Tag Archives: Oxford

Life Update #15: Lost opportunities and new beginnings

I like sleep. I’ve begun to realise that over the past few months, as the ability to stay awake in an evening and blog or get work done has got less with every passing day. The dark nights aren’t exactly helping either. There’s been lots of blog posts that I’ve been meaning to do, but which won’t be that apt or relevant if I post them now. However, there’s just as many that are, which is nice. There are a few posts that I can mash up with this life update and the new book posts from the past few months as well, which means less random and very short posts. Anyhoo. I may as well get on and update, rather than witter on about how and why I will do things. Better to just DO.


The summer was a welcome break from work and the general stresses of the school environment, and gave me some much-needed family time. I also begun to realise over this time that my two eldest children are ever-so-slightly keen on ‘Star Wars’. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it did mean that every day of the holiday, I spent some time having a lightsaber duel with the two of them, using ancient Jedi weapons crafted from the finest K’nex. And invariably they beat me.


The summer was also meant to be the time that we moved house, but the best laid plans, as they say… We got to the point where we were so drained and down through all of the searching and failing to find anywhere (or indeed hear back from landlords) that we decided to take some time away from it and reassess things. We were hoping for the October Half Term as the position of the altered goalposts, but this isn’t likely now either, as we lost the perfect house that we were so close to putting a deposit down on. We’re currently still looking.


Work hasn’t been too kind at the moment either, as it seem to have been GO!GO!GO! from the first day back. What with travelling to Manchester and Birmingham one week for conferences, then two nights of parents’ evenings back-to-back the following week, and having to flit between the school and our new Sixth Form several times each day, it’s been pretty mad. I’ve also become a form tutor for the first time, which is fun but an extra thing to think about. At the moment, I need to write everything down or it won’t get done, as my brain is acting somewhat like a conveyor belt. I think there’s a ‘Simpsons’ Clip about that somewhere.


Sticking with school, our eldest began reception class this term too, and so this had added an interesting new dynamic. He seems to have settled in well and has made several new friends, so our fears about him starting have been somewhat calmed.


One of the conferences I attended was with a number of Y10s, and revolved around Russell Group universities. There was a speaker from Oxford there, and it was during her talk that I begun to think about my time there. I don’t ever think that I really took full advantage of the opportunities that were on offer, especially the Tutorial system. At Oxford, students meet once a week with their tutor either individually or in small groups, and discuss the essay or problem sheet that they’ve been given, and its associated reading. The lady at the conference suggested that these Tutorials were opportunities to discuss, debate and question the Tutors on the subject, and to throw ideas out in a process of scholarly tennis. However, I can’t say that that was ever my experience, as I always found myself too worried about saying something wrong, and so often didn’t say anything. I never voiced any real opinion, and failed to ask really deep, probing questions, as I’d often got too many other things on my mind. It really was an opportunity missed, and I think now if I went back I’d be far more vocal and inquisitive. I can’t alter it, so that’s just how it was and how it is, but it did make me think.

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New books: July

I promise that I will give up buying books for a while now after this month. Having no shelving as of yet for books means that I just keep piling ‘em up and hoping that they will fit somewhere when we move, and I can’t keep on. However, this month has seen me tempted terribly by both pretty classics (Penguin and Oxford, I’m looking at you), and a ridiculous book sale in the only independent bookshop left in Stoke-on-Trent. It would be bad not to patronise them when they have a sale on, surely?

Webberley's Bookshop

Webberley’s Bookshop

All but five of the following books were from the sale, bought over four visits.

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  • Allen Ginsberg – Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems £2.99
  • Daljit Nagra – Look we have coming to Dover!*
  • Thomas Hardy – Wessex Poems*
  • Ian Duhig – The Speed of Dark*
  • Maurice Riordan – Floods*

The Ginsberg was spied in the Oxfam on Turl Street in the centre of Oxford when I went down at the start of the month with a group of Y10 and ex-Y11 students from work for a two-day (one night) residential at my college, St. Hugh’s. I did visit The Last Bookshop (as mentioned in a previous book-haul post), but didn’t come away with anything from there.

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  • Federico Garcia Lorca – The House of Bernarda Alba and Other Plays*
  • Sophocles – The Theban Plays**
  • Bertolt Brecht – The Good Woman of Setzuan*
  • William Shakespeare – Love’s Labour’s Lost*          –               Four Comedies : The Taming of the Shrew – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – As You Like It – Twelfth Night*            –               Anthony and Cleopatra**
  • Oscar Wilde – A Woman of No Importance*           –               Salome*

I already own a copy of the Sophocles plays (the Oedipus trilogy) in a Robert Fagles translation, but this is a different translation, which I thought would be interesting to compare it with. Also it’s a nice Penguin Classics edition.

In the same way, I already own a copy of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, but for the price I thought it daft not to get this four-in-one text; it works out at 5p a play. Also, it frees up some room, as the four-in-one take up far less room than my copies of those two plays do individually.

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  • Sivadasa – The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie***
  • The Tain***
  • William Beckford – Vathek**
  • W. Somerset Maugham – Liza of Lambeth*
  • Colette – Cheri**
  • Jane Austen – Emma***
  • Henry James – Washington Square**
  • Henry Mackenzie – The Man of Feeling**

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  • Laura Schwartz – A Serious Endeavour: Gender, education and community at St. Hugh’s, 1886-2011             £10
  • Philip Ardagh – The Archaeologist’s Handbook**
  • Tracey Turner – Foul Facts from the Perilous Past**
  • Richard Mackay – The Atlas of Endangered Species***

The first of these was also bought when I was down in Oxford, from St. Hugh’s College itself. It was written for the 125th anniversary of the college in 2011, but I never got a copy when I was actually studying. The other three of these are for use at work.

Now, the next book (I hope) speaks for itself:

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How ACE. This was also from the book sale (**)

Now, lastly, these weren’t:

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  • Virginia Woolf – The Lady in the Looking-Glass**
  • Voltaire – Candide and Other Stories         99p
  • Marcel Mauss – The Gift £1.49

The Gift is one of the key texts that I used at Uni, and which I’ve meant to get my own copy of ever since I was studying. Also, on the subject of this book (and more specifically it’s author), our youngest son has a toy mouse that we’ve named Marcel. Only us…

Now- NO MORE BOOK BUYING!


* 20p

** 50p

*** £1

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New books: June

…and for this month’s books:

June books 1

  • Robert Louis Stevenson –  Treasure Island
  • John Osborne –  Look Back in Anger
  • Oscar Wilde –  The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Thomas Kyd –  The Spanish Tragedy
  • Oliver Goldsmith –  She Stoops to Conquer

These all came from a colleague at work who teaches in the English department, and who was offloading many of her university texts on the school library. I had first dibs on any that weren’t wanted for the students, and so I picked these few. Free books are greatly appreciated!

Now these ones I did have to pay for:

June books 2

  • John Milton –  The Portable Milton     50p
  • Andrew Motion –  Selected Poems 1976-1997     50p
  • Karel Capek –  Rossum’s Universal Robots     £2.50
  • William Golding –  The Double Tongue     £2.50
  • Kurt Vonnegut –  Breakfast of Champions  –  Armageddon in Retrospect     £2.50 each
  • William S. Burroughs –  The Soft Machine  –  The Ticket that Exploded  –  The Place of Dead Roads     £2.50 each

A few points- I already have a copy of Paradise Lost with extensive notes, and the Milton text here is a rather hefty tome, but it contains pretty much all of the poetry that he wrote, including Paradise Regained, so I thought it a worth-while purchase.

The Motion selection is also of note, as it adds to my collection of signed poetry books that I’ve managed to pick up cheap. I’ve already got two Simon Armitage and a Wendy Cope book signed.

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Ta-dah. Not bad for 50p.

Lastly, the last seven books were all picked up a few weeks back when I went down to Oxford for the day for a work conference. It’s the first time I’ve been back since the graduation in September 2013, so that was nice (even though it rained most of the time I was there), and I managed to nip to a favourite bookshop of mine. There’s a shop there called The Last Bookshop, which used to sell everything for £2, and which had quite a good run on academic texts, Faber poetry and classics. I spent  small fortune in there over the three years of my degree. It looks like it’s now under new management, and everything is now £3, but they do a nice ‘2-for-£5’ deal that led to me buying quite a few. Hopefully I can call in when I’m down again for work in the next few days!

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Life update #14

Why hello! Fancy you reading this! I suppose I’d better apologise yet again for the lack of blogging that has gone on this past month. For one, I haven’t had a lot to blog about, but also life, work (it’s GCSE time again!) and sleep seem to have taken over. We’re looking to move house soon (have I already mentioned this?), but are having real issues finding somewhere- in part because landlords and estate agents don’t actually seem to get back to us when we inquire. We did have a viewing arranged for last weekend at the most perfect house, but then it turns out to have been let before we even had chance to see it. To say we were (and still are) pissed off is putting it mild. This is dragging us all down at the moment, and sleep seems to win out over staying up late at night and worrying/fretting/typing on a temperamental keyboard that takes five times longer than it should to type a sentence on. However, it’s half term now (the joys of working in a school!), so this has provided a small window for catching up on some much-needed posting time. I’ve had to borrow a laptop from work though so as I can get some work done and get these posts typed up more quickly.

Talking of work- I may be going to Oxford next month on a conference, which should be pleasant, and which I’m secretly looking forward to. Neither my wife nor I have been down since my graduation in September 2013, so we’re both pretty homesick for the place. We’ve been wanting to go down for a few days every holiday, but haven’t either had the time or the train fare. I’d feel a bit bad going without the rest of the family, though. It’s bad enough for them that in July I’m going down for two days with work to stay at my college, St. Hugh’s.

What else is happening in my life? Oh yes- it doesn’t seem as though my poetry submission has got anywhere, as I still haven’t heard back and it’s been a number of months now. Is that how long it usually takes to hear back, or will this silence be a permanent thing? I s’pose I may as well bite the bullet and just send them on mass to as many publishers as I can, but I am still fearful of rejection. I know all wannabe writers go through it, and that I’m just being a wimp, but- my work’s shit, and I don’t need other people’s rejection to tell me that. I’d intended over Easter on beginning the next book of poetry (I’ve got the odd line, poem title and fragments scribbled down ready from when I wrote my first collection, but haven’t yet worked them into some sort of order), but despite buying a brand new notebook, I didn’t get anywhere. Not so much as a word written in it. I’d also planned on getting some more of those short stories and fragmenty/sceney/vignettey things down on paper, but to no avail. I’ve got these planned alright- I’ve got two novellas and a full-blown novel planned- I just can’t be arsed to actually write them. Okay, that’s not strictly true. It’s more like I’m scared to write them as I don’t feel as though I could write them either as well as they seem to be as they are at the moment in my head, or as though I will be able to write enough and quickly enough. It usually takes me a long time to write prose. I can bang out a poem (on a good day) in about ten minutes; some of my best are written like this. But prose has to be teased out at the rate of about a line a day. I think I need a big kick. And some coffee. That usually helps.

Anyway. Back to the blog. I’ve got a not-so-new-by-now book haul to post next and a few other oddments that I’ve come across, so hopefully I can get these up soon. I also intend on making headway with my book reviews soon, as I’ve got books that I read at the start of 2014 to still review…

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Where should I live?

I’ve just done a test on the BBC website to see where in the UK I should live, based on my personality, and the results were rather interesting. Firstly, here are my personality results:

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…I don’t know whether to be happy with those results or not. Here’s how suited I am to Stoke:

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The best place locally for me would be:

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I can’t complain- Newcastle-under-Lyme is a nice place. Nationally, the worst place would be:

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I’ve never been to Carlisle, so I couldn’t possibly comment on this one. However, based on my dubious personality, the best place in the country for me to live in order to be happiest would be (drum-roll please…..)

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Can I really complain at that? It’s true!

If you want to have a go at the test, here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3g487h

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Rob Pointon: A Stoke-on-Trent artist in Oxford

As you may know if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, I originate from Stoke-on-Trent, and have moved back here with my partner and children following three years studying in Oxford (which I now consider to be home). Well, before going to uni, I was aware of a local artist working in Stoke named Rob Pointon, whose artwork I greatly admire for its skill, Impressionist style, and fantastic distortion of images to create effects akin to a fish-eye lens. However, it seems that in these three years, his career has really taken off, with exhibitions being hosted in many cities across the UK and abroad, his artwork being displayed all around Burslem (my hometown within the City of Stoke-on-Trent), and canvases owned by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Her Grace Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Well, I recently came across an image that he produced at the top of the Saxon church tower of St. Michael at the North Gate in Oxford, and a few days ago another, painted inside the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

I just thought that I’d share these, because I think they are wonderful images, and blend nicely the two places that have made my family who we are. You can follow Rob’s most recent projects here: www.robpointon.co.uk

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Oxford underwater

Happy 2014! I’ve been pretty quiet on here so far this year- sorry about that. I’ve begun my new job this week, and so haven’t had much time to get anything up. I do hope to get quite a few ‘Thoughts on…’ posts up this coming weekend though. Anyhoo.

Today has been probably the first day since leaving Oxford that I am glad not to be there, as the recent bad weather has hit the city hard. In Stoke, we’ve not had weather that different from normal, but in Oxford, which resides in a valley, it’s been a different story…

Image: Lee Ingram

Image: Lee Ingram/Air Experiences

In the bottom half of that image, you can just about make out the Isis (River Thames), with a row of College boat houses above… and then that large lake is actually Christ Church Meadow, with Christ Church just visible in the top left… Oh dear…

 

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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A new purchase- Matthew Prior’s ‘Poems on Several Occasions’

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This post regarding a new book purchase is dedicated to the individual book, as I thought that it warranted a small amount of description and further images. I came across this book at the weekend on the book stall at my church’s Christmas Fair, and paid 50p for it. It may look slightly worn, and is a copy of the first volume of a collection of poems by Matthew Prior, (whom I had never heard of until now), ‘Poems on Several Occasions’. However, the thing that drew me to it was this title page:

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Incase you can’t see the date at the bottom, here it is again, slightly larger:

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MDCCXXV. Or, in Arabic, 1725.

It is in surprisingly good condition considering it’s age, with only a bit of staining on the first few and the last few pages, and the edges of the pages having gone black.

Now, let me just detail a bit about the poet:

Matthew Prior (21 July 1664 – 18 September 1721)

born in Middlesex, Matthew Prior was educated at Westminster School, and here met Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax. With Montagu, he then went on to attend St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took his degree in 1686, and became a fellow two years later.  In 1687, Prior and Montagu penned The City Mouse and Country Mouse, a satire of Dryden‘s The Hind and the Panther.

After Cambridge, Prior became the secretary to the embassy at the Hague. and was later appointed a gentleman of the King’s bedchamber, acting as the King’s Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1697 to 1699. He was also under-secretary of state, succeeding John Locke as a commissioner of trade, and in 1701, sat for East Grinstead in Parliament. Later, between 1713 and 1714, Prior was the British Ambassador to France, and his share in negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht led to it gaining the name ‘Matt’s Peace’- despite him disapproving of the Treaty personally. He was kept in custody from 1715 to 1717 after having been impeached by Robert Walpole, and lived comfortably due to receiving 4000 guineas for a volume of poetry, and a present of £4000 from Lord Harley, but he died a few years later at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

 

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This book is the first volume of his ‘Poems on Several Occasions’, which was published on numerous occasions both before and after his death, but most of the editions that I have found on the internet place Prior’s name on the title page, which this edition doesn’t. Also, I am unsure whether or not the binding is original on my copy, and I have very little knowledge regarding such book features, but to me it seems to be original. Don’t take my word for that, though. Interestingly, the contents is at the back of the book, and there are also several inscriptions on the reverse of the page with Prior’s image on, which I cannot quite make out. However, on of them does say ‘Coll: Jesu: Oxon’, which I thought was interesting considering I have lived in Oxford.

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The Oxford inscription can be seen at the top. Any help with what the rest of these say would be greatly appreciated.

I just thought that I’d share a bit about this, and don’t think that it is a bad find for 50p!

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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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Thoughts on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books

aiw and ttlg

I actually finished reading these two over a week ago, but have only just got around to posting anything about them. Now, it may seem strange that I have been reading two children’s books, but they are two that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while and have never had the chance before now due in part to never owning copies. Also, having lived in Oxford- the home of Alice and the home of a rather quaint shop selling nothing but Alice memorabilia- I feel that I sort of have a duty to read them.

I know the story of the first from the Disney cartoon from 1951, and simply adored the 2010 live action version despite the plot alterations and the more radical mash-up of the two stories, but was actually rather surprised by just how many famous sections of the Disney film are taken from ‘Through the Looking Glass’- for instance, the talking flowers and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the two books are, and reminded again that children’s books in the 19th century were actually far more intellectual and difficult than they are now, which is no bad thing, but which is a sad state for current children’s literature. Honestly, I don’t think that I could pick a favourite out of the two, but I did find ‘Through the Looking Glass’ a tad dragging in places due to the exasperating amount of discussions between the Queens over the logic of their conversations and the laborious actions of the White Knight. In contrast, the wordplay by the Gryphon in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is truly brilliant, and the story in this one for me is a lot tighter. I don’t know if that is just because it is more familiar, though. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ also has the added bonus of containing the poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which I had forgotten was such a good piece of writing.

I am glad that I read these two books, as they are perhaps the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time (and made such a refreshing change from the not long finished ‘Ulysses’, which is still casting an unhealthy shadow over me several months after completing it). It has also made me realise just how many other books have been inspired by Carroll’s (or should I really say Dodgson’s) use of nonsense and the concept of a journey by a central character, on which they meet a number of strange characters. One of the most obvious such books is ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. I have read this, but long now to read it again, and hope to get a copy soon so as I can. Looking at Wikipedia, there are a vast number of books using the world of Alice and similar characters or settings, but I find those like the aforementioned ‘…Tollbooth’ the most interesting due to not attempting to align themselves with Carroll’s work whilst still retaining that seed and element. Interestingly, Wiki also says that Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ also contains several references, but… I don’t fancy reading it to find out… I do, fancy writing my own Alice-esque novel off the back of my reading, however, and so may have to get thinking…

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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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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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