Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar (*spoiler alert*)

Went to see James Cameron's film 'Avatar' today. We don't go to the cinema very often, largely because we fail to organise our leisure time properly, but rather enjoy it when we manage it. It tends to be a school holiday activity, when amusing the troops is a high priority and we have plenty of unoccupied hours. Daughter #3 had spotted the trailers for it on TV, and it was generally agreed that it looked pretty interesting. So we took ourselves of to York City Screen, a very pleasant, smallish venue complete with cafe/wine bar/bistro attached, where they don't mind you taking your wine or coffee into the screen with you, which is very civilised. Donning our 3D specs we sat back and were enthralled by technical wizardry for three whole hours. The storyline was a bit cheesy (noble race of indigenous creatures threatened by nasty corporate greedsters, some love-interest and a big old battle) and rather PC, but the CGI was absolutely fantastic, and I say that as someone who has no particular interest in that sort of thing. The best bits were the 3D rainforests and landscapes and the little insects and creatures that appeared to come out from their depths and actually hover in the middle of the auditorium. The 'dragon'-flying and the battle scenes were mesmerising and gut-grippingly involving and when we emerged, blinking, into the chilly York twilight, we agreed that Dr Who would seem a bit dull in comparison. It was like entering another exotic, far more vivid, world for a portion of the day. You can quite see why people might make use of substances that would engender the same effect - only I don't think a trip to the cinema rates quite as highly on the 'injurious to health' scale. Well worth seeing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Digital Madness

I read TWO very interesting pieces in the Times today which seemed to confirm what I've been increasingly thinking over the past year/eighteen months: that it is easier to assimilate information from a paper, rather than a digital source.
In the course of my research I find myself reading many, many PDFs (mostly from JSTOR online digital journals) and a lot of Google Books (how I hate the way vital pages are always missing from the 'preview'). Ideally, I would print them (the PDFs, that is) all off to read at leisure, but because printer ink is unreasonably expensive and lots of documents are nigh-on forty pages long, I tend to print off only the ones that will definitely be useful. These I store in colour-coded files under relevant headings. Easy-peasy. However, the ones that aren't printed off, I save to my computer in a similarly logical fashion: PhD>PDFs>Linguistics; Socio-Historical; NT Texts etc., etc.
But I find it very hard to recall, at a distance from the initial reading, what relevant snippet of information I have read where amongst my digital resources, and when I attempt to scan through the documents to re-find it, I feel not only a rather unpleasant sensation of disorientation, but a real inability to absorb what it being relayed. In fact, sometimes when I do this, I often find myself thinking 'I really can't be bothered' which is quite disturbing, given that I am now actually being paid to do this! I far prefer to read stuff on paper, and the following speculative article from the Times seems to back this up.

Constant Digital Stupidity

When you're constantly scanning mobile phones and computer screens, your attention is so fragmented that you can't concentrate on one thing. That's known as constant partial attention. The next stage is that you'll start forgetting things, missing important pieces of information and making mistakes, and you'll never get round to quality thinking. This matters at work when you're scanning masses of fast-moving information, you're under pressure to react quickly and you're rushing. At home you have so many pass-words in your head that you forget your PIN and can't get money out, then you phone your bank and can't remember that password.
research will confirm that multitasking is a myth, we'll see phrases such as slow media emerge as people realise that if you read things on paper you are more relaxed, you register more, you reflect and see the big picture. This is why paper is not dead and why,while news will be mostly delivered online, serious comment and analysis and novels will largely stay on paper.

Vindicated! I knew it!
A second piece, from today's Times business section, states that 'print advertising is more than twice as effective as television advertising'. Research, carried out by Microsoft Advertising, confirms that ever £1 spent on print advertising yields £5, compared with £2.15 for television and £3.44 for online advertising. The study recommende that retailers increased online and print advertising budgets by 10% and decreased television advertising by that amount. Not surprisingly, an executive from a television marketing body didn't think much to the findings.

I have to say that I am actually oblivious when it comes to advertising. I tend to like the things I like and am not tempted to diversify. Household and grooming products are not things I ever spend any time thinking about - I do my shopping online because I hate wasting time in supermarkets. Buying white goods, carpeting or furniture is something that I delegate to the Husband. I'm not that bothered about what we end up with. I am not a great target for marketing! Advertising campaigns are just not on my event-horizon. Similarly, if I'm online I find it easy to ignore irrelevance, and our pop-up blocker screens out the majority of unwanted stuff.
That's not to say that I dislike shopping completely - but I am never persuaded to buy things that I wouldn't already be buying, and the stuff I like to buy (second-hand books, bags and deli food) aren't advertised anyway!

Another paragraph in the first article discusses the rather more worrying tendency towards 'digital isolation' where the world is ever-more connected but increasing remote from its fellow-man. Looking around this seems to be true. People look past you in the street as they talk on their mobile phones, are talking as they are served in shops, are isolated from their surroundings with a cocoon of head-phoned, non-stop music. Once upon a time you'd think a person was mad if they were walking along talking to themselves: now you just assume they're using their blue-tooth hands-free! Even in our house, everyone huddles over their own digital gadget. Everyone has a phone and an iPod of some sort; the Husband and I have a laptop each (his is a work one, admittedly) and there is a 'house' PC (pretty bloody temperamental) for general use.

Even in offices people don't communicate, they stare at screens all day. Lunchtime has gone, the dining room has gone, the family sitting around one television has gone.

The piece end with a pretty bleak prediction for the coming years:

Loneliness and depression will become even bigger issues.

Ah! digitalia! Where would we be without it?
Instant gratification, but no true satisfaction. Everywhere and everyone can be accessed, but never really reached. As the article notes, this is why Starbucks is so successful, it gives the isolated home-based laptopper somewhere to work, where they feel part of a (even if somewhat illusory) community. I've certainly taken advantage of their venti lattes over the years!
And this is why I have decided that this coming year our family will be following a partial defragmentation regime. Dinner will take place more regularly around the dining table (we've been slipping into on-knee mode lately), where mobiles will be banned. We will be attending Mass together on a regular basis (never mind about the Sunday morning sporting activities, we'll all make the effort to go to the Saturday night vigil, or the Sunday evening Mass).
Call these my New Year's resolutions....that, plus redoubling my commitment to my PhD (but that, dear reader, is another blog posting....)

Talking to my supervisor at our last meeting about the vast resources of information now available for scholars, I rather stupidly mused on how people managed before the advent of the internet.
He fixed me with a cool eye:
'We went to the library, of course, and met our friends, and then we went for coffee or a drink...'

And no doubt it was a far more sociable and pleasant experience than sitting hunched alone over a computer......

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Drifting Towards the New Year

Boxing Day: a day out of time. I awoke before 5am with creasing stomach pains (almost certainly due to conspicuous overindulgence over the preceding 18 hours) and took myself off downstairs to get a cup of tea and a hot-water bottle. Propping myself up in bed, I attempted to tackle a few pages of Vygotsky's Thought and Language and before long, slid slowly down the pillows into a comfortable enough doze which lasted until gone 9am. By the time we'd all got downstairs it was eleven o'clock and the rest of the day has followed a similar chronologically dislocated form. We've just had French bread, cheese and grapes for lunch, but it's actually just getting dark! Taking the Dog out earlier, the Bright-Eyed Boy and I skittered about perilously on the icy pavement hummocks and decided to forge rather more safely across the still-virgin snow in the park. It's meteorologically very strange: not really freezing, but lethally slippy underfoot where the untreated footpaths have been compacted down. Glad we don't have far to go in the next few days.
When I was very young (three or four) at this time of year we regularly made our way down in our three-wheeler car, in all winds and weather, from the central Highlands of Scotland to visit my widowed granny in her freezing bungalow that smelt of furniture polish. She wasn't the most affectionate or attentive of grandparents and I remember being stupefyingly bored, with nothing to do (no telly) and no-one to talk to, or to play with. Because it was a very long way from Perthshire to Gloucestershire, we generally stayed for a few days, sleeping in the chilly guest room. Never a late riser, I would join Granny first thing in the kitchen as she lit the range and prepared a gloopy sort of porridge, sweetened with saccharine (she was diabetic) on the hotplate. All this was accompanied by a sort of muttered German commentary, the contents of which were a mystery to me. Occasionally we would drop over to visit my paternal uncle and his three children (all older than me) who lived in the next village. I remember the year when there were the most tremendously high snowdrifts (probably the winter of 62-63) and we played out until our hands ached and our feet were blue with the cold inside grown-up sized wellies. Tea at their house generally ended with an enormous sherry trifle, and the taste of sherry trifle can still take me right back to those twilit days.

It could go either way over the next few days: we could carry on feeling relaxed and drowsy - and the snowy weather is certainly conducive to that - or we could start to feel irritable and confined. After we have eaten and drunk as much as we really want, and move on to eating and drinking because it's there, there is a risk that discontentment and boredom will set in, ungrateful wretches that we are. I think we might need a pre-emptive strike. Sadly, the traditional panacea of long walks are off the agenda until the council decide to grit. Daughter #3 could go to rowing tomorrow, which would mean rather an early start but would at least guarantee that we got motivated nice and early. Foraging for wood and chopping logs is very therapeutic, but everything near us is still covered in snow - plus we still have plenty of wood from the summer. So what to do......

A strange time, this dying of the year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Calm

Christmas Eve and all is well. Daughter #3 took part in the annual Christmas Eve mixed quad racing at the rowing club today. It was really atmospheric, the dark water contrasted with the snowy banks and the tops of the Minster towers gradually disappeared into the mist. Everyone was cheerfully decked out in silly costumes and funny hats and threw themselves into the races with enthusiasm. It was a bit parky standing in the snow, but the racers themsleves managed to work up a head of steam. After three lots of three heats, the winners were rewarded with selection boxes and everyone tucked into hotdogs and buns.
This afternoon we went to my elderly parents where we were treated to a lovely curry with all the trimmings, mango jelly, and finally, mince pies and coffee. After a leisurely few hours of chatting we arrived back in York in time to attend the first Mass of Christmas at our local church. It was packed to the rafters, literally standing room only with many people attending that aren't what you'd call regulars....well, they are regular: once a year, at Christmas!!!

So now we are home again: I've decorated the rooms with evergreens, mistletoe is hung above the door, the turkey is thawing, the fire is laid in the grate for tomorrow, the wine is chilling.....

All that remains is a bit of last-minute present wrapping, to be completed when the children are in bed (NOT asleep, that'd be asking too much), and to relax before the onslaught of the day itself. Nine people for Christmas dinner, including daughter #2, her husband and this year's best present so far, my grandson the Bouncing Babba!
Happy Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Barque Slowly Sails the Christmas Sea

Have resigned myself to the inexorably downward slide to Christmas Day and, like the drowning man who gives up struggling and surrenders his vital processes to the waves, I have decided to give in and enjoy it. We spent a splendidly anarchic day (for us, anyway) yesterday rising late, consuming pastries for breakfast and then drifting into town. We spent some time looking in a leisurely fashion around the shops, stocking up on ingredients for proposed festive sweetmeats and then adjourned for lunch at a little Italian cafe/deli where the Bright-Eyed Boy and I were lucky enough to nab a recently vacated table while the Husband stocked up on vin santo, cantuccini and panettone. Several panini, lattes and biscotti later we stumbled off into some more shops where we indulged -yes, that's what we did indeed INDULGED (courtesy of the good old AHRC grant) in various bottles of alcohol (Illy coffee liqueur, Bombay Sapphire gin and Limoncello) small presents and trimmings. It felt goooood not to worry too much about what the January Mastercard bill would bring: all the more so as we are more than familiar with the stomach-clenching sensation of opening an unexpectedly large demand. I know it's a temporary blessed state, but we intend to make the very most of our current good fortune. The B-E-B and I (inspired by his tasty lunch, which he devoured totally) made a rosemary focaccia later in the afternoon which made the basis for a delicious buffet tea of cold meats, cheeses, pickles, olives, wine and the like which had the unfortunate effect of making us supremely thirsty for the remainder of the evening, and needed several cups of tea to slake the craving.
Today, again, we have had a relaxed start to the day and the Husband and daughter #3 have headed townwards to pick up the last few requisites. Soon the B-E-B and myself are going to make some chocolate torrone, which requires a lot of almond toasting and crunching (it is an extraordinarily rich confection, several heart-attacks waiting to happen) but I need to prise him off his latest football game which arrived in the post this morning as a reward for being brave over the past few weeks.

Later, before lighting both the log fires, I intend to head out to pick up some evergreenery to deck the house in Yuletide splendour. I just love doing this task at Christmas: I feel like some medieval peasant, plodding out, breath steaming, hands frozen and this year the snow - certainly deep AND crisp AND even - will add extra atmosphere and a timeless feel to the whole procedure, just like the Breugel painting above.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In the Dark

Daughter #3 hosted a rather lovely soiree at our house last night. I say 'lovely' not because of the hosting arrangements (oh no! they were all rather carefree and ad hoc) but because the girls who attended - all #3's peers - were a simply delightful advertisment for 'the youth of today'. They represented a mix of friends old and new that have coalesced into a band of like-minded allies. Not that there was anything clone-like about them: each one seemed to represent a slightly different facet of young teenagerhood. They were an amusing, polite, gregarious and good-natured crowd and I was more than impressed by the fact that they managed to just sit there and chat and laugh for two hours and (more importantly) NOT SPILL A THING!!! It made me almost nostalgic for the days of ground-in jam sandwiches and trampled sausage rolls.
However, by the time the last liftless girl had been deposited safely home and I had hoovered some errant pine needles, my mind/body - tricked by the bonhomie of the previous few hours - was raring to go. Not even a fairly large glass of wine and the suitably soporific Match of the Day 2 was able to stop me revving in overdrive: Chelsea drew with West Ham? Yay! The Husband, who has decided that today will be his last day at work until after the New Year, was mindful that it was getting late and he was tired. So we adjourned to bed where I sat up reading Saturday's review section until he was snoring gently and I started to worry that the rustle of newsprint would wake him again. Consequently, I moved onto the glossy mag (less rustling) until bored by its silly vanity and cringing hand-wringing. By this time it was ten past midnight, so I lay myself down and turned off the bedside light hoping that sleep would come soon. Not a chance. An hour later I found myself increasingly convinced that I was getting colder and colder under the duvet and remembered that we'd fail to click the heating back on at bedtime. I grudgingly hauled myself to the airing cupboard and fumbled around for the on-switch and turned the thermostat right down. I'd been back in bed for about twenty minutes when it occurred to me that I'd not heard the heating pump come on, which meant that it was still, in effect, getting colder and colder in the bedroom. Indeed, I was convinced that I could feel my steaming breath in the dark. So up again I got and readjusted the thermostat to a slightly higher setting. I paused on the landing for a moment until the pump kicked in and I could stop worrying that the entire central heating system had broken down. That's a major concern in the middle of winter, and in the middle of the night - that, and the oven breaking on Christmas Day, or the freezer in the preceding week.
Well, that was it for the remainder of the night. Worry mode. I should, in hindsight, have just turned the light on and forestalled it all with some cheerful reading, but I was still partially convinced that I would fall asleep before too long. But no, my mind wandered and fretted around the usual unpleasant and cobwebby mental annexes that only open up during the hours of darkness: mortal illness, death, financial straits, and the most recurrent one for me at the moment - the feeling that I will most certainly flunk out of my PhD programme.
I've tried analysing this, and I think it's down to a lack of confidence in my own ability. Certainly my supervisor seems happy enough with my progress at this point in time. He does keep going on about word counts though, as if writing up research on a words-per-day basis can guaranteee its success. I'm not convinced this is true, considering that the early stages of a thesis will mostly consist of reading and making notes and that the donkey-work of writing-up happens at the latter-end when you have a clear model in your head of how (or if!) your proposal really works. I think that if you write up too early, you can run into problems if you come across a staggering piece of scholarship that impacts greatly on your ideas (and that is always a real possibility). It can become a major, major task to weave new revelations into a 'done' text, far more trouble and work than if you were still operating at a notes-and-ideas level. You don't know what you don't know, as Donald Rumsfeld said, until you know it. I am acutely aware that I have done no writing on my chapter since my last supervisory meeting a couple of weeks ago, and yet I seem incapable of doing anything about it: my mind keeps skidding away from the topic as if I have an aversion to it. I think it may be because I feel that I am losing control of the project: my supervisor has very definite ideas about what should be said and I often find myself chivvied down avenues that weren't part of my original plan. Still, I remind myself, he is the expert appointed to keep me on the straight and narrow, and to make sure that I deliver a PhD on target. When I was self-funded and part-time I felt that the PhD was mine: I was the client, was paying the university for their expertise, calling the tune, almost. When I got funding (mirabile dictu!), I ceded control. Other people now have a vested interest in my success and thus my progress. Research has ceased to be a delightful stroll around the charming groves of Academe, with ample pauses to sniff at random wayside blooms, it has become a goal-driven, progress assessed slog, with value-added, transferable-skill distractions en route.
When I was a child - and indeed as I grew older, my life seemd to consist of a series of disappointments. I never got the presents I really, really wanted for Christmas (and they were never extravagant) - I got the cheaper, less-desirable version. My friends were always less fun and cheerful than I had expected them to be, having been a voracious reader of Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers. Summer holidays were not golden and tranquilly idyllic, but long and dull and spent trawing around garden centres. My teenage clothes were a home-made approximation of what was then in the achingly fashionable Chelsea Girl chain. My boyfriends were generally off-hand and distant, and likewise an early doomed marriage was characterised by my husband's reluctance to be more than token, beery presence in his children's lives. All in all it seemed to me that, somehow, I always got less than the best because I probably wasn't worth anyone's full attention or effort. I was easy to ignore, write-off, dismiss as trivial, as a winging, neurotic perfectionist who should be damned happy she'd actually got what she'd got.

It wasn't until much later when I met someone who thought I was actually pretty remarkable that my self-confidence grew to the degree that I felt that...yes, I was worth the effort and, yes, I did have something to contribute, and I was utterly transformed and went from strength to strength.

But still deep down, there is that little girl who expects to be let down and feels that she is probably not up to much, who can't bring herself to 'waste' money on a decent haircut for herself and who is not surprised when 'friends' cancel a lunch engagement. And thus (I guess) it is with my doctoral studies. Surely the AHRC must have been mistaken in giving me funding? Me? They expect me to produce something worthwhile? Don't they realise that I will probably let the side down, fail to deliver? Last year, because I was 'in the driving seat', so to speak, I was only ever going to disappoint myself if I did not complete. No biggy. Now that there additional factors, parties and expectations attached to my PhD, I feel burdened by self-doubt and guilt. I am a shabby investment. It's not a great feeling, and one that, in the dark, in the middle of the night dammit!, returns to haunt me again and again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Honour Killings: An Unpleasant Look at the Truth

The murder - with the apparent knowledge of her family - of the Turkish teenager Tulay Goren has once again brought into focus the nastier side of family life. Many will no doubt have thrown up their hands in horror at this tale of patriarchalism, oppression of women, pride and shame, and thank God that we Anglo-Saxons are so much more enlightened and liberal.
Oh really?

Isn't it a matter of fact that this honour-culture is really not so very far removed from the sort of behaviour that has been rife in Western culture since the year dot? The mind-set that saw a father hunt down, tie-up, drug and eventually kill his own flesh and blood is at one end of a continuum which has its roots just as firmly in middle England as in Southern Turkey.

It's no so very long ago that a young woman, finding herself pregnant and unmarried, faced social ostracism, with recourse only to highly risky abortions or banishment until the illegitimate child was born, to distant relations or in special homes where they were treated as moral degenerates. A veil of secrecy and silence cloaked these 'shameful' events. Family members colluded with one another to suppress the truth and save face in the community. Children were raised in strange, dislocated relationships where the 'mother' was actually the grandmother, or a childless cousin. There are many stories in the media of these poor, sad birth-mothers being reunited after many, many decades of separation from their offspring, lamenting the wasted years of mourning babies who grew up without them, and of the children whose lives were often rocked or ruined by the revelation that 'we aren't actually your biological parents'. How is that sort of collusion and covert manipulation of lives any different from what we are reading in the papers this very day?

There's a lot of it about under the thin veneer of liberalism and nominal equality of our society, a poisonous, conditional love that is often granted to the very people that deserve our absolutely unequivocal support and devotion, for they are flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, our children, our families.

How often - even nowadays - do we hear of parents who 'lose' contact with children who disappoint in some way? Because these oft-labelled mavericks 'fail' the parents by attaching themselves to a partner deemed 'unsuitable' in class, creed or colour; by leading lives that the family fail to comprehend (as if real love should depend at all on comprehension or approval!), by being gay, converting or marrying out of a religion, or unemployed, mentally ill, a substance abuser, or merely humanly fallible, not measuring up in some way - 'different' from the rest of the brood, and against whom the cudgel of expectation and normality is wielded?

Snivelling humanity has a history of trying to claw its way up the social pile, careless of treading on one another in an attempt to make it to the top of the heap. There being strength in numbers, it helps if there are other climbers singing off the same hymn sheet and giving one another a bunk up on the way. Strength in numbers and all that. And while this is a seemingly altruist family-friendly scramble, the concealed underbelly revealed is that people who aren't going with the family flow and kow-towing to the pack leader are seen as endangering the ascent of the entire upwardly mobile mass.

It all has its genesis in post-WW2 Britain: A nation frightened to death by the ravening maw of totalitarian otherness, shrank into itself, wrapping desperate material greed and social aspiration around its chipper, mustn't-grumble respectability. A nation emerged that increasingly prided itself on 'having', on competing with the neighbours with one eye cocked over the top of the Daily Express and the privet hedge. Anything that compromised keeping up with the Joneses, or being seen as socially acceptable and upwardly mobile was given as short a shrift as an unwanted kitten in a weighted sack. No room for sentiment or regret. Far better if you cut out the poisoned flesh. Your child has let you down? Cast them off without a backward glance as an aberration, a bad seed. Certainly let your disapproval be felt, loud and clear - but behind bolted doors and tighly pulled curtains. Smile at the neighbours and continue as if nothing has happened: let no trace of sentiment show...this child has betrayed you, your way of life and all that you stand for!
[You say my daughter hasn't been seen around for many weeks? I shrug and smile and voice some banality about the unpredictability of girls. My family will not be shamed, I will countenance no stain on its honour, no matter the cost or the suffering. We are all united in this!]

Conditional love, love that is doled out as a reward for keeping to the script is no love at all. It is a depressing fact that many people only love those around them if they bolster their own self-image. Witness the Mums that deck their toddler girls as mini-me's to prance around in front of the X-factor. Or Dads who shout abuse at their sons from the touchlines of junior football leagues. Or husbands discarding no-longer young or desirable wives, or wives discarding newly redundant husbands.

It is a selfish 'love', one that is concerned with rewarding what a person does, not what they are. And while we are rightly appalled at the murder of a fifteen year old girl who took up with an 'unsuitable' man, we would do well to reflect on the difference between a mote and a plank, and the subtle gradations between the two.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas looms.....

The last week before the schools break up for Christmas and, as usual I am torn between relief and alarm. Relief that, from Monday next, we won't have to get up at the crack of dawn for a while (dawn?...it was still pitch black an hour after that, at 7.30 this morning) to set the family juggernaut in motion: Alarm that, as usual, I have achieved far less than I'd hoped to have done academically by this point in time. It's been particularly hard over the past few weeks, what with the Bright-Eyed Boy's ongoing virus/anxiety problems and the distractions of the German reading skills assignment/assessments. I keep looking at my marked up thesis chapter and putting it down again - I need to spend a good few hours at a stretch to make inroads on my supervisor's comments. Today, for example, I have grudgingly done the usual bare-minimum household stuff (plus some Christmas card writing) and now find myself staring at German verb tables in preparation for tommorrow's in-class grammar test. I am annoyed that I care how I do in it - I really cannot afford the time, but feel compelled to put in a good performance. Tch! What a pain!
I think that I'm going to have to start using my satellite (bedroom) study again over Christmas, as the ground floor will be given over to toys, games, telly watching and (after Christmas Day itself) two electric guitars! It was a real God-send having that bit of personal space in the summer and meant that I felt I was actually maintaining control over the doctoral process, rather than letting everything slip during the holidays. It will probably help if I have some sort of rudimentary plan to stick to as well, so that - even on the most unproductive of Yule-tide days - I manage to feel that I've achieved at least something, which is absolutely essential so that panic doesn't set in come January! Parsing Greek verbs is always a good task: working my way through the Pauline epistles in this way is really quite dull (but absolutely esssential for helping me spot discourse prominence) - but like most dull and mechanical tasks, can be done with less than 100% concentration and can become soothing and even therapeutic. I shall shut my laptop down soon and head of into town. I am acutely aware that I need a bit of a break, and will be doing myself no favours by flogging an unwilling horse.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Turning the Corner

After a pretty horrendous few weeks of assorted illness and stress we seem to have turned a corner. The Bright-Eyed Boy is certainly a lot better than he was seven days ago, and whatever was wrong with him (and I suspect that a rather nasty, but seemingly innocuous, virus had thoroughly disrupted his chemistry) seems to be finally leaving his system. Daughter #3 ,who last week uncharacteristically spent an entire day in bed laid up with the snottiest cold ever, returned to rowing-training last night. She was pretty pooped after it, but still managed to stay up way past her bed-time organising her friends' end-of-term party (chez nous - don't ask how that happened). The dog's upset stomach also seems to be getting better. Thank goodness! I was dreading an extended and expensive session at the vet.
I am also feeling...well...less despairing actually, which is a massive relief (DG) because I certainly didn't like the way I was feeling this time last week. The extremely low mood was probably largely due to worry about the Boy, disrupted sleep and the lack of sunlight.

However, the husband woke early this morning complaining that 'all the bones' in his face ached and the B-E-B started complaining about a sore throat. Daughter #3's cold is making its way around the household no doubt. But strangely enough everyone is pretty cheerful. I just hope that, in an effort to keep going until Christmas, I don't get another virus like the one that laid me out and robbed me of my seasonal enthusiasm last year!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Trumpet-Blast Against the Monstrous Onslaught of Admin

Friday again, and my morning has disappeared like mist. The Bright-Eyed Boy is still not properly well, having spent the past couple of days inert on the sofa and refusing food. I've just managed to get a toasted ham and cheese muffin down him without any sicky repercussions (thus far). He seems a lot brighter and, with the exception of the trace of a headache (query: dehydration), certainly on the up. The Husband managed to work from home yesterday while I went down to uni for a 'presentation skills' workshop. I'm getting those boxes on my training needs form ticked at a rapid rate
Pity they're all largely useless and extremely distracting from the job in hand: i.e. research.
I find that it takes me a good few hours to get into the swing of productive scholarly thinking, and another few hours to make any decent headway and put some writing down. Pearls of thought are hard come by and require some extremely oysterly grinding of grit. The ratio of words-read to words-writ is about 10:1 at a conservative estimate - possibly more like 20:1. So anything that distracts is an unproductive irritant.

I was talking to the Husband about this and we decided that the modern mania for monitoring progress and outcomes has meant that we largely spend our time writing about our processes rather than actually doing them. Thus, the result of our investigations tends to show that we are failing as a result of not spending as much time on them as we should. This has the unfortunate effect that, in an attempt to rectify these apparent failures, more strategies are generated. As there are only so many hours in the working day, implementation of the strategies to deal with the first set of failing strategies bites further chunks out of the time that by now is desperately needed to be spent on the original process. We become locked into a downward spiral of assured failure.

What is needed is a return to academic roots. Stop hobbling scholars (and their supervisors) with all this 'quality control', 'investors in people', feedback, outcome bolony.
Universities: say to your post-grad students "Go away, read, research and write. Then come to me occasionally for a chat." The net result will be that the dedicated will stay the course, unfettered by admin and will produce the academic goods. Those that aren't, won't. But at least we won't be in the position of propping up weak candidates who probably couldn't survive the vicious cut and thrust of academia.
Of course, universities are not run for academic or teaching excellence any more. There's no message about the joy of learning for learning's sake, of education as broadening the mind and horizon rather than lining the pocket. Universities are run like the business sector and often managed by its economic migrants. It's all about bums-on-seats and cash in the bank. The way that departments are funded encourages the churning out of publications, not investment in teaching. Departments whose staff don't publish don't get funding, no matter how superb their track record of teaching is. Esoteric courses are ended in favour of more relevant ones. You try finding somewhere that teaches Sanskrit or Syriac. Rare learning and skills are going to be lost and, as they say in supermarkets, WIGIG: when it's gone, it's gone. The same way as the passenger pigeon or the Caspian tiger. And, sadly, just as unlikely to be revived.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Na.....the Bright Eyed Boy is actually poorly....not a psychosomatic thing at all as I'd feared, but some kind of nasty virus that's given him, in turn, a headache (yes - I've done the meningitis checks), nausea, lassitude, tummy pain and general feeling of 'off it'. No temperature as yet though....So he's flaked out on the sofa clutching a bottle of water to sip and watching his way through all the Sky Sport channels (about their only use....!).
I really needed to go to town today, but that's obviously off the agenda. At uni. tomorrow, so hopefully the husband will be able to work from home (and will probably get more done in reality, away from distractions). A funny sort of day, here in my little doctoral bubble - revising some work to submit and keeping an eye on the invalid. It'll be dark soon. Another day gone forever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who, Who, Who Let the Marmite?

Absolutely typical. Today was German Reading Skills so I hopped over the hill to my local uni. (not my actual alma mater) for two hours of grammar, revision (eek! better learn those imperfects!) Kafka and to hand my assignment in (feeling rather pleased with myself). I'd turned my mobile off and when I got home the house phone was ringing: it was my Ma-in-law saying that she'd had to fetch the Bright-Eyed Boy home from school as he'd been complaining about feeling sick/dizzy/faint (again - this has been going on since a rather unpleasant incident at school the other week). I groaned. It's the THIRD time he's come home from school early in about ten days. I think it's largely psychological as he's the sort of little fella who somatises his anxiety. Worry really does make him feel sick.
Anyhoo - I was in the middle of my rather late lunch: 2 slices of toast & Marmite and a cup of tea. Leaving it on my desk, I immediately went to the car, slamming the front door behind me.....and realised the key bunch I'd picked up didn't actually have my house-keys in it. Nor did I have my mobile with me. And I was in my slippers.
Luckily, daughter #2 lives just round the corner and was in, so I borrowed her bunch and proceeded to the in-laws. The B-E-B was certainly looking a bit wan, but also a slightly shifty, and the M-I-L was hyperbolacally making much of his symptoms. I was not really either impressed or so convinced. Trouble is, the school is very keen to ship them off home at the first sign of a 'bug' (stops it spreading , I guess). Took him back home and made him comfy on the sofa. Two minutes later the boy was shouting to tell me 'the dog's being sick - I've let her out the back!'. I raced through and found a small pile of dog barf on the back doormat.....and a much larger pile in the kitchen - with my half-eaten toast and Marmite nestling in the middle of it! Grrr! I told her off for being opportunistic and greedy (well - more like 'Dirty dog! Bad dog!' actually), made two fresh slices, and warmed my by-then-cold tea in the microwave. Two o'clock and not a stroke of doctoral work done. Typical. Absolutely typical.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Time and Thyme Again

The German tutor was quite specific - "Do NOT" she said "leave your assignment until the last minute. It'll take quite a few hours to make a good job of it." So here I am, with barely 48 hours to hand-in, staring at an unwritten commentary (if you can stare at something that doesn't exist). *sigh*
It's quite worrying, the way that time telescopes in on itself, like a piece of tissue paper self-crumpling before my eyes. It's all a question of priorities: I spent much of last week dividing my time on writing up a draft chapter for my next supervisory meeting, and parsing Greek verbs to form my own corpus of the Pauline verbs (don't ask - it's a long story!). I need to make steady progress with that to keep on track. Somehow, I kept back-staging the German project, although we'd had two weeks to complete it. I have done the translations (last weekend, after spending all Saturday at a conference that wasn't really relevant, as it transpired), but life just keeps getting in the way. I feel compelled to remain polite and sociable, but having a morning (actually, a couple of mornings) monopolised by someone that has no idea of the pressure I'm under or what I have to do, is making me increasingly twitchy.

Today, the Husband and daughter #3 are competing at the British Indoor Rowing Championships down in Birmingham, so a lot of yesterday was taken up by preparation for that, culminating in taxi-ing them to catch their train. Today, I had to mobilise the in-laws to take the Bright-Eyed Boy to his junior league football match as I was reading in church first thing. So I zoomed off to the pitch after delivering a section of John's Apocalypse (one of my favourite books of the Bible: super-weird!) and stood watching his team getting trounced in the biting wind. Then home again in time to catch a webcam deliver a garbled and halting coverage of the d#3's race. Then a number of phone calls to the Husband, who had recovered from his magnificent race earlier this morning (SEVEN seconds faster than his all-time PB! What a star!!), a trip to the shop to stock up on fruit, veg and bread for the week, home again to chop and cover the veg with olive-oil to slowly oven-roast with sliced pork, apples and thyme. And now it's 2.45pm and I've only just had lunch and a sit-down. No wonder I'm feeling shaky and weak. Before long they'll be on their way home, so another trip to the station will be in order, then dinner and sharing the excitement and then I'll probably keel over with a glass of wine.

Ah me! Where will I fit the German in? Tomorrow, I guess. But it's the father-in-law's birthday this week and no present's been bought yet (I know, I know). Tuesday IS German Reading Skills Day (you see, at least I remember that now), Wednesday, I have to email my portion of work in to uni for next week. Thursday, I'm actually going down to uni to do a 'presentation skills' workshop (ugh!). Then Friday, which is when my dear old Mum and Dad will probably land squarely at 10.30 and raise their eyebrows that I haven't been keeping up with current political events or even housework*. And I was up at 5.15 this morning, which doesn't help. I did manage to do some 'serious' reading on Pauline metaphors, but I'm feeling a bit stale now. I think I'll have a look at one of the poems in a few minutes and make some notes about the more obvious features. It's Lit. Crit. - you can say pretty much anything you like as long as you back it up with evidence! So I will.

* they don't understand that it ranks pretty low on this house's agendum: my Mum is still fussing around with a duster and Dad's tea on a tray at 80, and makes constant reference to cooking, gardening and busying about as having to do with woman's sense self-worth . O pur-lease!!! Rod? Own back?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Head Down

I've spent most of the past few days sitting in front of the computer working on my doctoral studies. The weather has been very wet and windy, so the idea of venturing out hasn't been that appealing. This means that I'm rattling along nicely with my chapters and getting into the swing of dedicating most of my day to study. But I'm very aware that most of my day is spent pretty well motionless, and what with the temptation to punctuate thought with a coffee break (and a biscuit, of course) it's not a recipe for healthy living. I've long since given up the pretension of going to the gym. Just before the summer holidays (while I was still doing my PhD part-time), I made a few desultory attempts to go, but I resented the time spent on boring cardio work and kept putting my neck out with weights. I had a bit of an epiphany when I looked about and saw all these grim, humourless faces pounging it out on the treadmills like raddled hamsters and thought 'God! They're so busy trying to stay fit and prolong their lives that they are no longer enjoying them!' So I never went back, despite the fact my membership doesn't run out 'til February. They can keep it - the point of life is life, as Goethe said. Now I'm studying full-time, and being paid for it, I really can't spare the sort of time required to make a difference.
That being said, if the weather's good, we walk the school-run (dog in tow, a mile there and a mile back), and I'll walk at a brisk pace into the middle of town if I feel like a break. I used to quite enjoy swimming, but because I do that stupid woman-keeping-head-out-of-chlorinated-water swimming style, my neck wasn't too good after it. Plus I resented the inordinate time it seemed to take to get showered, wash my hair, get dried and dressed again. I guess I'm either lazy, or impatient, or possibly both.
There's something about the dark evenings that encourage eating large amounts of carbs too: pasta, pies, mash, baked spuds...and a nice glass of wine too, before snuggling torpidly down on the sofa for David Attenborough. The Christmas hols aren't too far off either, and although they are trying for a number of different reasons (see last Christmas's posts), this year I am rather looking forward to the blurring of the presently sharply-defined compartments of the daily routine. Sherry for elevenses, anyone?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Slip of the Mind

Back into the swing of things after our busy half-term and I'm already flagging. The week started splendidly with my birthday (hooray!), but that in itself meant that I had to be generally sociable, look pleased and receive guests. I ended up going out for lunch with daughter #2 which bisected the day so completely that I ended up not doing any doctoral stuff at all. OK, no panic then, I start in earnest on Tuesday morning: so I did, and made reasonable progress on 'intentionality', got a number of interesting points down on paper, read a few PDFs (I could really do with a Sony iReader to store them on - I must have killed off a small copse by now in printing them out), had a think about 'reader response'...couldn't decide what I thought anymore, as per usual etc. etc. The husband came home and, over dinner, asked how it was going. Fine , I said, I just have to look at my German Reading Skills prep. for tomorrow, then O M G! The sudden realisation that I had, in fact, missed the tutorial which had been that very morning!!!! I'd been so intent on making progress on my chapters that the class had been completely forgotten. Ever get that nasty cold wave that starts at the top of the skull and seeps right down the spine? Well, I did. I generally pride myself on punctuality and attendance, and now I had ****ed up big style, particularly since I had missed the previous week through being abroad. Doesn't look too good, does it? Especially as it wasn't a course that I had been overly keen on taking, it was really just to tick an appropriate box on my 'training needs' record at uni. To an outsider it could look like truculence, whereas it was, in fact, pure forgetfulness. I found it quite disturbing actually, to have been so obliviously unaware that I'd been missing something. Thinking about it rationally (once I'd calmed down and fired off a grovellingly apologetic email to the tutor), I think I'd had it at the back of my mind that the class was on Wednesdays -as it had originally been scheduled when I 'd registered back in July - and somehow I had defaulted back to that unconscious setting since our first session a couple of weeks ago. Oops! I have tried very hard to catch up (future + conditional tenses, plus literary appreciation of the poet Rilke), but it was a salutary lesson in remembering to write scheduled stuff in the diary.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Oh dear....during a conversation with an agnostic friend the other day, the talk turned to spirituality and then religion, the result of which was that she started to question me, very kindly and interestedly, about my faith. And I'm afraid to say that I did not give a very good account of it or myself. I always find it difficult to discuss my beliefs with anyone, as - I have to confess - I'm not entirely certain what they are myself. I just can't put what I feel into words or rationalise it in a way that either sounds satisfactory or coherent.
It's like trying to communicate what the feeling of 'being in love' is like to someone that never has been.
A lot of people can empathise with the awe that one feels in a great cathedral, or be moved by sacred music, or love to see the incense-filled spectacle of the Mass, or be moved by icons and flickering candle light and I admit that it is difficult to define exactly what it is I feel in addition to the uplift that these things certainly give. To the rational mind (like my friend) that is all there is: a need for the feeling of transcendence, and there may be a lot of truth in the neuroscientists' claims that man is 'hard-wired' to feel religious. Maybe I'm not really a 'true believer' as I harbour a great many doubts, both about the church and the religious tenets that it espouses. I carry my doubts about as rather regrettable baggage that stands in the way of my unquestioning acceptance. I'd really like a true, clear faith, unclouded by dark 'what-ifs'. But I haven't got one. I don't really know if God exists, or if Jesus was his son - but I act like I do because I want (and trust) it to be the case. I want it to be the case that this life doesn't end at the grave, that we do - in some form, either bodily or atomic - meet our loved ones in a love that transcends death. I keep these feeings in tension - not entirely happily - within me, as I know that there will be no resolution in this life. Not for me blind, unquestioning obedience to the church either. I am not happily yoked, although I still pay lip-service it and am happy that there are such black and white, incontravertible teachings handed down to us. I know that the church has been responsible for some absolutely terrible things being done in the name of Christianity, awful unforgivable abuses of power. That is a fact that cannot be escaped, but power in any organised form can give rise to horror. It is part of our flawed humanity, the need to dominate and control at any price - and it cannot be excused. So how do I convince her that what I feel is either real or, indeed, desirable? Well - I can't. I just know that once I had precious little faith, and then (after an epiphany of sorts) I did, as if I had suddenly grown another layer of consciousness, or extra organ that supplies it, and it is refuelled by the liturgy and beauty of the church. And if that sounds lame or self-deluding, I'm sorry. But that's how it is. I'm mute in the face of questions, because it's not something that can be rationally explained away or even given voice to. The nearest analogy that I can give is the 'magic eye' pictures that were popular around ten years ago. On first examination they appeared to be an unintelligible mess of colour and pattern, but if you relaxed your vision - 'gave in', in a way - and looked beyond the picture, an image startlingly appeared to hover in front of your eyes. And the strange thing is, once you could see it, you couldn't 'unsee' it.
Well, my faith is somewhat like that....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The long dry and mostly sunny autumn seems to have eventually come to an end: today is distinctly cold, dreary and wet. Daughter #3 has very bravely gone off to rowing-training, though I don't imagine it'll be as much fun as it was in the lovely mellow days just gone. She's doing tremendously well and has taken part in a couple of races, thoroughly enjoyed them and won a couple of medals. She is so good at organising herself for this, her guitar lessons and school that it's difficult to remember that she's still only twelve. Twelve, and on her road to independence. I am, by turns, very proud of her and sadly nostalgic that she's growing up so fast. I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed by my doctoral studies. Not that I'm not enjoying them - I really am - it's just that having got funding, the pressure is on to crank up the pace to submit in two and a half year's time - not the five years that I'd originally scheduled. There is so much to do and so much I don't know that even chipping away at it bit-by-bit is quite daunting. Luckily my supervisor is excellent and keeps my feet firmly on the ground, so I don't have the hassle that a lot of my friends have had with unsatisfactory working relationships. The only thing I'm finding a bit of a trial is the obligatory hoop-jumping that seems part and parcel of PhD work nowadays. 'Investors in People' meets academia: paper trails and finding and completing exercises just to have them box-ticked on my training-needs record. Honestly - I'm coasting downhill towards retirement. I'm not realistically going to find gainful employment at the end of the day, am I? (fair enough, my younger colleagues have none of them, to a man, found a job in their chosen field), so why pretend that all this time-consuming workshop attendance is anything more than a form filling exercise that takes me away from the real business of writing?
Half-term looms again (can't believe we're nearly half way to Christmas this term already) and fortunately we've lined up a real treat: Barcelona, courtesy of Airmiles earned through shopping at Tesco. Brilliant - I can't wait, never having been there before. I'm going to try and savour every single moment, not get too stressed over the travel arrangements (like I usually do), and take time to stand and gaze in awe at all the unfamiliar stuff around me. It should be lovely, and a much needed break for the Husband, whose job is pushing him into meltdown, if not complete burn-out.....

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Glimpse of Eternity

Daughter #3 and I went into town this morning to see the relics of St Therese of Lisieux which are in the Minster before making their way (not under their own steam, obviously) to Leeds' and then Middlesbrough's cathedrals. Despite being allegedly incorrupt (and apparently emitting the odour of roses on inspection), the remains themselves were not on open display, being enclosed in a tiny casket within a glass case. The faithful and the curious filed by respectfully touching the glass with their prayer cards to absorb some of the sanctity of the saint who died at the age of 24 never having left her convent. Her 'little way', is seento be achievable by absolutely anyone - to do any task or service, however menial, with complete love. Relics are indeed curious things, dividing even the faithful in their reactions to them. Some, like my Pa-in-Law, shudder at the thought of them (squeamishness? horror mortis?), others reverence them deeply. I'm most certainly not in the former camp, nor yet really in the latter: I am curiously drawn to them, and will seek them out if given half the chance. The continent is particularly rich in relics and any self -respecting cathedral has a number of mummified body parts, splinters of the true cross, phials of saints' blood, and bones mounted in crystal reliquaries, usually badly top-lit by buzzing neon tubes. The family is either quite resigned to, or heartily sick of, what they see as my almost prurient interest them. But do I love to visit them. I can't quite describe the feeling that I get in the presence of relics. I tried to describe it the Husband (I'm not sure he really understood) as a feeling of mildew: of timelessness, like you get from the smell of incense or hot candle-wax, damp wood or cement; from the sound of distant dripping water, or the feel of your hand on marble; the sight, on dull drizzly days, of gloomy thickly carpeted altars in dim side-chapels, covered in faded silk flowers or dead roses; those flickering votive candle-bulbs that light up at the drop of a coin. A feeling of unity with all those who have prayed there before, lives lived and gone, young girls who became mothers who became old women. Red velvet covered by heavy white lace. Whispering. Candles. Holiness.

I can't quite remember which was the first relic I ever saw. I think it was the tongue of St Antony of Padua (he was a renowned orator). I remember thinking, full of atheistic eleven year-old scorn, that it looked like a raspberry. Not long after we were taken to the relic-filled treasury of St Mark's in Venice by some devout Italian family friends. I revisited these when we went back there this spring and was not disappointed. Rome was well-endowed too, and we visited the Capuchin crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione on the via Veneto to see the ossuary where the dead monks' bones and remains decorate the dank subterranean walls. In St Peter's we visited the undercroft where Pope John-Paul II is buried in a flower strewn tomb amongst his papal predecessors. Even my daughter's school has the mummified hand of St Margaret Clitheroe in its chapel (she says that it looks like a rice crispie). I would like to sit in their presence and try to fathom out what it is that I feel, but the children are too antsy and the Husband, although kindly tolerant and nominally Catholic, would rather not. One day I will take myself off to Rome and find a quiet church (St Ignazio has a wonderful altar with a crimson-robed saint in tiny slippers and a silver death-mask) and sit there and think, and work out what exactly it is that I get from the dead. (below: the relics of St Robert Bellarmine, St Ignazio, Rome)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

..and then they all come at once!

Things never seem to occur singly: within the space of one month I found a £20 note fluttering down the street (hooray), was informed that, as I had reached 50 years of age, I could take my pension as a lump sum (double hooray - it paid off my student account overdraft), and that I had been awarded funding for the remainder of my PhD (triple hooray....still can't quite believe it). On the down-side my Ma AND Pa-in-law both had accidents that necessitated hospitalisation (the latter's being a lot more serious than the former's)...we're awaiting a third occurrence. And today chez nous we have a broken kitchen hot tap (very difficult to rinse grease off plates), a dishwasher whose heater element has given up heating (so HOW do we do the washing-up?) and the Husband's rear bike tyre exploded whilst he was riding to work! All the last three can fortunately be coped with thanks to the fact that I am now in receipt of my 'stipend', but it's not exactly what I envisaged spending it on! And looking grey-faced at the latest credit card bill my other half voiced his gratitude that I was 'now in a position to help out'. Fan-flaming-tastic.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Perfect Wedding

The wedding could not have been better: the day dawned bright and cloudless, the preparations on the day ran smoothly (bar a little crying session from the Bouncing Baby), the traffic was minimal and everyone arrived at the registry office in plenty of time. The groom was immaculately turned out, as were the groomsmen who soothed his understandable nervousness; the bride positively glowing, looking beautiful in her empire-line pearl-trimmed dress, clutching a small bouquet of cream roses, purple lizzianthus twined with pearls and trailing ivy. Daughter #3 (a bridesmaid) stood tall in her pretty purple dress, with a posy that matched the bride's flowers. The Bright-Eyed Boy was smart in his co-ordinated mave-striped shirt and purple tie. Indeed, we were all smart - and happy. The ceremony was brief, as was the photography session, and then the wedding party made its way on foot through the Museum Gardens (pausing for more photos on the way) to the restaurant where the reception was being held. The champagne flowed freely, the food was delicious, the company excellent. The guests went their separate ways and later reunited in the newly-weds garden to continue celebrating with cake and more sparkly stuff until the sun went down. What a perfect day: may it be the first of many.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Boring Blogs

Where O where are some interesting blogs? The blogosphere is quite arid at the moment! Just a load of dull lists and cross-postings that could have been generated by an info-bot. You're all very boring and I'm going to delete my favourites list unless someone posts something interesting that has a bit of personal investment in it. Let me know what you THINK, not who's been doing what: I can find that out by myself , thank you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Intriguing Discovery

Actually I already knew he was there, only I thought that he was a she.....

In the Catalan-Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria Immacolata in Alghero, Sardinia, is a modest chapel to the rear right of the main altar. It is plain and undecorated, unremarkable in every way save that under the altar (whose tabernacle is in a sorry state of disrepair) is a glass-fronted sarcophagus. And within this lies what appears to be a body, lying supine, dressed in silk robes, the shoulders and slightly lolling head supported on a pillow. The face is pale but attractive, the eyes and mouth are half-closed in what may almost appear to be ecstasy - but there is a sizeable gash that running across the base of the neck. The expression is reminiscent of Bernini's St Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

This wax-covered effigy contains the bones of St Donaziano, an early Roman-Christian martyr whose remains (from the catacombs of Rome) were gifted to the wealthy Algherese Garibaldi-Piccinelli family in 1845 by Cardinal Costantino Patrizi . After passing through various members of the family's hands, it was eventually donated to the cathedral and installed in its Chapel of the Holy Spirit, where it lies to this day.
The relics were received into the cathedral on October 25th 1913 with great solemnity, an occasion recorded in local dialect in the archives of the Bishop of Alghero. There also seems to have been an authentication of the remains:
È tosto accertata l’identificazione del corpo del santo martire per i caratteri di esatta corrispondenza che presenta col rescritto rilasciato ai maggiori della donatrice dal card. Patrizi, vicario di S. Santità in Roma nel 1845.
A conferma e chiarezza maggiore si aggiunge che il corpo del santo, formato dal suo scheletro rivestito di cera e vestito in abito romano, presenta una larga ferita al collo, e giace (la testa sopra tre cuscini di seta) in un’urna di legna esternamente da tre parti dorata e chiusa da tre vetri. Dentro l’urna è pure l’ampolla di sangue ritrovata nel suo loculo. All’urna è annessa una piccola lapide marmorea colla iscrizione «Donatiano Te in pace». Dai lati esterni, verso il capo e i piedi del santo, si notano quattro impressioni di ceralacca con timbro poco leggibile. L’urna è riposta in una cassa di legno, aperta da tre lati, sormontata da mensa con pietra sacra, per la celebrazione della Santa Messa.

And it was in the cathedral that I first noted him on our first visit to Sardinia, although I have to admit that for six years I did think that he was a female, and it was only on finally discovering his name that I realised that I had been wrong all along! The mode of death appears to be typically Roman - a short sword is either thrust into the neck or driven down adjacent the collar bone skewering the thorassic organs and severing major blood vessels. Death would be, if not instantaneous, then certainly rapid (see below).
Very little is actually known about this St Donaziano: even his name - which might be translated as 'St Donation' or 'Gift' - is suspicious for one whose bones were given as a present, and the trade in 'relics' was traditionally notorious for fraudulent claims. There are at least 18 saints known by variants of this name, including the female Roman martyr St Donata, whose relics, along with those of her companions Hilaria, Nomiflanda, Paulina, Rustica, and Serotina are enshrined in the Via Salaria Catacombs, in Rome.
But I'm not sure that that is important. These wax-covered bones have been the focus of pious Algherese prayers for many years. And if one were to ask for saintly intercession, who better to invoke than one currently not too overburdened with requests?

Pruttetor sés declarat
San Donaziano a l’Alghé
un màrtir que glòria té
del pòpul sempra alabat.
Un eroica virtut
a l’Alghé estem gozant
gràcia de l’Espírit Sant
que aquest Sant avem tengut
gran relíquia y ha vengut
singular y de plajé.
Protector ec. ec.
Un àngel de puritat
en l’Alghé avui tenim
en devoció nul pranim
que serà nostru avvucat
vergin martirizzat
prova que és mort per la fé.
Protector sés declarat
San Donaziano a l’Alghé.
Prova santa y giusta ha dat
deffenent la religió
essent ancara mignó
a los devuit ayns en poca etat
per Gesús sacrificat
avui quanta glòria té.
Protector ec. ec.
Giaquè goza eterna glòria
amba devoció sa miri
Déu ly ha rendit lo glyri
y la palma de la victòria
del pòpul fassi memòria
que na tenim manasté.
Protector ec. ec.
Decimosesto Gregori
de l’Alghé gia s’és dignat
aquest papa lu Sant ha dat
amba devoció s’adori
gràcia en general emplori
que axí és lo nostru prajé.
Protector ec. ec. ec.
Per medi de un algueresa
s’és dignat a cumpació
amba fe y religió
tota a egl s’és emprumisa
un señora cortesa
aquest tesor avuy té.
Protector ec. ec.
Gràcia emplori en general
en plúvia y serenitat
de pesta y calamitat
nus deffenghi en lu temporal
féu que al espiritual
cadaú pensi al maggior bé.
Protector ec. ec.
De un tesor tant preciosíssim
na forma un gran santuari
amba un begl reliquiari
de la sang sua puríssima
o màrtyr gloriosíssim
biada la casa que lo té.
[Protector ec. ec.]
Per diura del sou flagellu
suffrinnu amba tot amor
flagello de gran dulor
lu que ha soffrit poverello
Aquell tyranno ribello
de escannarlu ly dighé.
Protector ec. ec.
Un cop murtal en lu cap ly han dat
y al bras un altra ferida
la que ly ha troncat la vida
era quant l’han escannat
la que lu cor ly ha trapassat
y és mort amba gran prajé.
Protector s’és declarat ec. ec.
La sua vida és accabada
y Déu la glòria ly dóna
una celeste curona
y la palma duplicada
de àngels és adornada
la sua ànima també.
Protector ec. ec.
A Roma l’han enterrat
amba occulta diligència
per divina providència
a l’Alghé l’han trasportat
l’ayn mill vuitcentz és estat
y quaranta sys dyuré.
Protector ec. ec.
Que nos miri a totz quantz sem
adorannu en cumpagnia
que y pughi veni’ un dia
que en la glòria nus vaggiem
amba egl totz que sighiem
a gozar l’eternu Bé.
Protector ec. ec.
Totas las súplicas nostras
syghin per las vostras penas
abbundantas soaves venas
que han ubert las glòrias vostras
féu que sighin prepostas
las ànimas ha fer bé.
Protector ec. ec. ec.
Un màrtyr que glòria té
del pòpul sempra alabat
protector s’és declarat
San Donaziano a l’Alghé

All Over Bar the Shopping

Nearly there.......the Bright Eyed Boy dons his shiny new uniform tomorrow and heads off to the start of his last year of primary education. Daughter #3 is making the most of the last few weekday morning sessions of rowing training before her return to school next Monday. The weather is distinctly on the turn now, the sun at a lower angle in the sky, the nights that bit longer, dawn that bit later.... I can get quite melancholic with the shortening of the days: I need a goodly amount of warm sunshine to keep me chipper. This year however I'm not going to get much time to brood as I start my full-time doctoral studies in less than a month's time! To tell the truth, I haven't given it a great deal of thought just recently - there was a flurry of admin to complete just before we went away (only a fortnight ago in reality), and since we arrived back I have been absorbed by general mucking-out, uniform buying, hospital duty (visiting Pa-in-law after his DIY tumble) and wedding hysteria. Daughter #2 is drumming her fingers waiting for her 'big day' to dawn. I haven't actually bought anything to wear to it yet, so that delight is for next week when I have a bit of peace and quiet - although it won't be either peaceful or quiet as the wedding excitement will have reached fever-pitch by then, and no doubt there'll be unforseen crises to attend to along the way. So you can see that anything academic has been severely backstaged. Looking at the blogs that I read on a fairly regular basis, I have to chuckle at the beard-stroking earnestness that allows some chaps (chapesses are conspicuous by their absence in certain circles: I guess they're 'surrendered' or what have you) to spend their summers reading tomes of epic proportions then critiquing them online. I wonder if anyone really cares.....
Although to a certain extent I am envious of those scholars who can devote swathes of time to their subjects, I am so glad that I have a life external to my studies. Real life - family life - tends to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You Got to.....Ac-centuate the Positive...

It's a beautiful morning...the sky is clear blue, the sun is shining, the hedgerows are burgeoning with glistening purplish blackberries.....The whole world has a distinct feeling of new beginnings and promise about it today. I'm glad to feel perky again, particularly after a rather fraught few days which saw my poor old Pa-in-law take a nasty tumble off his garage roof (DIY incident) and sustain three broken ribs. Rushed to hospital in an ambulance (the extent of the damage wasn't immediately clear) he's been kept in on account of the pain and being unable to bend in the middle - a prerequisite for a car-journey home. A nasty shock for all concerned and possibly a foreshadowing of years to come, with increasingly frail dependents tripping over their slippers, choking on their glacier mints etc. Hopefully he'll be home soon and improve rapidly. But it could have been SO much worse: he fell onto concrete, full onto one side, so the potential for a fractured skull, hip or leg was there. Three ribs seems not too bad in the circumstances really.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Days Thou Gavest....

Well.....that's the summer hols over for another year, and needless to say I am riven with guilt about not appreciating it more at the time blah blah blah. As per usual. Actually it was great: I loved every moment of our foreign sojourn. The fact that we've been to the same mediterranean island for the past six years (...I know - how predictable) lent the strange illusion that the total weeks spent on vacation had consolidated into one six-week long visit, and by the end of our second day we could not believe that we'd only been there a mere 48 hours. So we ate and drank and sunbathed far more than would be deemed good for our bodies, but it was immensely healing and nourishing to the soul - and that's what holidays are all about. But back to this grey and bickering small island with its cold drizzle and unappetising diet......We are already planning our next escape.
At the moment, I feel quite tired out and unenthused about rejoining the fray: the Bright-Eyed Boy returns to school later this week, leaving daughter #3 and myself to make a few desultory trips for new school uniform before she goes back next week. Then I am on my own again, facing the HUGE responsibility of becoming a full-time, fully-funded PhD student at the beginning of October. Ulp! (That, and daughter #2's wedding which is scheduled for a fortnight's time) No doubt I'll perk up once relieved of my quotidien maternal resposibility. Perhaps I should buy some new stationery goods to symbolise my new 'start'. I remember from my schooldays that a new pencil-case and jotter always seemed to promise a new, improved term-time identity, a new commitment to study and enthusiasm. I was always baffled by those who chose to cling on to their scruffy old pencil-cases and eschewed new goods: were they deliberately embracing asceticism as a style-choice or simply unable to appreciate the frisson generated by minor self-indulgence? Probably neither - they just weren't as neurotic as me, and no doubt their lives have gone on to be models of rectitude and fiscal commonsense.
I was mesmerised in the outbound airport by a rack of Moleskine goods of every size. Had I not been going on my holidays (rather than returning from them) I would no doubt have plundered the display for another large floppy-back 18-month diary (week per page). I've been using one of these for over a year now and am very conscious that it runs out at Christmas and I haven't seen one locally. I love it: it's now covered in my erratic handwriting in various different inks and is full of useful website addresses, quotes, references and bibliographic essentials. My supervisor expressed a modicum of surprise that I 'did everything longhand'. I don't - at least not 'proper' work -but I've never mastered the art of cyber-notes - where do they all go? Everything that has caught my imagination or attention is there to see and, most usefully, I can usually visualise a particular item's whereabouts on the page or pen-colour which makes its retrieval much easier than snatching it back out of the ether. It is a real vade mecum, a commonplace, a forum, a repository of knowledge, ideas and the springboard of thought. And much as I love the functionality and range of my laptop, it will never replace my diary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Idyll Fears.

Am suspended in that strange no-man's land between 'normal life' and going on holiday. I am feeling a compulsive need for order which saw me up at an unfeasibly early hour cleaning out the bird and hoovering up. The clothes that are washed are being put on one side for ironing and packing, so we're wearing some pretty strange combinations, I just can't -just CAN'T - be relaxed about travelling: I've tried and all that happens is a terrible sensation that I've forgotten something vitally important. Trouble is, I see the whole process as a series of hurdles to be overcome. I start in a state of high tension: the drive to the airport....what happens if we break down or get a flat...or God forbid! have an accident? The flight: did I really check our documentation thoroughly enough? Did the airframe inspectors get distracted at a vital moment? Turbulence? Air traffic computers crash? Will we get our luggage? How are we going to get to the apartment? Will there be a taxi available if our flight is severely delayed? Has the apartment owner double-booked us? Run off with the deposit? Will the whole week see freakish storms and power-cuts? Acute appendicitis anyone? Food poisoning? Jellyfish stings? And then the whole thing in reverse to get home. Ach! Who'd be a control freak?

So until I am actually sunning my wine-numbed carcase like a tide-driven leviathan upon that golden shore, lulled by the lapping waves and the roar of the occasional Airbus, I shall remain Very Ill At Ease Indeed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Carelessness of Youth

I'm deliberately weaving a little web of happiness around myself today, having finished off a particularly downbeat book in the early hours of dawn. The residue of sadness that overlaid me was almost palpable. Recognising that I can slide off down into the Slough of Despond if I dwell on gloomy thoughts too long, I made a conscious decision to Be Happy, buy little treats and act like a jolly mummy today. And happily it has worked. I feel quite perky, particularly as the weather is sunny and breezy. The dog is happily sunbathing in the garden, the children - tired, but not exhausted from their trip into town - are contentedly sprawling about the house listening to music and drawing. I am not going to do any work today: I've decided to give myself time off to anticipate our trip to foreign shores. I've invested in some clip-on sunglasses (not too hideous) so that I can lie and read on the beach without getting a pounding headache from squinting through my untinted readers (like last year). I am far too stingy to pay out for a pair of prescription sunglasses. I also bought a heavily discounted hat, a man's fedora that is big enough for me to wear even when I've got my hair clipped up, which is absolutely essential as I can't stand having a hot neck. It looks, I have to say, rather stylish - in a 'Sissinghurst' sort of way. Daughter #3 bought a bikini, tiny slivers of material that makes me nostalgic for the days when I too could get away with such minimalist clothing. Daughter #2, having produced #1 Bouncing Baby earlier this year, has been more than a little shocked by the way her previously svelte figure has disappeared under a mass of stretched skin. Ah me!Careless youth passes like a golden shadow over our corporeity, ephemeral gorgeousness that evaporates in so few years.

ἐπάμεροι: τί δέ τις; τί δ᾽ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ
ἄνθρωπος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν αἴγλα διόσδοτος ἔλθῃ,
λαμπρὸν φέγγος ἔπεστιν ἀνδρῶν καὶ μείλιχος αἰών

Creatures of a day! What is a man? What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of Heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blesséd are their days.

Pindar: Pythian 8, line 95-8; (courtesy of Wikiquote)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mild Annoyance at Irritating Bloggers

I generally spend about an hour a day catching up with the blogs that I've got filed under 'favourites': it makes me feel like I am keeping abreast of the work environment even if I'm not putting words down myself. But just recently a couple of them have began to rankle and I'm seriously thinking of knocking them off the list. It's hard to identify the reasons precisely, but it's the same sort of feeling that you get when a colleague's voice starts to get on your nerves and you sit drumming your fingers, waiting for them to get on their favourite hobbyhorse yet again. The intrusion of ego into scholarship, I think. Sure - everyone's got a point of view (and there's nothing duller than a blog detailing field-resources with no personal reflection) - but when that point of view becomes absolute conviction and obscures objectivity......

The older scholars tend to take themselves less seriously, even though they are the ones with greater academic clout, but I suppose that self-deprecating humour comes after years and years of experience and the realisation that the more you think you know, the less you actually do! I have to admit a wry smile when one of these established scholars verbally 'pats' a neophyte on the head: the puppy-like fawning and widdling that follows is most amusing.

Friday, August 7, 2009


The carpet fitter is coming at some point today to fit some new stuff in the hall and landing and on the stairs. Ordinarily the husband would do it himself, but the stairs are that bit more tricky to get right - and more to the point - safe! So I am confined to barracks until the fitting is complete. As usual with tradesmen, there was no indication of any time slot -even whether it would be am or pm, so patience is the name of the game. And I'm bored already.

It will be nice when it's done, but really, I have no interest in soft furnishings, textures, colour schemes and the like. Our house is functional, not an aspirational statement. I spend little time fretting about how it looks or how it will appear to others. What I do care about is the life within its walls, and that that is what should be nurtured and tended. I don't think children particularly care about home decor, although the Bright-Eyed Boy once expressed an interest in 'modern' houses. All they need is a safe, warm, dry, food-filled bolt-hole to curl up in - not sea-grass on the floors and a Smeg fridge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Incrementality and Jesus Saves

School holidays are actually progressing much more smoothly than last year. Looking back, I think I was feeling pretty tense about the whole PhD thing and the funding thereof. That all came to a nasty head during our week away when daughter #2 decided to let me know (by text) that I'd had a letter from the AHRC. Of course, then I had to know what it said, got her to read it and text me any news "I'm SO sorry...." she started. Great. I was massively disappointed, but couldn't let the others know how I felt, which was really difficult when we were confined in such close quarters. So I pretended I didn't really care, dismissing the whole issue as a mere inconvenience. When we returned home I found out that the scholarships had already been awarded in early June, so no luck there either. All this tension pretty much overshadowed the whole Summer from start to finish. I had the OU course to do, but all the time I was thinking beyond that to possible doctoral study, but couldn't feasibly do anything constructive towards it. I was very ill at ease and this manifested itself in many ways.

This year however I think that I am much more chilled. The children are that little bit older, a little less demanding and tempestuous and I have my 'bolt-hole' where I can go and write for a couple of hours. Plus I have a plan, which always makes me feel positive and cheerful. Everyday I commit to writing for at least a couple of hours - it doesn't matter what I write: even blogging is a useful authorial experience, and hones the compositional skills. Refinement can come later. In the evenings, I spend half an hour brushing up my basic German.

One of the things that I have learnt over the years is the value of small increments. Whatever needs to be done can be done in small chunks that barely impact at all. 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' and all that. Just keep those steps coming and you'll get there remarkably quickly and with minimal effort. This is one of the really useful things that motherhood taught me: it's no good bewailing the lack of time you have when you have small children. Divide your day into 15 minute slots and allot an achievable task to one of those slots. I carried this philosophy through to later my university years: 15 minutes is quite long enough to memorise some vocab, or photostat an article, or source a book, or grab a coffee. Just don't approach life as a monolithic entity: break it down so you can see its constituent tasks, then tackle them one at a time. Don't get overwhelmed: be a serial do-er.

Our 20 pence Jesus bears testimony to the benefits of this approach. He is a garish 9" high pink flock covered plastic statuette, with a slot in his back for coins, bought (with an ironic wink) by daughter #2*. Every time I find a 20 pence piece in my purse I pop it in the slot: I have been doing so since last summer. Just before our trip away, I'm going to empty him out and cash the savings in for Euros. I anticipate there'll be about £40 sterling, enough to buy us a cheap lunch out on holiday. A salutary lesson in the incremental approach.

* she understands my deep fondness of Catholic imagery, even if she doesn't share it!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Moan moan moan....

The weather has been absolutely atrocious recently: persistant heavy drizzle. The children are climbing the walls and I'm not far behind them! Fortunately daughter #3's rowing sessions have provided a focus for many of the days that would otherwise pass in an amorphous blur. At least we've got out! Many acquaintances are feeling the pressure: we've all done the painting/pasting/baking thing to death over the years. Neither we or the kids can tolerate any more make-do-and-mend bargain basement amusement. Intelligent youngsters suck up mental stimulation like sponges, and they won't be fobbed off with substandard offerings. The local museums are dull and patronising even with a well-planned 'treasure hunt' element. Theatre and cinema fare is predictable and overrated, concerts rare and exhorbitant. And you can only read so much in one day! My heart goes out to 'staycationers', those poor fools who thought it would be ironic 'fun' in these economically straitened times to camp or hire a beach hut or stay put and have 'days out'. By the time you've paid the entrance fee and marched a family of four around a good old British attraction in the cold and rain, paid for a few hot drinks and some seriously overpriced slimy sandwiches (or worse than dull, brought your own), you might as well have bitten the bullet and got some cheapy last-minute foreign holiday deal. At least the weather or food actually can't be worse than here, nor the locals less welcoming, nor your teeth less gritted.