Sunday, 2 March 2014

Cinema Experience

Having spent the last month or so studying Dickens and the condition of England in the 19th century, a fellow student and I decided to go and see The Invisible Woman, the story of Charles Dickens and his young mistress, Nelly.

The showing was in one of the small auditoriums and despite the lateness in the cinematic diary we were not the only customers of the afternoon.  Of the 15-20 members of the audience my friend and I were the youngest, interestingly this did not mean that the auditorium was the model of propriety and good manners.  To our left sat a couple of friends, one of whom was partially deaf and commented rather loudly throughout the film.  To our right were a couple in the full throws of a cold, coughing and spluttering the entire way through.  Behind and to our left were the group of friends with the cellophane bag of sweets individually wrapped in  – oh yes, cellophane and behind to the right was the man that had to tell the woman next to him to stop texting as it was distracting.

The film itself  proved to be a useful reinforcement of details we had studied such as Dickens's journal, Household Words and his trips to Manchester to name but two.  It was also an interesting perspective of the man who's mastery of words is more renowned now than ever, who spoke up for the working classes and the poor but who it seems was deeply flawed when it came to relationships with women.  Emulating Dickens’s books, the film had a large element of bleakness; here was an ambassador of social ideals with a wife and large family, pursuing and compromising a girl half his age.  There were many (too many) meaningful close ups of Nelly and Charles begging you to read the subtext.  Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) brought some light relief as Dickens’s bohemian friend and Catherine Dickens (JoannaScanlan) was a marvel.  “Bastard!” exclaimed our deaf companion when Dickens was particularly cruel to his wife.  Fiennes played his role convincingly but Scanlan stood out more.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Notes to Self

So engrossed was I in my latest assignment that I forgot to post my last blog (Twin Triumph).

It has been an interesting month from a study point of view (by interesting read hard).  The final topic was fascinating, engaging and just HUGE.  19th Century England - The Condition of the Working Classes & Charles Dickens Hard Times.  There was so much to take in, so many notes to make, that I eventually became enshrouded in multi coloured pieces of paper with various illegible scribbles on them.  To make matters worse, I got so carried away with the historical aspect that when I chose the Literature assignment, I approached it from the wrong direction.  Once embarked on this erroneous journey it was difficult to steer myself back on course - much pain and agony ensued (sorry family).  

BIG NOTE TO SELF - If you are fortunate enough to realise you have made a mistake in approaching a question, start the essay plan from scratch - DO NOT TRY TO RE-JIG IT RETROSPECTIVELY - it's not worth the pain!

ANOTHER BIG NOTE TO SELF - Just because you have half term coming up don't leave the assignment until the last minute.  YOU DO NOT DO LAST MINUTE - it's not worth the pain!

Twin Triumph

Foundations and Fungus

Well after a tortuous twelve day wait I finally got the result for my first creative writing assignment.  It was good.  Very good, my best yet.  Surprisingly, after a little jig around the kitchen and celebratory hugs from my family, my next reaction was a strong urge to go to sleep (I should point out that it was evening).  Whilst waiting for the results I had run through a variety of scenarios in my head - ranging from the worst; envisaging my unloved and unused shed crumbling away - a rotting symbol of my despondency, to the best; jumping up and down, laughing and smiling and eventually settling down to a celebratory glass of wine (or two).  I had not, however, envisaged how exhausted I would be in reality.  The following morning I woke up with ideas for my book running through my mind.  The beginning - the first real instruction in technique and effects and I am excited at the prospect of building on these foundations.

That afternoon, with half of my mind floating in the clouds, the other half decided that today was the day to once and for all combat  .... The Smell.  For weeks now I have been accusing the boys of harbouring some soggy sports kit somewhere in the depths of the bedroom cupboard or bundled in a bag in the cubby under the bed.  At every opportunity I have been throwing open the window, skitting around the room like a bobbing madwoman sniffing out the source of the worsening odour.  Well today the pong wasn't going to beat me - I was going to conquer it!  Having narrowed it down to an area around one cabin bed I swiftly removed the plethora of empty plastic bags, half full water bottles, tissues, sweet wrappers, odd socks and the single glove that had been previously 'tidied' into the corner. After calling in the cavalry and pulling the bed away from the wall - there it was.  The Beast.  Almost the entire length of the bed along the skirting and part way up the corner of the wall (hidden behind a unit) was a black and white fuzzy mould.  The result of a cold outside wall and a lack of air circulation (I'm told).  Armoured with the guilt of weeks of accusations I was ready to banish the beast and attack with a mild bleach solution and a scourer - problem solved.

All in all, a successful weekend.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Creative Conundrum

Early Lessons

Well, my first creative writing assignment has been sent.  It's gone - it's out of my hands.  Another agonising wait follows whilst my fate rests in the hands of my Tutor (OK so maybe a bit dramatic but that's how it feels). Consisting of a section of short story and a commentary/reflection, this assignment feels far  more personal than any of the essays.  Whilst the other results mattered, this one matters more.  Supposing I have got it completely wrong?  Should I have gone for the the essay option?  I know I shouldn't have, I had to give this a go but....

It's been five days so far.  Every day I keep reminding myself that this is my first piece of creative writing that has ever been assessed - of course there will be mistakes and of course there will be improvements to make. That is the whole point of taking the course.  Next year is my first full creative writing module, I had better get used to this feeling.

Oh well only another ten days to go of this discordant mind tennis - unless of course, by some miracle, my Tutor actually marks it early!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Tricky Wiki

Tricky Wiki

The first of two collaborative assignments for the year wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.  I knew it would be a challenge – what else can you expect from a group of people you don’t really know, conversing only on-line to create an essay?  Not only do you have to agree (or compromise) on what you are saying but how you are going to say what you are saying.  Not to mention being careful of how you say, how you are going to say what you are saying.  It was tricky and just when things seemed to smooth themselves out it all took a turn for the worst.  Then it was horrible.  Interestingly on the day we finished I saw a retweet from Mark Forsyth ‘sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it’.  Whilst the quote is a reference to his new book The Elements of Eloquence, how apt, is all I can say.

During this episode I was aware that I was a nightmare to be with.  At work, at home, no-one got away lightly.  I’m surprised my family didn’t move out or at least tell me to move out.  I was thoroughly horrible.  The day after we finished I felt like myself again for the first time in about three weeks. Overnight the frowning, short-tempered beast that had pervaded my being dissipated like a phantom dissolving into the air.  What a relief. 


Unless the OU and/or universities generally have a huge change of heart and remove these team elements from the curriculum, I will have to do another wiki next spring.  Perhaps I can get a bed in my shed?  I might need it.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Next Stop

Well the first year of study finished in May and I was certainly ready for a break.  Whilst I enjoyed the extra free time I am definitely ready for the first phase of this year's study.  The materials arrived a good few weeks ago and I was itching to get going - making a dash once again for quiet time in my 'study/shed/office' - both comforting and exciting.  Another phase of the journey has begun and this time with a creative writing element.  Interestingly, as much as this excites me, I have unexpectedly discovered that I am also extremely nervous about tackling the creative writing tasks.  What if I discover that I can't do it?!  This was after all the main reason for me taking the course.

Panic aside, I am looking forward to taking on the challenges that the course throws at me and being introduced to new things, the first of which is in assignment one (I still don't entirely know how to describe a wiki).  Secondly, in preparation for January, I have just started reading my first Dickens novel (which I am thoroughly enjoying) - so it's only day two and I have already had two new experiences.

As I write this the 'Guitarman' and 'A' are tiling the floor of the side entrance to the house - a surprisingly small space for all the junk that is now distributed around the ground floor rooms - creating mountainous obstructions of wellies, jackets, shoe polish and 'stuff'.  What is the 'stuff'?  It's all in boxes, it's very useful, it can't be thrown away - you can guarantee that if I throw it I will one day need to go to the 'bit box' to find a screw or a widget or a washer that's not been used for twenty years.  The 'bit box' is a fraction of the 'stuff' as a whole - old dog toys (they can go), half empty pots of paint (I might need to do some touching up), windscreen wash (need that) shelf brackets, a staple gun, glue gun...............................  The biggest mountain has been there for a week, a tectonic shift has clearly taken place over the seven days and Snowdon has become Everest as the 'surface' has been used to pile yet more 'stuff'.  We have at least one more week of disruption to go before the big tidy up, who knows what could happen in that time, boulders could fall, people may die...  The 'Guitarman' had a fantastic gig last night but hasn't yet put all his gear back into place - where is it going to go?!.......  I think I'll stay in my office and study.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Lure of the Lake

Tale Two


Before embarking on our journey to Lombardy, I had conversations with many well-travelled people who told me how beautiful the Italian Lakes are.  I was excited to see for myself the place that had inspired so many poets, artists and musicians and to discover what was so special about Lake Como.

Well over 2,000 years ago the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, was drawn to the lake which inspired some of his poetry.  The birthplace of Pliny the Younger in 61CE and the inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta in 1745, Como and the surrounding lakes have lured scientific and creative minds (and hearts) to their natural beauty.  Pliny's uncle (Pliny the Elder), author of the encyclopaedic work Natural History, was also born in Novum Comum (Como).  Both uncle and nephew were motivated to write about the ebbing and flowing natural spring leading to the lake. In 1498 Leonardo da Vinci visited the site in Torno to study the spring himself and less than one hundred years later the Villa Pliniana was built there, incorporating a grotto fed by the spring which in turn flowed into the lake. Byron, Shelley, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini were amongst the many notorious guests enlivened and touched by the villa and the lake over the following centuries.

In 1787 Goethe embarked on his two year Italian Journey.   Towards the end of this journey he sailed the length of Lake Como and sketched the shore and mountain views - 'he was trying to grasp and fix the last moments of happiness as they slipped away' (Boyle, 1992, p.514).    In 1790 Wordsworth wrote a poem of the lake in which he declared it 'a treasure whom the earth keeps to herself'.  Almost thirty years later Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote to his friend that the lake 'exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty' and in the late 19th century Henry James wrote to his sister that 'One can't describe the beauty of the Italian Lakes, nor would one try if one could'. 


On that note, who am I to try? Here are some photos!

 
As you can see, the lake is beautiful and whilst I'm sure it has changed greatly in the last century alone, its appeal and magic remain strong.  No matter how many times we saw the lake, from which road, hill, mountain, garden or shore, we could not take in enough.  Time is lost as the mind tries to absorb the colours, the heat, the water and the contrast of the forests against the backdrop of the mountains.  The colourful red roofed villas clinging onto the steep hillsides are  interspersed amongst the lush green foliage like gems.  Walking through the narrow streets, being drawn down to the lake was a delight in itself.  Above your head, bridges of stone or intricate wrought iron connect villas to wonderful roof garden terraces, where you long to take just a moment to be embraced by the sight and colours of the flowers before once again marvelling at the lake. 

In Lake Como you see and feel all four of natures elements in their glory.  I can't recall another place that has brought out an awareness of this in me.  Visiting the lake evokes a feeling of enchantment where nature and wildlife are pushed to the fore.  Whether in the hills or on the lake shore we were always surrounded by butterflies.  I don't remember ever seeing so many.  In our villa up in the hills we were frequently visited by two bewitching deer.  As if taking part in the fairy-tale they would appear before us just under the terrace and allow us a brief glimpse of their majesty before vanishing into the forest.

Yes, I think I too have fallen under the spell and the lure of the lake.




 
Reference: Boyle, N. (1992) Goethe The Poet and The Age Volume I  The Poetry of Desire, Oxford Paperbacks
 


 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Sights, Sounds and Bites

Tale One


Our encounters with the creatures of Lombardy began the moment we stepped off of the plane in Milan.  As we descended onto the tarmac and alighted the bus we were greeted by a thin cloud of mosquitos.  The air assault consisted of two phases; the first took advantage of us unsuspecting prey whilst we were handicapped by the one handed swat defence (the other hand was needed to cling to the rail of the jolting bus).  The next assault began at the bus stop immediately outside the terminal. Whilst waiting for the transfer service we were raided again and again. Fortunately our counter attack came in the guise of two prepared and kindly travellers who had Autan spray immediately to hand. Under the protection of the spray we thought we were safe, until 'P' announced that she had been bitten a number of times through her jeans!

Upon arrival at the villa the following day we were welcomed by a lounge of lizards.  Generally skittish and shy, they still like to keep us company as we read on the terrace, in the shade of the trees.  Occasionally basking in the sun on the villa wall, pausing on the patio to observe before making a dash or sometimes joining us in the house.  Apparently nowhere is out of bounds, including the bathroom.  I have a particular fondness for lizards going back to my childhood holidays in Malta, however, I am not overly keen on spotting the little fellas on the wall next to me just as I park my bare derrière!

Whilst the lizards were expected, the huge centipedes were not,  as 'A' will testify after he woke up in the early hours to find a 2" specimen on his head!  In a similar fashion 'J' removed what he believed to be a wad of lint that was tickling his thigh inside his shorts.  He was somewhat shocked to discover he was holding some giant mosquito type biting fiend that had already attacked five or six times and summarily 'evicted' the beast.

How blissfully ignorant I was as I swam in Lake Como on our second day.  Clear water, sunshine, big fish, little fish.  Heat up, dip, cool down - lovely.  The following day in Bellagio we took a moment to sit in the shade by the waters edge and take in the view.  What did I spot with it's head out of the water but a snake! OK - so maybe it was only 2' at the most but a snake is a snake, let alone a snake in the lake!

Back at the villa that afternoon I sat and read as the large black ants occasionally dashed across my feet (by now these harmless fellows seemed the least of our worries).  There was a louder than usual rustle in the leaves at the bottom of the tree.  I looked up to discover a one eared glis glis staring at me with cute round eyes.  He paid us a relatively long visit, rummaging around the garden for twenty minutes or so.  Eventually he scuttled along the grassy path onto the pile of dead leaves and on into the woods.

The glis glis may have rustled his way in and out of or company but other sounds have been with us from the outset.  We are surrounded by hills and woodland, as we open the door in the morning we welcome the rising sun, the buzzing of the insects and chirping birdsong.  On the evening of day five, however, we were invaded by an as yet unseen loud 'mouthed' bird that doesn't so much sing but squawk and screech in an insult to the ears kind of way!  At 5am the following morning it began again, outside the bedroom window - I think in competition with the braying donkey that decided to make an early morning call. We haven't seen it yet but the bellowing beast likes to echo his call down the hillside.  Not to be outdone by the cacophony, the guard dog down the hill joined in with a verse or two of barking before a chorus of full blown howling.  Oh and did I mention the bells?

- After writing this, 'M' advised me that he saw a snake by the path as they trekked down to the lake at lunchtime.


 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

We Survived - Year One!

It's been a long time since my last post, as expected things got very hectic towards the end of last month.  As a 'mature' student learning to combine the essay deadlines, family and friend commitments and generally just living - all take practise.  Academia aside, I have learnt that I can walk past the pile of papers on the table without tidying them - and the world doesn't come to an end.  I have also learnt that the family won't die of starvation because I'm not cooking and that the ironing pile mountain can actually get pretty damn high before toppling - so what!  Don't get me wrong, I'm not the only one in the house capable of doing these things, but typically it comes down to me - and I have learnt to let it go. I feel quite liberated as well as educated and the truth is that the pressure only comes from me! 

It is fair to say that I have embraced the learning experience and that it has awakened a hunger in me. My confidence has grown, my memory improved (if only slightly) and my social horizons have widened.  I see links and connections  in literature or history that I never knew existed before.   This both excites me and scares me. How can I ever have time to read it all or remember it! 

I have a few months now to recharge the batteries before beginning the next five years (which I believe run concurrently). I desperately want to get writing again and in fact took a special day trip last week in the name of 'research' - but that's a blog for next time.

If anyone is contemplating a late education, like me - I would categorically say 'stop thinking and just do it!' 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Boilers, Blogs and Beats

Boilers, Blogs and Beats...


I have well and truly neglected my blog over the last month.  It seems everything has conspired against me.  A nice short school term at work means not long until the next break.  On the minus side it means cramming six weeks of work into four and a half weeks.  So, getting home already a bit jaded from a days work, I have tried to get on with the studying.

My plan for 'brewing' essays went to pot when the assignment week proved to be a disaster at home.  Amongst other distractions, the boiler broke down whilst the gas and heating engineer (also known as the Guitarman) was away for two days.  Since changing careers seven years ago, the Guitarman has rarely gone away - why did the boiler choose this week to die!  Lots of kettle boiling and filling of pans ensued.  I missed my yoga class and crammed in studying -  twenty minutes here and twenty minutes there, but managed to get the assignment in on time.  Completely out of my comfort zone as organisation went out of the window on this one but I suppose it had to happen sometime.

In an effort to ensure that this doesn't happen again I crammed in the next two weeks chapters of the course in one and started preparation for the next assignment, about two weeks ahead of time.  The Burial at Thebes by Seamus Heaney - Sophocles' Antigone.  I have a definite fondness for classical studies going back to my time at secondary school.  Poetry, however, is not my strong point.  I have been reliably informed by the study material that the prologue is in three beat verse - I have listened to the audio production and read it out loud I don't know how many times but as yet I don't get it!  My brain is not tuning in - I'm not hearing the three beats.  Oh dear, not a good start...