Monthly Archives: January 2010

Hair

I have just had my hair trimmed, which is all to the good. It is now shorter than it was when I originally got it cut short, and I have discovered a few things which probably shouldn’t have surprised me quite that much. The first is, wow, you can see my earrings better, but that’s not that amazing.

What does surprise me is this: the human neck gets cold in cold weather if it is exposed to the elements. Seriously, folks. Would you believe it? I have to wear a scarf, not for decoration, not to keep the front of my neck and collarbones and however much else of my chest my top/jumper exposes warm, but mainly to keep my actual neck, all the way round, warm.

Dude.

I always sort of wondered why it was that men who were otherwise completely unfussy about fashion and who didn’t own a decent coat would still go around in a scarf, worn over their hoodies or whatever, because it’s plainly not a style choice because it looks a bit silly.

Anyway. Yes. Scarves are pretty essential wear these days. And earrings (on, as previously discussed, the rare occasions upon which I leave the house). My, I’m looking good.

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Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

Thankfully it’s all a joke at the moment. I’m twenty, I don’t feel under pressure, not yet.

Because in just over a week, a girl who used to be one of my best friends when we were at sixth form, is getting married. She’s the second person I know, from my generation, to have done so, at least so far as I know (for the purposes of this entry, ‘my generation’ means ‘very early twenties’).

This means that it’s not just a one-off. People my age are getting married and settling down. And yes, you know I have dreams of what my wedding will be like. You know I like to dream about children and grandchildren and shopping for carpets and kitchen units and tablecloths and buying cats and a regular subscription to a newspaper, the National Geographic, and the National Trust (why these things make me a ‘grown-up’ I’m not sure). But those are dreams for the future. It’s safe to have those dreams because they’re about as relevant to me now as dreaming about being an Austen heroine, a princess, or a superhero.

So I don’t feel under pressure now just because people I could loosely term friends are getting married. I wouldn’t even feel under pressure if an actual current real-life friendshippy friend (as opposed to, so far, a friend-of-a-friend who I’ve met a few times, and a good old friend with whom sadly I lost touch) were getting married (on that score, I’ve got a couple of couples in mind who I can see walking down the aisle in the actual viable future, give me a couple of years and I’ll keep you posted). But it still, mentally, makes you go ‘oh?’ and I can imagine that minusule microvoltage jolt will only grow louder and more jolty over the next few years (oh, alright, once I hit my mid-twenties at the earliest, I’d imagine, and even that would be neurotic). I can’t imagine, yet, what it’ll be like when actually, friends getting married is kind of standard, when, as Hugh Grant says in Four Weddings, ‘finally it’s a Saturday and for once I don’t have a wedding to go to’. Yes, lots of fun parties, but with each of them, a little bit louder, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock… .

It’s a funny old world.

I just saw a man reversing into the bramble hedge across the road. Is it horribly horrible of me to find that really quite funny?

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Parents

It’s funny, I don’t know why I’ve not thought about this before. It suddenly struck me that I can’t at all remember how it felt to relate to my parents, child to adult, and I don’t for the life of me know exactly when that transition happened, though it must have been years ago. It suddenly somehow surprised me, and I have no idea why, that these days I talk to my parents as I would to any other adult, about more or less anything, and there must have been a point where I wasn’t an adult and it was more about telling me what to do, and me telling them things about my day, and communication was definitely not on any kind of a level.

What terrifies me is how my relationship with them might or might not change when they get old and confused. It’s bad enough watching my grandparents age.

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"This Too Shall Pass"

Time.

It’s a funny one, time. It can be comforting, terrifying, it’s fixed – we all know that “the second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom“, or, as I had remembered it, the duration of 9,192,631 vibrations of the caesium atom, because I learnt that when I was eleven and didn’t know about ground states, and if you didn’t know that you were at least all aware that a second is as long as any other second – it’s fixed, but it never feels like that, it’s an absolute constant in our lives and the one thing we absolutely cannot do anything about.

[Ed: At this point the author broke off in order to go and make herself a cup of decaf real coffee in a cafetiere, got muddled, and made caffeinated instant coffee instead, and consequently lost her train of thought. Hmm.]

Personally I love time. Because all you can do about time is choose how you decide to see it. Either you panic about how your exam is on Wednesday and now that’s only five days away, or you say to yourself, that’s five working days, three major topics left to cover, one day to travel in, and one day left to go over everything. A day is a long time, after all. It’s made up of 24 hours, and thing of all the things that can happen in just one minute. Or you can think, in six days time it’ll be thursday, and all over.

Equally, perhaps it’s your first day at a new job, or something, and that is scary, as we all know, and then it might be easier to think, right, it’s half past seven. Now I’m going to go downstairs, now I’m going to eat breakfast, now I’m going to have a shower, now I’m going to get dressed, now I’m leaving the house, getting a train, arriving at my new job, introducing myself: and never think further ahead than the absolute moment you’re in.

Time is comforting because it moves, and you know it will pass. You can say to yourself, right, that’s a day I got through, that’s two days, that’s a week. Nothing goes on forever, and everything is always changing, because that’s how these things work. Whatever it is you’re trying to get through – the world’s longest labs session, ever, a break-up, the weeks and months until you see your partner again because they’re on another continent right now, time will pass, everything ends.

When I used to get homesick on residential trips as a child I lived by the pizza-slice theory of time, which was also very helpful when my dad went to New Zealand for twelve weeks. Each day was a slice of pizza, and you could work out the fractions. Twelve weeks was dead useful – because three weeks was a whole quarter, and four weeks a third, you could see the fractions getting bigger and more standard, turning into thirds and halves and quarters rather than three twelfths (which doesn’t really sound like a lot) or 2/7, which is weird (but very nearly a third, so round it up).

The best thing is, when times are good, you don’t think about time. It just passes. And yes, sometimes it seems to fly too fast, those summers just after we left school and in the course of sixth form, those two or three months always seemed too short (although that said that’s possibly partly because I wasn’t necessarily conscious for huge fractions of them…), but you can’t hang on, because you don’t know what else is around the next corner.

There is just so much time, too. I’m only twenty, and with a little luck I have at least sixty years left in me. So there’s time to make mistakes and for things to go wrong. There’s time to fight and make up, to decide who you really want around, to change your mind. That’s something I’ve only realised in the last couple of months – having regained contact with a friend after having hardly spoken in fifteen months because of a whole gossip-and-scandal Situation, with a capital S (*breaks off to sing*…’sweet soul music, that’s the best…’), lots of anger and things there, but actually, fully a year later and we realise we still have good reasons to be friends, and it’s working, and hopefully I’ll be seeing him soon, hopefully, face to face, I’ll still be laughing from the moment I walk through that door.

So yes. I like time. It passes, there’s lots of it, it’s comforting, it doesn’t need to be scary, not in the normal run of things, anyway. Time is always on your side.

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Things Seen Through The VLT (Very Large Telescope)

I love astronomers.

This is fascinating. And pretty. And stuff. I sound so intelligent right now. Watch the video, too (there’s no sound).

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Have Some Truly Depressing Mathematics

It’s easy to follow – even I can follow it. I could probably even input my own figures into that equation and come out with a fairly similar answer.

Here, is where this paper is published; it’s based on the Drake equation (used to estimate the number of highly evolved civilisations that might exist in our galaxy), and here is the paper itself.

By that logic it’s kind of remarkable that anyone ever has any relationships with anyone, far less actually gets married and sticks with it. So, if the mathematics and logic seem sound (which they do) why is it that the truth is so much less hopeless?

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Prosopagnosia

I was reading about it today on the BBC. It’s a condition where people are truly terrible at recognising faces. I’m pretty bad, but imagine struggling to recognise your own parents or siblings, boyfriend, girlfriend, childhood best friend? What if you struggled to pick those faces out from a child, or could surprise yourself with your own reflection and have to take a few seconds to figure out that it was a reflection, and that reflection was of you?

I can imagine it would be pretty terrible and that’s because I’m pretty bad at faces myself, and not much better with names. I find it easier to just avoid using peoples’ names until I’m utterly sure who I’m talking to but that’s got me into trouble in the past, calling someone by entirely the wrong name because I’d just misremembered it and spent every conversation I’d had with them for six months thinking, ‘I think your name is Fred. I think it’s Fred, I think so…’ gradually becoming more and more sure until I actually said it out loud… and I was wrong. Honestly I feel like this even about close friends sometimes. My best friend at my old college was alternately Luke and Jack to me, and so I just avoided using his name until, months down the line, it finally sank in which of those was actually his name. If it’s an unusual name I’m happier with that – once you’ve asked someone to spell out ‘Callan’ just to be sure, and you’ve rolled it off your tongue a couple of times, trying out the feel of it, you’re not going to forget it. And how often do you meet an Anthony or a Farah? Actually, I’ve never met anyone called Farah. I don’t know how to say it.

Perhaps I’m not so much face-blind as name-deaf – I just did a the Cambridge Test for faceblindness, which you can find from this site here, and I got 89% on the test, where 80% is the average score, or so they say, so it has to be names. I try, honestly I do. I’ll not listen to the first twenty seconds of whatever you first say to me when you first meet me because I’m desperately thinking, ‘Jane, Jane, Jane’. But it won’t necessarily help. I also do this thing where, to me, perhaps based on people I’ve met in the past, I think your looks make you more automatically suited to a wholly different name, and I do this entirely without thinking, and it’s pretty hard to overcome. If you’re not of a type with other Janes or Williams I’ve met in the past I really will struggle to remember your name. If you look like the kind of person I would call Ellen instead then I’ll probably call you that at some point. And I promise, I do try.

The other interesting thing in the article above – in fact, the main event – was people who are superlatively good at recognising people. People who can see someone once as a child and recognise them decades later, however much they’ve changed, because they can recognise, I guess, the essential structure of that person’s face, behind the greying hairstyle, the glasses and the wrinkles. I’d say that must be weird, except that actually, I would love that ability, as long as it came with a similar name-fixing ability. It would make my life just so much easier.

To be honest, I would love just to be told that my memory is abnormally bad about faces and names, so I can stop feeling guilty and say to people when I meet them, Look, I’ll do my absolute best to remember your name/face, but I’ve got [condition], I’m actually medically bad at names and faces. At least it would save me that embarassment. Except then I’d be That Weird Kid again.

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'The models hang out with their boyfriends backstage after the shoot'

I think this is my current favourite thing, anywhere on the internet.

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Another Story Through Clothes

This one is about revision. You really don’t want to see me just now. I have spent the last ten days in my house revising. I have actual pen on my face, all over my hands (I’m not very good at keeping control of pens whilst concentrating on what I’m reading, I’m an inveterate subconscious doodler, it’s embarassing). I am most likely to be found with a cup of tea in one hand and a pen in the other, occasionally stuffing cheese and apple into my mouth. Washing up counts as a fun revision break. Since I never leave the house, I have honestly put the same clothes on I don’t know how many days in a row, and I only put clean clothes on when the previous outfit literally smells (well, slightly more often than that). Showers are a luxury, to be had every couple of days, because I don’t need to be clean, I just need to revise. I have worn the same jeans for ten days straight. This from the girl who owns a million dresses and last term wore jeans (I counted) about five times in total. It’s not that I don’t think it’s acceptable to leave jeans ten wears before washing (of course it’s acceptable, why do you think they were invented by the cowboys? they’re outerwear, workwear, they take a while to need a wash, I’m not some kind of monster) it’s more the lack of variety that gets me. The fact that I literally don’t care, when I get up in the morning, whether today is a day for my studded ankle boots, pencil skirt and blouse, or a day for something girlier and more flowery, or tomboy jeans and messed up hair, or what. I like getting dressed, picking outfits, dressing in different roles and styles once in a while. I like presenting myself well. But it’s revision time, and I just don’t care.

So, when I go out to get my hair cut in a couple of days time, I’m going all out for it. Not the haircut, that’s just a fairly standard trim, or so I plan. I’m going to look good. I’m going to buy new shoes (because I need to, because I’m grown-up like that these days), I’m going to wear lipstick (something else I need to buy, actually), I’m going to enjoy it.

Then I’ll get home and it’ll probably be straight back into the jeans-and-hoody-and-jumper-and-scarf (this house gets cold) revision uniform du jour.

And evenings are, well, telly and sudoku time. And I usually have one or two internet breaks during the day. Don’t worry, I’m not going to burn out or go mad or anything, but this time I cannot fail. Which means… that I must dress like a permanent hangover victim? Sigh.

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My First Foray Into Science Fiction

Iain M. Banks’s latest novel, Matter, the latest Culture novel. It’s pretty impossible to describe, but basically it’s about power and rivalry and kinship, politics, societies so great that they can play with smaller ones to shape the universe they way they want it. Fascinating, beautiful, gripping, well-written, and in a whole universe so complicated and so utterly different from anything you’ve ever imagined, Iain M. Banks is, well, a genius, to have imagined all that. So, none of your scoffing, read it. I wouldn’t class myself as a typical reader of sci-fi – after all, this is ‘my first foray’, as you see, so forget your preconceptions, leave them to one side, and try something new.

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