July 2013


Juggling, I have discovered this week, isn’t easy.  I can only assume that this time last year I was so taken up with the prospect of moving house that the PhD took a back seat to packing boxes and playing with my children.  I didn’t have my summer panel meeting until the middle of August last year and I do remember being on holiday with my computer, but I don’t remember it being as exhausting as this.  I’ve given myself a long list of jobs to do, tidying up bits and pieces that need sorting out and visiting several archives, but I’m also trying to fit in with family life too, so somehow I have been spending half a day working and half a day doing things with the children.

On Tuesday I commuted to Manchester, had a breakfast supervision meeting and then spent an entire day in the John Rylands library on Deansgate reading a book about one of the manuscripts that I am going to see this summer.  Today I read a book and took notes while visiting family.

I’ve been re-writing my knowingness piece too.  Precision demanded in every word.

This is proving less than easy.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This week I finally have something a bit different to say.  I am aware, you see, that writing a blog about writing a PhD is a bit repetitive: “read some ballads, thought about the music, wrote about some ballads, went to a supervision meeting, did some more research, wrote a bit more, read some secondary texts… read some ballads…” and so on.  But this week was different, because I went to Queen Mary, University of London, to swelter at the Psalm Culture and the Politics of Translation conference organised by Ruth Ahnert, Tamara Atkin and Francis Leneghan.  The heat was immense, but so was the amount of work that had gone into the conference, not just by those many people giving papers but also by the conference organisers.

Three parallel panels, three times a day, plus multiple plenaries and daily double keynotes meant that there was plenty to keep you occupied.  I enjoyed  Timothy Duguid’s paper on Scottish metrical psalms, Lucia Martinez on the creation of early modern English metre, Lucy Underwood on Ralph Buckland and Kate Sargan on the life of Christina of Markyate.  But my personal highlight was the presentation made by  Beth Quitslund and Nicholas Temperley on the Sternhold and Hopkins psalter, not least because it was made in the chapel of the Charterhouse, which is in itself a beautiful building, but also because they actually got everyone singing!  There were only a few lectures that mentioned the music for the psalms, partly because a lot of them were on prose psalter translations, but it has to be said that literature and history specialists predominated, so hearing some music sung was very refreshing.

On Tuesday evening I went on the tour of the Charterhouse which was led by one of the brothers.  I was very glad that I went because the building is, in part, Tudor and it has a very  interesting history.  The gardens were absolutely beautiful.  There are several of my photographs below.

It was also a very friendly conference.  I arrived on Monday morning having met only one person there before, and left on Wednesday evening having made lots of new friends and having plenty to think about over the summer.  When I got home I booked my first summer research trip, to Cambridge.  I need to go to the Parker Library and Cambridge University Library.  I’m in the process of organising a trip to the Bodleian and then I have to think about going to London to the British Library.

While I was down in London I did some work on my theory section, refining my work on knowingness.  I finished this bit of work this morning and I’m quite pleased with it, because although I wasn’t very sure of myself when I started on it on Monday, it has really helped to clarify my thoughts.  It’s very important, because it underpins the whole basis of my thesis.

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Yesterday, my three children broke up for the summer.  This will have a significant, negative impact on the amount of work I get done, of course, but that was always part of the deal.  My summer action plan contains lots of little bits of work that can be broken off part way through, like transcriptions, short pieces of writing and the revision of a chapter, rather than a single major piece of work.  I couldn’t possibly manage to write a chapter during the summer –  I would find it very frustrating to try to do so with so many distractions around.  But that is the deal with my PhD – it was always intended to fit around family life.

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This week I had my fourth panel meeting, which was a very interesting experience.  I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but it was certainly stimulating and it wasn’t quite so scary as previous ones had been.  I’d sent in a chapter on putting ballads back together with their music, a short piece of writing about what is or isn’t a ballad and of course the usual summer review documentation like a progress report, research plan and my training log.  The piece on the nature of ballads opened up quite a bit of debate about whether something that once had several parts can be considered a ballad if it now had only one part!

I’ve shared the details of my summer goals already, but I’ve got a couple of things to add.  I’m going to write a couple of sides on knowingness and I’ve got to re-write my chapter plan – as two of my supervisors pointed out, it still reads as if I’ve still got everything to do and says I am going to investigate this, that and the other, whereas now it really should say what I’ve already done in the chapters for which I have complete first drafts.  So that’s going to keep me occupied.

Tomorrow I go to London for the Psalm Culture conference in the heatwave!  The garden here is looking beautiful, with the philadelphus flowering and several deep pink poppies blooming.  The sweet peas smell lovely and the beans and peas are almost ready.

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clive james - notes

clive james – notes (Photo credit: russelldavies)

A funny sort o f week. Today I sent off all my work for my panel meeting, which is scheduled for next week. My supervisors certainly have plenty to keep them busy – my research plan, training log and chapter plan don’t take up too much space, but the draft chapter on combining music and words to make ballads is somewhere in the region of 55 pages and they’ve got a couple of thousand words more on what a ballad actually is. Or is not. In the end it will form part of my introduction, which my twitter followers may already know I accidentally wrote the first draft of a couple of days ago. My response to a chapter on Tudor music by John Milsom metamorphosed into a bit of a literature review, so then I decided to stick in the methodology section I wrote in January and voila, an introduction was born. Yesterday I proofread and sent off my little epitaph ballad article, so that’s gone too.

All of which meant I had no pressing work to do today, so I trawled the online archive catalogues looking for things that I ought to go to see over the summer. I think I’ll probably be doing more of the same tomorrow.

This evening I’m having a night off. I’m going to read a bit more of the third volume of Clive James‘s memoirs and enjoy the evening sunshine. Now there’s someone whose writing I admire…