Sunday, October 19, 2008
So much is happening back home at the moment - engagements and weddings, babies, sickness - that Anth and I are feeling curiously unsettled here. It is good to be here and out of the innumerable places we could be we do feel that it is the right place to be. But we don't have any roots in this place with its strange rhythms and practices. For me it is all too easy to throw myself into work and into the immediacy of teaching and administrative tasks. But then anything concerned with the longer term gets pushed to the periphery. This is a concern.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Clendinnen's writing is so strikingly clear and her interest in the ethnographic, as well as the historic, engages with the confusions and the fog of life as it is lived. This follows in the vein of Greg Dening's account of the mutiny - and aftermath - on the Bounty in Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty (1992). Clendinnen writes in her 'Introduction' (p.3):
Historians' main occupational hazard is being culture-insensitive, anthropologists' is insensitivity to temporal change. Both can be insensitive to the reciprocating dynamic between action and context. Together, however, they are formidable, and in my view offer the best chance of explaining what we humans do in any particular circumstance, and why we do it.I'll post a few more choice quotes over the coming week ...
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
If we were to get a television then we would have to get a TV License, which costs £139.50. Even if we didn't have a TV but watched programmes "as they are being shown" then we would need to pay for the license. This does seem an especially retrograde method of funding the BBC, especially when you realise how appallingly inefficient the whole system is and how laughable some of the license 'discounts' are.
When we stayed in student accommodation the post boxes were literally overflowing with a constant stream of letters from TV Licensing demanding that 'The Occupier' of each unlicensed flat pay for a license or risk being fined. Now most of the flats were genuinely unoccupied, so the letters just accumulated.
At our current address we have already received a couple of letters, each demanding an immediate response. Despite the fact that I've already been in contact to state that we don't have a TV, TV Licensing are unable to record this, or to stop the letters arriving until an inspector has been here to check. In fact, they can't even take down my name. And when might the inspector arrive? "Maybe in six weeks, maybe in six months" replied my helpful telephone operator, "it's an automated system" he added, doubtfully. So the wastage of paper and money goes on!
The thing I find really funny is that if I only own a black and white TV then I only need to pay a percentage of the cost, £47.00. Furthermore, if I am sight impaired or blind then I receive a 50% discount! Apparently, if you make it to the age of 75 then you don't need to pay for a license at all - a worthy reward for years of service to the nation.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
It is almost the end of the week, a week that seems like one long scramble to get everything ready before the start of the new semester. Of course if I wasn't so finicky about formatting all my unit outlines and course readers then everything would take a quarter of the time it does. But then I wouldn't have such beautiful documents, right? And students really appreciate that, don't they?
I suspect it is all just a new form of procrastination. I've noticed that I really enjoy doing paperwork and administration - answering emails, entering marks - because you can easily complete a task and then tick it off. Done. This is the opposite of doing research, or writing an article which drags on forever and involves actual thinking. Its a real pity the latter are such a vital part of my job.
Today, just when I thought I everything settled and ready to roll, I had a conversation in which it became apparent that in fact there was something else to do that I didn't know was mine to do. 'Yes,' I stated, 'I'll get on to that right away'. I then asked a few questions that cleverly disguised how little I actually knew, whilst still delving for an answer. This is rather easy to do as an Australian. It feels natural to make statements which conclude in an upward inflection, thereby mysteriously morphing them into questions.
This reminds me of the habit everyone has here of greeting each other with the question, 'Alright?', to which you are meant to answer 'alright'. I haven't got the hang of this yet, so when people look at me and ask 'alright?' (often with a look of genuine concern on their faces) I immediately freeze, thinking, 'Do I look upset? Is there something wrong with my clothing/hair/facial expression?' This especially catches me first thing in the morning when I arrive sweaty from a brisk walk up the hill, inspired (and slightly deafened) by Bon Jovi screaming into my head that 'It's my life/it's now or never' and come face to face with a well-meaning colleague who stumps me with 'alright?' Yes, yes ... I'm fine really, I am.
And what does the picture of Plas Tan y Bwlch (in Snowdonia National Park) have to do with any of this? On Monday and Tuesday I'll be staying there as part of the induction to my Post Graduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PGCTHE).
Monday, September 08, 2008
1. The sea: its just over there ... (we're pointing)
2. The community at St. Mikes.
3. Frequent invitations for a 'nice' cup of tea.
4. Walking home for lunch.
5. The blatant display of consonants on Welsh signage.
6. The smell of oil heaters on cold evenings.
7. Rabbits nibbling the university's fields on the way to work.
8. The cry of the gulls (but not their incessant pooping!)
9. Frequent chance encounters with friends in the town.
10. Cawl, bara brith, and Welsh cakes.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
[On the way down to the cave]
Thursday, August 28, 2008
It was a little wet today which added to the atmosphere; it felt something like being in the Blue Mountains on a sharp April morning - with the mist rising out of the valleys - except here it was so intensely green, really greeny green, as if someone had gone to town with all the shades of green that are on offer in a pack of 72 Derwent colour pencils. Machynlleth itself was a little sleepy and we could rouse no one in the parliament building to open the door, despite the fact that someone must have put the advertising sandwich board out on the street to advertise that it was indeed open. At least we saved spending £1.50 each on what looked like a rather dodgy historical display.
We had more luck at the Centre for Alternative Technology which is a fascinating showcase of practical ecological solutions for everyday application. It's situated in a disused slate quarry and is reached via a water balanced cliff railway. The top car is filled with water - the bottom with people - and then gravity pulls the water-laden car down to the bottom, thereby lifting the people-laden car to the top! While the displays on home construction, energy conservation, waste disposal, composting and gardening were fascinating, the highlight for me was learning the Welsh term for microwave: 'Popty Ping'. I kid you not.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
He recently posted a blog entry on architecture, pondering the sort of building design that might enhance or facilitate creativity. (You can find it here.) It looks like this was sparked by the experience of having his university department move into a building that is rather bland and isolating, with rows of identical offices and featureless corridors.
I might stop here, for fear of incriminating myself ...
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Friday, August 08, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I've been taking advantage of the launch of Google Street View in Australia on the 4th of August to re-visit places back home. This is, of course, a deliberately nostalgic undertaking. From across the other side of the world I can gaze upon my former house and 'walk' the streets of my old neighbourhood. It's all so familiar, and yet oddly disconcerting on at least two levels.
Firstly there is the strange disembodied mode of navigation; my body still holds the memory of walking these streets, of laboriously mowing the grass outside my house. I still retain a knowledge of which routes to take to get to other places, the various uneven patches of grass and pavement, and the peculiar smells encountered. But floating along on Google in fits and starts is so flat by comparison; the places depicted seem to have been dessicated. A mere photograph is static, and a video supplies its own movement, but Google Street View is a curious amalgam. The images are static but continuous and it is I who scroll through or along them. What do I get out of this, a dessicated partial-animation of a place once alive and lived?
The temporal dislocation is another disconcerting aspect. If I look at the image of my old house I can see that it was taken some time ago, when I was still living there. There are pot plants on the porch and I can see my filing cabinet through the front window. One of the windows is open. Maybe I was at home, inside, when the Google van recorded my street? But looking at the scene I can't get over the fact that this place no longer exists as it is depicted. Of course, this is like many of the photos I have with me of people and places, but these don't proport to the virtual timelessness that the Google images seem to offer. The Google images themselves are also dislocated because of the pasting of multiple static images into a continous image. The result is some disturbing representations of headless or malformed humans. Perhaps, as I scroll past, I could even recognise someone in the street who isn't alive any more.
How might a program like Google Street View change the way we relate to the places around us? Instead of seeing it as the loss of place, and a replacement for physical travel, I am reminded of Edward Casey's optimism that 'thinned out' or 'leveled out' places might intensify the desirability of actual places. "The more places are leveled down, the more - not the less - may selves be led to seek out thick places in which their own personal enrichment can flourish." (Between Geography and Philosophy: 685)