Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dancing with Strangers

I've finally started reading Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen, almost five years after it was first published (in other words, five years too late). I've come to it having just read Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which tells a fictional historical tale of the clash between the British and the aboriginal people of the Hawkesbury River in the late 18th century. There is something about the histories and narratives of early colonial Australia that I find I'm drawn to, even though the sense of loss in these tellings and re-tellings can be unbearable; perhaps it is an interest in origins or an attraction to the tragic. I think it is also a curiosity of wanting to know what it was like to live then in such a strangely different (to British eyes) place.

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

I have joined facebook

I have finally succumbed to the cult of facebook.

Down by the sea

[Anth's photo of the Old College, taken from the tower of St Michael's.]

Where have my summer holidays gone? It was such a perfectly clear day today and the waters of Cardigan Bay were like a lake. I was down at the seafront waiting for a staff meeting in the 'High Victorian' Old College, an elaborate (and idiosyncratic) pile that was originally built as a hotel. It was so quiet at around 10.30 that I could hear the engines of small boats way out in the bay. The weather was so good today you could almost be fooled into thinking that it was actually summer and not the beginning of autumn. But the students are coming ... and there are classes to plan.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

TV Licensing

Anth and I don't have a television. We were recently offered one by some neighbours who are 'upgrading' and this tempted us for a little while, but we said no. We do watch DVDs and stream programmes via BBC iPlayer and whatever is available from the ABC (iView is blocked internationally).

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

Things to do, things to do

[Plas Tan y Bwlch]

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

Ten things we like about Aber (despite the rain)

[Aberystwyth from Constitution Hill - EG]

It has been raining for the past little while now ... so much so that we can't remember the last day it didn't rain. Maybe it was in August? That explains why everything is so green. Now, as the green tends towards more autumnal colours, Anth and I reflect on things we like about Aber after living here for just over six months (in no particular order!):

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.

[This is the 11th thing we like about Aber: kneeling sheep - EG]

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Organic Welsh Mango

Anth and I have been getting a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box from a store in town, who try to source local produce. This has been great because the fruit and vegetables do actually taste better (esp. the carrots) and because there is always the element of surprise coupled with the possible arrival of something that we haven't come across before (Curly Kale, anyone?). In last Friday's box we received something very unexpected: a mango. Now, at first sight, I was pretty sceptical about it being a locally grown mango, and indeed, the sticker on it stated 'Saint Dominigue', so it has travelled a little way to get here. Also, there there wasn't much else in the box, so the mango probably cost in the vicinity of £10. But it tasted like ... mango. What luxury!

[One mango about to disappear...]

'Popty Ping': Hard Data

Emma has requested 'hard data' regarding the status of the term 'Popty Ping'. Here is Exhibit A from the Centre for Alternative Technology: