Dec. 16th, 2002

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Which, according to the book I'm rereading, means "The Story of the Stone". And the book itself is Barry Hughart's The Story of the Stone, which I recommended to a friend. I would recommend all his stuff to all my friends, actually -- including Bridge of Birds and Eight Skilled Gentlemen -- but I suspect that most of them have already discovered them.

Today was incredibly lazy. I apologise to any busy readers who may feel an urge to hunt me down, tar me and feather me, and set me to doing their jobs. Slept in, had late lunch, had bath, then bounced into activity and scrubbed out baths/sinks/loos and made bed and changed household linen and did a fortnight's worth of ironing. (And people wonder why I don't wear "fussy" stuff. 20 years ago I had a lovely subdued check dress with frills at the neck and wrists and on the bodice, and I remember my mother having to iron them all separately, and I remember her muttering to herself.)

Hm. The timetable for next week breaks upon me. Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing child. Work tomorrow, meeting Tuesday followed by Coders everyone-bring-something-in lunch and brantub present for the group. (The "brantub", or "Secret Santa" tradition, for those who know it under a different name, is that everyone pulls a name from a hat, then brings in a not-overly-expensive present for that person and puts it into the central pot, marked to the recipient, but not signed by the sender.) Wednesday, meeting re Child Health data project. Thursday, lunchtime with CIS-everyone-bring-something-in, and associated brantub. (The perils of belonging to more than one department/team.) Friday, Coders slope off early in order to have Christmas meal out. (I'm still not sure how our team leader managed to square it with the metaboss.) Followed by 8pm showing (going with friends) of Two Towers. Memo; don't eat/drink too much.

Perhaps I should just develop an acute case of unspecific-itis right now, and call the whole week off. It'd be quieter.

And . . . well, yes, all right. I did start with a Mary Sue myself, though it was in the field of Amber rather than anime. Plus ca change . . .

---

One-Eyed Wong and his beloved wife, Fat Fu, have worked very hard to earn the reputation of running the worst wine-shop in all China. The notoriety gives them a clientele that is the envy of the empire, and the usual mix was present: Bonzes and Tao-shih swapped filthy stories with burglars and cuthroats, and eminent artists and poets flirted with pretty girls and boys while high government officials played cards with the pimps. All I could see of great scholars was their lacquered gauze caps, because they were on their knees rolling dice with grave robbers. Against one wall is a row of curtained booths for aristocrats, and occasionally a manicured hand would part beaded curtains to give a better view of the lowlife. The antics of the clientele could be quite dramatic, and One-Eyed Wong constantly patrolled the premises with a sandfilled sock swinging in his hand while Fat Fu sent him messages by whistling.

She knew everybody who was important or dangerous. When Master Li entered, she whistled a few bars of a popular song he had inspired: Fire Chills and Moonlight Burns, Before Li Kao to Virtue Turns.

-- The Story of the Stone, Barry Hughart
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I was reading this (again) over lunch, and felt the need to add in this quote before I forgot that it existed.

---

"My boy, few disciplines are more dismal than theology, but it may be important to consider the Doctrine of Disaster, which is the Han dynasty's chief contribution to the subject. Both the I-ching and the Huai-nan-tzu assert that natural disasters are not caused by Heaven, but allowed by Heaven. If men willfully disrupt the natural order of things, the gods will refuse to intervene while nature purges itself of the toxin, usually violently, and if the innocent suffer along with the guilty -- well, the only way men learn anything is to have it smashed into their head with an axe." (Master Li)
-- Eight Skilled Gentlemen, Barry Hughart
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The following piece, taken from a 1969 New Statesman competition, sums up my feelings nicely. (Competitors were asked to suggest new courses for universities, with an ideological or other justification for their inclusion.)

---

A Parisian countess, returning from Proust's funeral, encountered a friend who, on learning where she'd been, remarked: "Marcel Proust? Who's he?" Suddenly, the countess records, she felt "une immense fatigue." Your Faculty, having pondered many hundred doctoral theses with titles like: "The Tensile Heart: Patterns of Moral Equilibrium in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson," confesses a similar weariness. It has decided therefore to scrap the existing ENGLIT course and substitute for it an anonymous happening. Anyone who wishes will be lent a selection of books that some people in the past have found meritorious and will be given a quiet, warm room (adequately stocked with alcohol, tobacco, coffee, etc.) in which to read them. There will be no lectures, seminars or tutorials, nor will there be any terminal examinations, gradings or assessments. The "course" will have no objective, produce no result and will provide no marketable qualification whatsoever. Your Faculty has meanwhile awarded itself a well-earned sabbatical and will be engaged in literary research in Las Vegas.
-- Molly Fitton

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