Friday, 20 July 2018

PhD-Nes Part 11 Reading, Doing, Talking, Having A Break and Beginning Again....

Phone pic of Lindeth Tower - utterly incredible place to stay - not least because it was the favourite holiday home of Elizabeth Gaskell and where she wrote Ruth - possibly her most radical novel. 
here is this months note, along with notes of book to read which feature cemeteries almost as characters in their own right (as heard on the book programme on R4)  a card of a watercolour painting by Janice McGloine of Lindeth Tower Silverdale - where I have had the immense privilege of staying as a pre significant birthday with a zero treat and one of the things I have been making recently - a repurposed supercheap lightbox from Home Bargains filled with a 35mm image printed on acetate of Ann Carr's grave taken on what would have been her 235th birthday.

Am writing this - partly as a way of getting my thoughts together but also as a way to ease myself back into some writing as I've had a few very welcome and much needed days off since my upgrade viva on July 4th. Which frankly seems like a lifetime ago now but was only a couple of weeks ago. I feel like I had been preparing for it for months - which I had but it also seemed like a very long winded way of assessing whether or not the work I had been doing was of a good enough standard to become a proper full on PhD research project. I first started writing the upgrade report back in March and it went through many drafts, rewrites, reformats and much metaphorical tearing out of hair before I finally handed it in for assessment on 17th June electronically and then in paper form on 18th June. I then had a mock viva with my tutor and then rejigged my presentation based on her feedback before the official one on July 4th.

It felt like an impossible, insurmountable, never ending task at times which seemed to dominate my every waking hour - as it was/is a really important milestone. There were three possible outcomes:
a)No - it's not PhD standard - try for an M Phil instead
b) Mmm - it could be good enough but it isn't yet - take on board these points and we'll go through this assessment process again in 6 weeks and we'll see if it's improved enough by then.
c)Yes - that's okay, you need to think about x,y,z but it's basically okay and you can proceed.

I was quietly confident that it wouldn't be a) as I had done loads of work plus bottom line - they want my fees for the next two years, my ideal outcome was c) and I am still both very glad and very relieved that that was the outcome I got - along with some really useful feedback and pointers for moving it forward. So I am now officially a doctoral candidate and all set for the second year of my research and studies and then all being well - the third....

Except I haven't really done much studying or research since then - instead I have been having the occasional lie in, I have been to the pictures - seen Yellow Submarine (1967) which I enjoyed but was a bit too sick of its hippy message by the end and so wanted to go on a metaphorical killing spree, That Summer (2017) which was an interesting but also slightly disturbing documentary about a well to do woman and daughter living in comparative squalor in the Hamptons, and on tv - Cash on Demand (1961) which was a taut thriller with Andre Morrell and Peter Cushing at the height of their fantastic acting powers - I absolutely loved that and want to watch it again. 

I have caught up with some chums, I have properly cleaned and tidied the house (it needs doing again now though - oh how I wish bathroom tiles stayed scrubbed once you've done them) and I have mooched around charity shops. I have lain on the sofa and read books bought from said charity shops, books read entirely for pleasure -  the wonderful Diary of a Provincial Lady (first published 1930) by EM Delafield which transported me to a different time and social class and made me chuckle, the gritty and transporting in a different way Johnny Come Home (2006) by Jake Arnott and the thought provoking and wonderful Grayson Perry - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl (2006) by Wendy Jones which if I'm honest does have some passages that have made me think about my own artwork making processes.  But at some point soon I really need to get back in a thinking/working way of behaving, I'm still going to take things relatively easy until my birthday is out of the way though but then it's back to the grindstone in earnest. No mean feat in this horrible soul sapping energy dampening heat though. I am (almost) literally praying for rain.

I celebrated the evening of the viva by going to the Wimpy in Huddersfield - they still have the Wimpy and whilst it is not quite the Wimpy I remember from my childhood (when it was a very special treat to have one of their big frothy strawberry milkshakes in a glass and I was told off for either blowing back down the straw in order to make more bubbles or slurping up the last of it loudly) it still has waitress service, Benders and carbon copy order pads. It was delicious in the way that fast not very good nutritionally food is and that was followed by lots of fizz when we got home. I avoided any and all world cup games because that kind of organised sport gets on my last nerve. I did a talk on my work for Curator Space at the Art House in Wakefield which went well and then we went to Silverdale - via a quick stop off at Blackpool Tower where I steeled myself to walk on the glass floor about 350 feet up before escaping to the relative quiet of the upper more open to fresh air but still meshed in floors.

Silverdale was amazing - peaceful, quiet and picturesque and it was so amazing to be staying in what had also been Elizabeth Gaskell's holiday home (part of me wonders if there as many terrifying 'DANGER QUICKSAND' notices in her day on the shoreline - so there was no paddling but there was a fair amount of walking along the rocky bits of the shoreline along Jenny Browns Point) though it was also quite hard work as the staircases in the Tower were steep and high. They were not the things to tackle if under a heavy influence of gin so drinking was kept to a minimum or non existent until the steepest of the stairs had been conquered for the night. Plus the loo was on the ground floor. It was absolutely gorgeous though and we really want to go back again. Re-reading Ruth (1853) which she wrote there was a special treat, as was writing my diary with my trusty fountain pen looking out of the window that Gaskell herself would have done when writing. The bats which swooped round the Tower at night were also wonderful - but being bitten by midges was not. 

Along with a bit of mooching along the shore we also had an enjoyable afternoon in Carnforth - replete with visit to the railway station where bits of Brief Encounter (1945) were filmed. I am ever so slightly in love with Trevor Howard (though I love him best in The Third Man (1949) and Stanley Holloway and there was much quoting of Joyce Carey's delightful cafe owners '..all over me banburys'.

There was also the most glorious secondhand bookshop - 14 rooms of gorgeous old books spread over two floors and I got a copy of Winifred Gerin's book on Gaskell from 1976 for just £2.50. So far I have only looked in the index and read the sections which featured Silverdale but I hope to read it properly soon - be interesting to see how it compares to Jenny Uglow's more recent longer work. As you can tell - my love of Gaskell shows no sign  of diminishing. Gaskell, Collins, Braddon, the Brontes and Eliot remain my main nineteenth century literary heroes and inspirations.

I was straight back to work in a way though the day after we got back as I gave a talk on the history of St George's Field at Leeds Central Library which thankfully I had prepared and practised before we went away. Despite the heat and the climb to the top floor around thirty came along and it went well. I still feel nervous when I'm talking in front of a group of people like that - but I have lost the tremble in my knee and in my voice thankfully. I love my subject and I love sharing it with others and I think that comes across and I hope I never lose that love for it. 

So I've still got loads to do but for the moment at least it feels like the pressure is off - I don't have any tours or talks booked in for a few weeks, so I feel like I can stop whatever I'm doing without worry in the early evening and watch comedy on E4 - I'm still enjoying black-ish, Young Sheldon (I love his Meemaw) and The Goldbergs. Regular gym trips are also helping me keep a better work life balance plus I don't think I'd have had the strength for the many stairs of Silverdale without having been a regular for the last few months and building up some much needed stamina. I want to be able to keep this feeling of being more relaxed up though - I need to get a better work/life balance for the rest of the summer and the new term.