Category Archives: Life

Ideas for writing projects

You may recall that I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve finally completed the poetry collection that I’ve been working on, and just need to re-read it a few more times to make sure that I’m happy with it. Well, now I’ve been thinking about what I should write next, and have decided that- whilst I have another book of poetry planned out and begun in snippets- I will begin a novel that I came up with an idea for a few weeks ago, and which I have subsequently planned in quite a bit of detail. I’m also going to write a series of short stories, vignettes and fragments a la Kafka on a variety of topics and in a wide range of styles but with an overarching theme with the intention of putting a book together. Hopefully, these will allow me to experiment with styles and narrative voices, as well as providing stimulating breaks from the novel once I’ve finally taken the plunge and written the first sentence in my new notebook. I will keep posting fairly regular updates on my progress, and hope to be finished by some point next year so I can then pester publishers once I have been rejected copiously with my poems. Wish me luck!

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Life update #4

It’s been a week since I last posted anything on here, and I am aware that I’ve been getting somewhat behind on my posts; there’s a backlog of 4 ‘Thoughts on…’ posts that I hope to complete, as well as several other things that have caught my eye over the past few days. It’s not even as though I’ve been particularly busy lately, either. I usually post things on here in an evening or in the early hours of the morning, and it’s simply been that I’ve been way too tired to sit up thinking strenuously about literature, archaeology or other such things. I’ve also been feeling rather miserable lately, in part due to the depressing state of the weather, and the uncertainty about my job, as the process of finding out about my hours and pay has seemed to drag on and on. However- I can now smile! I still don’t have a start date, but at least I now know (thanks to an email I picked up last night) that my hours and pay are sorted, and should start the week after next. I still feel quite lacklustre in general at the moment for no particular reason, but at least I know that I will be able to provide a Christmas for my family, and that we should be secure for the near future.

On another point, I am also very close to having edited and redrafted the book of poems that I announced the completion of in draft form in a previous post, and hope to have them completely finished by the new year. Then, I can try to get them published, but just have to pluck up the courage to actually submit. I will do, though. I just need a little faith in myself.

Lastly, not so much a life point, but this blog seems to be stuck at the moment on the number of followers I have, as no-one has followed it for quite a while now. PLEASE spread the word and tell people you know about it! Share my posts on Facebook, and ‘like’ the Facebook page facebook.com/electricpuppetblog. Thank you! And look out for a few new posts that I should be getting up soon!

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Life update #3

Riding the high of my previous post, I may as well impart my other piece of good news. As you will know if you have been following this blog, I have been living in Stoke-on-Trent since finishing university back in June, and have been feeling rather down due to the lack of opportunity and the lack of drive in the city following the optimism and splendour of Oxford. Well, I have been speaking to my old form teacher/friend from high school recently on Facebook, when the other week he asked if I would like to meet with the new Headteacher at the school to discuss Oxford, and to see what I could offer the school in terms of advice about Oxbridge. I went in to see the two of them on Thursday (3rd), and have been offered a job as a mentor and in assisting with university links! I have yet to finalise pay, hours and have a CRB check, but if all goes well, I should hopefully be in work within a month. Yippee! I cannot thank my ex-teacher enough for facilitating this opportunity for me, and am truly grateful and humbled that they feel I could be of any use to the school at all, to be honest. I will post an update when I know more, but for now, things are looking slightly more shiny than they did!

Mr Happy

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Political intolerance

Before I start this post, I will say that this is based on personal observation and opinion- so don’t moan at me for what I say!

The reason that I’m writing this is because yesterday I came across an interesting string of comments regarding a uni friend’s choice of political party, and found the whole episode irritating to say the least. This was for two reasons: 1) Their grasp of British politics was rather shaky, despite professing that they knew what they were talking about, and  2) I am now unsure how their staunch views affect my relationship with them, as I would be a prime example of someone their party wouldn’t like.  Now, let me explain.

I am a supporter of the UK’s Labour Party- I do not hide this fact. However, I can see that other parties leaders may have been decent in the past and done their jobs well. For example, I can see that for the most part, Churchill was a good leader and Prime Minister during WWII, but this would not make me instantly vote Tory or Liberal, even though he belonged to both of these parties at various points of his career.  I say this because the said Facebook rant seemed to take the line that because Margaret Thatcher had been an effectual leader and caused a change for the better in an Eastern Block country, then the party she belonged to would therefore be the best thing for the UK 20 years later. Just by reading that, you can probably see the flaw in the reasoning. It wasn’t that no knowledge of politics was exhibited per se, but it showed a lack of knowledge and regard for the country- any argument made against this view that tried to show the way people are worse off under the present Lib/Con coalition was ignored or attacked on personal grounds. Now, personal attacks are not okay in political debates or discussions and have no place in politics. However, the lack of seeming regard for the fact that many areas of the UK are in poverty, with families living on the ‘bread line’ and unable to find work or any form of help under the present government, seemed to me insulting. As I said above, the fact that a past Tory leader may have been good for another country does not mean that the present Tory party’s policies are good for the country now in the present. The cuts the coalition has made so far hit the people at the bottom of the social pile first and the hardest. Rather than cutting the bonuses that banks and the BBC are allowed to give to present and former, ineffectual and disgraced chiefs, the government would prefer to cut benefits to those worst off, or make people in council housing pay more rent by giving them less housing benefit if they are deemed to have too many bedrooms. They would prefer to pay several billion pounds on a high-speed rail network (‘HS2’) that is not needed and would only benefit a select few, and make it easier for big businesses to pay no tax through loopholes in the law than  give help to those millions of families who need it. For someone who has only ever seen the privileged, middle-class side of the UK and has only spent time with middle class individuals from the ‘Oxford Bubble’, the cuts by the government may seem to have no relevance or may not matter, but I can personally see the effect that such stupid policies have in an area such as Stoke-on-Trent. Which leads me on to the second point that I detailed at the beginning of this post.

As previous posts have alluded to, I have studied at Oxford, but come from a working class background in a dead city. It is frustrating that as a write this, I am currently without a job and my family is scraping by on several forms of benefit. I am not proud of this, and as I have said before, my partner and myself aim to make the most of our life for the sake of our own happiness and for our children’s future- we want to return to university at Oxford, and then write, lecture and be successful sociologists  and priests (my partner); archaeologists and poets (myself). However that is the state at present, and the current government are making the situation worse for us. Now, in posting the views regarding the Tories as mentioned above, and by ignoring the effect their policies are having on those less well off in society, I cannot help but feel as though my friend shares the Conservative view of people of benefits and those at the bottom of the heap. Am I in a situation of my own making? Should I have to carry out community service for every penny of my Jobseekers, which I could end up doing, instead of carrying out volunteer work at excavations to gain important skills that could give me the experience that allows me to apply for the jobs that I hope to do? I cannot help but feel that this is how they silently view me; as a chav with kids who’s arsing around instead of working, or as a scrounger who should help myself instead of being helped. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even been to Oxford, coming from a working class area. Here, I could start with the Labour propaganda, as it is thanks to them and their introduction of Student Loans that I was able to go to uni; in much the same way as the Facebook comments suggested Thatcher should be lauded for making it possible to reach the University of Oxford from Eastern Europe.* However, I had hoped that my friends knew my family and I better; taking us for who we are and not what the government may say we are. It saddens me, and frankly hurts.

I do not have a problem with people holding different views to mine, whether this be political or religious. I just don’t like it when it is ill-thought out and personally insulting. Anyhoo- feel free to comment on here or on the Electric Puppet Facebook page. I would love your input.

Thatcher cartoon

Image: Shooty/Caglecartoons.com

* I could also add that Labour’s Student Loans made it possible for foreign Tories to study here… but I won’t.

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Stoke-on-Trent: The city that died

While talking to people at the graduation, I realised that many of them didn’t really know much about the place I come from, and so I thought that as most of my followers and visitors on here are not from the UK, you probably know even less about it. As I said in my post Life Update #1, both myself and my partner come from Stoke-on-Trent, which is a city in the Midlands. The place is most famous for its ceramics industry that made the city known across the world as ‘The Potteries’, with the likes of Wedgwood, Spode, Minton, Royal Doulton (despite originating in London), Moorcroft, Clarice Cliff and Steelite all being based here. During the city’s peak, there were several thousand pottery companies producing wares, of varying size, production capacity and renown. However, this image off the ‘Telegraph’ website sums up the state of the pottery industry in the city now…

SoT from Telegraph

Behind that mound of rubble can be seen the tops of two structures known in Stoke as ‘bottle ovens’, and these are (or were) the defining features of the region’s skyline. These kilns were once part of pottery factories (or ‘pot banks’), being the actual ovens in which the ceramics were fired, and in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, came to dominate the city.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

With the decline of the pottery industry due to cheap foreign produce and the increasing appeal of sending manufacture to the Far East, many of these kilns have been demolished, leaving the handful that are left as Listed structures and important symbols of the region’s past, as well as emblems that the place can use to define itself.

Indeed, the City of Stoke-on-Trent is an interesting one that is not easy to define. From 1910 until 1925, it was a borough, made up of the ‘Six Towns’ of differing administrative and district status: Burslem, Hanley, Stoke (or Stoke-upon-Trent), Tunstall, Fenton and Longton, and numerous smaller settlements and areas. Then, in 1925 it gained City status, with Hanley becoming the main commercial centre of the city. Stoke retained the administrative and religious focus, but the former is now also being moved to Hanley, with the latter being pretty much all that is in Stoke itself besides a railway station. Stoke (the town- the city is confusingly refered to as simply ‘Stoke’ too) was where the first church was built in the region in the 7th century, with the name ‘Stoke’ or ‘stoc’ referring to a ‘place’. This has been interpreted as being a holy place, but may have also been a farm, or a crossing place where two roads meet. However, there are remains of a Saxon church and stone cross in Stoke town, near the site of the present Minster Church of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Out of all the towns, Burslem was the most prolific for ceramic production, becoming known as the ‘Mother Town’ of the Potteries, and it is here that the earliest evidence for pottery production in the city has been found, dating back to the medieval period. This was found by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ when they came to excavate on the site of Josiah Wedgwood’s first factory, the Ivy House Works, in Burslem town centre in 1998, and I’m on the end of the programme in the crowd, madly waving!

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the 'Time Team' dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the tiem, but can't put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece.

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the ‘Time Team’ dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the time, but can’t put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece, and the building in the top right, which is the only extant part of Wedgwood’s Ivy House works.

As well as ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent has provided the world with several other people and things, too. It was here that William Clowes and John Bourne (both born in Burslem) founded Primitive Methodism at the turn of the 19th century, and in the city that Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, was born. Also, the author Arnold Bennett (the Potteries answer to Charles Dickens) immortalised the towns in his works such as ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, ‘The Card’ (made into a 1952 film starring Alec Guinness and filmed largely in Burslem), ‘Clayhanger’ and ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’. He was friends with H. G. Wells, who stayed in Stoke with Bennett in 1888 and later wrote the short story ‘The Cone’ about the Shelton Bar Iron and Steelworks in the city. Here we also come to a further industry that once powered the city- steel production. Similarly, the region was also well-known for coal mining, but this died when the rest of the mines went bust under Thatcher.

More recently, the city has become known for its football in the form of Stoke City and the less-successful Port Vale, but the latter is perhaps better known for its most famous supporter Robbie Williams, who was born in Tunstall and raised above a pub (The Red Lion) in Burslem. Incidently, the pub is next door to the building shown on the top right of the ‘Time Team’ image.

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel wethervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie's hit 'Angels'

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel weathervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie’s hit ‘Angels’

I don’t suppose that Stoke is that bad when I write about it like this- it has had a fascinating and quite important past, and has given the world quite a few things. Did I mention Henry Faulds (1843-1930), who developed the technique of fingerprinting? He lived out his years and is buried in the city. And Anthea Turner? …yeah. Perhaps I’ll leave that last one…

No- I don’t hate Stoke. I just feel that now the place lacks ambition and drive, and where I want to get with my life, I can’t do it here. I hope, however, that you have learnt something, and now will know where I am talking about when I mention Stoke!

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Graduation!

Graduation1

Looking down on the ceremony within Christopher Wren’s exquisite Sheldonian Theatre. I’m somewhere on the front row.

As I stated in my last post, we were in Oxford on Friday 20th for my graduation ceremony, and this proved to be an interesting, nerve-racking, amazing and upsetting day all at once. We had originally planned to travel down to Oxford by train and stay several nights, but a reassessment of funds suggested that this would not be possible. Then, it turned out that my partner’s father couldn’t take us as we had planned due to being in hospital for a pre-op to a knee-op, and so for a few days it seemed as though we wouldn’t be going at all, and I may have had to graduate in absentia. In the end, we went down by car with my parents, despite our recent falling out, but this meant that there was only room for five people: my parents (x2), my partner, our youngest son, and myself. It put a dampener on the day that our eldest couldn’t be present, but he was happy enough watching ‘Pepper Pig’ and ‘Spongebob’ with his maternal great-grandparents back in Stoke to really care. To make things worse, my partner also couldn’t come into the ceremony with our youngest, as young children aren’t allowed into the Sheldonian Theatre where the ceremony takes place. However, we could all meet in my college (St. Hugh’s- previous alumni of which include Emily Davison and Aung San Suu Kyi) before hand for a briefing of what we had to do in the ceremony and for refreshments.

When the guests were in the Theatre, graduands met in the Convocation House, a very beautiful room off from one end of the Divinity School of the Bodleian. Convocation House was built between 1634 and 1637, and was used in the English Civil War as the House of Commons, and later in 1665 and 1681 by the parliament of Charles II when they were unable to meet in London. The Divinity School, on the other hand, is a breathtaking space that dates from 1427-1483, and is the oldest surviving building purposefully constructed for the University.

Convocation House. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Convocation House. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Divinity School may be familiar to some of you from the ‘Harry Potter’ films, when it was used as the Hogwarts Infirmary in the first few films:

graduation divinity harry potter

Image: Warner Bros. etc. etc. etc.

…yeah. Okay- that picture doesn’t really show you a lot. Anyhoo- the ceremony itself was terrifying mainly because almost all of it was carried out in Latin, and the graduands didn’t have a booklet telling us what was being said. Unlike the guests… We didn’t go up individually, however, which was what I’d been worried about, and were done in groups of about 20, which was better, with our names all read out at the beginning. Also, BA’s were last due to being the lowest degree awarded, and so we had plenty of others to watch and learn from first who’d done DPhils, MSc’s, MA’s and all the other plethora of degrees offered. I never knew there were so many, to be honest. We all had to respond ‘”Do fidem!” (“I swear!”) to agree to the terms of us joining the university in the capacity of a graduate, and then left to re-enter to applause wearing our hoods: black with white fake-fur-trim for BA’s. You can also wear the hood as an actual hood, which may seem a stupid comment, but which I’d never realised until I saw some people wearing them such back at college.

graduation gown S & W

The BA hood with gown. That’s not me, by the way, hence Image: Shepherd & Woodward.

Mortar boards were dutifully donned and then doffed to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor before returning to college for official and unofficial photographs, family pictures and drinks, but all too soon we were having to pile back into the car for the return journey up north.

Returning to Oxford for the day had seemed like coming home to my partner and I, and arriving back in Stoke after the pomp, grandeur and joy of the day (despite the disappointment of not being able to have everyone present in the Theatre) seemed like a massive kick in the teeth. It has, however, given us more impetus to return to the city we love so much as full-time residents either to work or study, and we can only count down the months!

 

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Life update #2

This isn’t like the first update- I just wanted to say a few things without making a separate post about each of them.

  • In terms of reading updates, I have finished Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, and am currently half way through ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’ I will put on a review/post of thoughts about the two poetry collections in a few days, and then the two Lewis Carroll together as another post. I haven’t forgotten!
  • Tomorrow (20th September) is my GRADUATION, so we’re back down south for the day. I will post on this once it’s over to try and give you an insight into what one of these at Oxford is like.
  • In terms of my writing- I haven’t really posted on here anything about this yet, but I will say now that the book of poetry I am currently writing is only 2 poems off being completed in first draft form. Also, I have got several ideas for further poetry collections centred around several different themes, as well as a few ideas for novels/short stories that I hope to flesh out a little.
  • Again, please ‘like’ the Electric Puppet Facebook page. I haven’t set up a Twitter page yet, simply because I have absolutely no idea how Twitter works, but aim to within the next week. So far, I only have 4 likes! Please help this to increase and share profusely to get everyone you know to like it and to follow this blog too! I do appreciate every follower for deciding to follow me, and just wish I could reach more people. It’s not as though I have anything terribly important to say, but it is just nice to think that I am a part of some wider online community, and I like sharing my ideas and thoughts with you.
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Now on Facebook!

Well- I’ve finally got around to making the Facebook page for this blog, which can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

Please like it, share it and do whatever with it to get me more followers! Thank you!

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Life update #1

I haven’t really written anything on this blog so far about me or my life, other than my interests and reading updates, and so I thought that it is perhaps time that I put a bit of a ‘Life Update’ up. My partner, our two children and myself have recently moved back to our home city after a three-year stint at university, and are taking a bit of time now to reassess our life and what we both want for our family. However, this is thwarted somewhat by the fact that where we are living is just so damn depressing. I’ll illustrate. We’ve gone from spending almost everyday for the past three years amongst this…

oxford

…to suddenly return to this…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That latter paradise (…) is Stoke-on-Trent, a once-great producer of ceramics known across the world, but now a decrepit, soul-less and polluted stain of its former industrious and ruggedly handsome self. It may be both mine and my partner’s home city, but it doesn’t mean that we love it. Sure, it has its good points, but the majority of these are in its past, and if it wasn’t for our lack of money and familial ties, we would most certainly cut and run. To be fair, the second photo above doesn’t make Stoke look too bad, and from where we live, we have a rather impressive view across almost the entire city from the window, but- the place just lacks ambition. The people here lack any sort of desire or hope, and seem in general to be content with a life that has gone and will go no-where. For us, though, that isn’t enough. Three years amongst the Dreaming Spires of Oxford have changed us for the better into the rounded, mature and aspiring people that we both now are, and it is there that now feels like home, and the place where we can reach our potential. It is the place where our children can be inspired and strive for greatness, as the makings of them and the cultivation that they need is all around them, and the place where our family really came together. It is in Oxford that our children have spent their whole lives, and in Oxford that they have become who they are. With any luck, we hope to be able to move back here within the next few years to work and continue to study, and where we can break away from this phase of our lives that is very quickly dragging us down a slippery slope towards mediocrity.

it also doesn’t help matters that there are family dramas unfolding in relation to my bloodline, which make the whole experience of being back all the more painful, drawn out and despondent. This comes down mainly to the fact that three years away have opened mine and my partner’s eyes to a number of issues, and has also matured us to the point where we have outgrown the trivialities of our families. However, being able to draw a line under issues and finding closure is made infinitely more difficult when those who have not matured and grown up in wisdom or tact decide to blinker themselves and hinder our process of healing and answering questions. They will learn- but I really dunno when.

However, we have also resolved while we are here to make the best of our present, and to plan to make the best of our future. This in part has come from a desire to give our children the best, and also through watching an inspirational man on YouTube whom I mentioned several weeks back in relation to an upcoming documentary film named ‘Vlogumentary’, named Shay Carl Butler. There are many self-help guides and motivational speakers out there, but this bloke is not one of them; rather, he is a normal bloke from California who decided to lose weight and concurrently improve his life to accentuate the positives and make the most of his time one Earth. We now strive to make our life as positive as possible, and aim to make our lives and our life together as wonderful, productive, and as simply amazing as we possible can- as long as we get out of Stoke…

Being a Christian (High-church Anglican [CofE]), it is also easy to see your life as being simply as it is, and I was in danger of falling into the trap of thinking that as a Christian, I should perhaps be happy with this life, as I am meant to strive not for this one, but for the next. However, I am now thinking that it is surely possible to do both- to embrace and live this life to the full whilst also anticipating the next. We don’t believe that Heaven will be like this life (as it was for example for the ancient Egyptians), and therefore there is surely no problem in making the most of this life and getting all we can from it t the same time as praising God and wanting to also reach that life which is before us. besides, I constantly waver in my views on the afterlife, and hypochondria often creeps up on me in a big way when I reach stressful patches, and so it is logical to experience and do as much as we can humanly manage. For example, my partner would love to travel to the USA (even though I am petrified of flying and really don’t want to ever get into a plane), and I would love to carry out the Coast-to-Coast walk across the north of England, as planned out by Alfred Wainwright. I want to get my current book of poetry (which is almost completed in first draft form) published, along with many more volumes and several novels. I would love to travel across America too (see previous comment regarding flying) to experience the America that is seen in those road trip films, down Route 66 and to see the Grand Canyon. I want to see the Northern Lights. And why should we not do any of these things (except: see previous comments regarding flying)? I’m sick of the defeatist, uninspired and unambitious views given out by Stoke and its people, and hope to make something of ourselves that will suggest three years at Oxford were not for nothing, and that can make our children proud in the years to come.

I’m sorry to go on for a bit, but just felt that I need to get some of this out to make myself feel better for one, as well as giving me something to look back on to remind me of our ambitions and our hopes.  Please forgive this life update, as you probably aren’t that bothered about where I’m headed and all that, but- normal service will resume with the next post!

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Today- 29th August

I haven’t posted for a few days, but as today is my BIRTHDAY, I thought that I’d make up for the lack and post a few a bit later as a little present from me to anyone that cares to read this blog.

Also, a big THANK YOU! to my 14th follower, who decided to follow Electric Puppet today! You can find her here:

http://museumpostcard.wordpress.com/

Please check out and follow her page.

For anyone interested, today is also the birthday of Richard Attenborough (90) and Lenny Henry (54), and would have been the birthday of John Locke (1632-1704), Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), Thom Gunn (1929-2004) and Michael Jackson (1958-2009), amongst many others. Oh, and today is the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist… Nice.

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