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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wednesday in Auckland: my day in bullet points

- The day dawned bright and early, and I got up at 5:30 to catch a 6:40 flight out of Christchurch. I am always over-confident about my own ability to deal with sleep deprivation when I book flights. Silly me.

- Auckland Airport --> rental house I was sharing with "Adelbert" and "Melinda" and their friends. Very, very nice house. One word - chandeliers. Also, close to One Tree Hill, a place with extra significance for U2 fans (among which I number myself).

- Climbing One Tree Hill. Most of the park surrounding it is covered in sheep that bleat loudly and mournfully at each other. MAAAAAAAA. MAAAAAAA.

It is a gentle climb up with a slightly steep part at the end but very do-able. It was also quite interesting to me in terms of people-watching:
- my typically southerner stereotype of Aucklanders was fulfilled when I saw a man carrying his fat little Pekinese dog up the hill.
- on the other hand, a bunch of buff shirtless Pasifika men were training on the hill, running around and around the steepest part. I enjoyed watching them while I casually strolled up!

- After coming down the hill, busing into the CBD. I remember shopping being more fun when I had lots of spending money. As it is now, shopping can be pretty boring, unless you're in a bookstore. I strolled around the central district for a while, feeling like a gross provincial among all the suits. Felt so much better when I met my friend Amanda for lunch. Amanda is doing an internship at a big law firm, and was dressed in her first proper suit ever, but had swapped her heels for jandals over the lunch break. Hooray! I suddenly felt like I fit in. (We dined at a friendly little cafe called Foodini's on High St with cheapish but lovely food. I would recommend it.)

- Then I lost my phone at a foodcourt very close to where the above photo was taken. Bused back to the house. Saga described in my last blog post. Thank you again, "Roger O'Leary"!

- In the evening, Adelbert, Melinda and I had dinner before their friends turned up, and then we decided to climb One Tree Hill again! Here I am at the top.

- The most exciting part was looking down and seeing Mt Smart Stadium all set up for the U2 concert which would start the next night. This is when I started to feel super-excited.

- At the bottom of the hill there is an observatory, which we visited on the way back. Here I am in a spaceman suit, naturally.
- We looked through telescopes at planets and stars, with a very keen assistant who couldn't help betraying his intense excitement about astronomy. "I just have to show you 47 Tuck," he said, fiddling with one of the telescopes. "It won't be very well illuminated tonight but you'll really like it."
Then, after he set up Alpha Centauri in the lens for us, Melinda had a look. "Oh, it's so pretty, so twinkly with little rainbows!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I'm so sorry," he said, deeply apologetic. "The atmosphere is getting in the way."

- Back to the house, where we watched bonus features on the DVD of the current U2 tour, and progressively worked up our excitement.

Friday, November 26, 2010

my little miracle

No, I have not given birth.

I do have a story, however, which I think is flippin miraculous and should be shared!!

So. I have been in Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand, for the last three days, for the U2 concert. I stayed with some friends who also came up from Christchurch for the concert, Adelbert and Melinda (fictional names), at the house they were renting. More on that later.

But for now, all you need to know is that I sat in a foodcourt in downtown Auckland having a milkshake and killing time at some point on Wednesday afternoon. Five minutes later, walking up Queen Street, I suddenly realised my phone was no longer with me.

Now, my phone is cheap and easily replaceable, but I was really going to need it plus the numbers stored on it over the next few days and I had a little freak-out. I rushed back to the foodcourt, checked the table - gone. Checked with the foodcourt staff - no phone. Checked with customer services - no phone.

Feeling dejected, I decided the best course of action was to bus back to the house I was sharing with Adelbert and Melinda, so I could make some calls. On the bus ride, I felt very cynical and very disparaging of Auckland. It was full of people who stole phones and honked their horns too loudly.

First I rang Dad.
Allie: "Hi Dad, I'm just ringing to say that I've lost my cellphone and can you let the others know so they know I can't get in touch with them?"
Dad: "Oh, yes, I heard about that."
Allie: "..... whAT?!"
Dad: "Yes, I sent you a message."
Allie: "Father. I just told you I lost my phone. I cannot receive messages!"
Dad: "Well, anyway, he called me, and told me he had your phone."
Allie: "WHO?!"
Dad: "Roger O'Leary." *fictional name, of course*
Allie: "Wow! Oh great, someone found my phone! I'll have to ring him to sort out getting it back."
Dad: "Oh, no, it's all right, someone's picking it up."
Allie: "... Huh?! WHO?!"

He didn't know. Completely perplexed and confused, I decided to ring my cellphone. A voice answered, "This is Allie's phone."
How utterly surreal! I said, "Ah, this is Allie...?"
"Allie. It's Adelbert here."

Adelbert was at the top of my contacts list, so when Roger O'Leary found my phone, he called Adelbert - the very person I was staying with in Auckland, one of the only people on my contacts list who was in Auckland, and who had a car and went straightaway to pick up my lost cellphone from the central city for me!!!

Adelbert had my old number, and would have told Roger that he didn't recognise the number except for the fact that he checked at the last minute with his wife Melinda, who coincidentally recognised the number from when she got it off me two days before!

Roger O'Leary was also going to the U2 concert the next evening.

He rescued my phone from a group of young guys who saw it sitting by itself on a table. When they sauntered over to it, he said, "Hey, what are you doing? That's not your phone."
They replied, "It's our friend's phone."
He said, "No, it's not."
They left. He took the phone, and called my father, and then, with no rational reason but alphabetical order, called one of the only people who was able to rescue it.

Roger O'Leary - your name is not really Roger O'Leary, but you know who you are - you are my knight in shining armour. Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I can't believe the news today...

I'm in Auckland, the U2 concert is tonight, I'm about to meet my new nephew, and there's so much I could tell you about... except that I'm just so overwhelmed with sorrow for the families of the miners in the West Coast. The news is here...

I can't believe the news today
Oh I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long, how long must we sing this song?

What a horrible few months this has been for the New Zealand, but this tops it all.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I am off to Auckland on Wednesday for a little bit of a break, the U2 concert, and to meet my new niece or nephew, a stubborn little thing who is yet to appear.

Last time I went to the U2 concert, I was completely over-excited well before this point. Some of you may have had to put up with the most inane blog posts ever, listing the songs I hoped they would play and my thoughts on what it would be like and how I hoped I would be able to get as close to the front as possible. This time around, I'm only just starting to get excited.

It's strange to be thinking about frivolous things like this when, just over the mountains, 29 men are trapped underground after a mine blast on the West Coast. It looks like some action will be taken fairly soon, but the rescuers have been forced into inaction by conditions in the mine, and we are all feeling rather horrified by the odds against finding the men alive. All we can do is pray - and that's no small thing, so please help!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

copycat procrastibaking

A friend of mine brought some cupcakes with her to university the other day. A mark of real generosity of spirit, I think, because these were truly great cupcakes. I got the recipe off her - it can be found here - and proceeded to copy her.

"Velvet Chocolate and Beetroot Cupcakes" - which I made with cream cheese icing, like my friend, instead of the chocolate fudge icing suggested by the recipe. (They also make about 24 cupcakes, unlike the 16 suggested by the recipe.)

I don't know if you've ever eaten baking that involved beetroot - I certainly hadn't - but I was surprised at how beautiful these cupcakes were. I think it was the beetroot that gave the chocolate an added fruitiness and moistness.

I had not realised, either, how happy cupcake-making can be. I don't usually make them, but there's something about their general prettiness that made me feel so much more happy to be in the kitchen. This was less of a procrastibaking episode than normal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

my new bookology blog

I thought I had invented the word "bookology" when I started using it on this blog. Well, that was a conceit that was to be smashed when I started creating a new blog and trying out URLs.

Anyway, the more crucial fact: I have started a new blog. It's called Armchair of a Bookologist. You can visit it here.

I recently discovered the wonderful reality of free review copies of books from publishing companies and decided to start a blog as well as reviewing some of them on Halfway Down the Stairs. I plan to review books both old and new, to ponder books in general and really to write anything down that comes into my head to do with books/reading/writing/literature. I hope you like it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

an open letter

To the able supervisors of the world, and specifically mine,

Greetings. I appreciate you. I would be lost without you. You are amazing, and helpful, and wonderful in almost every way. I would have had a nervous breakdown long ago if it were not for you.

One small note, though. You spent basically a whole year in 2008 criticising my tendency to perfectionism. I admit that it took me some time to feel okay about submitting something to you that wasn't absolutely perfect. It took quite some trust of you on my part to start giving you unfinished drafts. So I am thankful that you made me realise that you wouldn't throw me out of university if I handed in something that was not very polished.

However, now that I have overcome this hurdle, I am beginning to feel tempted to revert into my perfectionism. Every time I send you a piece of writing, I make it very clear that I have not edited this for prose. All I want is to get down the basic ideas, however clumsy they may appear.

But it seems that you cannot resist the urge to point out all the failings of my draft chapters. The comments you return are heavily sprinkled with "Horrible prose!" "Awkward sentence" "Clumsy prose" in red pen, as if I were not aware of this already.

This makes it incredibly depressing to read through the comments. For one thing, it makes me feel like a very bad writer, as if every historian who ever existed managed to write in flawless, flowing prose at first attempt, as if ideas just flow beautifully out of historians without any painful hard work. I don't measure up to these paragons of my imagination.

For another, it makes me go a little bit insane, because I feel slightly offended that you think I didn't recognise these failings already. Of course there is bad writing in this draft! I realised that already! I feel overwhelming urges to run upstairs to your offices, comments in hand, and go through them painstakingly, assuring you both that I already knew that these chapters were not the pinnacle of literary achievement. This means I can hardly pay attention to your more helpful comments because I am so wound up about the unhelpful ones.

Also, it was actually very wise of me to choose not to revise my prose before I handed it to you. You have since told me that I need to rewrite/restructure everything. I am okay with that. I can see the need for it. It will make my thesis better. However, if I had spent hours making clumsy prose elegant, it would have been even more painful to completely scrap some sections and rewrite others.

Well, that's all I have to say. Let me assure you again that I think it is quite likely that I have the best supervisors in the world. I really do love being your thesis student. I am just having a little trouble with this one particular issue and I needed to vent. I will still bake you an amazing cake each when I finish my MA, and write you a card full of hyperbole when it comes to your mad supervisory skills.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, November 8, 2010

horrid books

I've been reading some horrid books lately, books written leading up to the second world war, books supporting Hitler and justifying his policies against the Jews. At this stage there was no Holocaust but there was so much ugliness, and these are ugly books, written by horrid people. I don't really enjoy reading them.

When I was doing my research at the British Library last year, I asked to look at a few British Fascist journals, and was surprised to be told that I could, as long as I moved over close to the librarians' desk so they could keep an eye on me. I was surprised, but after I looked at the newspapers I understood. It could have been very tempting to many people to rip those papers up, they were filled with such foul thoughts. In the interests of preserving history I had no such temptation, but I could understand the urge.

It's not pleasant, but it is yet another way in which history has been brought alive for me, and in which my own motivations for doing history have been made clear. It really matters that someone reads these books, and reminds others about what we can become if we are not careful.

As an afterthought: This is just another reason why I'm concerned that the British Government has recently decided to cut 40% of its funding of its universities, specifically targeting the arts and humanities. [See Naomi Wolf's take on the matter here.] Because, apparently, science and technology are the only things that matter. Lip service will be paid to the crucial part the arts and the humanities play in our civilisation. Politicians will pretend that an insightful and honest interpretation of the past matters to them, and that history is not merely a tool for their own personal axe-grinding. And, meanwhile, people will not understand what happened, because there will be no money to read old things at the British Library.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the glorious future

I've been thinking about what I'm going to do when I finish my thesis.

1. Let off the party poppers a friend gave me for this very occasion. Drink some wine, eat some chocolate, generally have as good a time as I can afford (which isn't much).

2. Think up a really good I-have-finished-my-thesis facebook status update. The priorities we have these days...!

3. Get a job, earn some money. The thought is so novel I do not know what to make of it!!

4. Start writing a novel. Any novel.

5. Read more novels and serious works of literature without frying my brain.

6. Join Amnesty International properly, and actually take an active part in something voluntarily.

7. Have downtime. Time in which I do not have half my mind thinking about my thesis.

8. Spend some time thinking about my options without feeling like I don't have time to think about my options.

9. Tend some plants.

10. ... Any further ideas?

Quaking update: We have now a grand total of 2,488 earthquakes since the big 'un on September 4. The small, continuous ones have stopped coming every day, but every few days we get a comparatively big one. They've become a part of life and it will be very weird when they stop! At what point, I wonder, do they stop being aftershocks and become earthquakes in their own right?

Monday, November 1, 2010

biting is un-English

One of the newspapers I have been using for my thesis is the weekly New Statesman and Nation, and one of the things I love about this particular paper is its feature, 'This England', which appeared every single week. Readers sent in cuttings from papers, journals and signs all around Britain which had turned out to be unintentionally funny. I find them hilarious, and wanted to share some with you. These are all from 1942, so it's three years into the second world war:

"It is very un-English to bite people, and I would like you to impress that on these men," said Mr. J. H. Campbell, K.C., R.M., at Belfast Custody Court to-day to the captain of a Dutch ship who was acting as interpreter for three of his crew who were charged with disorderly behaviour at a dance hall in the York Street area last night.
The captain replied: "It is very un-Dutch, too, your Worship."
- in the Belfast Telegraph.

A Good Omen in the Scullery?
I set a mouse-trap (break back) and caught three mice at one setting. It happened on the night of November 7-8, when Oran and Algiers were invaded--surely this is a good omen?
- Letter in Picture Post.

Wanted: an ISLAND on the Inner Hebrides, with ancient Castle preferred.
- Advt. in Oban Times.

Exp. Swineherd, C.O. but athlet. fit. (tho' now no wght.-lftr owg. accid.) mst. obt. lghtr. lndwrk. or hosp.). Oxon., Hons., Phil. Pol. Ecn. Sh.-tp., sec. knldge., resp. admin. exp.
- Advt. in New Statesman.

His crew, on the other hand, he said never failed to enjoy the excitement of being depth-charged.
- Report in the Manchester Guardian.