Monthly Archives: June 2019

The hottest defence

Yes, we did make it, to the year’s hottest defence. In the midst of a continental heatwave four of us from Scotland sweated our way through the kitchen duties and the astrophysical elements of Daughter’s PhD defence, in those woods on the outskirts of Geneva. Our two guests had not imagined anything like what they found…

Observatoire de Geneve

Dr Son was unable to make it, having some prior date with Daniel Hahn. Which is understandable. Dr Dodo was off to a dark corner of the US. We did, however, have the company of Cousin Riverside and Helen Grant, without whom we would most likely have ended up as two sad puddles on the Observatory floor. I don’t have words to describe how wonderful they were.

But I will obviously do so, anyway.

Serendipitously I had last year’s dress rehearsal to guide me, and as I cleverly managed to have knee issues on the day, I mostly directed the others from my spot in the kitchen, where our multitalented linguist Helen quickly grasped the finer details of the dishwasher instructions from the Observatory’s ‘dinner lady.’

Tables were shifted and food laid out. Riverside opened wine bottles, Helen threw streamers and I blew up the balloons. The Resident IT Consultant did much running and lifting. Daughter lined up her fan – the kind that blows cold air at you – plus her large bottle of Evian and her slides, and even remembered to change out of her ‘pyjamas’ before we trooped into the Aula to hear her talk on planets and stars.

Helen's PhD defence

45 minutes later, the 45 minutes for questions from the six-strong jury grew to over an hour, followed by a half hour of deliberation. We used the time for progressing the wine and nibbles, making sure nothing melted too much.

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

And then it was back to the Aula for the verdict, which was ‘très bien’ which is just as well, as there was no need for any rash action from me. Hands were shaken, the thank you speech was delivered, and so were countless – mostly Moomin – gifts. Unicorn slippers. (I waited until Dr Daughter came upstairs to hand over my flamingo…)

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

Wine was drunk, and much water, and the nibbles were nearly all eaten. There was even some haggis, which people enjoyed. (Presumably because they didn’t understand what it was.) There was chatting.

Eventually we – by which I mean the other three – cleared things away, and then we got into the car to go to Geneva for a post-doctoral dinner at Little India. Dr Daughter guided the Resident IT Consultant past all the roadworks, and then we hopped out, leaving Helen Grant to assist him with finding a parking space!

A very nice meal was had by all who came, including five sixths of the jury and those friends who had not decamped to see the solar eclipse in Chile.

Helen's PhD defence

After all this we were suitably tired. And, er, sweaty beyond belief.

Massive thanks to Helen Grant for doing photography duty as well. And to Riverside for being so calm and well organised.

Helen's PhD defence

(You have to admire their colour coordination!)

I can spell

Misogyny.

Until embarrassingly recently I barely knew what the word meant. I obviously knew about such a thing, but not by as fancy a word as that.

And then I couldn’t spell it, but its regular recurrence in the press and elsewhere, because it’s a thing that gets mentioned more and more, means I can spell it too. It’s easy to get wrong, rather like minuscule.

I wish the misogyny was minuscule.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a problem with the sentiment that women can’t. I was brought up by a woman and I had no idea that women were less able.

Then there is Switzerland, which my prejudiced mind had down as a bit conservative, perhaps, but still a relatively modern European country, forgetting that women didn’t get the vote there until I was in my mid-teens. I forget that men my age – women too, for that matter – grew up with mothers who were not allowed to vote. Or open bank accounts without the permission of a man.

Two weeks ago there was a countrywide Swiss strike for women’s rights and equality. I first learned this from Daughter when she said ‘I’m on strike on Friday.’ Seems the university was pro-strike and simply checked who was going to take part. No docking of pay or anything.

Not the same elsewhere, though. But I suppose if it had been, there’d be less reason to strike. Though from where I’m sitting, it feels as if we have precious few strikes, about anything, so this Swiss strike was quite, well, forward.

Return to Wonderland

Return to Wonderland

Many writers have a relationship with Alice. A whole bunch of them have now written their own new stories about Wonderland and the wondrous creatures you find there. It’s Alice Day on the 4th of July, or so I’ve been told, and here’s a whole new story collection featuring your favourite characters.

In fact, I was struck by how nicely these authors played; they all seemed to have an affinity with a different character from the other authors, which seems to mean there was no fighting. They simply sat down and mused in an interesting way about the Cheshire Cat, or the Knave of Hearts, or any of the others.

To tell the truth, I only ever read the original Alice once, and don’t have a deep and meaningful relationship with any of them. I like tea parties, but prefer them to be normal. I like my head attached. And so on.

Some of these stories were great, lots of fun and interesting new takes on the old tales. I didn’t like all of them the same, but that’s understandable as the eleven authors don’t write the same way, and maybe for me some of Wonderland’s characters are more my cup of tea than others.

‘One morning, Pig woke to discover he had been turned into a real boy.’

How can you go wrong with a start like that?

The Defence

This is one I wrote earlier. Fingers crossed I am doing what I am about to claim I am doing.

This is the day Daughter has her PhD defence, and I am in Switzerland for the express purpose of not understanding a thing she says, before serving the red wine.

It’s taken four years and several exoplanet discoveries. She has written lots of words about it, mostly in English, but as the university requires some kind of introduction in French – a language Daughter didn’t speak, at all – there is a bit of planetary stuff in French.

And in Swedish, proofread by me. It’s not easy editing words about that which you really know very little. It’s got pretty pictures, the colours of which I was allowed to have an opinion on. And I might get a mention in the acknowledgements, but you sort of expect that for having views on colours.

So, that’s me. Us, really. In the middle of the woods near the French border. I did a practice run last year.

Skål!

Some comprehension deficiency

Just a short, flippant post for you today.

I sometimes write down quotes and thoughts, intending to use them for something. Occasionally I forget what I had in mind. This was one such time. But it fits in well with how my brain is working – i.e. not really working – right now.

I am ‘experiencing comprehension deficiency.’ That sounds so much better than ‘I am stupid.’

Thank goodness for the internet and its search functions. Sitting there as I was, with my quote and not a clue, I discovered it came from Doctor Who. I know this because someone blogged about it, here.

But, yeah, my deficiency has more to do with being surrounded by intelligent and clever people. I am intelligent too, of course, but not quite like this. I’ll never help send anyone to the moon, or anything like that.

Slick

I loved this book by M M Vaughan, and couldn’t wait to finish it to find out how and what. However, I was also very confused, because it reads like an American children’s middle grade book.

It had first been published in the US, under a different title, and I assumed the reference to flats, mum and London was an attempt to make it more UK friendly (as though British readers couldn’t cope with Americanisms). But it seems M M lives in Britain. So I’m still puzzled. On the other hand, I am a stupid adult and presumably a child reader would simply get on with enjoying this very exciting story.

M M Vaughan, Slick

So. Eric is new at school. He is also a robot, except he has no idea. (If he wasn’t a robot I’d put him on the autistic spectrum.) So he’s clever, in some ways, and clueless in other ways. He wants to be friends with the popular boys and he wears designer clothes, which is really important to him.

But against his will, almost, he becomes friends with unpopular Danny. Really good friends. They share the same hobbies and hang out all the time.

But. You know this can’t end well. Can it? Eric’s parents are far weirder than he is. (They are also robots, if you hadn’t worked this out.) Danny is puzzled, and starts investigating, and he…

You want it to be realistic. Well, as realistic as any book about robot boys can be. But it’s also a story for younger readers and you need for it to end a little bit well.

Read it and see!

Midsummer

Midsummer

What we did on this day, many years ago. (It wasn’t always this idyllic, btw.)