Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Eeeee! I'm going to Europe! Suddenly it has become a reality.

Okay, so something could go horribly wrong and it might not happen and it's still months away (probably September) and I really shouldn't be planning this early - and still, I'm excited!

I'll be spending most of my time studying hard in one archive in London and another in Brighton, but I'll have several weekends free, and hopefully if I can afford it I might tack a little extra time onto the end.

One weekend will be spent in Bath at the Jane Austen Festival - that's non-negotiable! Probably another weekend will be spent somewhere else in the UK. And then I have one weekend (maybe two if I'm very, very lucky) to dispose of in continental Europe or Scandinavia - eeeeeeee!!!

This creates a problem. I have to choose one (maybe two) destinations in the whole of Europe. Here's some of the options (and given that this trip is still about five months away, I will probably find a few more to pop into the mix). What do you think? What would YOU choose? Have you been to any of these places? Would you recommend any additions to the list? (Bear in mind that I will be going in early autumn.) In no particular order:

Vilnius, Lithuania
It was my brother-in-law's favourite place in Europe. That's quite a call to make.
Venice, Italy
I mean, just look at that photo!

St. Petersburg, Russia
Um, well, I'm doing Russian history, and I'm learning the Russian language... seems like a sensible choice!

Rome, Italy
The Colosseum, opera, the Vatican...

Salzburg, Austria
The home of Mozart and The Sound of Music! Poor Salzburg, there's probably much more to it than that...

Prague, Czech Republic
I've just heard so many good things about Prague - can all those people be wrong?
Pompeii, Italy
This was number one on my list of places I must see before I die. I have to admit it's pretty high up there on this list.

Nuremberg, Germany
History!!! Beauty!! HIIIISTORY!!!!

Munich, Germany
Istanbul, Turkey
I know this is pushing the boundaries of Europe, but I think it's close enough, don't you?
Alone among all the destinations, I could not decide on what photo to use for this country, so I ended up choosing two - type "Iceland" into google images and you will be blown away by stunning landscape after stunning landscape. I couldn't even pick one location in the whole country!

Bergen, Norway
I've wanted to go to Norway for ages. It's all because of Grieg and Roald Dahl.

Ephesus, Turkey
HISTORY!!!! Going to see things I've read about in the Bible all my life? Pretty amazing!
Budapest, Hungary
A friend once sent me a text message from Budapest that went something like this: "I'm in Budapest, it's snowing and it looks exactly like a fairy tale!" I've never been able to forget the intense jealousy I felt at the time.
Bern, Switzerland
or alternatively a train trip through the Swiss Alps...
Either sound good to me!
Athens, Greece
How could this not be on my list?
Later additions:
Bruges, Belgium
Vienna, Austria
Cracow, Poland
Florence, Italy
Dubrovnik, Croatia

why everything is extraordinary and statistics are pointless

Have you ever considered the long line of people who went before you? Sometimes I think about all the possibilities... what if my great-great-grandfather had decided to stay in England instead of coming out to New Zealand, and what if the philanthropic German Count had decided against sending a bunch of German peasants, including my great-great-great-grandfather and -grandmother, to New Zealand? Henry wouldn't have met Mary Ann, and Ernst wouldn't have met Anna. Children would not have followed, and I would not have been here today.

What if my grandmother had died at an early age of a fever? In the grand scheme of things, imagine all the people who could have died along the way and mucked up the lineage that produced Me?! World history seems to be littered with wars, famine, sickness, and accidents, let alone chance meetings that could have resulted in different couplings that could have resulted in different children who would not have produced Me!

I'm making it sound a little ridiculous, I think, and I'm not saying that history has been working with one single purpose - the production of me. :) Of course, given all these accidents, wars, and sickness, perhaps I am a ghastly mistake - let's hope not.

But hasn't the thought occurred to you? The thought of the odds that were stacked against you appearing on this planet at all?

This is why I think statistics are a completely useless way to predict the future. What does it matter if you have X% chance of living past a certain age, or X% chance of not getting a divorce, or X% chance of avoiding cancer? Simply the fact that we are here at all is an infinitely unlikely chance. The odds are stacked just as high against us meeting a man called Edgar or stepping on a cockroach tomorrow as they are against us succeeding in something we set our minds to - and yet we meet Edgar and we squash a cockroach and we think nothing of it.

It's late at night and I'm not sure if this is coming across very clearly. What I'm trying to say is: everything is extraordinary. Especially if we have a chance to get used to it. Statistics may have some inherent logic, and some proof in the practicalities of life, but as far as our own lives go, they have no way of telling us where we fit into the statistics. They're like tarot cards with a scientific veneer.

Monday, March 30, 2009

warning - may contain long-winded whinging

Those of you who are friends with me on facebook will probably have thought that my status updates for the last little while are really quite whingey, and if you're not from New Zealand, you probably won't have a clue what I'm complaining about. "Allie wonders if Studylink was set up simply to distract students from their study." "Allie should be awarded a diploma in negotiating with government and university departments over a long period of time and managing to stay calm." I've joined a facebook group that is called: "Dealing with Studylink is more challenging than my degree."

Those who have to live with me have also noticed a peculiar level of aggression in their flatmate. I emerge from my room at odd times, knock on their door, and proceed to tell them everything that has managed to go wrong with my enrolment, and now with my Studylink applications. I make phone calls to Studylink, and after hanging up, start screaming or grinding my teeth in a menacing fashion.

For those lucky readers of this blog who don't have to deal with New Zealand universities or government departments, Studylink is the department of the government that deals with student loans and student allowances. Yes, I get free money from the government for part of my living costs, because my parent earns under a certain threshold. Technically, I should be very thankful to Studylink for providing me with funds, and I am...

And yet, in reality, my student allowance is my legal entitlement. And Studylink have managed to muck up my application in just about every possible way this year.

First of all, my enrolment with the university took a ridiculously long time (not Studylink's fault). The entire History department had to approve my proposal before I could even get enrolled, and once that was approved, my enrolment was lost somewhere in the computer system of the College of Arts. After four or so weeks of waiting (living off my savings and borrowing from my father), the enrolment finally went through. Hooray! Now I can start eating again!

Or so I thought.

First, Studylink claimed that I still wasn't enrolled. Back and forth, back and forth, between the university and Studylink - finally, they admit I am a student.

Second, Studylink claimed that I wasn't a full-time student, and therefore am not entitled to my allowance. [If doing a Masters degree PLUS an undergraduate course in Russian doesn't make you full-time, I don't know what does.] After several phone calls, they told me just to wait, and it would get sorted out in the next few days.

Next, after several more phone calls, they told me I had to make two separate applications for the one student allowance - one application for my Russian course, and one application for my MA. In my second application, I have to send in all the same information again - my father's income, proof of money I'll be receiving - even though I've sent in the exact same information for my other application.

So it looks like I won't be receiving student allowance this week. Seven weeks into the semester, and Studylink + the university have managed to muck up almost every aspect of my enrolment. I am hundreds of dollars in debt because I haven't had the means to pay for my rent/food, and I am stressed and ready to rip my hair out when I should be studying.

When I am a dictator, I am going to reform bureaucracy or just get rid of it altogether. That alone will give me total power because everyone will love me for it.

Sorry about the long whinge. I really needed to get that off my chest.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

taking a deep breath and calming down

Why I am now feeling happier than I was on Wednesday:

- I am actually researching a fascinating topic. Took me a while to remember that, but now that my terror has cattle-prodded me into working hard, I am starting to get really excited.

- I am not stupid; I simply am TEACHABLE. A whole lot of empty space in my head is not a bad thing. It means I have a mind that is open to different possibilities and not decided already on one conclusion.

- I actually already know a lot about my topic, given that I looked at a very similar area last year, and so I am in a much better place than most other Masters students at the same stage as me.

- Being a florist is not as romantic as I had thought. Thanks to all the sensible people who commented on my last post, pointing out all the cons of getting up early, dealing with bridezillas, slicing one's hand open with thorns, etc.

- Some people want to give me money to study. They can't be completely mistaken in my abilities, because people don't give away money generously without being very careful about it.

- Although this stage of my study (reading what everyone else has written about this subject) is not always very fun or rewarding, the stage that comes next, and takes up most of my time (looking at primary documents) will be FANTASTIC. I hope.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Please, blogosphere, send me some love. I am feeling really, really dumb, and I have an impending sense of doom about the year ahead of me.

I have just sent my sister this text message: "Masters is HORRIBLE. I don't know how you got through a PhD. I just feel so stupid!"

She replied: "You've made it. That's the whole objective."

Why, why, didn't I become a florist? It was a perfectly reasonable fantasy. No, I had to do the "sensible" thing and come to university.

Meanwhile, I am drowning my sorrows in:

wine and Whittaker's hazelnut chocolate;
while cooking - rhubarb pie, my favourite.
It wasn't supposed to get burnt but it still tasted goooood, and made me feel slightly better.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

accidental fortuitous irregularity

The word "random" being so 2001, this is a list of 25 Haphazard Things About Me or Somehow Related to Me or What I Am Thinking About Now. (Okay, so "haphazard" is not a perfect synonym, but that's all the thesaurus had. Neither is it a catchy little title. No excuses in that case.)

1. I used to play in a recorder quintet in Perth, Australia. The people whose house we practised in had a budgie who could whistle Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and the budgie frequently joined in while we played.

2. I should be studying harder. But I'm not. It's going to take me a while to master this Masters thing (actually no pun intended) of self-motivated study.

3. I am listening to the new U2 album right now! No Line on the Horizon. I love it so far! My feeling is: still U2 produced by Brian Eno, but a developing sound. Contemporary but not too overtly fashionable. Very listenable. Rough-edged, which is how I like it. Creative vocals.

4. There is a guy at my church who is very goodlooking, in a very unconventional way. Although he's a very nice guy, we don't have much in common and I'm not interested, so there's no need for me to start behaving oddly, but it is nice to have some man candy around. Is that sexist?

5. I am hoping that this year I will be able to visit the UK for research purposes - there are two archives I would love to visit, one in London and one in Brighton. I won't be able to afford to do much stuff or stay for long but I'm hoping I'll have at least one or two weekends free to see something, and I've wanted to go to Bath for a long time, so that goes straight to the top of the list...

6. ... and, as it turns out, very fortuitously, at precisely the time I am planning to be in the UK (September), the Jane Austen Centre of Bath is holding a JANE AUSTEN FESTIVAL!!! And, one of my best friends, who is a big Austen fan too, will be in the UK at the same time, exploring a little before she starts working in France! I think that constitutes clear guidance - I must go to the UK in September!

7. My name in Cyrillic alphabet is: ЭЛЕЙ

8. I have a god-daughter.

9. I keep having dreams about this one guy that I used to work with, and I can't figure out why. I actually told him about the first one of them, in which I got married to him and then he left me the next day for a man. He found it hilariously funny. But I thought it might be a bit much to try to explain why I've had at least five dreams featuring him since then.

10. I am currently reading The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. Good book.

11. I have eleven nieces and nephews, all of whom I love very much but have taught me a lot. Namely, that parenthood is not something to be entered into lightly.

12. I tire easily of making lists and 25 is just too big a number. Let's make it twelve.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

shameless self-promotion

Halfway Down the Stairs, the online writing magazine of which Stacy and I are editors, is out again!

This issue is themed "Twists of Fate" and is our biggest issue yet. Although I obviously liked all the fiction in there, as I am one of the people who decides whether we accept it or not, there is some work by our guest authors that I really think is brilliant writing, and we are privileged to be able to publish it. I hope you enjoy it!