Goodbye Snow

The snow is gone, but I couldn’t resist sharing my last remaining snow photos. Now there is mist, and soft persistent rain. I do not mind. I think of the shoots and the seeds hiding in the earth, drinking up all the moisture, swelling, waiting. It is not so cold now. The magpies have made very impressive progress with their nest. They work in pairs, in all weathers. Now when they are inside I cannot see them. Wet and misty or icy blue, there is more light every day. Nothing will stop the spring.

You know the way

Up the white path. The factory hums beneath you but the snow is made of quietness. Your feet make soft shuffling sounds. You throw back your hood.

Through the guarded gate. The harbour waits beyond, all silver, but sometimes gold.

To where the the islands are frozen and the trees stand sentinel. In a town like this, you seek edges, horizons, the empty sky.

The chapter formula

Elizabeth wants me to spill the beans… Well, you just give yourself space at the beginning to engage with what everyone else has said about the topic (this should help formulate your own ideas, as well as identifying any gaps in the current scholarship). Then you arrange the rest of the chapter into linked sections (maybe about four of three thousand words each, depending on the length of your chapter), which outline your ideas on the topic as well as developing an argument along the way. Then at the end you link it all together, and there you go!

Pretty straight forward really. I think what stumped me at the beginning was knowing how to position my findings in relation to everyone else’s. You need to get an idea of the critical background and critical history of the topic you’re researching. Only then can you begin to understand how your own ideas are interesting and relevant. You have to decide who you’re talking to, I suppose, and then make sure you understand them.

The big problem I had with my first chapter was a complete lack of understanding of where the critics were coming from. I had the added confusion of trying to write about a seriously difficult poet, without really understanding the field of postcolonial medievalism I was trying to read him alongside. We decided to start with an author-based chapter rather than a theoretical one as my supervisors hoped themes, ideas, structure and approach would emerge from this. They didn’t. So in my next chapter, my supervisor forced me not to talk about poetry at all, but to read and summarise all the relevant theorists. It was painful. But it helped. Now, when I go back over that first chapter I wrote, the shortcomings are painfully obvious. I do talk about other critics at the beginning, but I don’t arrange this discussion in an ordered way. I mention that the critics say certain things, but I don’t explain why – I don’t explain what groups they fall into, and how what they say relates to the time when they wrote it. It’s not so hard to fix this up now, and it just makes everything clearer.

Ok so it’s not so much a formula as a series of realizations. And it relates to an English literature thesis – yours might be a bit different, Liz. If anyone has an article formula, can they let me know?

More ducks and more snow

This morning, the snow was thick and powdery and it creaked when I stepped on it. I made new footprints. It snowed all night and most of the day. When it stopped, I watched two magpies making a nest in the tree outside our window. Black and white, like everything else. They fussed with the twigs.

I hurried off to the harbour to see if it had all gone white. Only some of it had, but it was still quite a sight. Snow is a novelty to me. Not much of it where I come from. This afternoon, as it fell thick and fast, I stood by the window, entranced. The fat flakes moved as the air moved – you could see the wind! The flakes fell down and up and sideways. I watched them filling up the landscape, covering the flat shapes. Like colouring in, but opposite.

Feeling restless this evening, I scrubbed the bathroom. It’s just this weather – you can’t stay out in it long. You can’t ride your bike. (Comfortably, anyway.) But – how lovely it was, this afternoon, to feel the article begin to make hesitant sense, the tree branches by the window plump with snow, as bits of sky twirled and tumbled for hours.

Words and numbers

He’s programming. Typing in code, and out come graphs of colourful lines. Like kite strings. Like the tube map. You tick a box, and the lines change – the colours, the contours. They tell stories I can’t read. You can feel the concentration in the air around him. You can almost see it, this magic fortress beneath the screen, a castle built of air. Precarious, swaying, strong.

My own stories feel rather shell-shocked. There’s an article I want to write. The concept of making a seven thousand word article from a twenty four thousand word chapter is simpler than doing it is proving to be. (Even though the chapter itself needs to shed at least 5000 words.) I want to squeeze all my ideas in. Ahem. No. I just need to choose the best ones. The newest ones. And streamline them. Cut down on my examples. I must do it. It will be good for me.

I’m searching for a formula. There must be one. There must be several. It took me so long to crack the chapter formula, and now I look back longingly at all that lovely word length – such space to breathe! An article needs to be sharp and clever and gleaming. Perhaps I want too much from it. I think I need a point of view.

The sun and the snow

Just about this time of year, you start to wish badly for warm sunshine. For now, the cold, sparkly sort will have to do. It makes your nose hurt. But the snow glittered rather nicely as we climbed to the fortress yesterday. And we had icicles on our roof when we got back. We ate one.

Mutated Medieval Meme

I was tagged by Highly Eccentric ages ago for this. You’re supposed to give eight facts about your favourite historical figure. Well, being more interested in things literary than things historical, I have more time for stories than for facts. Though I guess they overlap. I had an involved discussion with a historian once about this, who try as she might couldn’t get her head around why anyone would study English literature. I said I found the stories people told to be more fascinating than what they ate for breakfast.

Anyway, after much thought, my favourite historical figure is Caedmon. I discovered him during my masters at York. He’s one of those Old English figures who make you smile when you think of them (I’d also add Bede and King Alfred). This is in itself slightly curious, and I think it’s connected to a notion of Englishness. Anyway… I like Caedmon because I think Anglo-Saxon biblical poetry is just great. The language is shining and strong. The most fun I had during my masters was writing an essay on the creation myth in Anglo-Saxon verse: Caedmon’s Hymn, the beginning of Beowulf, ‘The Wonders of Creation’, and I think there was one other… The story of Caedmon is particularly interesting because Caedmon’s hymn is a myth about the creation of the world, embedded within a myth of origins of Anglo-Saxon poetry, embedded within a story about the origins of Englishness.

You can read about him in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Or here. I don’t know about little known facts – you either know about him or you don’t. And if you don’t, here goes:

1. He lived at Whitby Abbey with the Abbess Hilda (she was there between 657 and 680, and is a pretty impressive figure in her own right).
2. He didn’t like singing.
3. He couldn’t read or write.
4. When it was his turn to sing at dinner he was so shy that he went to sleep in the cowshed.
5. God appeared to him in a dream and told him to sing. After much protestation, he did.
6. The poem he sang (which he later sang to Abbess Hild and the others) is recorded as the first Biblical Anglo-Saxon poem.
7. The monks later would translate the Biblical stories from Latin into Old English, so he could understand them, and then he would make them into poems.
8. If you feel like it, these days you can have a chat to him in the museum at Whitby Abbey.

I wanted to include some pictures of Whitby Abbey, which is one of my favourite places in England. But despite having visited several times, I don’t seem to have any decent digital photos. Can’t be bothered tagging anyone, but pick it up if you feel like it, or tell me who your favourite historical figure is in the comments.


Much excitement!

The master photographer in the house says this photo isn’t blog worthy, but as it is difficult to snap anything much more exciting from our lounge room window, and as it’s not exactly tempting to venture outside, it will do for now. I didn’t think I’d see snow in Halden this year, but it’s snowing at Easter, just like it did last year. It’s not meant to venture above zero for the next couple of days, so it should stick around. We’re quite happy to be inside with the fire and candles and pancakes and Easter eggs and writing projects.

Speaking of snow, there’s a low pressure system wreaking havoc in Germany and Switzerland right now, called Melli! God help them…


Lakes, and clouds, and trees. Some days grey, some days golden light all over the fortress. The blossoms on the tree outside our window just thinking about opening. I nearly missed my flight on Thursday due to the English train system, but I made it. Easter eggs, and science fiction dvds late into the night. No need to think about teaching for four whole weeks. Frothy, milky coffee in the mornings. Bread with brown cheese. I sent off a new, longer version of my last chapter on Friday, and have got back to redrafting the first chapter I wrote, two years ago. Yep. It’s good.

Northern Lights in Adelaide

Clouds and chimney pots.

A long way away from here, it’s the festival. The best time to be in Adelaide. This is what my Mum says:

We went into an outdoor music club set up on the banks of the Torrens by the amphitheatre called the Persian Gardens. They had persian carpets and cushions all over the steps of the amphitheatre, and also carpets and little low tables and small beanbags on the grass under the trees with Persian looking brass lights etc. It was cool down by the river (it’s been very hot here) and was a great atmosphere. All the state buildings on the north side of North Tce are lit up by a light display for the festival called Northern Lights!! They are fabulous and it seemed half of Adelaide’s families were out strolling or driving in a very slow traffic stream down the road to see them. They have generated computer slides that match the building outlines and details and throw different coloured lights (very strong colours) and patterns onto them. The designs change every 5 minutes or so. They all look rather gothic and sort of lurid or ghostly by turns; eg the museum had fossils superimposed all over it, and then spiderwebs and a huge spider. The side of the library had one version that made it look like a huge bookshelf, and Elder Hall had music notes trilling along it. The art gallery looked as if it had very realistic marble statues at the front of its pillars at one stage (people were going closer to check!) and then as if it was a charcoal sketch of the building at another. At other times they just looked like very coloured European buildings but as if the doors and windows were glowing luminescently. It really was incredibly engaging to see buildings we are so familiar with transformed in such ways- and you noticed things about the architecture you always take for granted. Apparently it took a year to develop the concept- money well spent I’d say.

And this is what thirdcat says, and, strangely, fifi is talking about light too. Here are some pictures. Go on, look at them, they’re amazing. I wanted to pinch them for my blog, but they are cleverly protected…

In other news I’m off today to catch up with my cousin in London, and then I’m flying to Norway tomorrow morning. There’s still the small problem of deciding exactly what to take. (Fewer books! Fewer books! I hear you say…) I’ve been quite sick for the past week with a weird cold that just makes you really exhausted (all my housemates have it), so I haven’t been able to achieve quite as much as I wanted. Teaching takes it out of me too. But now I have four uninterrupted weeks to work on the thesis, so I should more than catch up.

I was walking in the park near my house on Sunday, thinking how lucky I was to live in such a genteel neighbourhood. On the way to the park you pass a posh Church of England primary school, and the park was full of families with small dogs and little kids. The park is great – there’s grassy areas, and forest, and a creek lined with daffodils. And then I approached a group of twelve year old boys walking the other way. They crowded the path so it was hard to get through. One of them patted me on the shoulder. Once I passed them, they started throwing twigs and small stones at me. I thought about putting the hood up on my coat, but decided not to.

I’m not me, I’m my friend

I was talking to a good friend from Adelaide the other night, and she asked me the dreaded question: what are you going to do when you finish? I took a deep breath to stem the customary flow of panic. I have a new technique, I told her. When I think about my future, from now on I’m going to pretend I’m not me, but someone I know. Cos when I’m talking to a friend who’s panicking about their future, I look at them and think: you’re talented, hard-working, educated, nice – it’s going to work out for you in the end. Maybe not tomorrow. But sometime. (I’m thinking about one friend in particular who was desperate last year but has now landed a great job in publishing.)

This works for me when I’m editing my writing, too. I love helping other people with their essays. But I get sick of staring at my own work. And nervous about finishing it. But if I pretend the writing belongs to someone else, it suddenly isn’t so threatening. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it…

Rainy Saturday

The blue room is so much nicer when there is a small creature curled up in the corner of it. I cycled home from town today in the rain, my knuckles red and aching with cold, the back of my coat soaked through where the water flicks up from the wheels. And who should I meet at the doorstep but a very wet kitty with a very clear idea of where she belonged…

I’ve had a typical and pleasant Saturday: yoga in the morning, a bike ride to town in the afternoon, braving the ghastly but cheap supermarket on the way back to pick up ingredients for sag paneer (I love my weekly dose of spinach), and an hour or so of inane but pleasant tv in the evening. Last week it was England’s attempt to choose a Eurovision song, this week the double triumph of a Doctor Who special issue of The Weakest Link. Who could ask for more? (Well, Doctor Who itself would have been more fun, but still…)

It’s back to work tomorrow to straighten out the ragged ends of my final chapter so I can send it to my supervisors before I go away. There’s just a few other loose ends to tie up and one more class to teach, and then I’m off to Norway via London. Good.

Teaching Rainbows

The last two days have been a blur of marking essays and seminar preparation. I felt quite irritable about marking the essays because they pulled me away from the last stages of fixing up my chapter. But it has been interesting to see what my students are capable of (one essay in particular was utterly fantastic). I also had to be observed by a lecturer during my seminar today. I was not looking forward to this at all. I felt flat, exhausted and uninspired. I’d only met my ‘teaching mentor’ last week, and didn’t feel like I clicked with him particularly well. So it was a rather reluctant meli who turned up to class today, having very elegantly managed to forget both her pen and her role book.

But it went GREAT! The students really got into Chaucer, and we had fun looking at the relationship between the tale, the teller, and the person he interrupts in order to tell it. My teaching mentor was extremely positive afterwards, and said it was the best postgraduate taught seminar that he’d ever observed. Both relaxed and scholarly. Hurrah, hurrah! A tutor with a slight stammer is not a kiss of death. It doesn’t matter. And I even managed to bond with the student who lent me – and then very kindly gave me – her pen.

I rewarded myself with a fat, fudgy brownie from the cafe across the road. I mustered the energy to attend the medieval lit lecture, which was entertaining and reminded me how international Chaucer is. And then I cycled home as fast as I could, arriving at my door as the thunderclouds cracked above me, and a faint rainbow shimmered above the rooftops. A good day.

Lakes for all Seasons

Went walking in the Lake District today. It’s only two hours from Leeds. Every time I arrive there I feel this pang of excitement – the slate-walled cottages, the lakes, the hills. I grew up with my Dad telling me about the Lake District as though it were the promised land. The first time I went it was raining and I couldn’t see a thing. But there’s something special about the Lake District. Now when I go I remember the times I’ve been there with those close to me – the lovie, his parents, my parents, and last year, my grandparents (not all at the same time!). But special times, each of them.

It was cold and windy today and the photos I took didn’t really turn out. We went up Red Screes from Ambleside, then across to Dove Crag, then back along the ridge to the town. We did spot a pretty cool stone wall.

At the end of the walk I couldn’t help thinking how different it will look in a couple of months time when the trees will be shiny and green. A bit more like this, perhaps…