Ronda and me

According to the always wise and useful Zoe Sadokierski, you can develop strange obsessions while doing your doctorate. I’ve developed an obsession with Fiat Arbaths. The top end of the current Fiat Bambino/500 series, they sit low to the ground, are best had as manuals and emit a satisfying rumble for such a small package. I know this because I heard one ‘roaring’ into the car park at South Maroubra beach one day. It was black, it had a big exhaust and I was in love.

I just can’t justify spending $40000 on such a small package, or any motorised package really. At least not until I work full time again, then all bets are off.

My other current obsession is Ronda Rousey.

Rousey, a former judo champion, is a mixed martial arts fighter in the UFC. That’s the U-something Fighting Something. I don’t know. Before her most recent fight Rousey was 12-0. That is, she had won 12, lost none. Her opponent was Holly Holm, a boxing champion who was 9-0. Their fight was held in Melbourne, the first time Rousey had fought in Australia. It was a fucking circus. And Rousey lost.

Rousey crept up on me. One of my brothers watches MMA fights and he and I mentioned her in passing on Facebook. I’ve never seen one of her fights live, I’ve watched them on YouTube. Most of them are less than 3 minutes in duration so it’s pretty easy to catch up. When I realised she was going to fight in Melbourne I looked into tickets but couldn’t justify it. I love sport but flying myself down to watch a fight (a FIGHT!) that may last less than a minute? And I’m supposed to be doing a PhD?

I tried to find out who was televising the fight. I asked a bar tender at a pub in Surry Hills if they were showing the fight. When he asked me why I was interested the several middies of beer in me forced my guard down and started discussing Rousey and how she was not just a fighter, she was a whole story. He wasn’t really interested. Lucky I didn’t launch into my Rousey as feminist icon-discuss mode.

In October I went to Hawaii on holiday and I was looking for something to read that was easy but could possibly fuel my attempts to get back on neutral terms with my PhD. We’d fallen out of love. I needed to remind myself why I was here, why I was doing this thing. I’d recently started with a personal trainer at the local gym and that was helping. My attempts to rehabilitate my body after having a child have been embarrassing. Not that I haven’t tried, rather I’ve been so misguided in my assumptions as to what I can do I’ve managed to injure myself more than is feasibly possible for a woman my age, not playing a combat sport. I needed someone to sort my shit out. Alongside a personal trainer, a sporting memoir that would make me punch the air seemed like the obvious option. Rousey’s memoir is full of punch-the-air moments. There are also enough moments of self doubt and general flagellation to make it feel real. Yes, her mother was pretty full-on in terms of training, but if she was sending her kid to maths tutoring no one would bat an eyelid.

The day Rousey fought I was so busy with grocery shopping and taking my son to futsal that I didn’t make it to a pub to watch it. I got online in the afternoon and saw she had lost. Disbelief.

I sent a message to my brother, have you seen the Rousey result? “Yeah watched it, Ronda fucked up, chasing her around with her chin up, smashed”.

Then I watched the footage. Rousey was rushing, chasing Holm, no control. Then she got a kick to the head. She fell and Holm continued to hit her, oblivious to or in spite of Rousey being unconscious. This was hard to stomach. I’ve grown to love AFL for its honesty and wary of football for its cynicism and dishonesty. And here was a woman smashing into another, unconscious, woman? What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

I don’t hate UFC. I don’t hate boxing. Peter Fitzsimons is one of my favourite sports writers and he rightly questioned why this is ok: why is it ok that someone can beat an opponent as they lie unconscious on the mat? That I agree with, but this is not just about the rules of the UFC. Rousey refuses to be a “do nothing bitch”. She acknowledges girls look up to her and she doesn’t want them to grow up and say what she says or do what she does, she wants them to do and say what THEY WANT. I admire Rousey’s physical prowess (hell, there’s a massive picture of her at my gym and I pay homage to it every time I wheel my inflexible body in there) but it’s not the fact that she punches people, or arm bars them or loses so spectacularly that gives me pause, it’s her assumption that women can do anything they want, and the fact that she’s out there demonstrating it.

Feminists shouldn’t like people punching each other, but why not? The footage of her loss sickened me. I couldn’t bear to see it, not just because it was her but because I was finally confronted with what the UFC actually is and what it does to people. The Rousey story is a lot more complex than pure violence and it’s made me question a number of things. We need women like her and we need them to lose and we need them to rise up again.

7 things that are getting me through this PhD

One thing I learned while blogging was that when you are having trouble writing, write a list. Even before the listicle, hoary old bloggers knew the power of a list, however arbitrary or frivolous.

So I give you: Things That Are Getting Me Through This Phd (unnecessary and incorrect capitalisation intended).

1. Spotify
Although in this household we’ve been agonising over spending the cost of a bottle of wine a month on Netflix, I signed up for the top level Spotify account ages ago and it’s paid for itself many times over. Aside from the stoushes my mobile regularly has with my son’s mobile over who is going to control Spotify, music on demand is THE BOMB. (And yes I listen to new music).

2. Digital radio
Ok, this is already becoming themed but…NewsRadio on my phone when I walk the dog, DoubleJ at any time, 90s Mix on weekends and ABC Jazz at night, if you don’t have a digital radio or app that does the job, fix that immediately.

3. Football
There are no months of the year when there is no football. AFL March to September. European football August to May. Sometimes there’s World Cup and European Championships. There’s also the small matter of a Swans membership. Why football? Because as Camus said:

“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”


4. Altoids mints

Not that I have any now. I’ve run out. And I don’t go to the US until October. My usual suppliers’ passports are unusually dormant. Here’s hoping the person I know visiting Chicago right now remembers it’s peppermint. Thank you.

Altoids tin

5. Twitter
Quite possibly one of the best research tools I use. I don’t get involved in many discussions but it’s indispensable for finding out, for being in touch, for KNOWING. Even if you never tweet, follow.

6. Podcasts
So, apparently I use my ears a lot. Probably because when you have a child/children you learn to cram in your own stuff whenever you can and listening is often the best way to do it. While cooking dinner and washing up: Football Weekly and Chat 10 Looks 3.

7. Counting steps
The gym and I have an intense relationship. I LOVE YOU AND I WANT TO GO EVERY DAY AND I AM GOING TO MARRY YOU or gym? Sorry? So I’ve decided not to beat myself up and acknowledge that even if I don’t go to the gym I can at least walk. At least 10K steps a day. I measure it on my phone. It counts steps, kms and flights climbed. Of course, measuring it and seeing it makes you want to do more. It’s not going to turn me into the woman I was before I had a child but it will at least make me feel better about not doing other things. And just better generally.

The End.

(Oops!  And my family. And my dogs).

Rosie dog

If academia were a sport: the press conference

(As well as (trying) to do research, I’ve worked in uni admin and other non-academic areas for a long time. So this is where this little bit comes from). 

“So, you’ve fallen in the latest Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, do you think that will effect your ability to recruit the top ATAR students next year?”

“Look, we acknowledge that we have fallen in those rankings but you have to take into consideration the particular measurements they use. Like all rankings they place weight on some areas and not others…we’ll look at the numbers once we get them in full and address any concerns that may be there.”

“Are you worried you will lose your high flyers?”

“No, not at all. We have a number of ECRs who are performing well at B and C level. And what pleases me is that they’re cross-disciplinary in their approach. They keep an open mind and that in turn gives the University options, it is beneficial for the club.”

“So you’re looking at the future, you’re not convinced you’re going to keep hold of your stars?”

“That’s not what I said. I have no doubt that our “stars”, as you put it, have as much faith in what they are doing here as I have. Sure, we have a few out on sabbatical at the moment but that is part of the tradition of this institution and to do without it would be damaging to this institution, and to academia in general. I don’t see that as a negative, I think anyone who did would have to question their commitment to scholarship.”

“You’re midway through your term as DVC, how would you rate your performance?”

“I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, that’s not for me to gauge. Like all academics, you do at times feel fraudulent, but that comes with the territory. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. If you think you know it all, you’re obviously not meant for this environment.”

“What do you say to claims that your University is losing its appeal?”

“I am not sure what you mean by “appeal”, it’s not a term I would use when talking about higher education or scholarship in general but I know you need an answer so I would say that it’s not a concern. We’re still here. Cancer still needs to be cured.”

Beyond the shelves

When I first started this thing I thought it was the lack of books being on the shelves, in order, that was causing me consternation.

I like the lucky dip of these trolleys. The newly returned books could hold ANYTHING. I always check the trolley at the end of rows I am visiting.

We have a history of understanding library collections with our bodies, as well as our minds. A library whose collection is physically accessible provides us with an embodied understanding of the collection. Finding and then retrieving a book from such a library provides us with ways of knowing the collection that go beyond what the catalogue can tell us. Upon entering a library, even if you can not see all the books in the collection at the same time, you can glean a sense of the size of the collection from the number of shelves or the number of floors in the library.

Once you select a subject area to visit you develop of sense of its size and possible scale by standing amongst it. You may feel overwhelmed at its scope, or disappointed at its paucity. The colours, typefaces and condition of book spines give you clues as to their age. In an academic library, short loan books may be marked with a sticker, or corralled into a separate area from the main collection, indicating their status as in demand. The Special Reserve section can be a place of satisfaction, where you find the hot ticket item you want or a place of disappointment when you realise you won’t be able to take the book home for as long as you need.

If you’re trying to find something special, something unexpected, Special Reserve is not the place to go. You need to subvert the library’s formal order by looking in places beyond the shelves. The sorting trolleys offer their own seduction. Knowing to look for them requires some knowledge of how books move around the library, not only their place in the overall system. The prospect of finding a gem amongst the yet-to-be-shelved returns provides some patrons (like me) with a frisson of excitement. You become the sleuth, the detective in a semi-competitive game of browsing. Stumbling across something valuable in these semi-structured, temporary repositories can make you feel like a gambler who has won the jackpot.

We take part in the movement of the collection. Conscious or unconscious of this movement, we learn about the collection by participating in it. We borrow, move items around, observe where others have removed books and left gaps on the shelves or abandoned books on desks. We see traces left by other patrons: notes in the margins, stickers arranged to mark pages, a book obviously in the wrong section, hidden from other borrowers.

The particular materiality of this experience is a way of knowing the collection. It is this – of moving amongst the collection, of pushing and pulling, dodging and hiding – that I will miss. It’s also this way of knowing which offers so much to explore. It is once we have access to only the interface that we understand what is stripped away and what we have lost. I don’t think I’m nostalgic about this, I think we need to recognize an opportunity. How do we replace all that the experience of an accessible library collection tells us? Do we need to? How do we create as rich an experience through mediums like interfaces that prioritise other types of sensorial engagement?


As well as going to a conference in London, I got to enjoy it for the first time.

Since I was at least a young teenager I’ve wanted to visit London. Since I was obsessed with the Smiths and New Order, (before that there was that fascination with the Beatles), had old NME covers all over my walls and couldn’t see that anything in Australia would ever match up to England. Then came football, The Bill, Britpop, Phillip Larkin, George Orwell, Pet Shop Boys, The Spice Girls…hang on, I think I said that last bit out loud…

Some things I noticed:

– The buses ARE red

London buses

– The cabs ARE like they look on telly

– The police are hard to take seriously if you’ve watched a great deal of The Bill

– I found the street signs endlessly fascinating due to the familiar typography seen on a billion telly shows

London typography

– Smoking is still ok and I found it quite jolting

– Those pub names you see on telly are real, names like Holborn Whippet (which seems to be pronounced “Hoburn”. I avoided saying any place names unless I heard the English say it).

– Is it Australian to think the name ‘Cockfosters’ is hilarious?  Or just juvenile? The train I caught from the airport was going to Cockfosters and they kept repeating it at every stop. Perhaps I was just delirious after the flight.

– There are a lot of cyclists but mercifully few hipsters on fixies. Perhaps they’ve moved on. Bike lanes are very common and seem to be used.

– ‘Good’ coffee is expensive. 2 pounds 50 for a takeaway from a place that was supposed to be ‘it’. Seemed ok until I did the conversion. And the coffee was ordinary.

– You would never need a car if you lived here

London bus stop

– The weather is warm but the light never gets bright. It seems hazy a lot of the time, reminds me of Vietnam but not that thick. I can see why the English lay on Bondi beach for hours and then wonder why they burn. (Kind of like the way Australians underestimate the power of the overcast day in Vietnam…) The sun has no bite, which might be why…

– People don’t wear sunglasses

– I loved it as much as I imagined I would when I was 14 years old.

London Chinatown

London wedding