Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winding down

Things are winding down at college now. The students finished their term a week ago and there aren't going to be many staff around in the next few days. All my term's essays were marked and back last week, with internal moderation on Friday.... I can't believe how many essays from other tutors' courses I read for that. I'd never heard of Rudolph Hitler before, nor considered his place in history alongside Confucius as one of the world's greatest and most inspiring teachers. Working in higher education certainly is educational at times. The marking took all day in the end and left me completely drained but happy over the weekend. It's the first Christmas for years that I haven't had the PhD lurking in the background, making me feel guilty and anxious even when I pretended I was having a break. That's one big reason I'm looking forward to next year now, it will be different in a thesis-free way, even if nothing else happens.

Oh yes, another thing... I started fiddling with the 'follow blogs' thing in blogger but became slightly horrified when the google reader filled up really fast with people's posts and it felt overwhelming for some reason, as if I had to read everything because it was there. So as I'm in winding down mode, I changed my mind about the feed reader and have gone back to good old-fashioned links. I'd rather just pop over via a link when I fancy seeing how people are getting on with their various blogs, then it feels more like a pleasure than a duty, even if I do lurk rather than comment a lot of the time these days. Maybe I'll get my 'commenting mojo' back soon when I've had a good rest (and apologies for the Cheryl Cole/X Factor reference, it's obviously etched on my brain after all those weeks...). Hhmm, I clearly do need a rest...

Monday, December 14, 2009

The changing face of beggars

I was a bit shocked to be asked for spare change by a little old lady when I came out of the supermarket today. She looked like someone's grandmother, perfectly ordinary if slightly pale, with a curly grey granny perm, casual anorak, navy slacks and trainers, plus a standard NHS walking stick. You get used to different types of beggars in central London, the junkies, the Eastern European children with their mums not far behind and the groups of alcoholic street drinkers, but she didn't fit those stereotypes. It's not a particularly seedy area round here anyway and we don't get loads of beggars. I was taken aback by a local streetdrinker who bellowed 'got a spare tenner luv?' at me a while ago. That's inflation, I suppose. I quite admired her cheek for asking, but I wasn't shocked. The granny-beggar today was memorable as she seemed so normal. Maybe it was some scam, or maybe she was after her next fix, who knows, but I gave her a quid and hoped that's not going to be the way elderly people are having to supplement their pensions nowadays.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Knitted Character rides The Jelly

Harry Hill won two awards last night at the British Comedy Awards. His 'TV Burp' was voted the best comedy entertainment programme for the second year running, while he won best entertainment personality. Well deserved! 'TV Burp' is a frequently surreal review of the previous week's TV, often based on tiny inconsequential fragments of clips that you might otherwise miss, or pointing the finger at the truly bizarre (but serious) offerings from various TV channels.

The Knitted Character, a toy dropped once by a baby from a pram in an episode of the Eastenders soap in a few seconds of footage, has ended up being a running storyline for several series now, having his own adventures (rescued from a burning church by a magic sausage in Emmerdale, another soap) and competition. A brief comment on a cookery show with chef Heston Blumental about how the Victorians watched jellies wobble for entertainment has turned into numerous treats for the Knitted Character to ride on a jelly, accompanied by a sixties surf classic, Wipe Out by The Surfaris. That might sound weird, but his sketches and observations are usually very clever and funny, I don't know why they are sometimes, but I love them. Apparently he trained to be a doctor before he became a comedian. You can buy your own Knitted Character from the original prop suppliers, or use this pattern to crochet your own. I'd quite like to see a motley gang of knitted characters made by fans, it could be a curious spectacle.

The Story of The Jelly with The Knitted Character.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Having seen the post on Mathias's blog about the Technorati 'State of the Blogosphere 2009' report, I started reading it with the intention of writing something thoughtful about blogging, but got sidetracked by the phrase 'In a world that’s constantly changing'.  I knew it was from a David Cassidy song, who was a 1970s teen pop idol, for anyone not familar with that genre. Perhaps rather worryingly, snippets of song lyrics seem to stay in my head, even when they haven't been personal favourites, and they pop up to illustrate normal everyday stuff when I least expect it. I'd agree with the song fragment though - how indeed can one be sure of anything in a world that's constantly changing?

I could write about the speedily changing state of higher education, as evidenced weekly in the increasingly doomy Times Higher Education supplement, or moan about the creeping job cuts in my own institution, where the landscape seems to shift almost weekly. It's a bit depressing to dwell on though, so I won't. Can't be sure of much these days really, but it certainly is changing rapidly. A bit of early 70s pop seems a pleasantly escapist alternative, especially given the bloody awful state of the UK economy at the moment which is providing vague reminders of the 1970s recession, with increasing strikes, unemployment, rising cost of living, etc etc etc. David looks dreamily cheerful in his pink and orange satin outfit though, and has a lovely voice too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mystery door

This is a rant about couriers, I'm afraid, so apologies to any couriers who deliver things properly. When did vague, blurry, generalised digital photos with no date and time stamp start being used by courier firms as proof that they tried to deliver something?

I can't believe that I was presented with this image twice as evidence of their efforts to deliver a package to me. I have no idea where they were allegedly trying to make this delivery, but it could just as well been 10 Downing Street for all I know. It's just a black front door with no identifying house number on it. It could be any Georgian style house anywhere in England, judging by the railings. Definitely not my door though.

Do couriers just make it up when they can't be bothered to deliver something and write any old rubbish into their web tracking site, accompanied by a stock door photo with no distinguishing marks and a pretty good chance that their customer will have a black front door with a letterbox? I understand that maybe they might they get a bit lost and try a completely different address by mistake, or am I being far too charitable here, in this age of satnav? Or maybe I've just been really deaf for the past two days, not hearing the doorbell, or the entry phone, or either of my phones ringing to tell me they had arrived, and also missing that invisible card that they left me. Oh yeah, make that two invisible cards. Or perhaps I wasn't really in bed with flu, but was somehow 'out' and unable to receive this package at the precise moment the computer says 'we tried to deliver to you, but you were out'.

I couldn't believe the way they tried to wriggle out of it with a load of complete lies when they finally deigned to deliver the bloody parcel and I pointed out how different my front door looked to their photo and that I'd been in for two days as I was ill. They must think customers are really stupid, though I get the feeling he couldn't give a toss anyway. Give me the Royal Mail any day.

Rant over.  I'd forgotten how useful blogs could be for venting one's spleen occasionally.

Chip shop jellyfish

Someone on a forum suggested that people acting in TV adverts who are pretending to have a conversation keep repeating the words 'chip shop jellyfish' over and over again. Apparently it makes them look as if they're having a proper conversation. I'd never thought about it before, but it sounds feasible enough. It's no more weird than saying 'cheese' when you're having a photo taken. I guess you'd have to ask either a tv advert maker, an actor or a lip reader to verify it though.

There's a surprisingly satisfying jigsaw puzzle of SpongeBob SquarePants flying with pink jellyfish if you're feeling in need of a bit of online procrastination. Not as ethereal as the moon jellyfish, but still nice. Ooh, I can't wait until I get rid of this damn flu and stop feeling so intellectually and physically challenged... I haven't even got the dubious satisfaction of knowing whether or not it's the Flu of The Moment either... :-(

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I've been listening to lots of early Animals recently. Their music has been a very good way for me to combat work-related misery and stress, though I am an Eric fan anyway. I bet he would have been a punk if he'd been born two decades later. I like this photo as it's different to the usual pop star fan photos from the sixties. The chairs they are lolling on are well-known modern design classics, the Dax chair designed in 1948-50 in fibreglass by Charles Eames. So that's a classic band and a classic chair design all in one pic - what more could one want! Well, I'd like to know who took the photo actually... if anyone's got the original vinyl album 'Animalization', I'd love to know if there are any more details about it on the cover, they usually have more info on them than relatively miniscule cd covers and suchlike. Anyone...?

A search for the photo using TinEye, a reverse image search engine that lets you upload a pic to it then searches for matches on the internet, showed it was a photo on that album cover. It's odd being able to search using images, the internet suddenly seems much smaller for some reason... You think uploading an image to a blog or something is fairly anonymous and no-one will ever track you down as the internet is such a huge place, you're just a little speck in cyberspace, but oh no, you can be found! Useful if you're an artist or photographer and want to see who's using your work without permission though.

(Links courtesy of the very knowledgeable looker-up of all things digital, thecatsmother.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Sword of Damocles situation

The academic year starts properly next week, with existing students back from their summer break and new ones to 'induct'. My teaching starts next week too. I'm looking forward to it, as it's the first time for years I won't have PhD deadlines jostling for time alongside my other work commitments.

Unfortunately, we've also just been told to expect 'grim' cuts in staffing after Christmas, particularly in my area, so we're now working under a cloud of imminent redundancies (voluntary or otherwise), early retirement, frozen posts and non-renewal of contracts. There is a tenuous connection here with the Greek legend about the Sword of Damocles, though I'm relieved to admit I don't have a sword suspended precariously above my head, dangling from a single horse hair. Having said that, there is definitely something nasty hanging over me for the next few months. I don't think I've ever worked anywhere before with so much gloom and foreboding about how this precarious economic situation might pan out in the near future. I know something similar must be happening to many people across the country right now, not just in Higher Education, but it's horrible. Very unsettling.

It probably all seems worse at the moment because lots of stuff has happened in the past week, plus I am really tired from getting those corrected theses in on time. Maybe a restful weekend, doing my teaching preparation and a bit of clothes shopping will help. Well, it can't do any harm as long as I don't spend much, then just wait to see what next week brings and I can think more clearly about what to do for the best. Ah well, tomorrow's another day, as Scarlett o' Hara said at the end of Gone With the Wind, and I agree.

btw I was surprised to find so many Sword of Damocles songs around, from the Rocky Horror Show to Shadow the Hedgehog to Lou Reed, but they are all far too cheerful for today's blogpost, I'm afraid. Yes, even Lou Reed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Death and dying programmes on BBC

There are two TV programmes about death and dying from a cultural perspective on BBC2 and BBC4 next week, produced in conjunction with the Open University. The programmes are apparently available to an international audience for a week after transmission via BBC iPlayer online. Here's the blurb:

Richard Wilson: Two Feet in the Grave
Tuesday 29 September, 10:35-11:35pm, BBC ONE (England), 11.15pm-00.15am (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Richard Wilson sets out to uncover just what happens to our bodies when we die and the very different ways people deal with death and grief. Richard meets some of the army of people whose jobs bring them into daily contact with dead people, including pathologists, mortuary technicians, embalmers, and crematorium operatives. He explores the role of memorial photography through history with Professor Glennys Howarth and considers new rituals like roadside memorials and ‘ghostbikes’, as well as grave reclamation and garden burial.

The Art of Dying
Wednesday 30 September, 9:00-10:00pm, BBC FOUR

Art historian Dan Cruickshank confronts the unavoidable issue of his own certain death. Reliving his own family losses, he explores how death has been dealt with through the ages: from the epic depiction of "Doom" paintings that show the day of judgement to the fashion for death masks and death bed paintings; from the art of the obituary writer to the incredible wartime memorial of Kathe Kollwitz; from the medieval tomb of an archbishop of Canterbury to his own death mask. Along the way he reflects on his own obituary and meets art historian and contemplative, Sister Wendy to quiz her on the helpfulness of art in the face of death; painter Maggi Hambling who portrayed her deceased mother; and Jamie McCartney who took a plaster cast of his own dead father.

* Further details on the Open University website.
* Image by Jansku in London of Banksy's Ozone's Angel, in memorium to a dead graffiti artist.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why oh why...?

I'm in corrections hell this weekend, having left my amendments and reformatting the darned thesis to the last possible block of time available. Why oh why haven't I changed and learned from my submission experience to NOT leave things to the last minute??????

Maybe a leopard can't change its spots, but surely one can modify one's carefully honed procrastination techniques a little, to reduce the inevitable stress a bit???? It's not as if there's a special procrastination gene that makes me biologically inclined to put things off.... or is there? Maybe it's the academic equivalent of bungee jumping, though the prospect of an impending deadline doesn't really get my adrenaline going in a terribly positive way. PhD deadline as daredevil bookish equivalent of extreme sport? Or possibly not.

I watched a small child having a tantrum in the supermarket checkout queue the other day, screaming till his little red, shiny, tear-stained face was all contorted with hysterical anguish, though he was just sitting in his buggy and there was no obvious reason for his sudden and very short-lived outburst. "Mummy mummy mummy, I don't want to....!!!!" he moaned. I thought yeah, I know how you feel mate, try doing a PhD.

I haven't had a tantrum btw, or enlisted my mum's help either. I've just holed myself up for a few days in self-imposed isolation to get my work finished. I'd better get on with it then, and stop reading my spam, watching youtube, playing music, cleaning the bathroom, making cups of tea, reading my horoscope, wondering what's happening with our jobs, thinking about firework night.... oh, there are so many things to do when you've got things to do.

And before I finally logout, here's a pic of Joan Collins circa 1958 with a nice leopard print backdrop. She's always very glamorous, whatever the decade.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Death in Dulwich

I went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery yesterday, not expecting too much as I'm not usually mad about old masters' paintings, but I was pleasantly surprised.

They've got The Judde Memorial (above), which I've seen before in books about the art of death, so it was really good to see the original. It's a 16th century memento mori painting, allowing the viewer to reflect on one's mortality through the use of a variety of typical symbols of death in use by artists at that time. The video by the director of the gallery on their website is a good overview of what's in the painting.

There is a small mausoleum built into the gallery, to house the remains of three of the founders. It was apparently bombed during the last world war and rebuilt as accurately as possible, but some of the features are slightly curious. The hefty, solid-looking pillars look like dark stone, but are made of wood, which you can tell if you tap them. The stained glass seemed a bit odd, as it was a couple of panels of small bright orange glass rectangles. I thought it looked a bit '60's and slightly incongruous alongside the 'stone' pillars, eternal serpents and the casket-shaped receptacles with human remains inside. I'll have to find out more about it.

I was impressed by the labels for the Best of British exhibits. I think it's the first time I've actually found labels memorable - I usually look at the work, read the label, look again at the work and move on. These labels included short quotes or anecdotes about the people in the portraits from writers who were around at the same time, such as Samuel Pepys (diarist) and Fanny Burney (novelist). It seemed to make the portraits come to life more for me by using snippets about someone being thought a blockhead for not getting his hair cut, or being embarrassingly vulgar in polite company, or knowing that the artist had been kind in his portrayal by not painting an old woman toothless, as she was in reality by then, and including unreal curly youthful hair. It gave a sense of the person in the portrait, knowing what others thought of them at that time, whether it was flattering or not. These quotes of text enhanced the portraits by not being just little strings of dry facts about the painting or the artist which for a non- afficionado can be rather dull sometimes.

Apologies to the label writer for not remembering better examples more accurately. I didn't realise I'd still be thinking about labels the next day, but it was an unexpectedly interesting visit, albeit short because of my dad's new knees being tired. I can't think why I've never been there before.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I think I'm back...

I think I'm probably back with the blogging, though I was wondering whether to call it a day as it's been a long time now and I hadn't really felt like writing...

A mini-summary of the last few months: did a conference, got sick, went into hospital a couple of times, got sick again when I came out but am ok now I think, got my corrections for the PhD, have had a rest from academic stuff, apart from going to work in the hotbed of intrigue that is Higher Education. I think I'll have my dinner now and attempt to think of something interesting to write about, as I don't really want to clutter up the blogosphere with my inane drivel... so see you later, I expect.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm Dr B now!!!!!!!!!!!!

I passed my PhD viva with minor corrections the other day, so now I'm a Dr! It's quite funny really after all that time, effort and angst! My brother couldn't stop chortling on the phone and I've been getting cards addressed to Dr too, not sure what the postman thought about my sister-in-law's congratulations to Dr Death though!

It went alright, nice examiners who all knew each other already, they really liked my work and asked okayish questions. It lasted an hour and a half, then they spent ages, maybe an hour deliberating about the results before they called us back in to tell me I'd passed. We were wondering if they'd popped out for afternoon tea or something as it took so long. They asked if they could see the workshops as they seemed to find the whole art school thing very interesting, so one of the staff gave us a quick tour. And they liked the domed college foyer where your voice echoes in a really strange way if you stand in one particular spot.

Then my nice colleagues took me to the pub for a well earned drink. So that's nearly that, I suppose and I can move on to something else. Whaaaaheyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

One down, one to go!

My mock viva went quite well on Friday, it seems. It lasted about 2 hours, had some rather difficult questions, but my supervisors said I addressed them well. I found I had a tendency to forget what I was saying when I started answering odd questions, especially after a long intro to the question, so my mind went blank. I'll have to try to write down keywords while they're speaking to stop me rambling inanely in my replies.

To be honest, I was a bit gobsmacked by the good feedback I got, both supervisors were so enthusiastic about my work that I was a bit taken aback. Both said it had been useful to have a break from it and both hadn't touched it for months, so came to it fresh. Apparently it's really good, interesting, enjoyable to read, well written and I should be proud of it. And it would make a great book. And they loved my idea about a curatorial project and suggested one of the major London museums, which I had in mind anyway, though I didn't want to seem too big for my boots by suggesting it myself before I've actually got the whole thing wrapped up. Blimey!!!! :-)

So there we go, one exam done and the real thing next week. It's done my confidence a lot of good, so now I can just get on with revising as I have been and stop agonising quite as much. I'm not so naive that I think the viva's going to go as smoothly as the mock, I think it's wrong to take anything for granted, but it's been a really useful experience. I'm so lucky I've got good supervisors, it makes a hell of a difference.

So... I'll see what happens on Thursday.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Trying out Twitter

I just wondered what this Twitter thing is all about, so I'll be trying it out for a little while and see how it goes. More online trivia... great.... The whole blog needs a rethink anyway at some point and I'm still dithering over the pros and cons of anonymity.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I've been revising for my PhD exams (viva next week, mock viva this week) so am not around much on the blogging front, which will continue for a bit.

It's a bit nerve wracking, as the stakes are indeed quite high. I would hate to mess up all my work in the final stages by not being prepared enough, which I don't feel I am at the moment... I was told that you could swing the final decision on your thesis either way in the viva, which puts more pressure on you to perform well on the day. Not to over-exaggerate, but I really don't like this feeling of impending doom. It's a rather nasty final countdown at this point. It's like being on the academic equivalent of death row, though obviously the examiners won't finish me off physically on the day. It's the most horrible stressful thing I've actually chosen to do in my life. How the hell do I keep so much work and knowledge in my head on the day, under all that stress...???

Oh well, thank goodness for perky pop songs and Elvis in luridly technicoloured, Hollywood hip-swivelling mode. There are marginally better quality videos of this song, but this one crops out more of the stage and the prancing women. I'm afraid it's the most upbeat thing I could think of in my ongoing viva hell, with it's irresistible finger-snappin', foot-tappin' bongo beat.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Yesirree, I finally submitted my thesis for examination yesterday afternoon. Printed it out (7 copies of about 300 pages each) on Friday afternoon, took them to the binders and collected them yesterday lunchtime to deliver to Research HQ to be signed off. I dreamed my bag of theses got swopped on the bus with someone's heavy bag of Tesco's shopping so I was thwarted at the last moment for submitting, but that didn't happen in real life as I clutched them tightly, just in case. 3 copies get sent to a panel of chosen academics for my examination in a few months time, before the whole thing rolls on towards its final conclusion. It's been a hideous few weeks which I hope I never have to revisit, far too much stress and a dreadful lack of proper sleep, but at least it's another stage reached.

So in the words of Dusty Springfield, now I just don't know what to do with myself,* as it's been hanging over me for so long! Well, not quite in Dusty's words as she obviously wasn't singing about a thesis and she's sad, whereas I'm certainly not, but it makes my point, and anyway she's got a great voice and it's got an interesting set made from big white tubes. So now I'll have to rehabilitate myself into 'normal' life again! How weird it's all been recently....

* apart from catching up on sleep, SO desperately needed right now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The final stretch!

I'm off work now, taking annual leave to finish off this thing (aka My Thesis). Ooooh, it's quite exciting to have an end in sight. I keep thinking of normal things I can do when I've submitted, like going clothes shopping and to see some exhibitions. Even a bit of DIY seems enticing, believe it or not. Today I have to make a timetable of what's still got to be done and stick to it, or I'll dream about missed deadlines and get in a state and I definitely don't want that.

Hope to be back soon with something more interesting to write about!

heheh.... ooooh, I'm nearly there!!!!!!!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Cramps' Lux Interior dead...

I'm a bit shocked. I've just read that Lux Interior of The Cramps died this week. The NME says he died on Feb 4th of a pre-existing heart condition, aged 62. He was the lead singer of a band that fused punk with rockabilly in the mid 1970s, creating the prototype 'psychobilly' sound and you can see their influence in numerous bands since then, but they were the first. A real one-off.

I've seen them several times over the years, most recently at The Astoria (RIP Astoria too, while I'm at it). I really liked their swampy rockabilly sound and the mixture of trashy 1950s/60s garage and surf music and B movies influences they wove into their own music. It led me onto original rockabilly and strange old films I might not have come across otherwise. He's finally keeping that date with Elvis....

(pic: Redferns, in the NME.)

These are good personal accounts and comments.

Here's The Cramps doing 'The Way I Walk' live at Napa State Mental Hospital in 1978....

Saturday, February 07, 2009

25 things

Sanddancer and Roses have both done 25 random things about themselves over on their blogs, and as I'm similarly lacking in inspiration at the moment I'll do it too (let's hope my inspiration's all going into the thesis instead, eh). 25 seems a lot though, so I'll do it quickly as a blog stop gap for my possible missing without a trace status over the next few weeks.

1. I wish I could think of a theme for my blog like other people do, but I can't. Maybe one day...

2. I'm getting concerned about the changing ratio of available floor space to books and papers at home.

3. I got a ride in a classic hearse in a open day cemetery cortege with an undertaker once, and I thought 'eat your hearts out, picnicking goths' as we drove past them.

4. I like listening to other people's conversations on buses. Even boring ones.

5. I'm wondering if that makes me nosey, or if loud conversations in public places makes it ok to listen?

6. Washing the dirty dishes from the night before is now considered a 'break' from PhD work. Whooppeee, it's fun and games all the way with me.

7. I could sing the jingle from the 1960s Zambian TV advert for Vaseline Blue Seal White Petroleum Jelly, but I have a horrible singing voice so I won't. I wish I could forget it actually!

8. I love The Bill. It is my favourite TV soap-drama.

9. Seeing 1950s classic cars out on the roads makes me happy.

10. I don't like numbers, but I was a computer programmer for a while. Weird, eh.

11. I'm now flagging with this '25 things' thing and wondering whether to knock off early....

12. Oh yes, I'm going to ask people I know to send me things in the post addressed to Dr so and so when I've finished this damned PhD, just for the novelty value of using a different title!!!!! Heheheh, it may sound a little nerdy but oooooh I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!!!

13. I am eating a piece of toast with almond butter on and drinking a cup of tea at the moment. Very nice too.

14. I was meant to take some photos of bottles last week for my thesis, but I forgot.

15. I am frequently surprised by how upset people are at the 'wrong' results they get from googling their own names.

16. I love reading the blog stats to see the strange search terms people use to end up at my blog.

17. Following on from that, I am glad to provide photos of the Kiss Kasket for all and sundry....

18..... and to clear up for once and for all that Sherlock Holmes was not a real person.

19. I want to pay off my mortgage and buy another flat by the sea before the 2012 Olympics fiasco hits London so I can escape. I was planning to do it anyway, but that seems a good target date.

20. I absolutely abhor strong aftershave or perfume on other people, particularly in confined spaces like my office or on a bus. It gives me a headache after a while.

21. I am a big fan of Douglas Sirk's films. Would Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (one of my favourite films) have been even better if he'd directed it???

22. I'm starting to feel guilty about doing this blog post now... all that time that's not going on the PhD... tut tut...

23. Perversely, I don't feel guilty about spending ages on the postgrad forum, which I am very fond of.

24. I think art colleges are rather wonderful places to work in.

25. Having said that, I'd better get on with this weekend's chapters or I won't be doing my own work prospects much good. See you soon, in a virtual sense!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Selected for an exhibition

I just found out that some work I did has been selected to go in the annual college 'showcase' exhibition. It's the first time PhDs have been included in the event, as it's usually BA and MA work from practice-based art and design courses. I'm an odd one as I'm doing a theory project in an art college, so am pleasantly surprised I was picked!

It's nothing wildly exciting really, some of us did a couple of A1 boards of images and blurb about our PhD projects for a student recruitment event a while ago. I did my contribution really fast as it clashed with a major draft hand-in and I was quite pushed for time, so I wouldn't say I was terribly proud of it (hence the absence of link to the show!) but it's ok for what they wanted. Maybe next time I can do something with video and sound, as I originally wanted. It always comes as a surprise when other staff say they like what I'm doing, mainly because it's been going on for so long now and I never realised I'd be a blip on their radar as I don't deal with them on a day to day basis. It feels like I'm working in a vacuum a lot of the time, with no-one except my supervisors reading my work these days, so the odd bit of nice feedback from other sources is a very welcome bit of encouragement to get it finished!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pullovers and Puns

TheCatsMother and myself have been comparing various cashmere cardigans from different shops recently, in a quest for a nice but reasonably priced one. I tried out one from a mailorder company called Woolovers, though I had to send it back as it was a bit old fashioned in a bad way, rather than old fashioned in a good vintage cardi way. We've spent quite a while pondering how the name was supposed to be pronounced - wool lovers (they love their wool) or woolovers, as in pullovers. The man in the post office asked me the same question, then added his own bad pun by noting that it was 'wool over for the pullover'... (as in 'all over'...) *groan*.

Then he tried to sell me life insurance while quietly singing to himself. I wasn't sure whether his sales attempt was a seasonal thing - maybe Xmas then New Year followed by a credit crunch makes people die more rapidly and without warning, so insurance is more necessary?? I definitely don't look as if I'm at death's door, but I would have bought some stamps if he was desperate to sell me something extra.

Continuing the clothing theme, here's a song by Jess Conrad called This Pullover, recorded in 1961. It's about the relationship between a man and a pullover. It has apparently been described as the worst song ever, but I'd say remember The Birdie Song or Agadoo before making your mind up, as they are completely charmless. Though Agadoo has got some nice dancing fruit and unusually lurid shirts in the video.... well, interesting for 2 seconds maybe...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Panicky post

This is a get-it-out-of-my-system post I'm afraid, so look away now if you like. I'm really struggling with this sodding thesis at the moment. I keep having these horrible thoughts that maybe all the good feedback I've had from my supervisors is wrong and there's some dreadful underlying problem with my work that they haven't mentioned because they want me to finish the thing on time. I know it's ridiculous, as any disasters should have been picked up years ago, but it's that annoying paranoia and insecurity that niggles at me when I'm tired and I've got loads to do.

It's a bit weird getting to the end of about 7 years work, which is what it is - the final month of all that. I'm scared I won't be able to finish the corrections on time and won't do myself justice. I've done a timetable of the remaining days that I can actually work on this when I'm not at work, up to the end of Feb, and it's so dreadfully packed with corrections... it's making me feel a bit panicky which I really don't like, and it makes me freeze and do nothing, so not very productive.

It's all so stupid really, all this panicking.... I have heard the same thing from so many other people doing PhDs. Loads of them say it on the forum, from the first year right up to the end. It's normal, but not nice. You get so close to your work over so many years that it's hard to see it from an outside perspective, and given the number of people who have actually read it... you can count them on the fingers of one hand.... Maybe it's not surprising that occasionally you think yeah, I think it's ok, but maybe I'm horribly deluded in my strange, secluded way of thinking and it's really crap and I just didn't realise.

It's quite bizarre how one actually chooses to do this thing, to spend so long veering between satisfaction with what one's doing and dreadful waves of selfdoubt. Are we a really peculiar type of person to want to do this???? I really don't know. It feels like a strange academic version of the Freemasons but without the handshakes. Shrouded in mystery unless you've been there and done that. If someone's done a doctorate they know what you've been through, like some funny little select group of academic masochists and no one understands unless they've done it themselves. It's a rather curious rite of passage, in some ways...

Anyway, I must remember that it's an original and really interesting piece of work, and there's a good feeling surrounding it at the moment, so all the hard work and angst will be worth it in the end. Not my words btw, but the supervisor's feedback on the draft before Xmas. Oh well, I'd better get on with it again.... *sigh*....

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unbelievably tasteless

I couldn't believe anyone could be so utterly inappropriate and tasteless when I heard the news report last night about the Conservative Party activist who had planned to attend a New Year's Eve fancy dress party dressed as Madeline McCann (the still missing child) and posted it on Facebook. His outfit was intended to be "a blonde wig, pink pyjamas, a teddy bear and a vial of fake blood" - the clothes she wore when she went missing. Someone else at the party went as Baby P, the toddler who was in the news recently for his death following months of horrific abuse, a 'fancy dress' outfit I find even more tasteless than the McCann one.

It's not as if they're uneducated, as that activist is apparently studying at the University of London. He was listed as the Branch Chairman of Staffordshire Conservative Future organisation, though has now been removed from that post. I have a fairly black sense of humour on the whole, but that incident seems rather twisted to me and I can't see how it could be considered either entertaining or funny. Are these men really the future of the modern Conservative party - people with absolutely no idea about what matters, is appropriate behaviour or is actually amusing to large sections of the general public?? Don't you have to be 'in touch' with the people you want votes from??? David Cameron will have his work cut out to portray a new caring Conservative party if there's many like that bubbling away in the background.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Use of cat and dog fur banned in EU

According to a report on the BBC site, the use of cat and dog fur has finally been banned across the EU from the start of 2009, after a nine year campaign by a Scottish Tory MEP.

Apparently, more than two million cats and dogs are said to be killed for their skins in China every year. Many shoppers buy goods made with the fur unknowingly, as exporters attach false labels. MEP Mr Struan Stevenson, whose campaign was conducted with the support of the Humane Society International, said the furs were even used to make cat and dog toys which parents bought for their children, not realising that real cats and dogs have been killed and skinned to make the products.

Although I find the whole thing revolting anyway, using it for kid's toys has a particularly macabre irony, especially if the family has pet cats or dogs. It's just one step removed from using fully-fledged taxidermy specimens for toys. A good result for Mr Stevenson though!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Horoscopes make me feel shifty, but I like them

Hello to any passing blog readers - happy new year! I've been scrutinising my horoscope for this month and what 2009 might allegedly hold for me, probably along with loads of other people. Mentioning it makes me feel a bit shifty though, as if it's some dodgy illicit habit that I shouldn't admit to in certain company (on the blog's ok, of course).

I don't know why I read them, but I have been for years in one particular magazine. Every month I think it's time to stop, as it's probably a waste of money - a couple of quid on a magazine full of typos and frequently rather suspect grammar, with articles that make me cringe slightly and always go unread. Topics like the 'jelly baby spell that changed my life' and articles about fairies. I like to think I'm fairly open minded about these things - no reason that fairies don't exist, any more than aliens may or may not do, along with any other more conventional spiritual entities - unless you've seen them, it's a case of belief. My mum's side of the family have always been interested in psychic things, from uncle's Aleister Crowley habit to my late gran's spiritualist leanings.

But I still feel dreadfully shifty when I queue up in the newsagent to buy my monthly horoscope fix, hoping no-one notices what I'm holding. Sometimes I also buy something more respectable, like The Guardian or the Times Higher Educational Supplement, as if to show that I might be buying that magazine, but my brain's still intact, to anyone that notices (which is very unlikely). It seems worse somehow than buying the Daily Mail or the News of the World, which I also occasionally do if there's something odd in them.

I don't know why I feel like it's something illicit that I shouldn't admit to doing. Maybe it's the logical scientific side of me that thinks it's silly. Maybe it's the apparent girliness of the whole horoscope thing I don't like, as if it's tainted with some negative aspect of femininity. Or maybe there's some intellectual snobbiness involved and when I'm Dr so-and-so I won't care.

Well, whatever it is, I shall continue to read them, shifty or not. I had my horoscope done ages ago by someone with a glass eye (which was slightly distracting, if I'm honest) but it was strangely accurate and I have continued to read them in a particular magazine ever since.

So this month's snippet of astro-advice for me is to 'plod on' with my work. It's definitely relevant - it could have been written for anyone trying to finish a PhD. It's nice to know that what I'm doing is affirmed by certain heavenly configurations. Reading horoscopes is harmless enough as habits go. Maybe anything that sensibly confirms what you are already doing, or want to do, is ok in these times of global doom and gloom.

Song for the day: The Floaters 1970s soul classic 'Float On', from Top of The Pops. The lyrics are a bit strange in retrospect, but fit the blog post ok!