Thursday, June 21, 2007

This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill!

To check who is still paying attention, and reward same:

Introducing Plan B, due 1 January 2008 and currently resident in Loz. All limbs present and accounted for. Woohoo! And eek!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thesis, jobs, etc

So, we got back from Iceland on Tuesday night. On Wednesday Rohan and Narelle left around midday, and after that I was deep in thesis wrassling. By Wednesday night I had finished the main body of my thesis (but for editing) at a princely 29,700 words. On Thursday morning, my supervisor, who had previously told me that both he (one examiner) and the external examiner had agreed to the overrun, the Uni's central body was now threatening to rely on the overrun if my mark was borderline to bump it down, which he said he couldn't guarantee that it was not. TWO WEEKS FROM SUBMISSION. Helpful.

Then, when he was reviewing the final draft, he seemed upset about the idea of cutting any of it out and said I shouldn't stress too much about culling words, and that he was sure it was a distinction, not borderline. ARGH.

Anyway, through cosmetic footnote amendments I have carved out 1500; I may be able to lose another 1-1500 through text edits and carving out "my darlings" as they say in literary circles. Either way I am going to be submitting a piece that is more than 10,000 words over a 15,000 word limit and there is nothing I can do at this late juncture to change that, since I need all the bits of the bloody argument to make the point. Such is the price of ambition. Fortunately I have almost reached the "don't care" threshold.

In other very peculiar news, when I first came here my old work tried to line up some part-time jobs for me. None came through, but I had an email out of the blue from one of the firms offering me part-time casual work. They are happy for me to do under 20 hours per week, so I think it will fit nicely around study and force me to be a little more efficient, rather than, you know, writing blog entries instead :) It's trade mark paralegal work, which I can do standing on my head, and it's only 10 quid an hour, but that's 10 quid an hour more than I am getting now (and incidentally, about equivalent to my first lawyer wage with currency conversion - funny eh?). So, my first job interview in 7 years consisted of a very nice law firm partner saying "please say yes" and me responding "what the hey." It will be funny to be a drudge again but probably all I can handle at this stage. We shall see. I start Monday.

Happy birthday to nephew J. We're looking forward to getting home and borrowing you from your mum and dad!

Thesis words added this week: about 1000.
Thesis words subtracted: about 1500.
Thesis words still to subtract according to vague threats from Uni central body which shall be disregarded: 12,000.


Hallgrimska, Reykjavik, 12:30am

Over the weekend we had a lovely trip to Iceland. A proper trip, even, namely on of the three or four in my entire life for which I've had to pay for accomodation (what the hell are family and friends for anyway?).

We landed just before midnight on Friday at Keflavik, and from there it was a 40 minute bus ride to Reykjavik ("smoky bay"). As a result, we got to see the sun set. After midnight. And it didn't go all the way down; it just sort of sulked over the horizon. This photo of the main cathedral, Hallgrimska, was taken just as we were walking to our guesthouse, pushing 1am. FREAKY. The sun came back up again a little after 3am which wouldn't have been a problem, except that we had no blinds in our room. Funny how quickly you get used to it though.

I must say I did a kickass job of picking the guesthouse. It was opposite a strip joint and two pubs, two blocks back from the harbour and one from the main shopping strip, and our apartment had a jacuzzi, dishwasher, and washing and drying machines, making the place as a whole roughly 98% more attractive, convenient and awesome than the pixieflat. I miss you guesthouse apartment! Oh, but since Reykjavik's water is geothermally heated, things got a little sulfurous when showering/washing up/having any contact whatsoever with hot water. This I do not miss.

On Saturday we had a wander around Reykjavik, which at 300,000 barely counts as a city by back-home standards. It is really quite pretty; all the old houses are made out of corrugated iron, but with elaborate wooden trims. Note to self: bring true gospel of tarting up tin shacks home. The main shopping strip is nice but quite tourist-directed (albeit blessedly without any of the major European/American chains) and really pushing Icelandic lopi jumpers. These are a little too simple for me to spend 80 euro on, given I could make one with my eyes closed for about a quarter of that, but they were interesting to eyeball anyway. I did actually pick up two balls of thin icelandic wool for about 1/5 of what I've seen anything sold in UK, land of "we pretend we don't have sheep so as to force up the prices." Icelandic wool is tough as an old boot, and I imagine would outwear merino by several hundred years. Might be a little rough on the hands, but we'll see!

During our wander, Grant made a new friend at the sculpture garden near Hallgrimska. Then we headed up the tower of the church itself, which is one of the high points of the city. It was great except that (a) I'm terrified of heights and (b) we went up there just before 3pm without realising what happens in a bell tower on the hour. BELL MAKE BIG NOISE.

Later, we went out on a boat for a whale/puffin-watching adventure, which did indeed include sightings of puffins on Puffin Island (shooting fish in a barrel, as that's where the puffins live at this time of year) but only dolphins, no whales around. Unfortunately dolphins appeared to satisfy there "get a cetacean sighting or get another trip free," or so I gathered from the tour guide's repeated discussion of the dolphins several hours after we had last seen them. The dolphins were, in fact, pretty cool - not like bottlenoses at all.

Later, in commemoration of the puffin sighting, my companions ate a puffin. I demurred.

On Sunday we rented a car to better experience the joys of Iceland. It came with a CD to replace those pesky human tour guides. Once we worked out the suggested route out of town it was quite good. The route was the golden circle, which covers Geysir (the Big One after which all geysers are named), Gulfoss (honking waterfall) and a park called Thingvellir (actually it isn't "Th" it's an icelandic character, the same as for the start of Thor's name, but let's not overtax blogger) where the Icelanders formed the first European parliament.

First stop was a nice lava field:

The dirt is quite black; the green stuff is really thing moss, not grass. Quite an alien landscape. At the instructions of our tour guide CD, we then visited this volcanic crater:

Oo er. We of course had to walk down into it; Grant and Rohan then raced each other back up, because they are both youngest children. And people make fun of my only child status. AT LEAST I WASN'T SCARRED FOR LIFE, people.

OK, next stop. Does my public want geysers? I am going to assume the answer is yes.

This isn't Geysir, which is unpredictable and in fact stopped erupting for a few decades before the 2000 earthquake jogged it back into life. It didn't go up while we were there. This is Geysir's little brother, which kindly shows off every 5 minutes or so. And is pretty blinkiy impressive. Of course, this entire area was rank with sulfur. Probably one of the few places on earth one can fart with impunity.

And this beauty is Gulfoss, a really, really big waterfall.

The first drop is about 11m and the second around 20-30 I think. Water flow is 100 cubic metres per second, so of course they wanted to dam it in the early 1900s. Fortunately, reason prevailed. This things puts out an amazing amount of water vapour. Grant and Rohan then spent some time standing on the edge, etc (Iceland has the same hatred of public safety as the UK, and even better, it's got a lot more dangerous things to refuse to protect people from) - see above re: youngest children.

And on to Thingvellir.

Thingvellir is at the rift between the American and Eurasian continental plates, which are moving apart at a rate of 2cm per year and being nicely infilled with LIQUID HOT MAGMA, which we are sort of standing on in this shot. Behind us is one of the continental walls; I think the edge of the American plate. We are also near the supposed site of the Law Rock, where in the early days of the Icelandic parliament, which was pre-script (backward Vikings), the Law Speaker would recite all the laws then in force. Sounds like a fun job, doesn't it?

On Monday we actually got proper sunshine, but were so wiped out from the adventures of the day before that we mostly mosied about the apartment. We went up in the Perlan for another 360 degree of Reykjavik and a visit to a most peculiar saga museum of Icelandic history (sort of history museum crossed with Madame Tussaud's) and had a wander about the harbour, but that was about it.

Tuesday was our last day, and was spent at Iceland's premier tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon hot bathing springs:

I'm cheating - this is outside the Blue Lagoon, but it's also the only part that is blue so we'll go with it. The hot springs are 37-39 degrees, like a toasty warm bath, and very salty, therefore conducive to a nice float. They also have a nice fake waterfall that will hammer your back and shoulders into submission for you, but which is not, I should add, of quite the same magnitude as Gulfoss. It was tremendously relaxing and exactly the best way to end a lovely holiday. PITY WE THEN HAD TO CATCH A PLANE.

And then we came home sweet home.

In short, visit Iceland!

Friday, June 08, 2007


My final class of the ACADEMIC YEAR has been cancelled due to administrative stuffup. Not only does this kind of take the wind out of my sales, but it also represents approximately 92 quid worth of lecture that I paid for and didn't get (even AFTER being generous and allowing them to count my dissertation - which has involved so far maybe 6 meetings total with my supervisor - as a full course load for calculation purposes). This is the second time this has happened in this course, so perhaps I should consider submitting an invoice to Uni for 184 pounds and see what happens. I imagine hilarity would ensue.

In other news, yesterday was the final copyright lecture of the year. We moved the retiring 80 year old copyright giant lecturer to tears with a presentation and then had a celebration with traditional foods students had made/bought and brought along. I went with Anzacs biscuits and they were OK and well received; plus a great excuse to talk history to the three Turkish students who of course know all about the Anzacs. It is quite awesome that the Turkish people are so respectful of what was, after all, a successful repulsion of an invasion force from their perspective. Hasan commented that Gallipoli was the birth of Australia as a nation, and really when you consider that Ataturk went on to lead his people to independence it was sort of Turkey's birth too. The Thai students had baby elephant toys for everyone as a memento. It was quite a lovely event, and a fitting end to a couple of frantic weeks of Uni-related socialising which I am sort of too old for.

Later I had a very pleasant wander around Holland Park in full summer glory yesterday with Bin and Sarah, followed by a very tolerable Thai dinner with said individuals + Grant, Rohan and Narelle. While London is a bit like Sydney 15 years ago in that everything is suddenly and comprehensively Thai, it was a competently executed version and it was nice to have a taste of home. And then there was beer, at the Prince of Wales, which is our unique and wonderful "local" despite being (a) further away from our flat than three other pubs and (b) going under the same name as every second pub in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nanna seems to be still doing pretty well after the scary step back in the middle of the week. I am still sort of wishing I was home though, particularly as they seem to be getting some rather spectacular weather!

The fact that my lecture has been cancelled presumably means I have no excuse to stuff about this morning, so I suppose I had better get on with the reading. But do I pick thesis or Global Policy and Economics of IP Law? Decisions, decisions...

Thesis this week: dunno, about 1500 - hard to tell as I was deleting as well as adding. Total is just shy of 30,000. This is where we stick fingers in ears singing LALALA. My supervisor was surprisingly equable about the fact I sent him three revisions of the draft for review in a 36 hour period; but then he clearly wasn't going to read any of it until the end of the week so I guess it didn't matter.
Steps: 29K. Pathetic, but coincidentally about the same length as thesis.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ow, my pancreas

Today I made these for my final copyright class, which required the production of traditional foodstuffs of one's country. I reduced the sugar from one cup to 3/4 and they are still so sweet I am kind of reeling from my taste-test. I study with a bunch of under-25s so here's hoping this doesn't turn them all crazed. Next time I'll pull it back to 1/2 cup and we'll see.

Last night we ate Quorn(tm) sausage rolls and they actually tasted like the real thing, and a quite decent version of the real thing too. In fact the Verisimilitude of the Quorn (tm) is starting to really freak me out. I am convinced that in a few years we are going to see the truth revealed: Quorn is actually not mycoprotein but meat. Possibly people meat.

In other news, Mission: Impossible thesis went rather better than I had hoped. I have only to edit the introduction, whack on a conclusion, and try to edit the thing and I am done.

My last class of the year is tomorrow, as is our trip to Iceland. Exciting!

Monday, June 04, 2007

First weekend of summer #2, Eltham Palace

My public demands palaces, and so I shall provide: Eltham Palace, the new bit.

Sunday involved a pleasant if somewhat trackwork-afflicted visit to Eltham Palace with Chantal. Eltham Palace is a rather unusual blend of a 15th century great hall with a 1930s art deco mansion. The result is pure fabulousness, which suggests that sometimes architects and interior designers are totally worth every cent.

The great hall was once part of a place complex where Henry VIII virtually grew up. It was reputed to top Hampton Court in extravagance which is really, really saying something. However, it fell into ruin. Most of the complex was destroyed, and the great hall fell to use as a barn, which obviously makes sense when you consider that it has this ceiling:

The Courtaulds, textile magnates, took the crown lease in the 1930s and had a mansion built abutting the great hall in grand art deco style. Unfortunately we have no pix of the rest of the house - its splendid wood panelling, the inlaid whatsis, the bathroom WITH GOLD PLATE - but trust me, it was tasteful and awesome and led to many thoughts of redecorating.

And all of this is set in some fairly elaborate gardens:

I didn't get my desired snooze in the sun, but otherwise it was fairly perfect, especially as it involved a cream tea.

By the end of the weekend, Grant and I had absorbed roughly 200 times the required vitamin D. It was really the best thing for what otherwise would have been a very stressful and sad weekend, far too far away from family and with Nanna sick. He's a good husband, that one.

On Sunday evening Rohan and Narelle had arrived from the Netherlands, and we had a nice dinner at Fancy Italian with them and Chantal. And then Grant and I went home and dozed our way through the rest of the evening; and today Mum rang to say Nanna was awake and doing well.

All up, great weekend.

And now I have to quite procrastinating and write some damned thesis, I'm afraid.

Photos can be found here.

First weekend of summer #1, Hampstead Heath revisited

Stately home of the week: Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, once home of Lord Justice Mansfield of patent and slavery case fame.

So, this weekend there had been predictions of rain. In fact it turned out to be scorching mid-20s, proper summer weather requiring hats and so on, and really if mid-20s now seem scorching I should probably not go home. Observe proper blue sky. I even had to squint, Australian-style.

On Saturday we had the news about Nanna, and I was a bit of a wreck, so Grant accompanied me to the annual LLM copyright picnic at Hampstead Heath. It was unreasonably beautiful weather, and we hadn't seen the Heath in summer before. The pools were far more inviting than when we visited in late Autumn; but of course even then there were people swimming in them! I might give it a whirl later in summer. However, it is very possible that my well-established Muddy Pool Bottom Phobia would prevent same.

About 20 people from my copyright class/their partners showed up for a picnic lunch and a wander led by our eminently capable tour guides, Professor Sterling and his wife. I was glad I went, particularly as Grant and I always get lost when we try to wander around the Heath, although it seemed kind of unfair to the rest of my family back home who were having a rather less pleasant day. All up we were out and about in the sunshine from noon until about 8pm. Very tiring, but good fun. Also, I think we won the Best Picnic Lunch of the Day award with olive ciabatta, marinated olives, hummus, cold chicken, and eggplant bake, and I am nothing if not competitive.

Photos can be found here.

Oh yeah, and it's not-winter again

It's summer, kids. The veg, they do not lie. The street market is full of these goodies.

Eggplant/aubergine consumed single-handedly over the last fortnight: 4. YUMMMMMMMMM. 2 pretties still in the fridge.

Way of cooking eggplant without half a litre of oil:

Chop up 2 eggplant and boil until almost tender. Dump in baking dish. Mix 400gm tin tomatoes, herbs of choice, and a little salt and sugar; pour over eggplant. Bake 30 mins or so at Gas Mark 5 (what has this country done to me?), I guess about 180 C. Then cover with grated cheddar and a bit of parmesan and bake until melted. YUM.

Catching up

OK. we are a little behind here, not least because I am technically writing a thesis. Which I have promised myself will be finished this week. It won't, by the way - where would be the fun in achievable goals?

The most important news is that my Nanna had a mild stroke late last week, but is now awake and talking perfectly. AWAKE! Remains to be seen whether her mobility will be affected, but it is such a relief, and she is doing well. I have never wanted to be home more, but have been forbidden from buying a plane ticket just yet.

So, without further ado:

Your weekly castle is...the Tower of London, tourist trap for centuries!

Last weekend we went to the Borough Markets (two quid fifty for asparagus? I don't think so) and hence to the Tower of London with Regan and Jace. Regan masterfully avoided the gigantor queues at the ticket office by buying tickets at the empty group booking stands. Several hundred other people failed to work this trick out. I was incredibly impressed.

We tagged along with a yeoman's tour. Very funny guy. For example, he suggested that when people looked at Cullinan I, the biggest chunk of high quality supercompressed prehistoric leaves, which currently graces the British royal crown [edit: it is actually on the sceptre, its little bro Cullinan II is on the crown] and probably making it weigh half a ton, they should think about whether engagement rings they had been given or had bought were large enough.

Cullinan I, actual size (OK, not actual size).

For the public record, I am quite happy with my Robocop UPHOLD THE LAW ring, except that almost immediately after seeing the pretty diamonds in the Tower, we watched Blood Diamond (decent movie, + Leonardo DiCaprio is not only all grown up but can sort of fake a South African accent, but really damned depressing, particularly if you have ever owned anything made out of diamonds - THE BLOOD IS ON OUR HANDS, PEOPLE!).

The Tower also has nice ravens and such like, along with assorted torture chambers which are now very tastefully displayed.

[edit: there is also a most bizarre "museum" - one of the early styles of displaying weapons and whatnot]

And then we ate pizza. It was a good day.

And on the Sunday, we sat around like giant lumps. Can't remember what we did, in fact.

I had a couple of functions during the week which were fun, and made sure I was just tired enough for the weekend, which was actually fairly brutal in its exercise regime. See next!

[edit: photos can be found here]