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What it’s all about February 23, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Durham, Look what I did, Lovely people, Really good day, Theatre, University.
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Two in quick succession, yes, but I’m so insanely proud of this that I just had to share it with all of you.

The most fun you can have in a darkened room with half a dozen very big speakers, a high cast-member-to-black-cape ratio and a papier maché dragon.

And on top of that, £1800 raised for the Orangutan Foundation.  ‘Whimsical sensibility.’  I’ll go with that.


The Paper Tiger February 23, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Small things.

This is a story I was told when I was little – I think I read it, actually, and then told it to my little sister on one of the numerous, albeit less frequent these days, times when I’d sit in her room and tell her a story.

Unlike most of the stories I used to tell her, which tended to be Anglo-Saxon or occasionally Scandinavian in origin (I had a wonderful book of them, that was falling apart, and I’ve no idea what happened to it but I loved it), this story is, I think, Chinese.

It’s about a little girl whose birthday it is, and for her birthday her daddy gives her a parasol.  She really loves this parasol, and insists on opening and closing it in all the places in the house that anyone else particularly wants to be in, so after a while of this somebody suggests that she go for a walk in the jungle with her parasol.  I suppose, if one has a jungle nearby, that seems the obvious thing to do in it, especially if one has such a lovely brand-spanking-new parasol with which to walk.

So off the little girl goes with her parasol over her shoulder, and she skips about a bit, and carefully inspects some of the brightly coloured flowers and leaves, and shows her new parasol to some of the wildlife – who don’t seem that impressed, it must be said – and generally charges through the undergrowth for a bit.  And as she gets deeper and deeper into the jungle, she spots a flash of orange and stops dead in her tracks.

There is a tiger, a few yards ahead of her, blocking the path.  The little girl, being quite a resourceful little girl really and not one prone to panic, thinks crikey! he’s seen me!  What am I going to do?  And, having such a snazzy parasol about her person (lucky, that) she decides that the best thing she can do is hide behind it, and hope that the tiger won’t be able to see her any more.  So she gets her parasol out very quickly, and she crouches behind it, and she closes her eyes, and she holds her breath.

And she keeps holding it.  And then she lets it out, and listens very carefully, and then opens one eye, and then the other.  And after another minute or two, she peeks out from behind the parasol, and to her surprise, the tiger has gone!  So she grins widely, and dances a little bit to break the tension, does her parasol back up and legs it home as fast as she can.

When she gets home, she goes to her daddy and tells him all about the tiger, and how it had disappeared, and how she had no idea where it went.

‘Silly girl!’ says her daddy, fondly, ‘have you not looked at your parasol properly?’  And the little girl opens the parasol up, and then goes round to the other side and looks at it properly from the outside, and nearly jumps out of her skin because painted on the top of the parasol is a rather gloriously fierce dragon.

D’you know, there’s something to be said about a simple, clever story where ultimately, nobody gets hurt.

And now I really ought to stop procrastinating this essay.  There was a point to that, when I drafted it yesterday, but I can’t remember what it was, so it’s just going to be a drive-by storytelling now.  (I know the tiger wasn’t paper, by the way, but I found out yesterday that ‘paper tiger’ is an actual expression for something that looks dangerous but really isn’t.  I kind of like it.)  And now I shall return to Jim Moray and corporate manslaughter.  Yay.

Climate anxiety February 20, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Sheer bloody-mindedness, Small things, University.

Quite a long time ago, I had an idea for a story that ended up manifesting itself as a script, about a girl who has all kinds of things wrong with her essentially because she’s terrified about the rest of the world.  She wouldn’t eat anything because someone else could have eaten it, or else the carbon footprint was too high.  She lashed out at anyone around her who tried to turn on a light, or a radiator, she unplugged the fridge and washed herself with cold water.  She couldn’t look at a plastic bag, or any direct evidence of someone shopping for anything.  She cried when her exceptionally patient partner took a bus anywhere, and she wouldn’t let a car near the house.  She felt very guilty, all of the time, for things that she shouldn’t be doing, or things that she could be doing better.  I called her Claire and she lived in my head for a month or so as I wrote about her.  Alright, so it’s a bit pop-environment conscious, but it’s still the sort of problem that I’m surprised not to have heard of somebody having.

Not long after I wrote that particular story, I came across a paragraph or two online about an eating disorder similar to anorexia that was based around things being good for you – people who can’t eat something unless they are convinced that it’s entirely healthy, or organic, or local.  This is a few years ago.  I’ve never heard of it since.

These are things that we should be doing more about, and that we get drummed into us a lot.  These are things that it’s easy to be conscious of all the time.  I remember for a good year or so, because of various influences, feeling very guilty about having lights on at all in any room with nobody in it, and more than one light on in rooms with people in.  I still go around and turn them off, but it was for a bit that I couldn’t go to sleep without wandering around the whole house and making sure everything was off, turning the televisions off at the wall (which used to annoy my parents no end), then going into my room and unplugging my extension leads and digital radio.

What I’m saying is that it’s easy to get paranoid about Doing Your Bit, and watch yourself all the time.  And that I’m surprised not to have heard of more people who take it to extremes.  Maybe they just do it quietly.

Nowadays, I just get a bit panicky when I feel like I have too much responsibility.  Maybe that explains a few things.

ETA:  I found it.  It’s called orthorexia nervosa and it’s on the rise.  It hits pretty close to home, actually, but I can’t tell if that’s because it actually does, or if it’s in the way that you feel perfectly normal until you take a quiz online and are suddenly convinced you have OCD, chronic anxiety and a mild case of borderline personality disorder.  Possibly not something to discuss online with the world, though.

Something about a spanner February 18, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Law, University.

This post is about things you’re allowed to do, and things you’re allowed to agree to other people doing, and why the law doesn’t like spanking.  (It’s a laugh a minute round here, you know.)

One of the tricks I’ve been playing on myself to get myself to work for the last term (alongside rewards of yarn and, rather embarassingly, a sticker chart) is the concept of a Case of the Day – which means that I have to read a case every day, and think about it, and maybe read an article or two on it.  It tends to be something I’d have to read anyway, but at least I feel better for doing it.  Anyway, case of the day today is one called R v Brown, which is about sadomasochistic homosexuals, and came after a massive long campaign by the police with the rather glorious name of ‘Operation Spanner’.  Anyway, these particular sadomasochists got caught doing whatever they did – apparently it was fairly drastic, Operation Spanner was launched after the police got hold of a video of someone appearing to be tortured – and were prosecuted for various offences of grievous and actual bodily harm under s20 and s47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

They were convicted for various technical reasons that essentially boil down to: you can’t consent to GBH.  And even if you do the law doesn’t recognise it.  All well and good – perhaps a tad paternalistic, you might think, but there was absolute uproar at the time (this was about 1993) because there is quite a string of cases saying things that don’t quite add up – in Donovan in 1934, a man was acquitted for caning a 17-year-old girl fairly harshly, because she had consented to it in the context of sadomasochism.  So a lot of people thought – think – that whatever the reasoning, the defendants in Brown were convicted because the judiciary in 1993 was essentially a bit homophobic.  It’s still good law, so technically it has to be followed in cases that are like it – but a lot of judges these days seem to go out of their way to explain why any given case is not like Brown.

That’s not what I want to talk about here, though; what I want to talk about, and what Brown raises is what you can and can’t consent to, and what you should be able to consent to.  How far does personal autonomy go?  And if we say, you’re allowed to do whatever you like, as long as it’s not hurting someone else, on a more mundane level can you consent to be swindled?  Can you agree to give all your money away to someone who tells you it’s for investment or charity when really they’re about to spend it on a new car?  Can you consent to being given HIV?*  Can you consent to being shot in the back of the head?

I know what law students think.  I’ve spent a good part of this afternoon hearing what law students think about the HIV issue particularly, but frankly, we all think from the same sort of angle.  I want to know what you think.  What should we be allowed to consent to?  How far should it go?  Does the state being paternalist have its merits?

*There’s an interesting, and fairly famous example about this: that of the monogamous Catholic couple, who don’t want to use a condom for religious reasons, but where one partner has HIV.  If the other partner is happy to run the risk of contracting the disease, can we really say that they haven’t consented, or that they haven’t thought about it enough to be able to give an informed consent?

Mourning the loss of my camera February 15, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Knitting, Lovely people.
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For those of you to whom this will mean anything at all: I am not immune to the barage of Winter Olympic knitting, even if I have failed to partake in the Ravelympics this year.  I’m doing it Yarn Harlot stylee, because I don’t have that much time at the moment and the last thing I could be doing with is the mass of enabling that the Ravelympics will almost certainly entail.  So I shall merely watch with a certain degree of joy.  I’m sure you’ll all be wonderful.  Also, I am so up for 2012 it’s untrue.  There will almost certainly be Union Jack dishcloths.  (Back to speaking English now.)

I am knitting an Aestlight shawl in mottled dark red and brown Malabrigo yarn and it looks beautiful. Until this morning when the ball of wool I’d so carefully wound so that the yarn fed from the centre – it took for ever – turned out to be about a third comprised of knot.  I could cry.  I did screech a bit.  I would have loved to have shown you a picture of the horror, and then felt better!  But sadly it was not to be.  So I’ll take it to lunch with the impromptu knitting group that some of my friends and I seem to have formed on Monday lunchtimes in the student union (and Fesoes! who doesn’t knit but drinks tea and draws pretty things and regales us with tales of ninjas) and we shall all lament over it.

I also really want a picture of the papier mache dragon currently residing half-finished in our living room.  It’s a sight to behold, surely.

I’ve therefore decided, upon spending quite a lot on yarn yesterday, that I’m going to give buying up knitting supplies for Lent, and with the money I save I’m going to go out and buy a half decent camera.  Yes!  That is how much I spend on yarn, needles, and probably patterns too in the average forty days.  Fear not.  I’m sure I’ll find something to knit with in the meantime…

Oh.  And have this.  Because it’s pretty.  (I knitted it during Guys and Dolls, and Linguistic Housemate has already shotgunned it when the other one’s finished.  Also I made her an Ishbel, which looks awesome, so she is particularly well-endowed on the knitted goods front at the moment.)

I ❤ fingerless gloves.

And now I’ll be off to go and buy some felt to play with.

Challenge February 12, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Durham, Theatre.
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This.  Our theatre.  This week.  I saw the dress rehearsal and it looks very good.

I’m light opping tomorrow at the matinee as a stand-in for Mathematical Housemate.

(Hahahahahaha I hope they know what they’re getting.)

Something to really care about. February 11, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Law.

Well, we’ve already established that I think this whole business with the Durham Union Society is posturing of the highest order.  So what is there at the moment to get het up about?

This article, not at all inflammatorily entitled, ‘When the next bomb goes off in London, blame the judges’.  I’m sure you’re aware by now of my fangirling tendencies when it comes to the judiciary, but all that aside, let’s have a bit of a look at the law.

It being yesterday, I can’t get hold of the transcript of the decision in the Court of Appeal of R(on the application of Mohamed) v Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs yet, so this is based upon the High Court judgement*at [2009] EWHC 152.  We can tell from the fact that it’s ‘R (on the application of Mohamed)’ rather than just ‘Mohamed’ that this is a case of judical review, which means that the courts are being called upon to see if the Secretary of State, in this case David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was using the powers allotted to him by Parliament properly.  That is, when he redacted some of the evidence in Binyan Mohamed’s case, did he have the authority to do that under those circumstances?  It’s not, as the Telegraph seems to have jumped upon, a question of whether it was right for Mr. Miliband to redact some of the evidence, or whether it was better or worse as a matter of public policy or justice for him to have done so.  The only question the courts are allowed to ask in judicial review is whether the thing being reviewed was allowed to be done, by the person doing it, for the reasons he said, under British law as it currently stands.

Now, I really loved this case.  Partly because judicial review of things like this is really interesting.  Partly because closed judgements involving the Security Services being dubious are always controversy- and drama-filled and exciting.  Partly because it quoted some other old favourite judgements; the Belmarsh case about control orders under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, ex parte Simms, which is about freedom of speech with reference to people in prison, Shayler, which is about an ex-MI5 agent and the Official Secrets Act, and a good number of my favourite bits of judicial reasoning from the last few years.  This is the sort of case that makes me really happy, and can only be improved by fact that it quotes Lord Bingham extensively.  Top.

Anyway, the High Court found that the Foreign Secretary really didn’t have enough evidence that releasing the redacted information would damage national security to the extent that it was worth the loss of a fair trial in this case.  Particularly it cited Articles 6 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, respectively to a fair trial and to freedom of expression.  Personally, I’m inclined to think that if they hadn’t had regard for these rights in particular, Mr. Mohamed’s lawyers would be outside the European Court of Human Rights like a shot pointing fingers at the British government from across the Channel, where there’d be some very unhappy bunnies with the UK’s conduct.

Interestingly, it’s not the content of the redacted information that’s the problem, politically, it’s the undermining of the relationship between the UK and the USA in terms of national security.  That is, essentially, a political question.  It’s a matter of public policy.  So why are they getting the courts to decide on it?  (I’ve just written an essay on this, so I could go on about it for quite a long time.  I’m therefore going to stop this right here.)

I recommend this article, because if there’s one thing the Times is awesome at, it’s legal commentary, and I couldn’t have put it better.

Unrelatedly, my camera has finally given up the ghost.  Therefore here is an artist’s impression of my current sock in progress – I just have to finish the toe.

Notice if you will the amazing colours, and the slightly distressing MASSIVE PURPLE STRIPE created by pooling on the heel.  I’m really upset about that.

*A quick precis for those not 100% up to date with the British judical hierarchy: when you first take a case to court, it might go to the magistrate’s court.  If it’s a bit more complicated, involves more serious offences, or is worth a bit more money, it might go to the High Court.  This is called the court of first instance, because it’s the first time the case goes anywhere.  The judges here are just called Judge Smith (Smith J), or whatever.  If you’re not happy with the application of the law at the court of first instance, you might then take it to the Court of Appeal.  The judges in this one are usually called Lord Justice Smith (Smith LJ).  If you still think you’ve been really hard done by, and the Court of Appeal gives you leave to do so, you can take your case to the new Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the UK, binding on all the ones lower down, and the judges are all Lords (Lord Smith), except for Baroness Hale, who’s a Maverick Like That (read, she’s a woman). Also, the reference [2009] EWHC 152 refers to where you can find the judgement – 2009 obviously is the year, EWHC refers to the records of the England and Wales High Court, and 152 is the page number. It’s not all Greek, I promise!

Relying on the maths February 8, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Knitting, Sheer bloody-mindedness.
1 comment so far

So there’s this cardigan, right?  And it’s beautiful and drapey and long and fitted and ever-so-slightly lacy in all the right places.  And then, well, there’s this yarn, and it’s moss green and tweedy and light and – did I mention I really wanted a long, green, tweedy cardigan for the spring?  I’ve wanted it for ages.  Ever since I found the yarn and the pattern.  Which was a long time ago.  Honest.

Anyway.  The cardigan in my size uses 1290 yards of yarn.  (I know.  It’s I believe the second largest thing I’ve ever made, after the OpArt blanket which was mahoosive.  I’m in this for the long haul.)  The yarn is 115 yards to a ball.  You do the maths, I bought a dozen balls of the yarn.

It’s not going to be enough.  All my common sense is telling me I’m going to need another three balls at the least.  My housemates are telling me this – mind you, not all that long ago they were telling me the yarn was ugly.  (Apparently ‘it’s better now there’s more of it’.)  But the maths – the maths tells me everything is okay.

If it’s not okay, I shall have been failed by the maths and therefore the world shall implode.  Anyone doing a BSc, I’m sorry to say that my faith on your entire degree is staked on this cardigan.  No pressure.

(It’s going to be an awesome cardigan though.)

Something Is Very Wrong February 8, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Durham, Law, University.

Braindump whine.  Better than usual, you won’t find the words ‘tired’, ‘theatre’ or ‘essay’ in it anywhere, but don’t let that deter you.  Cheers!


The NUS Is At It Again February 4, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Bwargh, Durham, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.

Furore, chaps, actual genuine furore.

If you’re in Durham at the moment, you’ll almost certainly have heard about it.  If you’re not in Durham, just remember that if the Oxford Union can do it, we most certainly can because we’re not an inferior university in the slightest and we can do controversial speakers too what are you suggesting.

There’s a debate on next Friday at the Union Society entitled ‘This house believes in a multicultural Britain’.

I say debate.  Anyone who votes ‘nay’ will surely be a braver, if more deluded, person than I.  The two opposition speakers are from the BNP, in the most unsubtle attempt at following in the steps of Newsnight and letting them shoot themselves in the foot in front of a decent sized audience.  I for one will definitely be going – partly to see what they have to say for themselves, and partly to see if the Union Society’s own particular brand of future politician comes out of the woodwork.  I can very much see the speeches from the floor being more painful than ALL the philosophical debates from last year, probably put together.  (This time last year some poor bastard came and read us something he’d written suggesting the existence of the soul independent from the body.  A lot of ‘I’m not a philosopher/theologian/biologist/otherwise expert, but I play one on TV’ occurred.  It was fascinating.)

The trouble is that, in the interests of course of freedom of speech and expression, the NUS doesn’t want the debate to go ahead.  It has warned the Union Society that it will protest.

I am quite upset at this; for several reasons all of which I imagine you can guess fairly easily.  However, there is nothing wrong with a bit of the old rubbernecking, and I’m sure it’ll do the Union Society the world of good.

I used to get passionate about politics.  I feel like I’m turning into a cynic.  It’s all postulating, anyway.  I don’t think I know how to have a strong opinion any more.