In The Flesh: The Experience of Seeing Original Manuscripts

In The Flesh: The Experience of Seeing Original Manuscripts

I have mentioned before on this blog about my love of visiting libraries and museums, and I would love to visit more this year, There are so many cool exhibitions open at any one time in the UK and so many are free!

Last summer I made a few trips to London and went to the British Library, and it was amazing to see original material related to my studies at uni. They had some of Jane Austen’s handwritten letters and even her tiny writing desk.  They also had some breathtaking medieval manuscripts from around the world. It was so interesting seeing the intricate books of prayer such as the Beford Hours in all its illuminated glory. I also got to see some very old Sanskrit writing that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

In some cases, seeing manuscripts can actually be ‘in the flesh’, such as the Magna Carta, an 800 year old legal document inscribed on goat’s skin. Despite being a vegetarian, I found a strange sense of enjoyment in seeing this skin laid out before me. It was eerily exciting to see the physical manifestation of what many see as the ideology underpinning English law. Specifically, the right to a fair trial.

If you ever find yourself near King’s Cross station with time to spare, it’s worth seeing what’s going on at the British Library. I also went to an amazing Shakespeare exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I also have a friend who’s curating a poetry exhibit at Christ’s College Library on 17th July so hopefully I can make that!

http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2015/09/how-to-make-the-most-of-digitised-manuscripts.html 

 

 

Walden, Or Life in the Woods

Walden, Or Life in the Woods

Walden is a novel by the 19th century writer and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). It describes the two years he spent living in a wooden cabin by Walden Pond, and the surrounding forests and town.

It’s quite hard to get into this book to start with, or even understand what transcendentalism is or how you spell it. But it is a rewarding read. It’s also made me really want to visit the pond in Massachusetts, (another impossible word to spell). Thoreau describes life at the pond in such a detailed and hypnotising way, that it’s really clear he is describing a spiritual connection with nature. He talks about being ‘rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house’1

There are some really relaxing descriptions of the water; ‘I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake’….

I am obsessed with large bodies of water, but I usually hang out by sea cliffs or a coastline. It was interesting to read about the curious behaviour of the pond, which is technically a kettle-hole, formed by separating glaciers thousands of years ago.

The best thing about this book is that you can experience similar joy in nature without having to travel to this exact lake. Just listening to birds you can experience; ‘The faint silvery warbling heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the blue-bird, the song-sparrow, and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell!’1 (p.359).

Even though I read it a while ago, it’s one of those books that has had a lasting impression on me, and I think it will continue to do so.

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (London: Penguin, 1983), p.157.

Well, I’m Back

Well, I’m Back

Looks like it’s time to do a post about coming back from my unofficial ‘hiatus’. I have really wanted to write on this blog again, and I’ve attempted a few drafts, but now I want to actually do it.

I think part of the problem with starting to write again was the feeling that it had to be perfect before I tried again. I have weird ideas floating around from when I read a new book but I always feel like it would be too much effort to type a whole thing about it!

So I guess I’m back to get some ideas out before I have to think too much about editing them. So, to whoever’s reading this, I hope  you enjoy the next few posts of badly spelled ramblings!

As well as this, I’ve had a few things going on in real life, such as starting a new job recently,  and all the social opportunities that came with it. I’ll also be going on holiday for a week soon, so I’ll be posting some pictures from that!

Fictional Food: Comfort in Childhood

Fictional Food: Comfort in Childhood

My memory for plot, character and general content of books is pretty temperamental but one part of books that always stays with me is descriptions of food. Due to this, all my favourite childhood authors were ones that paid close attention to this aspect of storytelling. Roald Dahl is an obvious choice due to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I still remember the red box in Matilda that Miss Honey’s father used to let them take a chocolate from after every meal.

Food often represents comfort, especially in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When Harry is on the Hogwarts Express, he realises that for the first time in his life he can buy all the Mars bars he wants without Dudley eating them all. To his surprise, the magical treats available are even more delectable. These include fat pumpkin pasties, drooble’s best blowing gum, chocolate frogs and the infamous bertie bott’s beans. Then, when he arrives at Hogwarts, and overcomes his initial fear of being sorted into the ‘wrong house’, he is rewarded by a comforting feast. I remember the part where the food miraculously appears on the golden plates being one of my favourite bits. J K Rowling’s descriptions of piles of golden roast potatoes, jugs of gravy, and the rich, sticky treacle tart for dessert are even more poignant considering her experience of poverty at the time of writing it.

My foray into fantasy novels was largely due to the descriptions of ‘second breakfast’ in the Hobbit and the Lord of The Rings. There is something so comforting about the descriptions of Bilbo’s pantry in his hobbit hole, with stacks of cheese, loaves of bread and fruitcakes. This is one aspect I feel that transferred well into the recent film adaptation. The point where they are invited into Beorn’s woodland home for milk and honey is also a welcoming respite in the Hobbit. As well as this, the morally devoid character Gollum’s aversion to the elven lembas bread in LOTR is surely proof of how comforting and wholesome the food is.

Even now as an adult I find descriptions of food in books both fascinating and enchanting. Haruki Murakami’s novels have wonderful descriptions of his characters carefully preparing meals, such as spaghetti, boiled eggs and the more adventurous dishes Tengo prepares in IQ84. I even wrote an essay for my undergraduate degree about the food in Great Expectations, focusing on the comforting experience Pip has of sharing bread and butter with Joe, and how this relationship with food becomes spoiled as he is forced to steal ‘vittles’ from the larder. These include a fat pork pie and a bottle of wine which Magwitch gratefully bolts down similarly to Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Harry steals a loaf of bread and a flagon of pumpkin juice from the breakfast table for him.

Does anyone else share this weird fascination with fictional food? I can’t be the only one desperate to taste the huge chocolate cake in Matilda, or the lashings of ginger beer and cold cuts from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures!

A xxx

(Featured picture is a lemon meringue pie I made recently)

If Wives Do Fall – Recent Perspectives of Emilia’s Speech in Othello

If Wives Do Fall – Recent Perspectives of Emilia’s Speech in Othello

The character of Emilia is often overlooked in Shakespeare’s Othello, and it is easy to see why. The issues of racism and domestic violence dominate the action, leaving the wife of scheming Iago and attendant to Desdemona to fall into the shadows.

That is, until her speech in Desdemona’s bedchamber. This intimate, female space is characterised by the action of Emilia ‘unpinning’ Desdemona, as their husbands leave for a walk. At this point, Emilia adds her own opinions on marriage and fidelity which are surprisingly cynical and insightful. At this point, I began to see her as a character in her own right, with an original perspective to add to the play’s drama.

After reading about the textual history of this play, I found that this specific speech was not present in the First Folio collection in 1623, which was the first full collection of Shakespeare’s works published after his death. However, it was included in the longer Second Quarto edition of Othello, published in 1630.[1] This simple addition gives Emilia’s character a much more defined role, and has had an impact on recent feminist interpretations of Shakespeare.

I always find listening to Shakespeare a lot easier, and luckily this speech was chosen by the Guardian as a part of their ‘Shakespeare Solo’ series. (This clip is only a minute long, but Eileen Atkins really brings the speech to life.)

What I love about this adaptation is the way Atkins pauses after each question, which really gives the message a chance to sink in. Also, the glass of wine adds to the image of a wise, long-suffering wife who is sick of her husband’s bullshit.

I’ll also include a typed version of the speech from the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play, as the poetic language is really beautiful.

Emilia: Yes, a dozen – and as many to th’ vantage,                                                                   As would store the world they played for.                                                              80
But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,                                             85
Or scant our former having in despite-
Why, we have galls; and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know,
Their wives have sense like them; they see, and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour                                                  90
As husbands have. What is it that they do,
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: And have not we affections,                                                               95
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.[1]

[1] Michael Neill ed. Othello, (Oxford World Classics: Oxford, 2006), Act IV, Scene 3,79-98) p.181.

 

Well Fuck

Well Fuck

TW: Austerity, fear, EU referendum, politics, racism, xenophobia

It’s been a really hard time to be British lately, which has really limited my creative output. Politics aside, the consequences of the EU vote has caused the scum of society to react with unbearable racism. Incidents of Halal shops being burned to the ground, people who are not white being harassed on the street, and people generally feeling unsafe are all over the news and social media.

For people who may not know what the referendum was, it was basically a vote which decided that Britain was going to leave the EU. There were arguments for both sides, and I’m not going to pretend that the EU is a perfect organisation at all. For many people though, the vote represented an ideological decision. Arguments to leave the EU were often built around thinly veiled xenophobia, and the paranoid fear of immigration. In fact, the main leave campaign is now being criticised for lying in its propaganda which stated that the money used to remain a member of the EU would be used for the NHS if the leave vote won.

A lot has happened since the leave vote won, which makes it a worrying ordeal to read the news each morning. After realising there was no defending his actions, our prime minister has decided to resign. While this is good news for people who despise him as the face of recent austerity cuts, it makes me wonder why he didn’t resign before when he admitted to receiving a fortune from his father which amassed due to tax havens. As well as this, a string of labour MPs have also resigned, making people lose confidence in UK politicians in general.

I find that how the home is affected by this change in policy is the most telling evidence of what it all means. As Mourid Barghouti wrote in his amazing book about his return to his home town Ramallah, ‘politics is the family at breakfast’. My aunt no longer feels safe wearing a hijab in the small town she lives in. My uncle is ashamed to be born British while living in his immigrated home of Germany. While the actual bureaucracy of the vote will obviously take a while to come into effect, what it means at the moment is a general feeling of fear for many people I love.

Sorry for the negative tone of this post, but I had to get some of my emotions out there. I’m not claiming to be the most informed about this issue at all, as I find it hard to remain mentally healthy while reading up about the current state of UK politics. All I can do is encourage people to be kind, and to help others whenever you can. I couldn’t choose a pretty picture so I made it my friend’s yard instead. I’ll try and make my next post more uplifting!

Yours morosely, A xx

 

Glow Up!

Glow Up!

Scrolling through Instagram it’s easy to get lost in a world of fantasy – did that person always look like that? How do they have such sculpted eyebrows? Sometimes I find myself asking whether they have had plastic surgery or if they are just really that good at makeup. For those leading the way like KimK and other ‘flawless’ celebrities the answer is easy: they are the rich elite and they have teams of makeup artists, stylists and PR people guiding their every move. But what about when lowly Youtubers are able to master the art of the contour and pass it on to thousands of viewers?

I’ve never been good at makeup. Growing up, there was no one to teach me and I always felt it was not ‘for’ me. I went to an all-girls school and there was always a lot of pressure to look good. In a way, I think this put me off experimenting with makeup. I felt that if it wasn’t perfect, then there was no point in trying. I have a vague memory of being harassed on the bus just because I didn’t pluck my eyebrows?? But then when someone I knew plucked hers she got teased because she plucked them wrong? I can barely remember now, but it was nasty.

I feel like the makeup industry is mainly built on insecurities like these. There are countless products advertising ‘perfect brows’ and other solutions to problems that ‘every woman has’. This often leads to bigger profits for the makeup companies, as an article for Jezebel talks about.[1] As well as this, a lot of companies are still testing on animals, and even the ones that don’t, belong to parent companies that do.

If I lighten up for a minute though, makeup can be so fun! Experimenting with new looks can help people of all genders express themselves better, and the internet is a great source of tutorials. Especially for this generation, makeup is accessible for so many more people now. So if you wear makeup or not, do it with pride. I’ve always thought that shaming people for wearing too much makeup is no better than shaming people for not wearing any. Having experienced a lot of both of these, I’m ready to just not care anymore. What are other people’s experiences with makeup? Has anyone else ever been told that they’d ‘look sooo much better without all the slap on?’

(featured pic is a time I tried hard on my eye makeup)

[1] http://jezebel.com/beauty-companies-love-to-empower-women-over-and-over-1530920736

A xxx

 

Endings//Beginnings

Endings//Beginnings

I haven’t been posting much recently as I have been really busy (even though I’ve somehow found the time to watch loads of episodes of pretty little liars) This is mainly because I’m coming to the end of my undergraduate dissertation and will be graduating soon (yay!).

This is a surreal experience for most students, as it marks the transition into the ‘real world’. Personally, I find this especially scary because I’ve been in full-time education since I was 4 years old. I can barely imagine a life without homework. I’ve had long summer holidays before, and the first year of uni was a bit of a doss, but nothing compares to the expanse of uncertainty that is now in front of me.

The most reassuring way for me to think about the end of uni is as a beginning. Otherwise, I end up full of regret and bitterness that I didn’t ‘make the most of it’ while I had the chance. There are lots of ways to still do the things I enjoyed while I was a student as an ‘adult’. Recently I’ve been visiting a lot of the public libraries and free museums we have in England, and have really enjoyed it (and it didn’t cost me £50,000!).

Realistically, I will have to get a job as soon as I can. In my head, I see this part of my life as the ‘prelude’ section. Girl gets small, part-time job, girl saves enough for a plane ticket and accommodation abroad, girl travels around Asia teaching English, girl returns to England and writes a best-selling sci-fi novel.

A girl can dream?

In all seriousness, I want the next part of my life to be as stress-free as I can make it. I was thinking of applying for a masters, or looking for a graduate level job but really, that’s not me. I have enjoyed uni, but it has come with a lot of unexpected life shit that has made it really quite hard. I’m still recovering from this stress, and so a part time job while I save and live at home for a bit is all I want to properly think about for now.

So here’s to the beginning of my next chunk of life! And if anyone reading this wants to pay me for sitting around and occasionally blogging pls get in touch!

(The picture is the Parkinson building at Leeds uni – where I used to go)

 

Oxycontin Abuse in the USA – Fascinating Article Featured on Longreads Blog

(CN: Pharmaceuticals, Doctors, Drug abuse, Overdose, Violence, Illness -if these things upset you, perhaps skip this one.)

Also just a disclaimer – I’m not even slightly a doctor, and I knew nothing about Oxycontin before reading this article.

This is a little different from the usual themes of my blog, but I found it a really interesting read. The first article linked is an LA Times piece about the history of Oxycontin in the US. The drug is effectively an opiate, and while it chemically provides pain relief, there are a lot of questions raised about its accessibility; mainly that it is simply too easy to get hold of. Doctors in the US have often caused controversy by prescribing medication too readily, or continuing to prescribe high doses of addictive medication without considering the implications. (Check out Louis Theroux’s documentary about behavioural meds for children). There are a number of cases mentioned in the article where people have been unaware of the addictive quality of the drug and the danger of it, resulting in overdose in the more extreme cases. As well as this, the pharmaceutical company producing Oxycontin made huge profits in the 90s, some of it coming from addicted celebrities such as Eminem.

The fact that prescription drugs are abused by over 2 million people in the USA alone is frightening. Surely the scale of the US means that so many demographics will inevitably have different experiences; but opiate abuse often affects the most vulnerable people in society. The impression I get from this article is that the drugs were actively pushed onto doctors by the company in the 80s, who then prescribed it to as many people as possible – many of whom were previous addicts.

The case studies in this article are shocking, but the comments tell a different story. Some people have accused this piece of investigative journalism of being too biased. Some cancer patients and sufferers of chronic pain are willing to take the risk of addiction in exchange for much needed relief. Evidence also suggests that those without a history of addiction are less likely to develop an addiction to the painkillers simply from taking them ‘as prescribed’. Personally, I feel it is best to read it for yourself. There are also more scientific journals about the research available online (although sometimes you have to wonder who funded the research, and why.)

Maybe the question shouldn’t be about the drug itself, but how education about addiction and drugs in general is treated in the US?  Please comment if you have also read it!

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist. Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. * * *

via The Top 5 Longreads of the Week — Longreads Blog

Spring Thinking

Spring Thinking

CN: Mentions of Anxiety, mental health.

Spring is always a busy time for me. Mainly because my birthday is in April, which in the past few years has meant thinking about what I’m going to ‘be’. It was my 21st a few weeks ago, which was pretty crazy, and I didn’t really get a chance to think about what that means until now. I still don’t really have a lot of free time (dissertation due in 8 days lol) but I’m coming to terms with the idea of being an adult…

Not that I feel grown up at all. Even when I’m doing ‘grown up’ things like paying bills, travelling alone and booking my own doctor’s appointments, I feel like an imposter trying to act like I know what I’m doing. Like a dog wearing clothes. I guess I always thought that there was a moment where you just instantly became an adult, and knew what to do? Instead I’m noticing its more like a process of becoming. Looking back I am definitely a lot more mature than I was this time last year. And I’ve still got a long way to go. Some adult things are still hard for me including; job applications, serious phone calls, crossing the road, being responsible for things generally, the list goes on. (Mainly because I have anxiety and seemingly normal things stress me out).

Right now though, I’m just trying to focus on being. I find it easy to get trapped in thinking about what I’ve been through, what I still need to work on, what’s changed, and forget to think about what’s happening. That doesn’t mean ignoring the past or the future. It just means that in stressful/busy/exciting times I find it much more manageable to live in the present. Obviously there are future decisions that need to be made, and I’m not trying to aggressively ignore the past. Personally, thinking backwards or forwards in time too much can often make me feel dissociative and weird. This is something I’m working to cope with and luckily I have people to support me.

Another big help has been mindfulness meditation, which aims to focus your mind and body on the present. This has helped a lot with my sleeping pattern and general stress levels. I even get weekly emails from the free meditation class I go to which have inspirational quotes at the end!

I ended up talking about things I haven’t mentioned before in this post, like mental health, but it’s really helped to get it out. This was meant to be an uplifting post, so I’ll attach a nice picture of some tulips and a quote from my meditation tutor.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present” – Albert Camus

Yours upliftingly, A xxx