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.