Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Most Beautiful Book.......Hmmm....

Anyone who has read any of my posts will know that I am a shameless devourer of books and that my appetite is more gourmand than gourmet.

It will come as no surprise then that I caved into my addiction once again (well, it was payday last Thursday) and have purchased 'The Most Beautiful Medieval Bibles' edited by Andreas Fingernagel and Christian Gastgeber.
Well, the display copy was beautiful, but I made the mistake of actually buying a cellophane- sealed one that I reasoned would be somewhat less dog-eared. Bit of a mistake: the copy I bought was poorer in reproduction quality than the one I looked at in the shop, the plates being duller and the pages having a peculiar dusty feel. So now I am in a quandary: do I return my purchase and ask for it to be exchanged for the display copy (this will entail carting it back into town: it's no light-weight tome and there's no guarantee that the display copy will still be there - there appeared to be only two copies in total) or keep the one I've got and feel slightly cheated. I have a feeling that this is a cynical marketing ploy, unload the second-rate repros, sight unseen. Consequently I feel miffed and annoyed with myself - usually a canny book-inspector - that I fell for this rather underhand tactic, if tactic it was.
Guess it serves me right if I get indigestion occasionally.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Well I Never....!

Imagine my surprise on turning on the radio yesterday after blogging to find that Doris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook' is being serialised on Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour'!

Presumably they'll omit the explicit bits. Tee hee!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Before ten a.m., and I am already on the computer, second cup of coffee and a cigarette. Not terrible, but I am finding the last few days of the school holidays are starting to shred the nerves. We are all quite bored: we've been to all the places we want to go, done most of the things we can afford to do and are mostly just kicking our heels waiting for the new term to start. The children have taken to staying awake late, their sleep-banks having been stocked up over the past six weeks. Consequently, they wake late too, hence my early occupation here. The juggernaut of family life creaks slowly into life no earlier than mid-morning, by which time my enthusiasm for it all is already starting to wane. I am reading 'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing and wryly recognised the protagonist Anna's (or is it her alter ego Ella's?) statement that she disliked the enforced discipline of being a mother, disliked what it had turned her into; disliked the list of things to do that made 'normal' life possible, but understood that this petty routine was necessary to prevent her falling into formless chaos (tautology? can chaos be full of form?) and indeed, underpinned her personality in other spheres - up to a point.
So that's me then: both resentful and dependent on my dutifulness to give me discipline. Because I know that the liberty that I will gain when the school term starts is largely illusory and that I will still sit, open-mouthed and vacant and wondering what to do next. Because there is no freedom in freedom. Freedom is to be found in the interstices of routine.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Diana, San Pio, the Odour of Sanctity and a Whiff of Scandal.

Whilst on holiday in Sardinia, I was intrigued by the seemingly widespread devotion to San Pio of Pietrelcina (formerly known - before his canonisation - as Padre Pio). The local supermarket had a prayer card pasted above one of the tills, and sold exclusively San Pio votive candles, a favourite restaurant of ours had a portrait of him on the wall, the Assumption procession contained a section headed by a San Pio banner (see photo), and - most bizarrely - we noted a young man on the beach sporting a sizeable tattoo of the saint.
It would appear that the body of the saint is now on display at San Giovanni Rotondo having been exhumed and tidied up for exhibition.
Apparently the body was in a fair state of preservation, which church authorities were quick to point out was probably because it had had at least some attention from the embalmers, an injection of formaldehyde at the time of death.
[incorruptibility being a sign of 5-star, solid gold, fur-lined, ocean-going, Vatican-endorsed sainthood, the sort embodied by St Therese of Lisieux, St Bernadette of Lourdes, not the sort of sainthood forced upon the reluctant and sceptical church by the groundswell of the pious faithful].
Embalming immediately cancels out the possibility of spontaneous incorruptibility, leaving us with what we might term a '3-star' saint.
Diana, the late Princess of Wales, has a very powerful hold on the popular secular imagination, seen by many a credulous soul as 'a saint' in the making. Little surprise, then, that she was embalmed almost before she was on the mortuary slab, filleted of embarrassing evidence and consigned to an unhallowed grave.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hooray for Friends!

Got a phone call this lunchtime from a good ex-undergraduate friend of mine who is currently an inhabitant of the town of Dreaming (or is it 'Gleaming'?) Spires, which cheered me up no end: there's nothing like hearing from a like minded soul and receiving encouragement from them to dispel the Slough of Despond. I promptly cut the lawn.

Putting the Wagon in Motion

Nearly there: the last week of the school holidays - seven days to go!
The husband returned to work today, although in reality, for him, most of the weekend was a slow-motion anticipation of the dreaded event. The house is in complete squalor, but there seems very little point in devoting energy to something that will just require redoing very shortly. And redoing over and over again.
More worryingly 'my desk' is in absolute disarray too. 'My desk' is actually a metaphor for my mental/psychological/intellectual self. I am surrounded by both pressing tasks (an upcoming assignment) and half-finished projects that I embarked on enthusiastically enough at the time. All fall down before the terrible sense of inertia that I am seized with.
I know that I should meet up with the reading group tomorrow, but I really don't think I can be bothered to organise the children and haul myself thirty miles for something that I am, in truth, only an occasional and peripheral member of. (Don't bother me with the 'incorrect' syntax of that sentence: I consider Webster a complete arse)
I should (really should) invite my daughter's friend around for a reciprocal day of well thought out play and social opportunity - but I lack the energy to do so.
When I see my childrens' bright and lovely faces, I despise myself for being such a poor excuse for a mother, and yet more and more I come to understand my own mother's terminal frustration with her life. Her tense boredom and unhappiness stems from an intelligent and creative personality that was never given the opportunity to thrive and stretch itself, other than in a series of short-lived financially controlled, 'approved' hobbies/handicrafts/pastimes. Being a woman of her time (financially subjugated), demanding more of her life was never an option. Even now, when I suggest that something like the OU might give her a sense of achievement and purpose, she is reluctant to embark on something that might upset the status quo i.e. my father not getting his tea on time.
She, like me, needs intellectual involvement to prevent festering, a toxic introspection that robs the personality of energy, optimism and good will.
It is quite true: if you want something doing, give it to a busy person - they are the ones with the energy already in motion that will see a task through. An unengaged person must first of all overcome the moment of inertia: the busy one hits the ground running.
And so it is my goal today to get the wheels on this particular wagon rolling. Experience has taught me what I must do to achieve this: DO ANYTHING!
Activity breeds energy, energy begets energy, energy means achievement, achievement means happiness. Ergo, activity = happiness.
I am off to sweep the floor.

It does occur to me that I really need to set up another blog: this one has become hijacked by personal reflections, which although it is a useful exercise in thinking stuff through, was not really what I set out to do!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Sun Also Rises...

A heartfelt discussion with my dear, long-suffering husband (when will you get a job, dear?) and Captain Creditcard has put me in a more optimistic frame of mind: how (he said - husband, not Cap'n Creditcard) about a part-time PhD? Half the yearly fees (just manageable if self-funded), five years minimum to complete, certainly less intense pressure. Why did this not occur to me before? Well, because if one wants serious funding, full-time is the best course of action. But that was not to be.
But part-time is better than no-time.... and besides, my offer is firm from the uni.
Sadly, my tiny daydream of a new all-singing, all-dancing, dedicated laptop and generous book fund has to go by the board, but hey!
So the coming weeks will see me filled with renewed optimism and cheerfulness. Things are looking up!

p.s. I might go and ogle Procopius' 'Anecdota' at The Book way of a consolation present!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nothing. Niente. Nada. Not a bean.

OK, so the crossed fingers did not work.
I have absolutely NO funding or scholarship for starting PhD work this forthcoming academic year.
Nothing. Niente. Nada. Not a bean.
And as I have self-funded my way through both my BA and MA, there is no way I can do it for a further three years (minimum). I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed - so disappointed that I daren't examine my thoughts too closely for fear of seeing the yawning chasm therein. I need a major brain-shift, a total reassessment, a new plan.
I shall survive: I don't know quite how yet........but I will get over it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back into the fold...or not, as the case may be

Ah well! Over too quickly but fantastic while it lasted....farewell sun and the relaxing Mediterranean lifestyle, hello grey skies, overgrown lawn and unanswered mail.
I felt the usual post-holiday fatigue, which is a combination of travel exhaustion (how can just sitting in airports and planes be so tiring?), withdrawal from alcohol, lack of sunlight, good food and the general sense of anticlimax, plus the knowledge that it'll take another year of solid saving to repeat the experience. A brisk trip to the gym and a swim drove out some of the lethargy and accumulated CO in the system and today I feel considerably brighter.
Sadly the major source of funding for my doctoral studies has not deemed me worthy of an award (again) so I am desperately hoping that I get an in-house scholarship from my chosen university. Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board for a serious reassessment of my life plans.
I knew my chances of scoring with the AHRC were slim (does anyone know anyone who has got funding from these people?), but I hadn't anticipated being as disappointed as I actually was. Mentally my compass over the past year or so has been fixed on starting doctoral work this autumn and now it is looking less and less likely, I find myself panicking rather, and wondering what on earth I will do if it all comes to nothing. I need some serious thinking time to map out a new route, but that'll have to wait until I have some quiet family-free time - another couple of weeks at least. Meanwhile, I feel somewhat downcast and rather tense. A scholarship would be a tremendous boost to my confidence, a real lifeline to the scholarship that I deeply and passionately love. I daren't believe I won't get one: I promise that I would be an exemplary student and treat the three years as professionally as I would treat a job. I have so much to offer, and so much I want to say. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ha! I Told You So!

Done it - translation of 804 lines of Virgil's 'Aeneid' put to bed (or rather in a box file until after the hols)!
So we went out briefly and mercifully the rain has given way to a blisteringly hot and sunny afternoon. What an unpredictable climate.
Was immensely cheered to see the sentiments of my post 'Why Women Don't Produce Great Art' given a bit of support by TWO writers for the Times:

Am off to sit in the garden and finish Michael Psellus' 'Fourteen Byzantine Rulers'. I have to admit I am very tempted by Procopius' 'Anecdota'. Maybe when I return after my trip abroad....

I Am Weary, A-weary..

I am so tired today. Picking my way through small and completely unrewarding, unstimulating tasks, in this humidity I am soon cold and clammy to the touch. There seems no end to minutiae. Fluff-wads have accumulated around the skirting board, the flow of washing, drying, tumble-drying is unremitting. I have a dull headache and my eyes seem worse today. The weather is grey, interspersed with downpours of monsoon proportions. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do that we have not done to the point of boredom. Hence I am sitting here, moaning and blogging - bloaning, mogging whatever.
Today is already a day of epic caffeine consumption: a six-cup pot is on the hob and I have already consumed one two-cup pot and a mug of instant. No wonder I have a headache. Palpitations before noon, I suppose.
The good news is that I've only got 35 lines of translation to do. Eminently achievable. Hooray!
I am going to set-to after my next cup of coffee and press on until it's completed. then I'm going out!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Aeneid Through Gritted Teeth

Our annual hol. is only a matter of days away now and I am really, really looking forward to getting away from the daily grind and take in some Mediterranean sun and life. Funnily enough, the school holidays bring an even more rigid routine to my day: necessary if I am to achieve anything before nightfall! I have stuck to my pledge to make our day a combination of mental, physical and leisure activity to counteract the natural predisposition to loaf aimlessly and then feel slightly nauseous by tea-time. It seems to have worked rather well, with only minimal bickering and everyone getting a couple of hours to do their own thing, be it gaming, reading or in my case translating Book II of the Aeneid. Again my decision to complete only one photostatted page of text per day (circa 25 lines c/w transcription of vocab. and a 'fair'(-ish!) draft) has proved to be a sensible and achievable amount. Thus I am now at line 720 (out of 804) with only two days of feasible study time before we fly. Realistically, Friday will be commited to rounding up stuff for packing, ordering currency, final washing/ironing etc. so that leaves tomorrow.
I could get up very early tomorrow and finish it off - that would give me a good 'clean desk' feeling (so important for that true holiday feeling!). Problem is, I'm starting to feel a real aversion to the task in hand, just like I did when I was finishing off my undergrad. dissertation and the MA thesis. Oh dear. The barely suppressed resentment, the gritted teeth.
It's not that I don't really enjoy the Aeneid - on the contrary, it's been a revelation to me, the poetry is fantastic. It's just that when it's reduced to a mandatory task to be endured and completed, I get seriously mentally itchy. My own fault, I know, I know - I am the only person who is standing over me arms folded, tutting loudly. So....should I make a final push to finish off BkII, or let it go until I get back? Can't decide, which is why I am blogging not translating. What a waster!

Interestingly enough, as I have been working through the poem, I have had two translations at my side as a guide (having abandoned the prescribed West version earlier on): the Loeb Fairclough/Gould (correctly in the historic present, occasionally conspicuously poetic and archaic - not necessarily a bad thing), and a cheap-as-chips 'Wordsworth Classics' translation by Michael J. Oakley. This latter has proved astoundingly close to the original Latin, astounding in that I've never been recommended this translation or heard of Oakley. Occasionally I've had some minor quibbles (the temple of Ceres is itself described as 'forsaken', rather than it being described as 'of forsaken Ceres' [BkII:715], despite the obvious agreement of 'desertae' with 'Cereris' rather than with 'templum'), but all in all I heartily commend it.

What's the betting that I'll be up at first light tomorrow? Oh, we'll see.....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

'The Trees of the Field Do WHAT!....' Isaiah 55:12

One of the very popular 'folk hymns' (shudder) at the childrens' school starts 'You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace...' which gets them rollicking in the aisles as it gets faster and faster. The chorus goes 'And the trees of the fields shall clap their hands (x 3) as you go forth with joy.' Clap their hands? Where did that come from?
Looking in my Swete copy of the Septuagint I find

καὶ πάντα τὰ ξύλα τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐπικροτήσει τοῖς κλάδοις

which, if my LSJM is correct, translates as

'and all the trees of the field shall rattle their branches'

which rather lacks the anthropomorphic element! My Biblical Hebrew is not up to much, so I can't tell whether the original Hebrew text

ה וְכָל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶ ה יִמְחֲאוּ־כָֽף׃

is echoed more correctly by the LXX ἐπικροτήσει τοῖς κλάδοις , or by the English translations (from KJV onwards) of 'clap their hands'.
I am rather puzzled. How did this strange interpretation come about? Are their any other similar examples?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Inertia

A curious dull sort of time, the approach to one's annual vacation. I am filled with listlessness: that is, I know that I must make out some lists detailing the articles still required for making the holiday as smooth and as hassle-free as possible (e.g. Do you really want to find yourself without wet-wipes just after you have eaten a three-scoop gelato in the blazing sun? Or paying way over the odds for some antihistamines when the mozzy bite turns nasty? I think not!) This task is seen as mandatory by the bossy, schoolmarmish side of my brain, the one that barks up the stairs 'Have you done your teeth yet?' every morning. And yet....and yet....there is a part of me (presumably the opposite side) that just wants to roll up at the airport with a backpack containing the bare essentials plus some holiday reading, arrive at my destination cool and unconcerned, organise my accomodation on spec (Oooh! Look at that lovely Etruscan well-cover in the courtyard. There! Under the walnut tree!), drift through the weeks unrestricted by schedules and timings, enjoying long lunches and late dinners.
But it'll never happen. At least not in the forseeable future of family holidays where I seem to be chief motivator and organiser. I don't know if it's a question of pride or guilt (See what a fabulous facilitator I am! I have brought TWO sorts of moisturiser!/Oh my God the children will get sunstroke just because I, their incompetent mother, forgot to bring their sunhats!), But I despise myself for being unable to cede control. Moisturiser and sunhats CAN be bought, at shops, by their father if necessary.....
Even knowing this, I fully intend to make a foray into town tomorrow to buy the necessary outstanding items. The languorous woman at the airport is not, and probably never will be, me.