October 2012


I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of weeks planning my trip to London. I’ve made arrangements to go to the British Library, the Society of Antiquaries and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and although I’m a bit nervous (I’ve never done anything like this before), I’m also very excited.

This week I’m also giving my first seminar, ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in the Reign of Mary I’, which will be an interesting experience. I wrote it at the beginning of September, but I haven’t given it as much practice as I would/should have done. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been extremely busy, because two of my children have had birthdays. My kitchen has been rather like that of someone practising for the Great British Bake Off – there have been lots and lots of cakes!

In other news I attended a course on writing abstracts/proposals for conference papers on Wednesday morning. Considering my somewhat lacking skills in this area, it should have been quite useful, and I suppose in a way it was. The trouble is that I know in theory how to write an abstract, I just can’t quite make it happen. I have also put together a proposal for my new panel to change the thrust of my topic (again!) as the ballads are something I would really like to take further.  I have a completely new panel now, set up by my supervisor especially for their skills:  Sasha Handley from the History Department and Rebecca Herissone from Music.  Work is good fun at the moment.

I’ve also been to my first Historical Association Trustees meeting, which was quite eye-opening.  I think it’s a role I’m going to grow into: at the moment I feel a bit out of my depth but now that I’ve been to one meeting I’ll have more idea about what’s going on at the next one!

Hard to believe a whole year has gone round since I started this.  This week, it has definitely turned to autumn.  There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees and for the first time ever, my children were able to go conkering on Thursday morning before school – the look of delight on their faces as conkers fell from the tree around them was truly a sight to behold, and another good reason for moving out of the city.   On the less good side of the move, my commute in to the university on Wednesday took more than an hour and three quarters, which really wasn’t great.  I engineered a visit in, because although most of the time I’m perfectly happy with my own company working undisturbed from home, I had a bit of an attack of loneliness at the beginning of the week and arranged myself a couple of meetings just to get myself out of the house and find some human company.  The postgrad workroom is just that –  a very quiet workroom – but at least you have the company of other people working quietly.  It can be a bit tough working from home, alone.  On the way back I decided that in order to keep my sanity, I would have to go in most weeks for a few hours, just to get me out of the house.
I am coming up to a very busy few weeks, with two children’s birthdays to juggle with my work and my first Historical Association Executive Council meeting.  I’ve also got to firm up my plans for my trip to London in a few weeks.   I spent Tuesday in the Lancashire County Record Office, which didn’t reveal a lot, but was good fun.  But by far the most time this week has been spent trying to write an abstract for my article.  It can’t go anywhere until I’ve done it, but I find them really hard.  It’s improving, I think, but I’m still not happy with it.

It’s nice to be able to sit out in the garden blogging in October. I’m not even wearing a jumper! We now have an enormous number of birdfeeders, which my husband is busy cleaning while I sit here typing. As well as the usual array of tits, sparrows and golfinches, we have a siskin, a robin and a blackbird with a mop of white feathers on his head whom we have named Boris. Anyway, back to the work.
On Wednesday I went into Manchester to the university for my first meeting with Glyn Redworth to discuss my work, and very productive it was too. Lots of fun, in fact. It made me think though – I’m very lucky to have such a good relationship with my supervisor. I look at friends who go to their supervisory meetings worried that their ideas and work will be rubbished, and I know that’s something I no longer have to worry about. Which is not to say that my work is perfect and all my ideas are fantastic, but at least I know that they will be respected and challenged politely. I’ve seen people come away from supervision meetings ready to throw themselves under the fist 147 bus to pass down Oxford Road because they don’t feel like the criticism has been constructive. For me, instead, talking to my supervisor is like mental gymnastics: it involves a lot of quick and agile thinking, and gives me plenty to work on afterwards. But there’s also a lot of laughter. After my meeting on Wednesday, I slept really badly on Wednesday night, mainly because I had so many ideas buzzing round in my head! Surely this is the way that PhD study should be? Although I will grant you that insomnia probably isn’t best practice!  But I am sure that happy students are more productive and creative ones.

Most of the ballad musicology I’ve been reading this week and last is very old, and I’m happy to report it doesn’t say anything particularly earth-shattering. We talked about it at my meeting and agreed that this was probably A Good Thing. We also decided that while we look into making some alterations to my plans, it would be better for me to concentrate on getting my John Roberts article ready for submission to a journal. So that’s what I spent most of Thursday and Friday doing.
I also have to make some plans for a visit to some archives in London. London is not my favourite place, so I’m not really looking forward to it, and I’ve been putting it off. In the words of Dr Seuss, I’m a north-going zax and I prefer to head north into the country than south into the city. But I don’t think I can put it off any longer. I need to visit the Society of Antiquaries of London, and probably the British Library. I could also do with a visit to the Vaughan Wiliams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House. I’m not going to have very long there – two and a half days at most. So I think that before I head to the big archives in London I need to practise on a local one, so I think I might head into Preston to the Lancashire County Record Office. I think for the next few days I need to spend some time trawling the archive catalogues to see what there is.
Is it right to enjoy a PhD this much?!