Fact meets (wierd) fiction

It’s been a very BL-filled week so far  – and it’s only Tuesday!

Today, I received an email from the British Library, informing me that members of the Public and Commercial Services Union will be striking later this month, in protest to proposed changes to pension, pay and job cuts.  I’ve got no problem with this, and I support their right to strike. Go team!

The reason I think this news is blog-worthy, in fact, is because it ties in beautifully with my current book-obsession and literary crush China Mieville. I’m busy reading Kraken, a staggeringly fantastic book all about London (amongst other things). In it, the familiars of London’s magical underbelly go on strike, and there is a fabulous scene where protesting cats stage a picket outside the British Library. The leader of the strikers is a character called Wadi who emerged from Ancient Egypt to lead spirit-slaves throughout the ages. At one point, he inhabits the wonderful Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture of Newton (pictured above) and rallies the striking troops.

It all just fits together too perfectly for words…I think Mr Mieville was on to something.


Image: Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi, bronze sculpture Newton, after William Blake, 1995, in the piazza of the British Library, by Jake Keup on Flickr, CC BY 2.0


The British Library and Google Books


The British Library and Google have just announced a partnership to digitise and make available over 40 million pages from out-of-copyright (ie: public domain) books in the BL’s collection.  According to the press release, the materials will include

…books, pamphlets and periodicals dated 1700 to 1870, the period that saw the French and Industrial Revolutions, The Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War, the invention of rail travel and of the telegraph, the beginning of UK income tax, and the end of slavery. It will include material in a variety of major European languages, and will focus on books that are not yet freely available in digital form online.
This is pretty exciting – not just becuase of the level of access to previously unavailable work, but also becuase of how they’re doing the digitisation:
Once digitised, these unique items will be available for full text search, download and reading through Google Books, as well as being searchable through the Library’s website and stored in perpetuity within the Library’s digital archive.
Not being able to search text has always been one of the major criticisms of Google Books and it seems like they and the BL have listened.
Now, I am as suspicious of Google Books as most people in the digital humanities are – their motives are often seen as murky, and the half-baked nature of the digitisations in Google Books has always been problematic for me; more problematic, in fact, than the copyright stuff, which doesn’t really interest me that much (thanks to my indoctrination in the free culture world, I think copyright, as we know it at least, will cease to exist sooner rather than later). But fully-searchable text of public domain works available for perpetuity seems like a step in the right direction. I’m looking forward to the discussions that this move sparks.

Image: Toussaint Louverture, Extract from the Report addressed to the Executive Directory by Citizen, 1797, British Library Board Courtesy of the BL


Some of you might have noticed that this blog looks a little different these days. Change, as they say, is inevitable, and so it has come to pass that I’ve decided to revamp, remix and repurpose this little corner of the interwebs for my new blog. In part becuase I wanted it to reflect the changes in my day-to-day life, but mainly becuase it seems a little bit disingenuous to blog about gardens when I no longer have one.

See, about 6 months ago I kissed my seedlings, apricot tree and worms goodbye made the move to London-town, where I am now a full-time student of all things Digital. I’m doing an MA in Digital Asset Management at King’s College, London. It’s a fairly nebulous term to describe fascinating work, and I hope that this blog will be a place where I can talk about it a bit more.
Also, I am now officially the Community Manager for the Peer 2 Peer University, a wonderful organisation, staffed by amazing volunteers who do world-changing work. My job for them is complicated and exciting and involves a lot of community management and wrangling in what I think are quite unique circumstances. I hope to be able to blog about the things this work makes me think about here too.

I realise this is all a bit vague. Apologies. Hopefully some clarity will emerge as the posts add up. If, for some reason, you still visit this blog, I hope you’ll keep popping in. I promise to talk about gardens whenever I can!

Pelargonium saved. For Now.

I know I’m a bit late with this post, but I think it’s important anyway.

Remember a while back I posted about the small Eastern Cape community of Alice who were challenging the German pharma giant Schwabe over their patenting of a remedy made from the roots of pelargonium sidoides and pelargonium reniforme –  that’s geraniums to you and me.

Well, in a thrilling case of little-guy-from-SA-backwater-takes-on-giant-baddies-and-wins, the European Patent Office last month revoked the  patent that Schwabe had applied for, which would have protected a method of processing the roots of the plants to get the desired extract.

According to this article in the Dispatch, a local Eastern Cape paper, the Germans are looking to fight the ruling, and, considering the resources they have available, they might win. But, I think this sets a great precedent, and hopefully more test cases like this one will appear, so we can work out a safe, innovative traditional knowledge and patent policy for this country.

Pic: Geranium by jurek d. on Flickr, CC BY 2.0


Last week 2 friends and I and a Peugeot took a 4 day roadtrip to Cape Town. We decided that to drive the national road was just a fate worse than death, and chose, instead, to take the rout through the Karoo – the exquisite, desolate, semi-desert that covers most of the south-western area of South Africa. I love the Karoo. It’s empty and vast; boiling hot by day and cool by night, and somehow I feel like I can think more clearly when I’m there.

It’s full of small towns and snot-nosed kids and scruffy dogs and cottages with wide stoeps, designed to catch the breeze and keep you cool. The lamb you eat in the Karoo is the best you’ll ever taste – we don’t bother to call it “free range” becuase that’s the only kind you can get. Milk comes in recycled 2L Coke bottles, straight from the cow, thick with cream and almost beige, not thin, pale and white. Every small town has at least 2 butcheries, selling fresh meat, home-made boerewors and lamb chops, but the real treat is Karoo biltong, made from beef or, if you’re lucky, springbok. We bought beef biltong, nice and wet and chewy in a paper bag and grazed all the way to Cape Town.

Cottage, Victoria West

We read Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy to each other as we sped through the dry flatness. It really is an incredibly sad poem, and brings me out in goosebumps every time.

The Orange River

We listened to good tunes, and counted windmills and waved to kids on the side of the road. We saw sheep and cows and springbok and warthogs and eagles. We stopped to spit in the Orange River and emerged, on Day 3, into the oasis of Prince Albert, the prettiest town with the best olive oil in South Africa.

It’s hard to really describe what the Karoo looks like, becuase it’s such a shifting landscape. At different times of day, the sand and rocks takes on different colours, and the vegetation changes all the time.

I know it’s verboten to say things like this, but I really do get a little bit of a thrill when I look up at the sky in this country.

Where I’ve Been – Part 2

While making blankets might have kept me away from this blog during the winter, I can’t claim that anything as constructive has been keeping me away since then. And while I may not have been making things, I have been doing things, and I think that’s just as good an excuse, I think.

The most exciting thing was a quick trip to Berlin in mid-November. I’m lucky that the work I do does often feel like play, and that I get to work with amazing people on very cool projects, and do more than my fair share of traveling to do so, which I  know makes me a very lucky girl. The trip was up there with the best of them – I’ve never really spent much time in wintry European cities, and I have to admit, Berlinlandia stole my heart. What a fantastic, melancholy, beautiful, romantic, complicated city. What amazing Lebanese food. What great beer. Sinc this was a work trip, I didn’t get to do the garden snooping that I usually manage to cram in, and I didn’t buy a single seed. But I saw some very cool balcony gardens:

It’s easy to forget in SA, where we have abundant space that very few of us actually use to it’s full potential, that you can still fill your life with living, lovely things in a tiny little space.

Where I’ve Been

Well, away, of course. Both literally, and I guess, figuratively. See, I’ve been very busy with Stuff. And Things. And even with Activities. Which is usually quite unlike me – I’m a bit more slothful, generally, but for once in my life, I can be one of those people who says “You know the last month has been just hectic” and it’s kind of true.

Let’s see what I did in the last month:

I finally finished the huge, beautiful crocheted blankie for my dear sister who lives all the way in Japan and suffers terribly from the cold. To call it a labour of love would be an understatement – I’m not sure how many balls of wool went into it, or the final cost in South African Rands, but I can tell you that an entire box-set of the West Wing was consumed in the making of this blanket:

I’d never actually crocheted anything before but somehow the spirit just moved me. After spending most of this winter knitting, and trying very hard to be a responsible lady and live with the delayed gratification that knitting expects, I just thought that something a bit more immediate was needed. So crochet it was. Plus, I just love the cosy, retro, heirloom feel that you get with crocheted things.
And, lucky for me, the online craft revolution, which I consider to be the most wonderful collision of the digital and analogue worlds, came to my rescue. Thanks to YouTube videos, and the wonderful, talented, generous Lucy over at Attic24, I managed to figure it our quite quickly, and was hooking away in a couple of days.

I just love the way this project grew, from little teeny squares that took me ages when I started, but, by the time I was nearly done were just flying off the hook:

As you can see from the yellow one, in the bottom row, I was a bit wobbly at first, and things looked a little odd. But you can see the pretty flower pattern emerging quite nicely, and by the time I was joining them into groups of four, I was feeling a bit more confident:

I didn’t really use any logic in the planning of the colour combinations – I just kind of put things that looked nice together. But I did make sure that the groups of four had matching outer colours – otherwise, with some of those oranges and purples, it would have been a bit much. All in all, I’m very chuffed with how it all turned out. And, most importantly of all, Baby Sister seems to love it, and has said that she would rather leave her passport in Japan than leave the blankie there when she packs her bags to come home. So that’s a happy thought.

I’ve also just realised that as I’ve been sitting here, putting this post together and digging through my photos, I’ve found the source that inspired the colour choices I used. Remember a couple of months ago, when I uploaded the picture of the amazing ranunculi?

Well, looking back, I think this is where it must have all begun – these three little flowers. Which makes me very happy – I love the idea that, in deep, cold Japanese winter, my dear sister will have a little splash of South African summer sunshine.

Sjoe, but this post is long. You’ll have to read the next one, to see where else I’ve been.