Monday, 30 April 2007


Eep. Now I've been invited to go to Stanford for a workshop on ancient and modern imperialisms, in November. I'd love to go, for millions of reasons, but it's right in the middle of term so it will probably involve me flying to California on a Thursday and flying back on the following Monday. And having to rearrange teaching, which is always a pig. And next term is going to be particularly hard because of teaching the core course on the new MA.

Actually it's on J's birthday, so she should probably be allowed to decide.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

You Seem To Be Writing A Letter

I quite like AutoCorrect, so I leave it turned on in Word, but it has a tendency to do strange things both to academicese and to Latin, and some of its predictions are bizarre. I can see why it might think, on seeing me type Satur, that I want it to fill in 'Saturday', so the little yellow box it hovers invitingly over my cursor is quite benign (though of course it's wrong, I'm typing Saturnian medium). But the suggestion Office 2004 Test Drive User at the sight of me typing offi is much stranger.

In fact, I was typing officiant laetis ne frugibus herbae, 'lest weeds should harm the well-being of the crops', and I suppose there's no way it could have known that, until they start teaching Word for Mac the classics.* (Roll on that day: a little paper-clip could pop up saying You seem to be writing a monograph on the materiality of political space in Vergil's Georgics. Would you like some help? OH YES, PLEASE.)

*There's no 'Latin' option in the spell-checker dictionary languages either. FOR SHAME, WORD.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Day off!

I need to rest Chapter One for a day then go back and see what to do about Hannah Arendt (a perennial question).

Also, it's Saturday. (See previous post on not donating surplus value to institutions.)

So I'm in bed, wearing my 'I love sleeping' tshirt - this is my new 'day off' tshirt. (I also have a new writing tshirt - J bought it for me as part of the process of getting over the writing crash(es). I keep meaning to take a photo of it. Anyway, it is brilliant, and it says 'Last Year's Youth' on it, which is (a) a reference to the project of bookifying the PhD - writing as a grown-up academic, not as a youthful apprentice - and (b) a rewrite of Leonard Cohen's song 'Last Year's Man', signalling that I am not depressed any more.) I am surrounded by:

my knitting (I am currently doing raglan shaping on the armholes of my jumper (this is what the jumper is going to look like, apparently, except I don't have a beard and I'm knitting it with this yarn, which knits up like this) which necessitates the use of a cable needle);
a can of Diet Coke;
my laptop (possibly I shall write some fanfic);
my journal;
the following books:

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered;
Cicero, Letters to Atticus bks III-IV;
Abraham & Torok, The Wolf Man's Magic Word;
Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Literature;
Bruhm & Hurley (eds), Curiouser: On The Queerness of Children;
David Wills, Prosthesis;

and am still in that nice phase of wondering what I'm going to do next. (This thing which has freed up the book also seems to have freed up my reading, so I can do what I always intended to do on research leave: read lots and lots of theory books just because I fancy them.)

Thursday, 26 April 2007


Following a discussion elsewhere on the internet about International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day and the relation of writing to other forms of labour under capitalism, I was thinking vaguely about the way that the concept of 'privilege' sometimes gets co-opted, as part of a capitalist strategy to divide workers and hide the real relations of production (and oppression): so if you're a creative worker at one of those funky new companies where they give you a playstation lounge and lots of free coffee, you see this as a privilege, a set of perks, rather than as the company appropriating your leisure time for its profit. Or in general, many people in well-paid jobs will routinely work twelve- or fourteen-hour days but they tend not think of this in terms of the production of surplus value for a corporation out of their labour - out of a working regime which costs them their health - because they have Italian suits and penthouse apartments, so they couldn't have anything in common with a Wal*Mart employee regularly working unpaid overtime. So the often-made - and often justified - critique of the behaviour of some (relatively) privileged people claiming identity with (relatively) less privileged people (they want to live like common people! they want to do whatever common people do!) is used to cover up the fact that capitalism works by extracting surplus value from the bodies of its workers, regardless of colour, creed, gender or class.

And then I saw this post (via John's blog), by a lecturer, on his typical working day. Which begins at 8:15am and ends at 11:30pm (with three hours 'off' in the evening for family time, in which domestic work and leisure are close to indistinguishable). And the first comment says: This is helpful and a good kick in the pants. One question: I've always written by blocking out large blocks of time for individual topics. Have you always worked in divided increments or do you discipline yourself this way for more effectiveness?

When I was a postgraduate tutor, I was asked to mark undergraduate essays for fifty p. a script (that would work out at two pounds an hour, maximum, for work that you were required to have at least an MA - that's four or five years of professional training - to do). I see friends of mine with PhDs - that's up to nine years of professional training - still teaching at hourly rates years after getting their doctoral qualification, with no benefits, no pension, no holiday pay, no pay over the summer. Why would I think - even when I'd had the luck to get a tenured position and have far more of a stake in my department's success - there was something inherently admirable about working unpaid overtime for an institution? About 'disciplining myself' to produce the maximum possible surplus value?

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Things I Didn't Know Till This Week

1. Audrey Hepburn was a ballerina for the Resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland. DUDE. J and I watched Roman Holiday the other night, after Una mentioned it on her blog (it's awesome: I'm going to have to add Princess Anne to my ever-evolving list of Great Boys of Literature, which means I'm going to have to rethink what I mean by a boy, but there you go), and then we decided to google Audrey Hepburn, and dude, her reputation as a style icon sells her pretty short. (AH's Wikipedia entry)

2. There's an extended metaphor about archaeology in Freud's essay 'The Aetiology of Hysteria' , which ends with him suddenly going into Latin to say Saxa loquuntur! ('Stones speak!') There's also a few volumes of collections of epigraphic inscriptions entitled Saxa loquuntur, and I've been wondering where the quotation comes from, because of how I'm linking boundary stones to telephone networks in the ill-fated Chapter Three. It took a bit of tracking down - I kept finding references where people said things like 'the old saying, saxa loquuntur', which to my sharpened eye looked like someone else who hadn't succeeded in tracing the quotation - but yesterday in the library I discovered that... it doesn't really come from anywhere, as far as I can see. Freud's use of it has been traced to a German book of quotations, Gehflugelte Werte, which connects the idea of speaking stones to Habakkuk, Luke, and a thirteenth-century Lives of the Saints, Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine - but saxa loquuntur doesn't appear in the index to Geflugelte Werte (online here), so I'm going to have to do a bit more digging. Anyway, there doesn't seem to be a single authoritative source for it. HOWEVER, I RANDOMLY came across the phrase saxa loquentur (stones will speak) in one of the key passages of Lucan's Civil War that I'm using in the book. Isn't that exciting? It looks like the Universe is finally on my side now that I've managed to get my head into the right groove for the book.

3. In sharp contrast, file this one under 'rage and headsick': in 1932, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male began. It continued to study untreated syphilis in 300 black men until 1972. In order to do this, their subjects were prevented from getting medical treatment. For forty years. (Penicillin was adopted as an effective treatment for syphilis in 1945, incidentally.)

Oh Yeah, And I'm Writing A Book Too

I had a big crash on 4th April, while I was drafting Chapter Three, and took the following day off to lie in bed reading novels, eating sourdough chips, and knitting. It felt so necessary that I took another day off, and then another one, until I decided I might as well take the week off - I'd been planning to have a week off after I drafted Three and Four, but I obviously needed it earlier. It was a good week: I saw some people, slept a lot, read a bunch of novels, knitted, wrote some fanfic.

I spent the next week writing a paper for the School of Culture and Communication seminar series, and had another big crash on Tuesday, the night before I was due to give it; J heroically rescued me from the depths of what an online friend of mine recently termed 'writer's hysteria', in distinction from 'writer's block', partly by telling me that this is MY book, and I woke up the next day feeling like I was back from somewhere, like I just... hadn't had access to myself for the previous couple of weeks (They STOLE me! I kept saying, indignantly; I'm not sure who 'they' are).

The paper wasn't great, because I'd been writing it from a position of anxiety and self-doubt, so it was sort of paranoidly trying to justify itself with quotes from theorists,* which got in the way of its figuring out what it was supposed to be about - it ended up falling half-way between being a reading of Hannah Arendt and being a reflection on different modes of space. But what was great was the reactions of the audience, who were amazingly generous and informed in their questioning, and we all kept talking for about forty minutes, I think, after the paper ended. In particular, Scott McQuire - who if I'd looked up his webpage before I'd given this paper, I would never have had the nerve to give it; he's done a huge amount of work on space, technology, and the city - asked a question about mobility, and how space is produced by the way people move through it, which clarified something I'd been groping towards for a long time.

With the result that, in talking about the book to J on Sunday night, it all suddenly fell into place. Suddenly and simply. I know what it's about, I know what the structure should be, I know how each part relates to each other part. It's like, if any of you have read The Merlin Conspiracy, it's like the way the hurt lady's knowledge instals itself in Roddy's head: I can zoom in on one part at a time, and still be sure that the whole will be there the next time I need it. Finally, I can get into the actual process of the writing of the book, sentence by sentence, without constantly being off-balance, unbalanced, by anxiety over whether every new sentence, every possible tangent, is going to wreck something in the not-quite-thought-through structure and make me rethink the whole thing. From scratch. Again. It's no longer the case that in the gap between one day's work and the next, one thought and the next, one sentence and the next, is the constant threat of an abyss which will swallow me whole, and the book along with me, if I don't make the leap exactly right.

So it's funny. All I have to do now is write the book, and maybe that should make me a bit intimidated (two months to write a book!) but pah, the writing is the easy bit. I've written 1500 words of the first chapter now, and I don't think I'm going to be proceeding by cutting-and-pasting from the dissertation, because now as I sit and write I get into a lovely trance state which tells me where to go next, and editing cut-and-pasted text needs a different sort of headspace and a different process. But it's taken me two months (or, you know, SIX AND A HALF YEARS, depending on how you look at it**) to put in place the infrastructure which makes the production of sentences possible - and now I've finally got to the payoff. Now I can sit down happily writing Tom-Cho-like sentences (the nearest I'm capable of, anyway).Because at last I'm so sure of the book that I can say it all as simply and directly - and poetically - as possible, because I know how each sentence is linked in to the mainframe.

So now the joyful work begins. I'm absolutely loving it.

And what's particularly interesting about this is that now, writing theory feels pretty much the same as writing fanfic. I'm sure it never did before. But fanfic was always something that (paradoxically, maybe) I owned, where it was okay to say what I wanted to say - not to figure out what was 'right' - because those were the rules of the game. It's taken me twenty-five years of education and training (and maybe ten years of re-educating my emotions, my fears, my sense of my own capability) to get to that point with my academic writing. To be able to own it. So yeah, this feels like a pretty big deal at the moment.

* Memo to self: whenever you start thinking that you can't possibly write whatever you're writing until you've understood Heidegger, this is invariably a sign that YOU ARE ON THE WRONG TRACK. I know where this one comes from: one of my PhD supervisors, at the end of every conference paper or public lecture he attended, regardless of its content, used to ask a question implying that the speaker didn't understand Heidegger, so I have this superstition that when I understand Heidegger I will finally be UNASSAILABLE. Unfortunately I didn't figure this out until I'd already bought a copy of Heidegger's Parmenides. Oh well. I'm sure it'll come in handy.

**I started my PhD in October 2000.

Monday, 23 April 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Yesterday was International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, and I missed it!

But if you like, you can read some of my "professional quality" work online for free here (pdf file - it's the paper I gave at the Queer Space conference in Sydney in February, 'Slash As Queer Utopia'). It's sort of a cheat calling it professional quality when I fully intend to rework and improve it for actual book publication, but then I'm a day late anyway. And the original rant was about the impact of online distribution on people who sell their writing, rather than people who write as a component of a salaried job. NEVER MIND.

My reference

Black Hair History.

Just came across this and want to save the link so I can read it more thoroughly later; it puts into words a lot of things that I can only ever express as kidstodaynohistorynoanalysisnopolitics ::weeps::.

Edited to add: lovely Livejournal post on race, privilege, and fandom, containing the awesome line:

What white fans need to understand about race in fandom is that fen of color do not have the option to table their examination of race for another day and just hang out for fun the way that white fen do.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Boundaries and bodies

A series of short posts today, I think: I'm spending the day re-planning the book's structure and argument, and figuring out how best to structure the next few working weeks in the light of that, so it's sort of bitty work requiring frequent pauses to let things sink in.

On Wednesday I gave a paper at Melbourne Uni (on which more later), and in the discussion period afterwards interesting things were mentioned about Orthodox Jewish boundary practices, which made me think vague thoughts about keeping kosher, the boundary of the body, the boundary of the people, and so on. Then on Sunday, I went to Treats From Home, a little shop in the centre of Melbourne which sells things that British people might miss, and discovered that it sells food, drink, and... cleaning products. Specifically, cleaning products for clothes and dishes (Persil, Ariel, Bold and Fairy Liquid). Isn't that interesting? It's the conflation of national and corporate identity, via branding, and the way that reaches right into the way we experience our bodies; what we hunger for; what we're happy to put into our bodies, or onto them. Somehow my sudden fierce desire for Monster Munch - which I never eat in the UK - seems less innocent when you put the Monster Munch next to the Fairy Liquid: the nationalization of cleanliness and edibility (is that a word?), of drawing a distinction between the clean and the dirty, the edible and the non-edible, 'proper' crisps and 'this nasty foreign muck'. Washing the dirt, the that-which-is-not-me, down the sink with those airy Fairy suds, or that Aerial foam. It goes all the way back to soap advertising and the British Empire (this is all in Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather, which is one of those books everyone should read, twice) we maintain our bodies as British bodies abroad through reiterated rituals of cleaning and eating, performed by and through branded technologies.

None of which stopped me buying sixteen packets of Walker's crisps, some jelly babies and a jar of Haywards pickled onions, of course. Ooh, actually I fancy a jelly baby...

Monday, 16 April 2007

Quick photo update

What I really want to write about is:

(1) Shaun Tan's new book, The Arrival, which is wonderful;

(2) 'Spruik' - what does it mean? Why has it suddenly appeared?

(3) Serres' The Book of Foundations and Wills' Prosthesis, both/either of which I wish I'd written (which would have the added bonus that I would then have written a book, and I wouldn't have to write this one! Hoorah!);

(4) Excellent conversation with Tom on Saturday night at a butch/femme/trans social night, about fanfiction and sentences and theory vs fiction writing;

(5) Why Who Weekly has converted me to celebrity gossip (with a side-note of shock that Katie Holmes'/Tom Cruise's baby has just turned one, apparently; where does the time go?);

(6) Getting a paper accepted at the MLA Convention! Christmas in Chicago, baby!

(7) Bees! Mobile phones! Agriculture! It is my PhD in the form of a news item rather than a patiently anachronistic reading of Vergil's Georgics!

But I don't have time for any of that, so I'm just going to link to some new photos.

I have had a haircut, and feel much better as a result: there are two view of it here and here.

I took a week off over Easter and mostly knitted. I made a practice thingy, a scarf which J has actually worn out into the world, and am now knitting a jumper. Sewing has been temporarily suspended.

We went to St Kilda and paddled in the sea! (J also paddled, but she kept her hat and scarf on).

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Spell Check

MS Word's spellcheck appears to be a very partisan Harry Potter reader: it knows Dumbledore and Hogwarts and Gryffindor but not Slytherin or Voldemort.

Oddly, though, it knows Azkaban but not Quidditch.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Many-Headed Update

J has now got her visa for England! It came through incredibly quickly and smoothly - I suspect they read the covering letter (literate, educated) looked at the passport photos (white) and the financial information (solvent) and let us through. Which is obviously great for us - we are still in a state of high excitement over it - but just means I'm not going to hail this as a victory for gay rights or anything.

Now working on Chapter Three, which is the fun one, but I can't quite remember why I thought that boundary stones and telephones were the same thing: I may have to reread The Telephone Book. Jonathan Sterne's The Audible Past arrived in the post today - which was good timing, as this is the point in the book where I switch from inscriptive space to auditory space - and I'm excited about starting reading it.

Other Research
Someone emailed me to ask about Eurydice references in Buffy 6, where they bring her back from the dead: as far as I can see, there aren't any (they think she's in a hell dimension when she's actually in heaven, so there's no suggestion that anyone went into the Underworld to find her; they successfully bring her back; there's no deal with the Powers of the Underworld; there's no Orpheus/singer figure). Anyone have any advance on 'none'?

Went to Spotlight with J's friends K&D (D is the one with the glorious white hair). Have learned to knit for the third time in my life, and to cast on for the second. Am knitting 'a scarf'. Am mildly worried about this because I've been working on the same craft project - a series of small sewn pictures which is actually going to be a present for K - for two years now and I'm usually a very focussed crafty-person, so I'm worried that introducing knitting into the equation is going to turn me from an obsessive one-project person into a chaotic never-finishing person with fifty projects on the go at once.

Cultural Productions: Audiovisual.
We got overexcited after watching Singin' In The Rain and decided to have a Gene Kelly festival, but the only other one we could find in the video shop was Brigadoon, which was terrible! Really terrible! Why would you hire Gene Kelly to sing and act and not let him dance? Why would you hire Cyd Charisse and then keep her in an ankle-length skirt throughout? And who decided that the whole 'one day passes in Brigadoon for every hundred years in the outside world' thing would work? That's a terrible way of protecting a village! 30 years in Brigadoon equals a million years in the outside world! What are the odds that Earth is even going to be habitable in a million years? Why didn't God just keep the witches away and then kill everyone in Brigadoon after one generation, which would come to the same thing? Worst. Premise. Ever. (For everything else that is wrong with Brigadoon, see this review of the DVD release.)

I did a quick search for Brigadoon fic set on the following day in Brigadoon - ie 2031 - but couldn't find any. Alas for the Internet's lack of imagination.

On the other hand, last night we started watching I, Claudius - the DVD was a bit wrecked so we had to skip a couple of chapters in the middle (bah), but we got up to Julia's exile. Julia is brilliant - I'm amazed that in 1976 they managed to create such a likeable, plausible woman out of what's little more than a stereotype of promiscuity in the historical record. Though I think there was a little window of Excellent Women in the BBC in the late 60s through to the mid-70s: I was watching some Doctor Who story a while back (one of a number that Una and Mr Una lent us, as part of J's education in Old Who) - a Fourth Doctor one, I think - about whom all I remember was that it had a fantastic female soldier in it, who managed to get through the whole story without being girled.

And then Livia... oh, look, the thing is that there are so many of those scheming, poisoning women in the (story of the) Julio-Claudian family that I just sort of fail to see the point. It's like when I open a fantasy novel and see three people with odd names going on a long journey through scenery, and my inner five-year-old just starts kicking his legs against the dining table and howling to be let down and allowed out to play. I can see the point of Sian Philips, however.

And, very surprisingly, I am really loving Brian Blessed as Augustus. I wasn't expecting to: the Augustus in my head is a mad, neurotic, highly damaged, queeny sort of person, in love with Good Roman Manliness because he perceives a lack of it in himself,* and Robert Graves's Augustus is just simply a splendid fellow. But so much cleverer than he looks - in fact, him and Livia are an interesting role reversal in some ways, in that Livia has all the political machination and wheeling-and-dealing, and Augustus, by contrast, proceeds in a way which is often gendered as feminine: getting his own way by pretending to miss the point. Actually ::gets very excited:: he's a sort of Lina Lamont figure: you're just about to write him off as rather too simple-minded to be real, when all of a sudden he shows up in your office saying If you tell the papers about Cathy Selden, it would be detrimental and deleterious to my career and beaming adorably at you. (Lina Lamont is one of my butch role models.)

And obviously Derek Jacobi is a genius.

Cultural Productions: Textual
I just read Martine Murray's The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley (Allen & Unwin, 2002) and it annoyed me so much I thought I'd post about it. It's in a very particular sort of whimsical, quirky-insightful, oh-so-charming, literary-Disney, voice: now I liked Amelie, and I love Bjork, and I'm fond of Francesca Lia Block, and I have Boys for Pele lined up on iTunes right now, so I have a high tolerance for whimsy and quirk; and I'm a dutiful, conventional reader in a lot of ways, so I have a tendency to get sucked in when a book is telling me very loudly that it's of High Literary Quality. But when you use charm to substitute for politics and high literary quality to cover over emotional wreckage (isn't bereavement charming!), I get annoyed.

So this book is about a twelve-year-old girl, Cedar B Hartley, who spends most of her time wandering around Brunswick (two suburbs away from us) having beautiful thoughts: sometimes she thinks about how shallow celebrities are and how the woman who runs the op shop is a much better person than some silly tennis player; sometimes she just decides, enchantingly, to name all the bugs she sees on the street. She has a brother who has run away from home, but he sends beautiful thoughts home on postcards from time to time, which you'd think would teach her that beautiful thoughts don't actually help with traumatic emotional situations like loss and missing and need, but it doesn't.

(We are supposed not to notice how saccharine this all is, by the way, because of the details of contemporary inner-suburban short-of-money life in the novel's setting, which signal its ambitions towards realism, however magical; if the main character is thinking beautiful thoughts in a house with a leaky sofa and a rat, while wearing trackie daks and runners, this must be a Literary Novel, and not Snow White).

Cedar B Hartley, she tells us on two or three occasions, is 'a feminist'. It is hard to know exactly what this means to her, as her take on life is too pure and uncorrupted for her to be able to understand 'economics and politics': we know this because she tells us so, after a conversation with her mum, who explains politics thusly:

Look, I'm not very political myself so I can't explain this very well, but basically, the Mr Bartons of this world believe that things work best if people are encouraged to make as much money as they can in whatever way they want. They think this money will create jobs and trickle down to the people who don't have enough. The problem is that the money may be made in ways that are harmful to both the environment and the spirit of society. And often it doesn't trickle down at all...

When Cedar asks her what 'the spirit of society' means, she replies:

I'm talking about happiness, real happiness, not the kind that comes from money and new cars or swimming pools. Real happiness comes from loving your family and friends, from caring for other people, or from communicating something to another person, or just from singing a song you like.

'Doesn't Mr Barton care for other people?' asks Cedar.

Of course he does. It's just that many big businesses are doing very uncaring things because it makes them a lot of money. Not all business is bad though. There are people who earn a good living through good businesses. Like that bakery in Brunswick where they make that organic sourdough bread we like.

Straightforward enough? It's all just too complicated for Cedar:

I wasn't sure I really understood it all. It seemed very complicated. I don't like economics or politics. It just seems to cause a lot of arguments.

As it happens, by the end of the book, it seems that Martine Murray's take on life might also be too pure and uncorrupted for her to understand economics, as Cedar's widowed mother's working long hours to provide for her children ends up being critiqued as a mistake in her mothering priorities:

Barn, honey, I feel like I've made some mistakes with you and Cedy. I want to explain. See, when your father died, I panicked about security. So I've been working long hours because I want us to get our own house one day... But lately I've been seeing how maybe it wasn't what you needed as much as just time, my time.

Now, the Hartley family seem pretty poor even with her working long hours - Cedar's mum can't afford to lend a friend $500 (200 quid) to save the life of her beloved dog, and their house is constantly being described as broken-down, dingy, and poor - and at one point in the book the family next door gets evicted, because they don't own their own home. so it's unclear to me quite why this was such a bad 'choice' - and, indeed, what non-economic, non-political solution would have allowed Cedar's mum to work fewer hours.

(Or what's left of feminism when you take away economics and politics: the right to call other girls 'stupid' because they wear high heels, perhaps? [p.178])

The other thing which made me furious is that the plot and shape of the book is structured around Cedar finding out the truth about her dad's death: he died on the way home from a demonstration, trying to get to her side (she was in hospital as a very small child). She processes this information very quickly, to the extent that she is capable of performing in a physically demanding circus performance about half an hour after hearing the story.

But it's taught her something! It's taught her that you can't rely on anything; that unexpected things happen in life. That, as she puts it in the book's closing lines:

Kite [her love-interest] is standing right in front of me... and we smile, and we are standing very close to each other and I feel this enormous funny feeling, the funny feeling, and my skin is getting zapped by it and I am thinking, I know what is about to happen. I rock up onto my toes and a thought flies through me, just a red ribbon of thought going - Cedar, as soon as you think you know how life will go, life is liable to scribble a little detour right over the path you thought you were on, and lo and behold, there could be one hundred low flying albatrosses about to swoop in and take Kite flying away to Siberia with them, just when you think he is about to kiss you.

So I am quickly pretending I don't know what is about to happen.

And I am letting my eyes close and Kite is leaning down towards me and I am balancing on my toes and I don't see one single albatross for miles.

But the thing is, you see, that there could not be one hundred low-flying albatrosses about to swoop in and take Kite away to Siberia with them. That doesn't happen. We know this because the albatrosses have already appeared in the book, as the symbol of the mismatch between imagination and reality:

There's a long way between an idea and a real thing. Inside your mind there is a boundless view. You can imagine whatever you want. For example, you can... close your eyes and picture... a herd of wild wandering albatrosses, wearing new hats and recently returned all the way from Russia to tell you tales, waiting in your bathtub... And then... your mum yells out and you have to open your eyes...

So you open them, and lo and behold, there you are just lying on your back facing the cracked ceiling above you, which is blotchy with dirty yellow puddles as if someone peed on it. That's how it really is... And you can't get even one single albatross to wear a hat and tell you tales in the bath, no matter what you do. Some ideas just have to remain as ideas.

So the albatrosses have switched sides. Because what Cedar has in fact learned in the course of the book is that life can take a detour because people have accidents and acquire brain injuries, or die, or injure their spines and lose their jobs as acrobats and get dumped by their wives. But suddenly these brutal possibilities have disappeared, and the only thing that might happen is the pleasingly metaphorical 'one hundred low-flying albatrosses', dissolving the sheer physical reality of chance and accident and loss and shock - the exhausting labour of grief - and the economic and political dimension of them - the fact that Cedar's mum's 'choice' to work two jobs was not a free choice.

So, in conclusion, arrgh.

*This comes from reading the Augustus issue of The Sandman in sixth-form, while studying the Aeneid in Latin A-Level and Antony and Cleopatra in English A-Level: if anyone saw the RSC's recent A&C, with Patrick Stewart as Antony and Harriet Walter as Cleopatra, the Augustus in that was pretty much exactly spot-on for the way I see him.