull your collar up on the back of your neck. There was also something beautifully earthly about floating in something made of wicker and leather.

The river and the docklands were a jumbled mixture of lights and trucks moving in jerky little patterns, but the dark green water of the river, and the jetties and little white boats beneath us were surprisingly still. We saw the two square tops of the grey pillars of the Bolte Bridge, then turned around to see the bay and the city laid out before us, as we moved slowly, gracefully, north-eastwards. The other balloon followed us as we flew in a formation organised almost entirely by the wind.

Perhaps a sunny morning would be more spectacular. We didn't actually see the sun come up, for example, and it would have been fun to see the sunlight reflected in the east windows of the city. But the atmospherics of flying not too far from the edges of low clouds and light rain were also spectacular. Weirdly, we passed over the Medley building where my office is; and then not too far from our house, as we flew over Carlton and Fitzroy, and then lower and lower over Northcote. Melbourne Cemetery looked flat, low and grey. Canning St, with its wide green median strip and bike paths, looked surprisingly wide. Trains, of course, looked like toy models. We saw our best friends' house (their car wasn't there, so perhaps Peter was already at swimming training), and then a dog out walking, utterly spooked by the apparition of us.

We landed with a skid along a football ground in Thornbury, and turned to watch as the yellow balloon came to land behind us. It was quicker to pack up the balloon, rolling it up and squeezing out the air. We bundled it into its big canvas bag, and held it down while Chris, our pilot, leaped on top and pressed it all tightly in.

There was a mild hiatus in our joy as we battled Hoddle St traffic back into the city, over the river, and back up to our rendez-vous in the Botanical Café on the edge of the Botanical Gardens, just opposite the Shrine. Chris took coffee orders while we found our specially laid table, with balloon breakfast menu, jugs of iced water and specially labelled balloon champagne also on ice. It is apparently a long tradition, of 227 years, now, of finishing a balloon flight with champagne. It was also good to have it there to toast the happiness of the young couple who had quietly become engaged on the flight, or just before, so discreetly the other eight of us hadn't noticed. We toasted their health, admired their beautiful diamond ring, and sat down to eat a perfect breakfast (I had silky, golden scrambled eggs, crispy hash browns and very fresh spinach), washed down with more champagne.

Chris moved from one end of the table to the other, answering our questions, telling us stories and traditions of ballooning (Wikipedia confirms many of them). Finally he presented us each with a map showing where we had flown, and a certificate, commemorating our courage in rather beautiful syntax. I have scanned this at work, but forgot to email it to myself. I'll add it in, along with some photos I've ordered (taken from a little camera suspended from the balloon), and some of Paul's images, in the fullness of time.

I was a little apprehensive when I booked this trip for a birthday surprise for Paul. I'm not too bad with heights, but I'm not great with things like cantilevered platforms or chairlifts when there is nothing beneath you. But this was pretty much an hour of bliss. We drove home, then set off for work again on our bikes. Canning St seemed even greener than usual, and all day I felt an extraordinary elation. Perhaps it was the champagne; but I think it was really the vision of our beloved city, seen from such a wonderful flight, that made me so happy.

Chris said it took him about ten years to qualify as a commercial ballooning pilot. Imagine how hard it would be to log the flight hours when it's so contingent on the weather. They'd done only three flights in August, too. But he proudly described ballooning as the oldest and the slowest form of air travel. It's also by far the best.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Queen of cities; queen of cheeses

If ever you were in doubt that Melbourne is the queen of cities, you need consider only this: it's possible to return from two weeks in Italy when you ate burrata mozzarella every second day, and were utterly ravished by its soft, creamy clouds and twists, then come home and on one day be offered fresh buffalo mozzarella at The European for lunch, but turn it down, because at home you have a tub of fresh burrata you bought the day before, at La Latteria, a "mozzarella laboratory", and milk, yoghurt and cheese shop that is literally on your way home. This place makes burrata and other varieties of mozzarella fresh daily on the premises in Carlton, from buffalo milk from Queensland and Mildura. I bought crumbed bocconcini, which we had last night, a tub of yoghurt cheese with chilli and mint, and a tub of two big balls of burrata. I can't wait to go back and try their cream; and their other cheeses. It's even tempting to think about buying milk there and recycling the bottles...

Paul is away tonight, and Joel is in Italy on his school trip (ahem), so I treated myself on my own: a big plate of fresh spinach, shaved avocado, a Roma tomato, salt, fresh pepper, green olive oil, and lemon juice. I then took the soft white ball of burrata — about the size of a cricket ball — out of its tub and sat it in the middle of the plate. It sat there, gleaming, wet, and shimmering. Then mustering my courage, I poked at it with the tip of my knife, and as the woman in the shop promised, the soft creamy insides spilled out, and I lifted off the outside skin. And the finishing touch? The balsamic glaze, which I used to write crazy scripts of sweet, dark caramel lines and hieroglyphs across the plate. I took myself off to the couch, and demolished the lot. It was just as well no one was there to see me eat this: it would not have been a very edifying sight.

But I'm sure it's on the strength of this feast that I wrote two brilliant sentences of Chapter Seven tonight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

World Triathlon Championships

It's one thing to be the director of an ARC Centre of Excellence — and all power to Philippa Maddern at UWA, who'll direct our Centre for the History of Emotions. But it's another thing altogether to be the director of the only Centre that will be based at Melbourne *and* to come 7th in the World Triathlon Championships in Budapest. OK, so it was the Veterans' division, or some such, but this is the feat accomplished by my friend Geoff Taylor in the Physics department, who is not only part of the team working on the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, but shaved 2 minutes off his PB in the event; and a full 3 minutes off his biking split.

Congratulations, Geoff!

Hmm. And on a day when I'm lurking at home, not even going for a walk, and catching up on emails...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Call for papers: "Futures"

A call for submissions for our wonderful, refereed postgraduate journal, antiTHESIS. Head here for the full call for papers on the topic "Futures."

It has become increasingly difficult to conceive of our culture as following a dialectical progression from a shared past into a collective future, whether utopian or dystopian. We find ourselves instead at a point at which “The Future,” a key concept in all branches of Western thought, creativity and experience, is replaced by myriad “Futures” of immediate relevance and consequence. How is our relationship to the future changing, and how do we actualise these potential futures?

The editors of antiTHESIS are seeking papers exploring the concept of futures to be published in Volume 21 of the journal. We invite graduate students and researchers from all disciplines within the arts, humanities and social sciences to submit abstracts. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

Terminus: the perceived ends of art, theory, ideology and history (and what comes after) • Alternative cultural and Indigenous perceptions of temporality • Future places and spaces • Future bodies, future minds • SF: speculative and science fiction • Futures of communication: new forms of language and media • Futures of diaspora, race and migration • Genetic futures: neo-hybridity and bio-technics • Technology: innovation, renovation and obsolescence • Retro-futurism: past visions of the future in design and fashion • Possible worlds: future political and social models • Environmental futures • Future memory and memorialisation • Apocalyptic visions •

Submissions should be sent to editor.antithesis@gmail.com by Monday, 11 October 2010.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

How to mess up a job interview

In a couple of weeks, my School will be holding a workshop for graduate students on academic job interviews. It will involve a mock interview, for which we are currently preparing a kind of script, with a mix of "good" and "bad" responses.  In this country, we are usually pretty hamstrung in the questions we can ask, which are usually supposed to be the same for each candidate.

In a nutshell, the questions would normally be something like this:

·       Why should we hire you? i.e. what’s distinctive about you and why are you a good fit for this job? (code for "how will you fit in with us?")
·       Tell us about your current and future research plans?
·       Tell us about your teaching philosophy – and give an example of how you handle difficult situations.
·       What kind of graduate supervisor will you be? This is especially hard for recent graduates...
·       This job involves a fair amount of administration (i.e. convening a large first-year subject). How will you balance the demands of teaching and research?
·       What kind of courses would you like to teach?
·       Do you have any questions for us?

From your experience, on either side of the interview table, what are the most common pitfalls for job candidates in this situation? What kinds of answers work best? What are the golden rules of academic job interviewing? We have a very talented person who will be the "candidate" in this interview, but it would be great to have some specific examples. Any suggestions and advice are welcome. And then I'll undertake to post an account of the session, with the advice from our expert.