Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pre-PhD Ness - Ongoing Preparation and Prevarication and Procrastination, Slow Cookers, Gaskell-ness, Transporter Bridges, Barthes, RSI and Things.

Some of the books I've been reading, notes for my blog post, a piece of in progress embroidery (v long in progress - started it about 18 months ago but am determined to get back into sewing and knitting as a way to relax in the evenings) guide book to Gaskell's house - if you haven't been GO! for it is wonderful.

The aformentioned Gaskells house in the sunshine - check out their website for opening times, not only is it a marvellous place to visit I can thoroughly recommend the chocolate cake in their tea room.

the actual gibbett used to hang William Jobling - as seen in South Shields Museum, this made me think about the use of actual as opposed to reproduction objects in musems (as did the Gaskell house) plus I also learnt that apparently bodies hung in gibbetts were often covered in pitch in order to ensure they hung there for as long as possible so as to be a warning to other n'er do wells of the potential consequence of their actions. You can find out more about his story here and decide for yourself whether or not his punishment was appropriate to his crime or whether the fact that there was a strike on at the time also had something to do with it.

Along with Gaskells House, Tynemouth and South Shields I've also (thanks to a lovely chum) had a day out in Hull looking at the soon to be demolished remains of the Eastern Cemetery and the Western Cemetery which also features a very impressive cholera monument and pivotal places in turning points in the English Civl War.

It's over a month since I last wrote a blog entry, and I feel well out of practice with it. I reckon getting back into a regular habit with it will help PhD wise and will mean I'm not scratching about at the last minute to hand any writing in, it's a practice based PhD so it won't be as heavy on writing as a non practice based PhD but writing will still be a major component of it. Plus doing this helps be not just collate my thoughts but also to clarify them which can only be a good thing.

I'm also trying to get my workroom in order, read what seems to be an ever increasing pile of books but I made good progress recently on that front. Finally managed to plough my way through both Uglow's excellent 600+ page opus on Elizabeth Gaskell and re-read Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes (it's a beautiful book and read it if you haven't) and also finished Photography Degree Zero edited by Geoffrey Batchen - a collection of essays by various academics in response to Camera Lucida. This was quite a slog in places - I again feared about developing RSI reaching for the dictionary to look up words I had never encountered before or didn't understand.

Thanks to a top tip on a postgrad facebook group I'm part of I am making my own handwritten (in black archival ink) not in alphabetical order dictionary of words I have to look up. Apparently there is some evidence that you are more likely to remember something if you write it down by hand, I am also employing tactics like 'heuristic' is to do with learning and is *almost* similar sounding...it's not a perfect method but it's getthing there and the book about Barthes has added two A4 sides worth of new words and their defintions and I no longer panic and feel stupid when I see the word 'hermeneutic'.

Other things I am trying to do to get ready are things like:  sorting out food cupboard,stocking up on tins of beans and sausages and stocking up the freezer with easy, comforting,  stick in the oven meal components like oven chips, fishfingers, veggie sausages and that kind of thing. We've also started using a slow cooker (impressed with it so far) as I find it easier to prepare a meal in the morning before I start working at my desk* than I do cooking from scratch at the end of the day when I get up from my desk and I'm tired. Using a slow cooker seems a good way to capitalise on this character trait as that way I can get up, prepare the ingredients, put them in the slow cooker and hey presto meal is ready at the end of the day and only further effort needed is to serve it up and eat it.

I'm still in the habit of looking at social media and online news (still mostly avoiding it on the radio and tv as frankly it's not getting any better) when I first wake up but I need to break out of my habit of looking at it so often through the day. This can be difficult though as writing something like this for instance means using the tinternet, the words I'm looking up aren't always in the dictionary so I have to look them up online and whilst I'm there I could just have a quick look at Facebook or Twitter and then I'm either chatting to mates or getting lost in links to other websites - not all of which are pertinent. It's a mix of potent addiction (though I am not so addicted that I have to look it up whilst I am out and about, properly watching a programme or at the cinema or in the pub chatting with mates) prevarication and of course procrastination. I'm getting better at undertsanding why I procrastinate some jobs more than others - some kind of fear is usually at the base of it...plus when I do procrastinate I invariably end up feeling guilty for wasting time as well so anything I can do to help balance out this equation as equally all work and no play/distraction makes for a v dull time indeed.

Like at the moment I have a deadline for an article and though I have made some notes on what I want to write about (some of which came to me in the middle of the night in Tynemouth when I was having difficulty sleeping and my non smart phone was put into use as a notebook by drafting a text) and the bulk of the actual historical research is done I still haven't actually sat down to write it. I think this is a mix of 'eek, I've never written a proper grown up academic article to go in a journal before' and 'eek, one of the people in charge of this journal is also a friend (and someone I've known for longer than I've been doing this research) and I'm scared they're going to read what I've written and think I'm hopeless'...so I need to counter this with - just sit down and make a start...I can remember the fear when I started writing my dissertation (and the mental pain) but I made a start by just formatting the document and making notes plus lots of things I've never done before aren't so scarey once I've started doing them and as for making mistakes - that's how you learn. Plus this isn't a matter of life and death - well the subject matter might be...but I am not doing this in an attempt to pursue a formal career in academia so if I make a mess of my first attempt at one it's really not the end of the world.

I'm very lucky that I'm not desperately pursuing a formal academic career as the pressures seem to be immense and the jobs at the end few and far between.

So back to what I've been up to over the last few weeks more than what I intend to do. Along with reading I've also been doing my physio exercises in attempt to strenghthen my knee and back and whilst they are no miracle cure they are definitely helping - managed to walk round lots of bits of Tynemouth and South Shields and I wouldn't have been able to do that last month.

The trip to Tynemouth was part of my birthday celebrations which actually kicked off with a trip to Manchester(ford)** and home of my literary hero de jour - Elizabeth Gaskell. It is a fantastic museum and the volunteers on duty are enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable. You are encouraged to pull the doorbell that before you the likes of Charlotte Bronte (who hid amongst the dining room curtains) and Charles Dickens have pulled. I'm not sure if it's still the original bellpull though - it's definitely a replacement bell (one of the volunteers said so) and the rooms have been fitted out with items from the Victorian period or that have been made to resemble items from the period (the wallpaper was handprinted to match a sample found when the house was being renovated) you can sit at a desk in the same spot as Elizabeth herself would have sat. There are some original artefacts (things like plates given to William Gaskell in honour of his ministerial duties) but it has made me think again about the use of original versus reproduced or replica items in museum settings.

I know it's irrational but part of me felt disappointed that it wasn't *the* desk Elizabeth had sat at but one like it. Maybe that's because I'm such a superfan of hers. Plus you could tell me that something was original or reproduction and unless it was completely obvious eg a modern Ikea table masquerading as an 18th century dining table I would be none the wiser. It's made me think again about authenticity and its importance.

So after fangirling at Gaskells house - which isn't just about Gaskell but the times she lived in and the place she lived in and sampling the very fine chocolate cake in the tea room and of course making a purchase or several in the bookshop we then headed to see True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery - the exhibition which is about Joy Division and New Order and is a mix of work made by artists that was inspired by their work and original posters, videos and at the end in a case all its own, permanently guarded by a gallery assistant to make sure you don't take a photograph, lit from below is the holy grail of the exhibition - the handwritten lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart. I was quite surprised by the scale of the reliquary like, quasi-religious worshipful atmosphere around this artefact on its own. I am a Joy Division fan (though I prefer Atmosphere) but I thought this was taking the religious inference of the title just a tad far. I felt like I was expected to genuflect in front of it or dip my fingers in holy water next to it - though maybe this says more about my probably not as lapsed as I'd like to think it is catholicism. It's on til Sunday 3rd September so go see it if you can.

The following day we headed to Tynemouth and stayed in the same house Harriet Martineau - friend of Gaskell and pioneering sociologist and femninist stayed in for five years when she was very ill. From our room we could see the Collingwood Monument, the Priory and watch ferries coming in and out of the rivermouth. We went on the pedestrian ferry to South Shields, chatted to a vicar and looked at the remaining gravestones, had a quick look round South Sheilds Museum which was very marvellous indeed - not only was there the gibbet as pictured above but also the dictaphone Catherine Cookson used to dictate her novels into and then there was afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel as stayed in by Margaret Rutherford, a mooch around the remaining magnificant gravestones of Tynemouth Priory, a climb up the steps of the Collingwood Monument and the following day a go on the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge and a trip to Sound It OuT Records in Stockton On Tees where a long chat and giggle was had about Goth as a musical subculture. Marvellous.

I also managed quite a bit of walking around Hull - unexpectedly encountering the very fine Cholera Monument which has these words written at the base of its big obelisk:
this monument
erected by the Hull General Cemetery
with the aid of private subscription
was set here to commemorate
the great visitation of cholera
during the months of July, August and September 1849
and to remember
the 1,860 in habitants
1 in 43 of the population
of this town
who fell victim to that
fearful disease
700 of whom
are buried near this

I don't have a good enough image to share as it was too dark for my cameraphone to take an image and the film on my regular camera had been used up by then.

I've taken lots of pics when I've been out and about and also took some instant pictures at a friends wedding - the later mostly came out okay and she was very pleased with them but they confirmed that my photographic pleasure doesn't come from taking pictures of people and events but of places and things. I'm really pleased with a couple and already have plans to use them to make cyanotypes and anthotypes. One thing I am really excited about starting back at big school is getting access to professional printing facilities again. I'm also looking forward to being able to borrow different kinds of cameras too - even though each camera is a learning curve and it takes a few goes to get used to a new viewfinder and the view from that viewfinder.

Well it's taken me quite a while to write this - it's quarter to three now and I started about eleven am - though I have had breaks with for lunch and a couple of social media breaks too, how long taks take is something that's on my mind at the moment too but I feel like I've got one more thing ticked off my to do list and collated some of my thoughts to do with authenticity.

Still to do on my to do list is lots of reading - I want to finish The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Gaskell that I started a couple of weeks ago, reread Dracula, Barthes Mythologies, and something that is nothing to do with any of my formal studies as one thing I also need is a proper break from them at times too. One thing I don't need though is anymore stationery for the time being - in fact if anything I've probably got enough notebooks to 'see me out'.

sitting at desk can also be trip to library, archive, making/ taking pictures
** as a diehard Victoria Wood and Acorn Antiques fan - it'll always be Manchesterford to me...

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