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BY Bel

09/01 Direct Link
Reading papers for uni makes me realise that I am lucky, I can communicate effectively. I'm surrounded by extremely intelligent people, yet most cannot express their ideas on any level below the expert. I have a friend who is academically brilliant. I love her but she is annoyingly perfect at times. Years ago, both of us applied for the same job, in a sector relevant to our studies. I got the job, she didn't. In frank discussions with the boss later, I asked why, and was told “She doesn't have the social skills.” This made me smile for weeks after!
09/02 Direct Link
I'm presenting a paper at a conference this week on ideas of Bodies, Relations and Spatiality. To me, this is a very interesting area, but is more relevant to work I did about Vampires last year. I've read a few papers about nonhuman spatialities – referring to wildlife geographies and so on. I decided my interpretation of nonhuman would be far more literal: inhuman. Vampires. Otherkin. etc. They have their own spaces too; given the level of social exclusion they endure, they have to. The SOPHIE marches at the weekend demonstrate this quite effectively. Think mine will be different at least!
09/03 Direct Link
Anyone who could see my dreams would realise that I am still seriously screwed up. Last night I dreamt that Carl had finally left Kendra (!!!!!???!!?!) because she wanted him to take yet another loan out (?!?!?!?!?). And we had suddenly adopted 6 children, on top of the two we already had. The eldest two were called Milagros and Davey, one of the adoptees was called Catriona, and Vicky was texting me lists of suggested names. We had problems shopping for all eight on our meagre Nettos budget, but Carl pointed out that schools now allowed Cheese Strings in lunch boxes......
09/04 Direct Link
I am feeling all buzzy and inspired after the conference! It was really interesting hearing about other people's projects – at this level we are all in danger of focussing solely on our own work and not noticing the existence of our colleagues. The topic was vague enough to give a lot of scope for new ideas too. I'd dragged Jo along and she not only understood everything but joined in the discussions and really enjoyed it (especially the pub afterwards where she got her face painted Bowie style). I'm really glad I got involved, even if it was last minute!
09/05 Direct Link
My first ever focus group went really well. I needed to do group interviews with regular customers in Caffe Nero, and given I'd never done this before,I thought I'd start with an 'easy' group, who I knew beforehand and who were vaguely friendly. To me, this meant The Teenage Fanclub. Once bribed – sorry- rewarded with coffees, they were really helpful. They all took it seriously and gave me sensible, surprising answers. Many things came up which I didn't expect them to say. This has increased my confidence a great deal! Now I've got to transcribe it all though, aaaaaargh.
09/06 Direct Link
I am in transcription hell. This is taking far longer than expected. “It ype too fats”, in fact, most of the time I am a typing ninja, my accuracy is not fantastic but my speed is good even in comparison with other Nanowrimo-enthusiasts. So, it is not me at fault. It is the fact that seven teenagers have a lot to say for themselves, usually not the most sensible things (so that bits I can't hear, I can't always guess at either), and usually all on top of each other. I can't help feeling I'm wasting my time here!
09/07 Direct Link
I ran!! I ran quite a lot. Only on a treadmill at the gym, but this was honestly the first time I've been able to run for ten minutes in ... well, ever, I think!! It usually knackers me completely. I thought it was because I was completely unfit. And then, yesterday, I bought a proper sports bra (insanely expensive in my size!). I cannot believe what a difference it makes. It's not so much a bra as a complex piece of structural engineering. But it has proved that I'm not actually unfit, and without the bouncing I can actually run!
09/08 Direct Link
The TV tells me I ought to be worrying about the credit crunch. I am only passingly entertained by the idea that the end of the capitalist world is nigh. A US congressman, I forget which, but they are pretty much interchangeable anyway, opposes the idea of the government bailing out the huge banks. I agree – why the hell should they? Other (more deserving) businesses fail and no-one helps them. I do not agree with this guy's justification of his opposition though: “That is a slippery slope towards socialism.” Given today's economic climate, how is that a bad thing??
09/09 Direct Link
If it really is the end of the world as we know it, then I think we are possibly in the best position we could be to “survive” this credit crunch. Sure, our food bills and energy bills have gone up, (I'm glad I'm not still on minimum wage!) We don't buy petrol, so that's not an issue, but more importantly, our jobs are safe. I've got a guaranteed income for the next two years at least, and Carl is, technically speaking, a civil servant. There is no way his 'company' is ever going to go bust! We're lucky really.
09/10 Direct Link
I have been toying with the idea of getting a Scooter. As in, a Big Scooter – a comfy motorbike as it were. I HATE the idea of learning to drive a car. The Mother refers to my inability to drive as “a handicap”. It's not like I've not tried, I've had nearly two years of lessons at different times, and never got anywhere near taking a test because of my total hatred of every second I was behind the wheel. I am reluctant to admit I need my own transport, but my patience with trains is wearing extremely thin nowadays!
09/11 Direct Link
Ol is resident expert on all things Bike, and perhaps unsurprisingly he has been encouraging this whim. He suggests a Burgman, at least a 200 to get me down the M1. Having searched on Ebay and found several novels by Ingmar Bergman (because I'm Dumb) I have since seen what these things look like (pretty good) but also how much they cost (definitely not good). But you can get through a CBT in a couple of days rather than shelling out hundreds for weekly car-driving lessons, so maybe it's still a plausible idea. It would make Ol happy, anyway.
09/12 Direct Link
A day out in Redcar! Or “Retka” as it is more generally known. The new home of Chris and Rachel and baby Nini. Retka is on the coast, so it is lovely for Ione to grow up by the sea. Retka also seems a rather unlikely haven for more alternative types like us – apparently Chris and Rach get none of the abuse meted out to them as they did – and I still do, in Darlington. Retka is that little bit less Chav-infested maybe. Nevertheless, it still should not be allowed to rain by the seaside! It's just Wrong, dammit!
09/13 Direct Link
Corporation Night! (yus, again). Music hammers into your brain – who needs beer when the atmosphere and sounds are this intoxicating? All are corseted, booted and contorted, figures loom out of the smoke, always friendly but never discernible in the anonymous dark. We drink, we dance, we meet and greet fellow strangers, conversations are yelled across the bar. But tonight is tinged with sadness. Our dancing queen is leaving. As unaware as she is, all centres around her, and this place will not be the same without her vibrancy. This will be my last night here in perhaps six months, and it is all the more poignant for it.
09/14 Direct Link
There are times when I can feel “myself” detach from my body - I can see myself from a completely objective, separated viewpoint. This morning I got another attack of virtually uncontrollable anxiety. I could feel myself tense up to the point of breathing too fast and too shallow, and actually physically shaking. Unpleasant thoughts snap across synapses, panicking me to breaking point. I knew this was happening to me, but the conscious part of my brain was still thinking – calm down, you're being ridiculous, there is nothing wrong with you. Fortunately the detached, rational Me won out in the end.
09/15 Direct Link
My stress levels are going through the roof. Again. I have my tickets through for El Viaje Grande, all £1200 worth of flights! But now that it's all definite, it is starting to scare me. There is so much I have to do before I go, and it's suddenly got frighteningly close. Practical things like getting my vaccinations done (again), travel insurance, visas, maintenance allowance money. Then, getting all the UK research sorted beforehand, like all these damn focus groups. And that is not to mention the emotional side of it. Four months away from home, Carl, friends, ferrets. Aaaargh.
09/16 Direct Link
Going away is split in several sections of Worry:

-Leaving Carl for so long
-the actual logistics of it since conference people haven't confirmed and I haven't seen Donna in Nicaragua for 5 years.
-Pressure from uni - I've GOT to get all the info I need, cos it's not like I can pop back if I've forgotten anything.
-Loneliness, malaria, heatstroke, altitude sickness, robbery, Montezuma's Revenge.
-Language issues
-What am I gonna do with the ferrets???
-The insurmountable list of stupid bureaucratic tasks that I need to do before I go
-Total lack of confidence with my project in general

09/17 Direct Link
Oo FRUSTRATION. Another focus group, and another rather humiliating disaster. I never thought I'd say this, but the teenagers were actually more helpful!! No-one was really to blame for the abject failure of this group; as always in terms of Actor-Network theory, it was a combination of the breakdown of relationships between actors, or possibly the lack of actors in the first place! I had a group of Two. One tried very hard, but doesn't actually drink coffee. The other tried my patience very hard. The only wisdom to be extracted from this exercise was by the teeth.
09/18 Direct Link
It has started. One day later than last year, as I recall. The annual immense tackiness. Today I spotted the first Christmas decorations in the department store. It depresses me so much! I love feeling Christmassy – pretty lights in the long nights, when it is already dark when we have dinner, and it's cold and clear and crisp outside. Secret shopping trips and hiding things around the house and daft honourary aunties singing carols raucously. But when that is drawn out over four months, it loses all meaning, and the actual day is always a let down as a result!
09/19 Direct Link
I am going to be away for Christmas, New Year and my birthday – the whole holiday season, but also the whole winter. It's actually strange to think that at age 25 this is the first year I won't spend the day with my parents. Christmas this year is going to be HOT. I will be by the ocean – the Pacific ocean, even. And Carl will no doubt do his beloved braai on the beach, he is “used to” hot Christmasses after all, just like in South Africa. I won't be though. It is going to be very very strange indeed.
09/20 Direct Link
Rhythm and Brews Festival! Darlington's answer to a CAMRA real ale festival. Held in the arts centre, with live bands, and booklets filled with tasting notes for the 50+ beers on offer!
It was a bit pants.
We went down to meet Amelia, who had volunteered to work there for the night. She didn't have much to do. The band were completely unremarkable, and by the time we got there, (at a respectable 9.30pm) there were three beers left. We finished them. I bravely tried a cider to get my moneys worth, then we gave up and went to Wetherspoons!
09/21 Direct Link
I am ILL. This is not nice. I don't know where this has come from, I was fine yesterday! I thought it was a hangover, but it's a lot worse than that. I've been chucking up noisily, couldn't stomach anything, not even coffee! I must be bad. But I am also impatient. I don't like being ill, I'm sick of it now, bored of lying around, but I have no energy and feel to queasy to do anything else. Plus I nearly puked on the laptop earlier which renders interweb activity a dangerous business. GAH. I really, really hate this.
09/22 Direct Link
Still not feeling too good, so I lay in bed this morning getting slowly more and more irritable. The Thing Next Door wouldn't shut up. I refer of course, to Scruff. Scruff is an immensely irritating Small Mongrel. It yaps. A lot. It barks at anything that moves in its own, or our, garden and this morning because it was windy, it spent nearly three hours barking at the washing blowing about on the line. I mentally constructed several sadistic and exotic ways of disposing of the horrid little critter, including firework-up-the-arse. Shame I can't really enact them!
09/23 Direct Link
What to think? I got an email from Vic today. She hasn't been in touch recently – no response to my texts, emails, even letters. Today I got a message saying she “doesn't see me as a friend any more”. That was like taking a bullet. I have no idea where this came from. I rang her straight away, my heart pumping and I was shaking all over. She was OK on the phone, but said I was annoying her because every time I wrote, I seemed to be saying “Life is Great”!? Am I supposed to apologise for that now??
09/24 Direct Link
As always when something upsetting is on my mind, I plunge myself into work and ignore it. I did a focus group in Durham's Caffe Nero today, and fortunately for my peace of mind, it went really well. Caught up with a few old friends too which was cool. They actually understood the point of a focus group and happily rambled on, bouncing ideas off each other (including impassioned rants about the pointlessness of faking Italian credentials which I loved) rather than waiting for me to think up inane questions. I am feeling more confident about the whole thing now.
09/25 Direct Link
A nothingy sort of day, transcribing and procrastinating. One method of delaying the inevitable was harvesting the Mutant Potatoes. For the last few years we have been very good at growing potatoes – Hooligan the ferret loved stealing potatoes, and when he died we buried him in the vegetable patch. Since then, we've always had loads of the things, even if we didn't plant new ones the previous year. This year though, his spiritual influence seems to have worn off, and my harvest was pathetic. However, we unexpectedly succeeded in growing far more garlic bulbs than even we will ever use!
09/26 Direct Link
I “spoke” to Anna online this morning – a brief two minutes, a very few lines appearing on the screen. She’s lonely, she misses her man, she misses home. I feel sorry for her, but I also worry for myself – will this be me in a few weeks time? I erred towards flippancy to try and make her smile, silly stuff only. Too short a time slot for deep and meaningfuls, just a soundbyte to say I’m Still Thinking Of You, You Are Not Alone. She wrote back later saying “You are the best J” This made me smile all day.
09/27 Direct Link
I am writing this at 2.41 in the morning. We have been to the pub. I might have upset Meelie (or at least, reminded her of an argument with her bloke which she'd probably prefer to have been kept private). We have eaten kebab. We have watched crap on late night TV. Instead of going to bed, as I would like, Carl has decided to turn the computer on. He is showing off. His laptop is newer than mine. He holds mine in front of his. His is widescreen, mine isn't. “Yours goes Whoo, but mine goes woooooooooee.” Yes dear,
09/28 Direct Link
I have a ferret crawling up my leg. It is Perdita, on her evening Bumble around the house. I am feeling ferretty today – not in the sense that I am furry, bendy and slightly smelly, but because I am fidgeting. I am in a funny mood. I started doing vaguely useful things, but then it got sunny, and I had a desperate urge to run outside and Bounce and be silly. I raked the grass clippings and put the washing out, but couldn't find anything to do outside, so I got bored. I have the attention span of a ferret.
09/29 Direct Link
Another bittersweet anniversary today. So much has changed in the last year, most of it good, some gut-wrenchingly painful too. I have officially survived my first year of this PhD which is more frightening than I can say, it's gone so quick! And it has changed me a great deal. I never imagined being here, last year. I have some strange, obscure memories in my head – banana bread for one, and the anthem of today is going to have to be “Dirty Deeds Done with Sheep.” I remember having to explain that one, once. “That kinda love's a crime!”
09/30 Direct Link
Today is a Good Boob Day. I seem to have good boob days and bad boob days, like other people have bad hair days. I wish I'd had a good boob day at the weekend actually. I was auditioning in my underwear! Bravissimo are looking for “real women” for their 2009 advertising campaign. In real terms, this means they want 'normal' women rather than models, mainly because models do not have big boobs, and Bravissimo only cater for Big Boobed Women. But these 'normal' women have to be at least a D cup. I think my 34Fs fit the bill!