Ingridients (circa 1993)

Mon, 28 May 2007


It's clearly getting cold these days: all three cats slept with us (Zeki between our heads, Amber between our feet, and Nemrut on my outside). There was a particularly cute, but stressful, moment, when Nemrut wandered up, and Zeki and he washed each other just above my head. It's stressful because Zeki had been washing me earlier that night, and he can be hard to get to stop, and Nemrut had been playing with my hair earlier (looking for fleas, perhaps), and having both of them doing stuff like that, that close, was a bit unnerving.

When we got up to have breakfast, I noticed the dry cat food bowl was nearly empty. Zeki was advertising this fact by sitting in the spot where it normally goes, with the bowl pushed off behind the water bowl. I took the bowl off to the laundry to refill it, and Zeki came along, keen to make sure proper procedure was followed.

When I wanted to return the bowl to its usual place, Amber was now sitting there. Zeki was incensed, and chased after her. He must have been pretty aggressive, because she ducked under the sofa within seconds. I don't know if Zeki doesn't fit under the sofa, or just thinks he doesn't fit, but at least Amber has a safe retreat.

And Zeki went straight after Nemrut. Now, Nemrut had been nowhere near any of this. Our standard definition of Zeki's aggression being over the line is when he switches immediately to fighting the other when the first ducks out, and they haven't been up to anything together.

So James hauled Zeki into the sin-bin. He sat and sulked on the post inside the cage, with a real "that wasn't my fault" attitude. Nemrut chose to do the equivalent of wheelies, running back and forwards along the stretch of corridor near the cage and around the side of the cage, with little leaps and galumps. Nemrut doesn't strike me as the kind of cat to rub something in, but it did really look like that. Mind you, Amber was off getting something to eat, so maybe Nemrut was trying to distract Zeki.

Later, Amber and Nemrut curled up together in the basket at the end of the corridor, putting the household on diabetes alert. James took a picture, and Nemrut can so ham it up for the camera. He has the kind of expression you expect from a Hollywood star having his picture taken with a fan.

We let Zeki out just before going to work, and he rushed off to the food. Maybe he'll remember next time to get something to eat before picking fights with the others in front of us.
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James and I don't seem to have been co-ordinated enough on the weekend for me to sort out the picture thing, but I thought I should introduce our new cat anyway.

Zeki is a nine-year old pedigree Turkish Van who was a breeding male at a friend's cattery. He's now been desexed and pensioned off to us.

But please don't feel sorry for us, imagining us adopting such an old cat, grumpy and tired and set in his ways and inclined to dislike us because we're new and responsible for the loss of his masculinity.

No disrespect intended to Berenice, but if Zeki was a human, he's the type who after retiring, divorces his wife, moves into some kind of free-love relationship with a younger couple, and spends his days playing golf and football, travelling, enjoying nature, and showing off his body, with the odd bit of skydiving thrown in.

This is a cat who intends to enjoy his new life. Or as Annette suggested, he took one look at us and thought "I've got it made."

I admit I'm confused - cats are supposed to not like new surroundings, and Zeki went from staying in one room to visiting the entire house within a fortnight, and now seems vaguely disappointed there aren't any new rooms to explore. Also, Turkish Vans are known to attach themselves strongly to one or two people, but I assumed that meant he would be pining for Berenice, not attaching himself to us within hours of first meeting us.

Zeki can also play like a six kilogram kitten. His favourite toy so far seems to be an old hairband - the sweat smell seems to be part of the charm. He knocks it around, chasing it, and also picks it up between his front paws and tries to chew it.

This morning we were surprised to discover that Zeki may also be trying some advanced education as part of his retirement. He somehow managed to get the hairband around a powercord. The diameter of the hairband isn't much larger than the plug - it would be fairly tricky for a person to do it one-handed, which I would have thought was a reasonable comparison.

I hope I can get some Zeki photos on the blog in the next few days.
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The turkish team

The cats are playing golf. With a fluorescent orange golf ball. Actually, to watch, it's more like soccer. Maybe they've been inspired by the World Cup.

Amber is particularly enthusiastic and persistent, which surprises me, because in the past, I've had sort-of soccer games with Zeki and she usually looks on in disdain.
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I woke up at 5:10 this morning, intending to go for a run. I left for the run at 5:50. This is why it took so long to leave:

I got up and let Zeki out into the living area as usual, while I was getting my stuff for my run. Next thing I know, Nemrut has also snuck out into the living area (I obviously didn't close the sliding door enough) and the two of them trotted around the living room, mainly at a distance, but also with some sniffing of each other. I felt rather optimistic at this point.

Then Zeki zips back into the bedroom area and runs into the blue room (which he basically hasn't been allowed in since last weekend) and sniffs around the kitty litter and very deliberately urinates in it. Hopefully it won't scare Nemrut off using it (I did clean the waste out later, but I'd probably have to ditch the litter and clean the tray to remove the Zeki smell). I'm feeling just a tad stressed at this point because now all the cats are in more or less exactly the wrong locations.

Anyway, I head out to try to get Nemrut back on the right side of the sliding door. (Zeki was happy to follow me out once he'd done his thing.) Nemrut is still scared of people who stand up and walk around, so he decides he has to escape down the stairs.

Next thing I know, I've got three cats running around the renovation area downstairs, and I'm wondering if perhaps I was wrong in my earlier assessment that I had all the cats in the wrong location. Nemrut is skittish and scared (he's never been downstairs for a start, and Zeki is running around after him) and eventually Nemrut wedges himself between a sofa and a box - he can't move much, but I can't move him either. Zeki is standing nearby, watching him.

I try to stroke Nemrut, to get him to calm down, and eventually he starts to move out, so I lift him up on the sofa, and I cuddle him some more, putting my body between him and Zeki. Eventually, I hope he's calm enough, and I pick him up to take him to the bedrooms. The closer we get to the sliding door, the more he fights. I've now got a couple of nice scratches on my shoulder.

I get him on the right side of the sliding door, but unfortunately, Zeki's been following, and Zeki now chased Nemrut in under our bed. I didn't see what happened, but there was some hissing and whatever you call that screeching sound fighting cats make.

By the time I get to look under the bed, they're sitting a meter and a half apart, looking at each other and eyeing me off too. James is still trying to sleep, but I had to ask him to coax Zeki out and take him out to the living area, so James also has a few nice scratches today...

James makes some rude comments about disrupting his sleep, and finally I can go out for my run.
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The Truth about Cats and Football

So, I've now played quite a bit of Zeki-football, and I've got a good idea of what works as a football: small, rounded objects that roll or slide, but irregularly. Grapes have been very popular recently.

I've also noticed his persistence with this game: when the football disappears under something, he'll go to a lot of effort to get it out again. Even if he can't see it, if he knows where it is, he'll keep at it.

However, he usually needs help to get started - James or I have to roll the grape (or whatever) around in front of him a few times before he starts chasing it. Once he gets going, he doesn't need our help at all.

The rest of you had probably figured this out, but I discovered the true origin of Zeki football this morning. He's chasing a cockroach. Very persistently.

Somehow, a cat that's a mouser is a bit more glamorous, but I'll take what I can get.
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Water cat

Turkish Vans are known as swimming cats, and are apparently the only breed of domestic cat who enjoy water. One story is that it gets very cold and snowy around Lake Van in winter, and very hot and dry in summer, so the cats need waterproof coats to survive the snow, and so are also able to go swimming to cool off in summer.

Zeki isn't showing any sign of swimming yet, but he is certainly much more fascinated by water than any cat I've ever seen. He's very curious about the shower and it's not impossible he will get in one day.

Yesterday I was out watering on the front balcony, with Zeki eagerly following me around and watching the water pour out of the watering can.

As an experiment, I poured the rest of the water on his back. His response was to start chasing the water running off his back, as it ran towards the railing. I stroked him - his back was pretty drenched and I was distributing the water further - he purred cheerfully.

Definitely a water cat.
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Cat Cleared of Scratching Charges

Brisbane, Thursday 18th November, 2004. Authorities yesterday released Zeki (also known as Vanstar Coma Berenices) without pressing charges, following a scratching incident.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing Zeki consorting with close personal friend Ingrid Jakobsen, when he "suddenly leapt into the air" at a noise, scratching Ms Jakobsen's toe, prior to running away from the scene.

Investigation revealed the noise to have been produced by a shredder operated by Mr James Lever. Repeating the noise caused similar reactions from Zeki, although decreased. After about an hour, the shredder noise ceased to alarm Zeki altogether.

"It appears to have been totally accidental", a spokesbeing said. "Zeki was simply startled by an unfamiliar sound. There was no intent to harm Ms Jakobsen."

Further investigation has revealed that the shredder in question had not been operated for several months. Authorities advised Ms Jakobsen and Mr Lever to be careful when making any new, loud sounds.
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Scaredy cat

We've set up a pattern during the day while we're at work which seems to be working okay - Zeki goes out into the living/kitchen area, and Amber and Nemrut are in the bedroom-bathroom area, with the sliding door closed almost all the way, so they can look through. (There's a point a little bit wider where it appears that Amber can move through fairly easily, but the other two can't, which we might progress onto later, given how things are going. Convenient that the cat everyone accepts is the smallest one.)

On Monday night, James decided we should let all the cats move around the bedroom end of the house freely. This was a mistake. At some point while we were asleep, Nemrut and Zeki got into quite a big fight under our bed.

Nemrut has been a bit of a nervous wreck since. I haven't been able to pat him like I could on Sunday and Monday morning. I think he will eventually calm down, but he's been extremely skittish, and sprints between the blue room (where he hides behind the TV) and the bedroom (where he sets himself in the middle under the bed, except if you approach him, when he will move as far away from you as he can, staying under the bed.)

Zeki is definitely relaxing around Amber - they're both on the bed at the same time now, I don't think he's hissed at her for over 24 hours, and this morning, he was sitting in the corridor, while Amber did loops around him, brushing against him and purring. He didn't purr at all, but he didn't hiss either, which I think is progress.

Because it's obviously a much bigger deal for Zeki to accept a male than a female (even if they're neutered) the fact is that Zeki has effectively been an only cat his entire life - I doubt he ever had to share territory before, as he would probably only have had direct interaction with other cats when mating, and then of course he got our whole house to himself.

So I'm crossing my fingers that once he gets used to Amber, the learning curve to accepting a male cat around will be much shallower than going straight from only cat to sharing with a male. And in some ways, we are expecting a pretty old cat to adapt to some pretty major changes in his life and he's been remarkably adaptable so far.
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Zeki in trouble

Zeki's been surprisingly quiet the last few days. As far as we can judge, he spent all of yesterday in one spot on the couch. I was worried he was ill, but he was rather playful this morning, so he seems to have recovered. Possibly a bit too much.

I was packing up after breakfast, and had taken my laptop with me into the kitchen. Suddenly I realised Zeki was on the kitchen bench next to my laptop. I yelled at him in surprise, he panicked.

Rather than jumping off the kitchen bench the straightforward way he had come up, he ran behind my laptop, realised he was trapped from jumping off that way by the table James is restoring, didn't want to go where I was, and so continued straight through where the water bottles and glasses stand.

He took a rather nice green striped glass with him as he jumped off. He sprinted towards the stairs, but James caught up with him.

Zeki and James had a major altercation, and Zeki was eventually timed-out in the blue room.

James got several deep scratches on his arms, and when he asked why there was a weird discoloured spot on the back of his calf, we discovered that his right thigh was also covered in scratches.

We cleaned up the scratches and applied tea tree oil, James not feeling a thing.

Later, when James re-opened the door to the blue room, Zeki stayed on the couch in there, cautiously looking out. It looked like "I can't get into trouble if I stay here" to me.

I hope both Zeki and James will be okay.

As for me, I've got to try to remember not to yell when Zeki does something unexpected, and just pick him up and put him where he's allowed to be instead. I am bigger than the cat, after all.

In the "every cloud has a silver lining" department, next time I see funky-looking glasses, I have an actual excuse to buy one or two, provided they're not too expensive. I mean, there's an actual spot in the glasses cupboard they could fit.
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Happy families

It looks like the whole Zeki, Amber and Nemrut show is reaching a happy ending: Zeki and Nemrut can tolerate each other in the same room, and even sleep on the same bed.

I'm not quite sure I can guarantee my sanity though, as they choose to sleep as follows: Zeki sleeps between me and James, on top of the doona, holding it down on that side; Amber sleeps between me and the edge of the bed, holding the doona down on that side, and Nemrut sleeps on my feet (on top of the doona), keeping that end down. I woke up at 3:30 am, imagining I was in a very tight sleeping bag.
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After ten days

Zeki is getting more relaxed about having other cats around, and isn't trying to mount Amber as often any more. He also doesn't look quite so puzzled each time she refuses, either, so I think it's actually sinking in that she's not interested.

Amber has sort of settled in. She doesn't strike me as fully comfortable or at home, but she exudes a really strong air of "I'll manage". She accepts that this is where she'll live and it's okay, she just needs more time to get used to everything. We have the sliding door so she can move between the two areas, but I believe she spent all of last night out in Zeki's zone.

Oh, and she managed to fall off the climbing beam this morning. James was mortified, but we think she's okay.

The climbing beam: it goes over the stairs, and is attached to the top stair railing at the stained glass windows upstairs, and near the sliding door, so it goes over the landing and the lower part of the stair case. It was originally installed so we can paint the walls in the stairwell, but it quickly became a favourite for Zeki, and Amber has shown absolutely no fear on it, and maybe even tries to get too tricksy out there. Nemrut has also been out on it (when Zeki is closed off on the front balcony). We've been talking about making it a permanent feature, since it is so popular.

Nemrut is still skittish, but he is getting better too. He spends quite a bit of time in the corridor when we're home, often with Zeki on the other side of the sliding door. There's some caution between them but I think just letting it be like this for a time will work.

Nemrut's skittishness around James and me is getting to be a bit of a joke - if we wait, he will come out from under the bed, and circle our legs, purring and rubbing our legs, but if we leave and then walk back in, ten seconds later, he sprints off with that "busted!" expression. Then, we wait again, and he comes out, lather, rinse, repeat. We have had him up on the bed, and he seems to quite like that, when he's convinced he's allowed up there.

We've had all kinds of disturbing feedback from people with experience with Turkish Vans, socialising stud males after their desexing, and so forth. Apparently some desexed studs never get the idea. Apparently it takes at least six weeks to judge if it's all going to work. Apparently you can expect males (even if desexed) to still be trying to kill each other after a week in the same house.

I'm glad we heard all this after we'd had the new cats for a week, because I'm not sure I needed the extra stress of knowing that what we're doing is apparently very hard. Now I think things are going well enough that we can be pretty sure that the worst-case scenarios don't apply to us.

I don't think it would have helped the cats either to have me around with higher stress levels. I don't think we've performed any miracles - I mean, it's not like we haven't had a few screw-ups, Zeki and Nemrut fighting, and Amber facing down Zeki. There really was fur flying one time - Amber is very impressive, because Zeki and her were having this particular fight in front of the sliding door - she could just have nipped through and he wouldn't have been able to follow - and she held her ground, until he got the idea that she was not up for being mounted. Maybe she didn't realise that she could escape, but on the other hand, in terms of getting the message home to Zeki this was probably better. I hope she can stand up to having to do it a few more times, as I imagine she'll have to.

Anyway, I have to assume either that Berenice socialised these cats better than most, or that we've struck it lucky. James is very good at being insistent, a bit pushier than I'd be, but it seems to work most of the time. I'm more the type who gets really bloody-minded once I think it's all gone far enough, before then I'm happy to give them the benefit of the doubt, which means I don't impose myself as much on them.
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It's another cat update: our cats all seem to be playing nicely with each other for now. There's an actual photo or two with all three of them contented together within .25 square meters.

We think Nemrut and Zeki might be getting up to a bit of trouble together - Van males can be like that. Nemrut is also learning from Zeki about when feeding time happens and where to hang out, nagging the humans to make the microwave go faster.

Amber is still not quite at home and she's a bit unhappy about the toilet facilities (as far as we can tell) but I'm not sure how to rectify it. She does come to bed every so often, whereas Zeki had more or less taken it over for himself last week. She also has an unhealthy fondness for used cotton buds, and clearly we need to install a bin with a lid in the bathroom.

They all three love the front balcony. They line up in front of the door when I get up in the morning, or if one of them is caught out by being elsewhere, comes sprinting when they hear the door open. Even Amber has gotten into grass-chomping. Nemrut has been eating it since he moved in, but I was picking some and bringing it in for him.

It's also an interesting exercise to see what's been moved around during the day when we come home. There might be a hairband at the bottom of the stairs, or some re-arrangement of the dirty laundry. And we have a pile of thin plastic foam from all the Ikea furniture that is obviously the site of some major action every day, because we keep moving it back in a corner every day. When we're around, all we see is Zeki sitting on it, or Amber hiding under it.

I've heard stories in the past that re-arranging the furniture can help, so I wonder if we got the new furniture at the right time. They all seem pretty happy with the new sofa, which is not surprising as it allows comfortable lounging on the back. And Amber likes the fact that she fits under both the sofa and the recliners.
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Pigeons among the cats

Last spring, we had a pair of pigeons (spotted turtledoves, in fact) nest in the hanging fern on our balcony. I noticed some pigeons hanging around near the balcony on Wednesday, and this morning, I see there are actually a pair of pigeons in the fern.

Last spring at this time we did not have three extremely inquisitive, playful, high-jumping cats. Nemrut literally has his nose squeezed against the glass watching them, and I hate to think what's going to happen next time the cats are out on the balcony.

Unfortunately, I don't know if the cats are out on the balcony often enough to dissuade the pigeons from nesting there until it's too late for this batch of eggs. The only vaguely positive thing I can think of is that it's not like these pigeons are rare, so I don't feel particularly obligated to provide nesting space for one particular couple.
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Do not buy a used cat from this woman

James and I had mentioned to Alys that we were enjoying Zeki's company and if Berenice had any more cats that needed a new home, we'd be interested in perhaps a female.

Alys replied last week that there was indeed a little girl, Amber, who was looking for a home, and would we like to meet her? So on Saturday, we went to meet Amber, who is indeed very cute, and we also got to meet Nemrut, who, it turned out, was good friends with Amber and also looking for a home.

It seemed a shame to break them up, and Nemrut was very affectionate, and, somehow, suddenly, we found ourselves with three cats rather than one. As with Zeki, we've put them into the blue room, which was probably a kid's bedroom once, but is now an office-cum-technology-storage-area.

Yesterday was mainly spent cleaning them up - they haven't had enough TLC lately, so we flea-treated them and trimmed their claws. And Nemrut had some nasty felt balls in his fur that we had to cut out - the largest almost as big as a golf ball. He obviously needs some human help grooming all that fur.

Zeki is Not Impressed. He's happy to share the house with humans, but cats are a different matter. We'll see how it goes, if we keep them apart from him for now. Certainly it seems like a good way to invoke his curiosity, to show him some new cats he can disapprove of, and then put them in a room where he can't get to them.
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Room service

I was cleaning up the spare room in preparation for Kirsten's visit next week, and Zeki came in and parked himself on the bed. He watched me with this air of "oh, yes, this will meet my requirements". I hope Kirsten can keep him out of there when she's here.
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Zeki's press agent.

I've been playing with google, and not only is this blog now the top hit for "Vanstar Coma Berenices" (Zeki's pedigree name), but it also comes in about ninth if you search for "Zeki cat".

If you search for "Ingrid Zeki", it's first, and "James Zeki", it's tenth.

I conclude that I am now Zeki's press agent, responsible for spreading news about his gorgeousness to the world. My job would be somewhat easier if I could show you some pictures of him.

<nudge, nudge>
James, you've taken some stunning shots which lots of people would admire, both for the cat and the photography, you know?
</nudge, nudge>

Actual Zeki news: well, he spent the day snoring behind the TV, and emerged to wash James' toes and my fingers, and is now sleeping on the back of a couch.

He's probably trying to recover from all that socialising he had to do yesterday.
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Nemrut is a springbok.

Or at least he wants to be one, desperately. He's practicing by leaping around and over the potted date palm on the balcony. I think he even scared Zeki back inside.
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Mon chat en rose

I decided last weekend that I wanted to see how I looked with purple hair. It hasn't been a big success - the colour was beetroot at its most vivid, and it's already fading and is now more Ingrid-as-redhead than anything. I'm going to have to see Nel (my hairdresser) and get her help to try real purple.

The colour, as you can guess from the rapid fading, comes out each time I shower or sweat. And now Zeki is turning pink. It is his own fault - he spent most of the night tucked up next to my head.

Since Nel has a white cat of her own, she might even understand when I explain I want a hair dye that doesn't stain the cat.
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White and furry

Because the world could use some light-hearted news.

Zeki appears to be slowly re-commandeering the bedroom. He's not actually in there with us, but he's sleeping just outside the door, and Nemrut and Amber seem to be down in the living area again.

Zeki and Nemrut have been getting awfully cozy with each other during the day. Now I fully realise that for cats, sex and cuddling have nothing to do with each other, but I'm enough of a human that I get perverted overtones from the sight of: Nemrut lying stretched-out, half on his back, Zeki close alongside, with his head buried somewhere near Nemrut's armpit, and Nemrut's arm over Zeki's face. They also did a yin-yang symbol, only all in white, the other day. I think part of the effect is the fact that Zeki is an ex-stud, and originally didn't want to have anything to do with another male cat.

This evening, it was Nemrut and Amber curled up together for a change. Amber looks about half his size when they're curled up together. Then Nemrut managed to fall off the top of the cage. He'd been doing his very convincing "furry ooze" impersonation, and pushing the pillow off the edge of the cage top, and suddenly, bam, Nemrut and pillow on floor. He's enough of a goofball that that kind of thing doesn't seem to bother him in the slightest. Both he and Amber can fall over backwards when they get really enthusiastic, jumping for ribbon. Amber tends to look embarrassed. Nemrut hasn't heard of the word.
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Cat update

So, we've now had three cats for five weeks, and how is it going?

Zeki is somewhat of a bully. He is clearly also trying to play with the others now, not fight all the time, but they don't see the difference clearly and I think he gets frustrated and upset and more likely to fight. His personality towards James and myself hasn't changed much, although I think he's a bit jealous if I'm patting one of the other two.

Personality and behaviour wise, he is the old man of the group. I know I said when we first got him that he wasn't like an old cat at all, but next to the other two, he isn't as energetic or agile. Maybe Turkish Vans are just hyper, or any cat would have been hyper after Vilya.

I expect we'll have to continue to separate him from the other two every so often for a while. It actually seems to reassure him to go into his cage sometimes, and of course he can still interact with the other two through the cage.

Amber I still haven't got a complete handle on. James thinks she's the brightest of the three, and she's certainly the one who seems to plan the most, be aware of what others might be thinking, and so on. She's also the most reserved, keeping to herself quite a lot, and it will take a good while to really get to know her.

It's always funny with the whole gender thing when you're faced with a cat, who, to quote my friend Ruth, "doesn't consciously perform gender", but nevertheless manages to be such a girl. She's pretty and dainty and quite fussy about her grooming, and acts slightly insulted if you try to help her. She eats less than half what the "boys" do, and when she gets carried away with playing and falls over, she gets that "I didn't just do that" look. The other two don't care they've fallen over.

Nemrut is still tricky to handle, but an adorable goofball. He is very skittish, and seems to keep forgetting that we're his friends, and feed him and pat him. But he is relaxing around the house, more likely to come up to me and follow me around (cautiously, still). And he is getting very comfortable on the sofa, next to me, as long as I stay seated and don't make surprising movements or sounds.

He's also the one who objects least to getting groomed. This is a good thing, because he has a lot of fur, and he had quite a lot of tangles when we got him. He's also throwing up furballs much less often now, and he's taken to the grass on the front balcony with great enthusiasm. Now I'm not sure how much of the early fur was shedding the summer coat for the winter coat, or the result of those fights, but I'm pretty sure regular TLC is a major reason for the reduction in furballs.

We're now waiting for their pedigrees and certificates, so I can tell you all their full names, how they're related, and how many cat shows Nemrut has won. Otherwise, we're just going to patiently wait (and time-out Zeki as needed) for the three of them to settle happily with each other.
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To my cats:

Dear Zeki and Nemrut,

Yes, I realise you still have to sort things out mano a mano, even though you know we don't like it and break up your fights. Yes, I admit I admire your increasing ability to fight quietly and carefully, so you won't get caught.

However, if you choose to have such a fight, even if it's dark and you think we're already asleep, I am going to notice if you are doing it on top of my left ankle. Even through the covers, yes.

That would be why your fight got broken up last night. Also, after I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep again, it wasn't the brightest move to both return to the same location, on top of the same leg, before re-starting the fight.

That would be why your second fight also got broken up, and Zeki sent down the other end of the house, and the sliding door closed.

Love, me (and my apparently very desirable ankle).

PS: Thanks for waking me at 6am this morning with your plaintive meowing, Zeki. It's good to hear that you still have your voice, and it isn't the presence of the other cats that has shut you up.
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Kitty TV

Just a minor note: the kitten being tortured somewhere in the first season of Blackadder sounds so realistic that Zeki got up from where he was lounging near the stairs, and wandered over to the TV, trying to locate the poor thing, and obviously wanting to help.
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So there was this plastic bag on the coffee table, with some chillies from the plants out the front. I planted the chillies for James, and he seems very happy with them, but he never picks his chillies, so every so often, when I'm watering, I find myself with a handful or two of chillies. This usually happens in the morning, while James is checking email on his laptop, and I dump the chillies in his lap or whatever, to point out that here are yet more chillies he's been neglecting.

Anyway, that should explain how the chillies got on the coffee table. What I can't explain is that earlier today, Zeki jumped up on the coffee table (which he doesn't do) and when I shouted him down, he left with a reluctant glance at the chillies.

So I figured that if the chillies got him onto the coffee table, I'd move them onto the carpet. (Which led James to ask why there were chillies on a plastic bag on the floor, but that was probably inevitable.)

As one expects of cats, once the object of interest was easily accessible, it immediately ceased being interesting.

However, just ten minutes ago, I caught him asleep in a sphinx-like position, his front paws on each side of the chillies. He was so embarrassed when I noticed that he left before I got a chance to take a photo.

I thought chillies were meant to be a good household remedy for keeping pets away from things, not something to cuddle up to.
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Hide and Seek

Zeki has found himself a new hiding place. We heard this odd rhythmic wheezing sound, rather like Zeki snoring, coming from the TV, but we couldn't actually see Zeki anywhere.

It turns out that the corner cabinet that the TV sits in is far enough out from the wall on one side (because of the powerpoint there) that Zeki can squeeze through, and the back of the corner unit is cut off diagonally, so there's a triangular patch of floor he can curl up on.

And apparently, it's a good place to sleep.
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Cat surprises

We finally got the official papers for Amber and Nemrut today. There were a few surprises.

We find Amber so much like Zeki, both in looks and personality, in comparison to Nemrut, that we thought Zeki and Amber were close relatives, Nemrut less so. Well, it turns out that it is Nemrut and Amber who have the same mother. And Zeki appears to be Nemrut's grandfather.

Cat breeding being what it is, Zeki's paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother are the parents of Amber and Nemrut's mother, so they're all cousins of a kind.

We also learnt Amber's pedigree name, Delismen Kehlibar, the second of which is a Turkish word meaning, you guessed it, "Amber". Nemrut is Delismen Nemrut, for Nimrod, in his guise as Great Hunter. (Zeki is Vanstar Coma Berenices of Delismen, or I guess, formerly of Delismen). Delişmen is Turkish for "madcap, rambunctious, devil-may-care".

But the real surprise was getting birthdays. We'd already figured out that Nemrut is five (7th June 2000), and we'd pegged Amber as younger. In actual fact, she's almost as old as Zeki: 17th July 1997, to Zeki's 21st December 1995. Maybe their similar personalities is the wisdom of age, and Nemrut is just a ditz because he's immature.

I've recently been looking in on discussions about how older women are ignored or downplayed socially and culturally. Well, Amber makes a fabulous middle-aged female rolemodel. Charming, active, independent, and fearless.
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Zeki would like everyone to know what a great guy Paul the air conditioning installer is.

First, he brings these long skinny tube things, draped over the sofa with the end of the tube near the floor and moving slightly - definitely a interesting new version of "catch-the-tip".

Then, after making various weird noises, he creates brand new zeki-footballs to chase up and down the corridor.

Paul also complimented Zeki on his looks and cool mismatched eyes. He even left one of the new zeki-footballs behind, for play this morning. I think Zeki is looking forward to Paul's next visit on Wednesday.

[Paul was very apologetic about the tiny melted spot on one of the units. He'd never tried welding copper pipe while a cat batted at the pipe end, about three metres away. And 4 cm of 3cm diameter PVC tube appears to be an ideal zeki-football.]
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Corridor dynamics

Although our cats have pretty much settled down with each other, there still seem to be some power and territory issues that either haven't been resolved, or simply won't go away. I guess this is the point where I start to learn the more permanent characteristics of the cats from distinctive, yet changeable traits.

After the first night of all three being friends and sleeping with us on the bed, Zeki must have Had A Word, because since then, Zeki has been the only cat in the bedroom with us. The other two would sleep at the other end of the corridor, near the kitchen. We tried taking the others to bed, but they'd leave the room as soon as possible.

Last week, James tried locking Zeki out in the living area by closing off the sliding door, and having Amber and Nemrut with us on the bedroom side. Within about ten minutes of turning the lights out, we heard an odd bang. I couldn't be bothered getting up to find out what it was - we couldn't hear any fighting or anything bad.

In the morning, we woke up to Amber being very cosy and friendly with us on the bed, and Nemrut nowhere to be found in our end of the house. We slide open the door, and Zeki is sitting on the climbing beam and Nemrut on a cardboard box at the end of the corridor, looking perfectly comfortable with himself.

We've reconstructed that what must have happened is now the old carpet is out, the sliding door doesn't have tracks on the floor. Zeki must have pushed the sliding door so it swung out sideways, from the track above, and Nemrut could squeeze out, and the bang would have been when the door fell back in place.

We have no idea how they figured this out, or why, but given that we can't see how Nemrut could have got any leverage from our side, it had to be cooperative.

We're also thinking of replacing the sliding door with something else.

We went back to just letting them do their thing. In the last few days, Amber has started to come into the bedroom in the morning. I've seen Zeki swipe at her several times, so I felt confirmed that he was actively keeping them out.

So, I think I have a handle on it all, until last night. Last night, as far as I can tell, Amber and Nemrut spent the night on our bed, and Zeki was at the other end of the corridor.

But the most amusing thing happened this morning. I was in the living area, James still asleep, and I could hear some minor hissing and fighting noises down the corridor. So I wandered over to have a look. Halfway down the corridor, all three were sitting, perfectly spaced, wall, middle, other wall. And looking at me like "Go away, you're not involved." So I went back to my laptop.
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Movie: The Phantom of the Opera

Off to the actual cinema, with Sarah, her mother, and another friend of Sarah's (I think Louise?) for The Phantom of the Opera.

I enjoyed it, but find it almost impossible to classify as a good or bad movie. It's very Phantom of the Opera; if that's what you're after, it's great, if not, you should skip it.

I guess I could expand on what I mean: singing and Andrew Lloyd Webber's music; actors who generally looked their parts and sang reasonably well too - I feel they were somewhat constrained by having to largely sing in a musical theatre/pop style (as distinct from opera/classical style) but that's how musical theatre has to sound, I guess.

Visually, extremely lush: goth-bohemian-baroque escapist over-the-topness. The story is essentially a fairytale, or a romance at least, and the movie looks like it. This is not a movie to be looking for realism in, because you will be distracted by almost everything on screen. I managed to get myself distracted by what Christine (Emmy Rossum) is wearing the first time she gets abducted by the phantom - white corset and stay-up stockings, not particularly covered by a long white lacy jacket thingy with train is so what I imagine innocent chorus girls wear for a quiet night in.

There's a self-referential cuteness going on: the opera house productions in the story are of course done in a late 19th century escapist over-the-top style, so given we're watching a story of the same kind, it makes sense that it is presented in the early 21st century version of the same style.

Minnie Driver has a great time being the pampered diva La Carlotta, and I'd happily have watched her chew scenery some more, but the story isn't actually about her.
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Movie: Malcolm X

More DVD watching: Malcolm X. It's really long, more than three hours, but definitely worth it. Great acting, fascinating story, entirely believable levels of racism: when Malcolm and some friends, males black and females white, get caught for a robbery, the girls get short sentences and the boys, very long ones. "We were guilty of sleeping with white women."
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Book: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

This book by Mark Haddon is published (in Australia) as teenage fiction. However, I think that's a very superficial attitude, and I'm happy it's also out as a literary novel in other countries.

The narrator is 15-year old Christopher, who finds his neighbour's dead dog, and decides to find out who is responsible, in the style of Sherlock Holmes.

Christopher likes maths, order, patterns, predictability and animals. He doesn't like yellow, being touched, metaphors, lies, or crowds. He is confused by most human interaction, as he doesn't pick up facial expressions or tone of voice. He is overwhelmed by new situations because of the sheer amount of unfamiliar sensory data, and he doesn't seem to have ways of filtering out what is "unimportant".

Mark Haddon pulls off the difficult stunt of making the reader (me at least, and others seem to think so too) care about Christopher and understand the difficulty of his situation, and also hint at the emotional drama swirling around Christopher that Christopher himself isn't aware of.

A lot of summaries I've seen start with statements like "this is about a character with autism" (or asperger's), which to me misses the point. Neither condition is mentioned anywhere in the book, and as Haddon says, Christopher tells you all you need to know himself. Christopher experiences the world differently from most of the rest of us, but it's not clear to me that that difference should be considered a condition.

I'm quite mathematically oriented myself, so I was probably more inclined to sympathise with Christopher's view of the world than most. And as a teenager, I spent a fair amount of time around other mathematically gifted teenagers, including some who were somewhat like Christopher, if less extreme (I probably wouldn't have actually met anyone as extreme as him). And the blunt fact is, that even those of us who had social skills within the range of "normal", more or less turned them off when we were working on maths, because you're looking at the world a different way, focussing on different kinds of patterns.

This is one of the reasons I overall found Christopher a very believable character, because he struck me as being "in the maths filter" all the time. And a reason why I don't think it's a "teenage" book despite the main character being a teenager - I think this is the correct age to depict a character like this at (certainly if you want a novel out of it) - his mathematical abilities are hinting at university, but his social skills make that very difficult. As an older character, whether he develops more social skills or not, I expect him to have embedded himself in an environment that feels safe and controllable, and likely to be surrounded by people who accept his weaknesses as the price of his strengths. (vide any Mathematics Department I've ever encountered.)

In case it's not clear, I think this is a great book, and I'd recommend it particularly to anyone who may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way. Christopher is not typical, but once you've been inside his head, the rest of them should be easy.

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Movie: Torque

We're having a motorbike theme weekend and began by watching Torque.

I had heard plenty of bad reviews of it, but I thought it might be fun to see how bad it was. And it was kinda fun, in a bad movie way. The acting, dialogue and plot is either bad or completely "whaaaa?".

The actor who plays the hero was cast on his ability to toss his hair and make a Tom Cruise face. Our hero, by the way, is not only the bestest, fastest, most accurate bikerider out there, he is also a whiz at martial arts and seem to have spent time in buddhist temples during his recent time in Thailand, judging by his equinamity and ability to restore karmic balance to every situation.

Motorbikes do not merely ignore the laws of physics, they seem to act like individual characters, although not as much as the guns, where the script writers seem to have not even bothered trying to come up with plausible behaviour.

What I did not expect, however, is that the thing about the movie that would keep me most entertained and prone to random giggling was the cinematography. It is awe-inspiring, and I have no idea if that's in a good or bad way. It swings wildly between totally failing to convey the intended effect, weird attempts at metaphor, and close-focus-distant-focus effects which look like someone with an over-active imagination and no sense of what to focus on was playing with a camera and digital editing package for the first time ever.

Also, oddly, the women - at least the three-four main female characters - have the best lines and seem smarter than most of the male characters. I haven't begun thinking through the implications of this, in a movie which is clearly geared to a hyper-masculinised audience.

it's also fun playing spot-the-style - sometimes it's a racing movie, sometimes it's a tough-guys-and-drug-deals movie, sometimes it's trying to be The Matrix, and then there are the bits that seem to be cowboy movie, or a CSI episode, or a fight scene out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, only on motorbikes.
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TV show: Rejseholdet (Unit One)

SBS just recently started screening a Danish cop/criminial investigation show, Rejseholdet, or as SBS is calling it, "Unit One". Have I mentioned how much I like living in a country which has a TV channel dedicated to showing multicultural and foreign-language TV?

So I persuaded James to change the channel last night (we tend to be pretty glued to ABC Friday nights) and check it out. I like it quite a lot so far. I have to admit I'm a sucker for a show where the lead cop is an ordinary-attractive (as distinct from Hollywood-attractive) 40ish woman. And just to make sure they've really got their hooks in me, she's called Ingrid. James was excited, because although he still can't say Ingrid in Danish, he was having no trouble recognising the name.

The premise is that the National police has a "travelling team" (the literal translation) that can be called out to assist with difficult cases anywhere in the country. (Denmark is small enough that this is extremely feasible.) There's a lot to appeal to me here, apart from the feminism: I'm quite fond of criminial investigation shows, I like the angle I'm sensing of focusing on emotions and relationships, I get to practice my Danish, and at least in this episode they've included some very scenic locations, and used some nice cinematography, without being gimmicky.

About half-way through the show it suddenly occurred to me that Fischer (Mads Mikkelsen) was meant to be the show's heartthrob. He doesn't do anything for me personally, but I guessed right, because he's been voted "Denmark's sexiest man". I'm more inclined towards La Cour (Lars Brygmann) but that's probably because he's showing evidence of being the weird brain.

Another thing that was keeping me amused was seeing how much of the swearing was making it into the subtitles. I'm not sure if the team's meant to have been recently assembled, most of them know each other, but Johnny Olsen (Lars Bom) is new to it. All the male characters recognise him, but Gaby (Trine Pallesen), who starts flirting with him as soon as she sets eyes on him (she seems to be the central organiser and keeper-track-of-stuff) gets increasingly frustrated by all the "Is that really Johnny Olsen?" "Sure" (some of it appears to be deliberate teasing), until she finally bursts out "Hvem for fanden er Johnny Olsen?" which appeared in the subtitles as "Who is Johnny Olsen?". I mentioned to James that SBS had left out the swearing, and he said he could tell. (Johnny Olsen is a brilliant soccer player whose career was cut short by injury.)

Just to make sure they've got their hooks in me, this story does not wrap up at the end of the episode, so I'll have to watch next week. Fortunately, it appears that we don't care all that much about the current ABC show in that time slot, so we can squeeze Rejseholdet in between Strictly Dancing and Spooks. Thankfully, both SBS and ABC are good about keeping to the published times. What would we do without our government-funded channels?
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Movie: The Incredibles

Ian invited James and I to join him for The Incredibles this afternoon at Indooroopilly. I didn't mind going out, since I got myself four T-shirts for $20, a purple one, a green one, and two different shades of pinky/apricot. I'm thinking of painting or otherwise decorating at least one of them - there's a lot of that sort of thing around, but most of the designs aren't to my taste.

I enjoyed the actual movie a lot. It has all the superhero/James Bond/action tropes, including the music, but manages to be about family and relationships and keeping secrets and accepting who you are. And of course, action movies are much more involving when you actually care about the characters all this dangerous excitement is happening to.

The plot struck me as well-thought out and tightly constructed. None of the characters do anything outrageous to keep the plot going; stupidity is plausible and controlled. I got the impression a lot of care and attention and love went into every stage of this movie.

The animation is smooth and stylistically consistent apart from one thing. I actually found the characters' hair (and also water) too realistic. I've never seen such real-looking CGI hair before (water they seemed to manage a while back), and given the overall style isn't ultra-realistic, I actually found it distracting. A clearly cartoony character, with unrealistic proportions and features, flat skin, and no particular attention to muscular anatomy when moving should not have hair that I'd be pleased to have.

There are all kinds of curious details, which leave me wondering how many I'm missing. For example, the fashion designer Edna Mode (who is clearly some kind of superhero, although an unusual one) appears to me to be an extremely pointed satire of Karl Lagerfeld, and she's wearing an outfit based on one he designed. But it's not the kind of detail I'd expect most of the people I think this movie is aimed at to pick up.

I also enjoyed the end credits - they're in a sort of iconographic sixties silhouette style, and it's just as well they're at the end, because you need to be familiar with the characters to decode their icons.
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Movie: De-lovely

I was quite surprised to discover that it was only James and myself who would be watching "De-lovely" with Sarah. Maybe we're the most musically inclined.

The movie is a kind of musical retelling of Cole Porter's life, using his own songs. It focusses particularly on the complicated relationship with his wife, Linda.

It's pretty clear that he does love her in some sense - he's attracted to her beauty, her mind and wit, and her belief in him and his songs, and her willingness to support him. She makes an excellent partner, in a moral support and business sense. But he feels guilty about the fact that he's not sexually attracted to her.

They both try to be sophisticated about it, but they don't talk about it much, and there are inevitable misunderstandings and opportunities to be hurt.

The problem as I saw it is the mere fact of homosexuality is beyond the pale and can't be talked about. Cole and Linda agree their relationship has to exist somewhere beyond the pale, but they don't agree on the boundaries. Cole doesn't seem to recognise the difference between being married to a woman and having sex responsibly with some men, with her approval and understanding, and just having sex with whichever men grab his attention whenever.

As for the music, it is an intriguing introduction to Cole Porter's work, because sometimes it's as though the actors barely have time for spoken dialogue between snippets of Porter's songs. The performances of some songs by modern artists are at least interesting, but opinion and taste seems to vary wildly as to its success.

I happen to rather like Alanis Morrisette's performance of "Birds do it", while Sarah found it too incongruous for Porter's style. I think the difference boils down to the fact that I don't hear her voice as specifically modern, but just her own. I think her voice might have intrigued Porter if she'd lived then, as suggested by the movie. And then I've always believed that art needs a certain amount of staying with the times to stay alive.

Particularly in the case of Cole Porter, where we have the original movies and recordings of him singing, I don't see it as any problem if a movie tries some variations.

I also have to drool over the costumes - the Porters were obviously rolling in it and their clothes reflect that. And James kept mentioning clothes worn by Kevin Kline he wouldn't mind for himself.
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TV Series: Coupling season 2.

James borrowed Season 2 of Coupling from Todd, and I think I may have become an enabler when I pointed out that on my recent shopping expedition I noticed the Season 3 DVD display taking up the entire window of the ABC shop.

I continue to like the show, it's very cleverly written and painfully funny in places. There are parts that are so embarrassing James can't watch and cringes and squirms the way I cringe and squirm at Fawlty Towers.

I wonder if you could diagnose sub-types of social anxiety by seeing which comedies a person found most funny, yet anxiety-provoking?

The highlight of season 2 for me is most definitely Geoff's romance with Julia, a colleague. But Jane's antics in "Dressed" are just so Jane, and the incident that finally provokes Steve to propose to Susan is brilliant as well.

And both James and I have "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps" stuck in our brains. He hums it, I try to actually sing. I expect we're mutually reinforcing by now.
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Fly-by reviews

Quick comments on books I've read the last six months or so, and one movie.

David Bodanis, E = mc2, a Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation (non-fiction: popular physics). This didn't really work for me - I know more physics than the kind of person this book is aimed at, although I don't know all that much. I think the notes at the end are my favourite part - there's some weird trivia in there.

Lindsey Davis, The Silver Pigs (fiction: ancient roman whodunit). This was a lot of fun, once I relaxed into it and trusted Davis' recreation of ancient Rome. There's a lot of playing around with the standard detective tropes, given that Falco, our hero, is 1800 years too early to know what they might be. And of course, forensic science, such as fingerprints, doesn't yet exist, so the crims can get away with a lot more, and Falco's got to work much harder. It's the first in a series, and I'd happily read more.

Don George (Editor; preface by the Dalai Lama) The Kindness of Strangers (non-fiction: travel stories). This is a cute idea: get different people to write about their experiences with kindness from strangers while travelling. Unfortunately, after a while, a lot of the stories started to blend together for me, being essentially the same story in a different unfamiliar place. I really liked Carolyn Swindell's Brief Encounter, because the kindness is of a different sort, and the experience seems to have actually changed her, at least in a small way. And Jeff Greenwald's Might be your lucky day has a kicker of an ending. But it might be that neither story is as effective, out of the context of the surrounding stories.

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis - The Story of a Childhood. I don't know if I can come up with a classification for a series of comics, retelling events in Satrapi's childhood, growing up in Iran under the Shah and then the Islamic revolution and war with Iraq. But it gives a wonderful sense of a time and a place, and the interaction between human universals such as teenage conformity and rebellion, and particulars such as having to wear hijab and having relatives in jail for political reasons. The art is black and white, in a style that would be very comfortable in a children's book (and Satrapi has done children's books). If anything, this makes the story hit harder.

V for Vendetta. Yet another demonstration that those escapist non-literary arts (comics, sf, fantasy, etc) can nevertheless get in there and tackle political issues. Overall, I liked this movie very much. However, it's very much mythological in feel. This might have been quite intentional, but I was left feeling that the central characters, particularly Evey, were burdened with too many symbolic values to feel human enough for me to engage with. As a result, the parts of the movie that have really stayed with me are the setting and the background characters. I thought the movie created a very believeable alternate reality, with just the right blend of gritty everyday-ness and signs of Otherness. On a slightly more meta-level, I was struck by the extreme discrepancy between the deadly homophobia of the society presented, apparently with the general approval of that society, and the movie's assumption that it would be self-evident to everyone watching it that same-sex couples had the same right to their lives as anyone else.

Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Bookclub (fiction). This was a bit of a let-down for me; I thought the book was far less clever than it thought it was. By far the best thing about it was being reminded about Jane Austen's fabulous writing and getting the inclination to read it again. Another good thing about it is that although most of the characters are dismissive of science fiction, the book itself isn't, and I thought that balance was managed nicely. The absolute worst thing is an anonymous narrative "we" - it doesn't appear that "we" represents any member of the bookclub, and if anything, the "we" is harsher and more judgemental than any individual. I hoped for a while that perhaps Fowler was going to make some point about (female) individuals suppressing their real views in favour of some imagined collective opinion which isn't in fact representative, but she doesn't, so I was left with a really bad taste in my mouth.

Simon Winchester, A Crack in the Edge of the World (non-fiction: the SF 1906 earthquake and modern geology). I'm actually cheating a bit here - I'm still reading this one, but I'm not sure I can finish it. I had enjoyed Winchester's Surgeon of Crowthorne and Meaning of Everything, and lent them to a word-mad friend, who returned them to me because she found the writing style impossible. I hadn't noticed a problem, but boy, am I noticing a problem in this book. Too much of the material seems, although interesting, not relevant enough, and feels like padding - padding that makes the actual structure of the book hard to detect, if there is one. And his focus often seems misplaced, like he's paying attention to the wrong things. And then he repeatedly makes the lay assumption that geological history has now stopped. This assumption is also frequently made of evolution, and I'm thus particularly prone to be irritated by it, when it's made by someone who if anything should be disabusing his lay audience of it. Timescale, people, timescale.
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Movie: Minority Report

James and I watched the DVD of Minority Report last night, with Tom Cruise and Kathryn Morris (who is the lead in Cold Case, which it took me most of the movie to realise - the voice was so familiar but she looks different), directed by Steven Spielberg.

I wasn't wildly impressed. The first 40 minutes or so seem very slow. The movie is interrupted for ponderous explanation of plot setup; interrupted for an action scene just so there's something happening on screen; interrupted for some more background explanation; interrupted for some geewhiz visual effects along the lines of "won't the future look stunning, and isn't it cool our effects department can do it now".

If you're starting to wonder what actually happens in this part of the movie, as distinct from disconnected interruptions, I'm a bit unclear on that too. The movie is over two hours long but would be much better for some sensible editing, particularly of the first part.

It all reminds me rather of the bloated late output of Eminent Science Fiction Authors who get to publish every word they write without editing. And lets the rest of us realise that their younger work is good partly because editors trimmed a lot of fat off.

The movie finally gets into gear, and then trundles along quite nicely as your standard action/conspiracy movie. There's a quote on the back of the box: Steven Spielberg's sharpest, brawniest, most bustling entertainment since Raiders of the Lost Ark which surprised me when I first read it, but in retrospect is extremely apt. Think of it as a B-grade entertainment where our hero battles evil henchmen of a supernatural cult and uses objects of magical power against exotic backgrounds.

Because trying to think of it as Science Fiction will only hurt your head, at least if your head functions anything like mine. It's not so much that the plot requires a magical drug which causes precognitive side-effects in children born to women taking it - I was quite prepared to suspend disbelief for that.

It's more that the "scientists" who worked on this project don't seem to know anything about the scientific method, who think statistical uncertainty is a problem that will go away if they pretend it doesn't exist and cover up the evidence, who think they know better than lawyers how the legal system works; and the rest of society accepts their verdict and ditches the lawyers.

It's also that, given the fact that the precogs can only pre-sense and thus prevent murders - again a plot conceit I'm willing to concede - all of society seems to live in blissful happiness knowing there are no more murders, and the only people around with any psychological damage appear to have been affected by murder. Beatings, bullying, rape, theft and burglary are totally irrelevant in this universe, which is also why there are no longer any conventionally-trained police who are familiar with crime scenes, other than the "troublemaker" who is a former homicide officer investigating the new system.

It's also that this apparently oh-so happy, caring and loving future society allows its chief pre-crime officer to be in any position of responsibility when he clearly has untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the death of his son something like ten years previously. And that he and his wife are estranged over the death of this son when ten minutes of grief counselling and some healthy crying is sufficient to get them back together.

If, like James, you're computer security literate, you can also be horrified (and hey, I was, too) by iris-pattern security systems, where our hero's iris pattern is now on the wanted list and he's been scanned for all over town, but no-one has bothered to turn off recognition of his iris pattern inside the pre-crime building. I was prepared again to suspend disbelief about eye-transplants to bypass the iris-scanning (although the people who developed the system don't seem up to date with what the crims are doing to evade it) and maybe even hanging on to the previous eyes, to use the iris pattern to get through those doors that think he's still the pre-crime chief and not D.C.'s most wanted.

But I have to admit I totally lost it when Tom Cruise is fumbling for his old eyes (in a ziplock plastic bag in his pocket), and to build up tension, he drops them. And the eyes roll off down the corridor like a couple of blood-stained ping pong balls. That's probably what they were, but is it really too much to ask the props department (or even the scriptwriter, because that's really where the problem lies) of a multi-million dollar movie to go out and get a few real eyeballs from the nearest abattoir and get an idea of what they're like?

If I wanted to get deep, there are whole essays waiting about the movie's occasional nods at interesting deep symbolism that isn't taken anywhere at all, except to disappoint people like me who start getting the inkling than the movie might be an interesting psychological or symbological study, when it's really a B-grade action with pretensions.
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Movie: Stage Beauty

Sarah and I, apparently both being fans of romance/costume/shakespeare movies, dragged James off to see "Stage Beauty" last night.

I liked it a lot. I think I'd have trouble resisting any movie with Rupert Everett as Charles II, Nell Gwyn (Zoe Tapper) as a force of nature, and Samuel Pepys (Hugh Bonneville) recording everything for posterity. Overall, I thought it was extremely well-cast - I understood exactly why everyone was behaving as they were, and reacting to each other as they did. (I've started to notice that when I get confused about why people are doing what they're doing in a movie, it's usually because of bad acting.)

The central story revolves around Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), who has been brought up to play female theatre roles and literally doesn't know how to do or be anything else, and Maria (Claire Danes), his dresser, who dreams of acting herself. Charles II, partly to emphasise the Restoration of monarchy, partly to please his mistress, decrees that from now on, women will play women's parts in the theatre, overturning the tradition that Ned is part of.

They both discover that this change requires a great deal of adaptation for them - Ned discovering that this is not, as it first appears, a complete disaster for him, and Maria, that there is a lot more to being a woman acting than impersonating Ned's performances.

I liked the fact that this was a mainstream-ish movie, essentially about sex and gender roles, that didn't seem to be preachy or moralistic or virtuous about it. In fact, it had a great air of "This is a movie about coping with change and understanding yourself, it's just that gender happens to be involved in this particular case" about it.

I did have some anachronistic niggles about it - the final performance of Othello, which is much too naturalistic for the time - on the other hand, I'm guessing that with women on stage, acting would suddenly have seemed much more naturalistic to audiences of the time, and the only way to convey that sensation to us is using acting that we see as naturalistic.

But it also worried me a bit that the only theatre being performed is Shakespeare - it makes sense to have the central story revolve around Othello, but I found it weird that there were not even references to other playwrights. Also, Claire Danes apparently being happy to look like Claire Danes bothered me somewhat - she looks a bit out of place surrounded by powdered and bewigged nobility, and dirty and malnourished lower classes.

And I found the caps the actors wear to keep their hair under the stage wig really distracting. I got to the point where I didn't care if they were historically accurate, I would have preferred them to look less like they were made of nylon pantyhose. Otherwise, I enjoyed the costumes, and thought they suited the air of the times well.

But these are niggles, and there were other things which I'm sure weren't accurate that didn't bother me at all, because they were part of the story or just plain intriguing - Charles II and Nell cross-dressing struck me as very much in character.

Apparently this movie got an R rating in the US. We had an ongoing game trying to figure out what attracted that rating - Claire Danes' breast? The gay sex scene (although it's under sheets)? Six King Charles Spaniels wagging their tails frantically as, we gather, Nell does the thing with Charles? There's some vulgar language, reflecting the bawdiness of the period, but I'm really startled this movie was thought potentially harmful to older teenagers. I would have enjoyed it at twelve.

James didn't like the movie quite as much as Sarah and I - I suspect he didn't have enough background to appreciate some of the historical aspects. He seems to have liked the spaniels and the sexual innuendo though.

But what can you really say about a movie that makes me want to read Samuel Pepys' Diary and generally learn more about the time?
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Movie: Wallace & Gromit

On Tuesday, I went along with James and a bunch of his colleagues to see the Wallace & Gromit feature, Curse of the Were-Rabbit. First, we had the most ingredient-heavy pizza I've had in a long time, at Tomarcos, and then headed around the corner to the good old El Dorado for the movie.

It was really great to catch up with Wallace & Gromit again. The movie is cute and charming in all the expected Wallace & Gromit ways, and has those fabulous little bits of background filler (Gromit is a graduate of Dogwarts), of which I expect to spot more on a re-watch.

I didn't find it quite as exceptionally breathtaking as Wrong Trousers or Close Shave. I think this is partly because you just can't cram things into a feature the way you can into a half-hour. Things need to be stretched a bit, and they felt that way.

However, I also got a sense of trying reprise the best bits of previous W&G, and not enough new insanity. I didn't feel there was anything as completely off-the-wall as the automaton's skiing dreams in Grand Day Out, or the model train chase in Wrong Trousers, or all the Terminator jokes in Close Shave, not to mention the sheep formation.

It's difficult, I guess, when you have a movie at least as good as most things in the cinema, and yet the obvious standard of measure is a very high one indeed.

Some things I did like, apart from the whole concept: were-rabbit marauding the whole village's giant vegetables - were Wallace's thought transfer machine; the Anti-Pesto approach to pest control; Lady Tottington, particularly in her final incarnation as a giant carrot (which James failed to notice!); and the village vicar whose secret cupboard of spiritual secrets is full of runestones and tarot cards.

But I also felt like more could have been done with many of these - I was really expecting more payoff with all the giant vegetables, and Lady Tottington's conservatory on the roof. I don't know what I was expecting, but Nick Park usually manages something.
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Book: The story of V

I finished reading The Story of V (subtitled either: A natural history of female sexuality; or: Opening Pandora's box; there are also a number of different covers) by Catherine Blackledge last week, but it's taken me for ever to get around to writing about it.

I think the reason it's taken me so long is pretty obvious. I'm very ambiguous about this book. On the one hand, I don't like our society's coyness about sex and the general ignorance and mystery around female genitalia. So I'm really happy that those barriers are being broken in the form of books like this. Even if the coyness is reflected in the title, and the "safe" purple paperback cover, after a more explicit hardback cover.

The coyness actually causes a curiosity: V is supposedly for "vagina", and Blackledge claims that "vagina" refers either to the passage to the cervix and womb, or to the entire female external genitalia, but I've never encountered her second sense before. I also think it leads to confusion in the text. I'd have preferred if she'd used "vulva" for the external genitals, and only used "vagina" to refer to, well, the vagina. The title would still have been apt.

But leaving aside the cultural problems of publishing books about female genitalia in our society, I'm afraid I don't think this actual book is particularly good. I really think its market success will be entirely due to the lack of competition; I think if non-fiction along these lines was published regularly, this would be in the second-rate bin.

This book does manage some things well - the breadth of research and related (and relevant) subject matter is impressive; she covers so much territory, from anthropology and myth, to the intricacies of fertilisation in hyenas and assorted insects, that I can't imagine anyone not learning something they didn't know from reading this.

But, but, but. I spotted a number of factual inaccuracies; when she covered biological areas I'm familiar with (smell and the MHC, for example) I found her descriptions misleading in a way that made me wonder if she really understood what she was writing about; I thought some of her chains of reasoning were tenuous to say the least; and I had alarm bells going off left right and centre when reading her historical and anthropological material, because she was interpreting things with a very modern cultural viewpoint, with none of the sensitivity that I would expect of good historians/anthropologists for the cultural viewpoint of the people who created the material.

This meant that however much I enjoyed all the material new to me, I was left in a great deal of doubt whether I could actually trust it to be true, or represented accurately. Which means that ultimately for me, the book was in many ways a waste of time: I may have learnt some new things, but based on the stuff I could check with my own knowledge and common sense, I'm not confident.

Way back in the first or second chapter, I had a thought: "I wish she was my PhD student". She'd diligently gone out and collected all the possible relevant information, and had herself a first draft. Now it was my time to teach her something about checking reliability of sources, forming coherent arguments with the available evidence, structuring material in a clean, well-flowing way, and not just dumping everything in a vaguely continuous stream.

Oh, and learning to write and edit better. I could certainly edit this book into better English.

There is another problem with this book, which is possibly the underlying problem, and which I don't blame Blackledge for, in fact I feel sorry for her. It appears that she grew up ashamed and mystified by her own body, and researching the female genitals to death has been part of her process of coming to accept and love her own body and her sexuality.

Like her, I sincerely wish we lived in a society where accepting her own body and sexuality was simply a normal thing for a woman to grow up doing. And I understand that she is very keen to share her new-found sense of self-love, and I guess if this book does that, maybe I shouldn't get in the way. Because maybe we need a lot more women who accept themselves and are prepared to talk about it openly before we can get onto the nit-picky details of getting the history, anthropology, and physiology of women's sexuality actually right.

She has these charming, women's sexuality-empowering, discussions of the various terms for female genitalia in other cultures. "See, it's alright, even if we're brought up to be vaguely disgusted by our vulvas, women in other cultures aren't." But I don't care how many jade grottos or pearls of wonder traditional chinese culture was prepared to admire; it was an incredibly sexist society that profoundly limited women's social roles and powers and rights.

See, I'd rather live in a society that gives me contraception, and equal right to education and work and pursuing my own life, and ways to avoid/escape domestic violence and rape, that hasn't quite figured out how to deal with female sexuality; than one where I'm locked into precisely one social role (and brought up so strongly gendered that I might not even realise what I'm trapped in), however well it brings up men to admire and pay compliments to my vagina.

I think that makes me a feminist. I think Blackledge is also a feminist, but not a sufficiently critical one. Unfortunately, I've now read enough feminist literature that she seems more typical than me. It seems to be okay to ditch critical thinking and scientific rigour in the interests of cheerleading for girl-power. But I don't think true girl-power will be achieved until we can argue right back at the boys.

I managed to learn these critical thinking skills as a girl and woman. I can confirm that they adamantly are not inherently part of the patriarchy. But because the patriarchy likes to think it has the monopoly on critical thinking (and hey, the feminist literature I've read would confirm that belief) it's important to challenge men on their own turf, and let them discover it isn't their turf at all. It's a startlingly fair playing field, once you've learnt the rules.

Maybe I'm just ahead of my time.
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