August 2013

So far, so good.  I’ve managed to successfully avoid doing any work on my PhD for two weeks.  This may not seem like a cause for celebration (indeed, bits of me are itching to open a book or rifle through a few ballads or even do some filing) but I am extremely poor at doing nothing.  I find it very, very difficult to switch off, so the fact that I’ve taken two weeks off for the first time in a year is quite an achievement (and last year I only took two weeks off because I was moving house, so I wasn’t exactly doing nothing, I just had too much else to do!).   So this week we’ve been on a lovely walk from Chipping, we went cycling round Brockholes nature reserve and yesterday we went to the sea-life centre in Blackpool so that my little one could meet the Octonauts.  Such are the joys of combining parenthood with postgraduate research.  This evening we all went to choir practice, having joined the local church choir.  This is something I haven’t done for years, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The school term begins in the middle of next week, which is when I go back to work.  Plenty to finish off before the new semester starts.

English: Royal Oak, Garstang. The Royal Oak pu...

English: Royal Oak, Garstang. The Royal Oak public house on the High Street. The Market Cross is in the foreground (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m having a couple of weeks off!  So far I have successfully avoided doing any work on my thesis and this is good.  Instead, I’ve done a lot of work for the Historical Association.  Also, I did a 4.5 mile walk from Garstang, which I have to say wasn’t the most interesting walk I’ve done in my life, but nevertheless it was good to be out and about.  We went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and today we’ve been to the beach at St Annes.

about 1762

about 1762 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fittingly, the first Art Everywhere poster that I saw was  the Pelican Portrait of Elizabeth I!  It was on the concourse of Oxford Station.  Then on the way home from the Cotswolds we stopped at a motorway service station and saw the Ambassadors, Blaze 4, For You and Whistlejacket.  Apparently my husband and children saw several others during their wanderings around Oxford on Monday, but having my head stuck in sixteenth century manuscripts at the time, I missed those…

Generally speaking, I’m useless at doing nothing. Even if I’m watching television I am usually doing something else at the same time. However, on Monday evening I found myself doing just that – staring out the front of the tent into space and doing absolutely nothing. It didn’t last long, but I think it showed how ready I was for a break.

Medieval cottages in Bibury

Medieval cottages in Bibury

On Tuesday we went to Chedworth Roman Villa, where we caught on to the end of the children’s tour. Apparently the Romans introduced large, white snails which they used for food and their descendants still live in the area, which pleased my youngest a lot as he likes snails. We also saw a lizard basking in the sunshine. That afternoon we went to one of my favourite museums, Keith Harding’s Mechanical Music Museum. A rather brilliant collection of reed organs, barrel organs, paper roll pianos and old disc players. What I really love about the place is the disc they made of David Bowie’s ‘As the World Falls Down’ for the music box scene at the beginning of Labyrinth, as it’s always been one of my favourite films and I can recite whole sections of the dialogue from memory. We heard Gershwin duetting with himself on Rhapsody in Blue on a reproducing piano! Another much-loved museum is the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, but I missed out on that this time. Still, at least my children got to look at the shrunken heads!  Anyway, after the museum, on the advice of a chatty, elderly lady who stopped to talk to us in the street, we drove down through several beautiful little Cotswold villages to Bibury.

Wednesday saw a trip across to Waddesdon Manor, where we counted several hundred cows, horses, cats, dogs, rats and storks in all the paintings and sculptures… There was an interesting art installation, Canticus Arcticus, by Bruce Munro in the stables and the house was full of linen fold sculptures by Joan Sallas.

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor

Then on our last day we went on a walk round Port Meadow on the edge of Oxford. Lovely place, but made even better by the company of a friend.  We never got to the Treacle Well, as we didn’t get far enough down the road, but it didn’t matter.  A lovely and very relaxing day out.

English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library...

English: The courtyard of the Bodelian Library, looking out the north gate from the south gate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday I did a day’s work on manuscripts held in the Bodleian Library.  Particularly, of course, Ashmole 48 – Richard Sheale’s ballad collection. There is some dispute over the purpose of the collection. Sheale is known to have been a minstrel attached to the Stanley family, but interpretations over the years have described Ashmole 48 as his minstrel manuscript or a collection of ballads that he heard and perhaps sung. Most recently, Andrew Taylor has argued that the manuscript was used to collect ballads on Sheale’s travels which he then took back to printers in London for publication. Whatever its purpose when it was compiled, there seems no dispute over the fact that it contains ballads. Which is nice, because it helps me to define ‘ballad’. There were a couple of other very interesting documents too.

Finishing work in Oxford on Monday afternoon marked the end of my work for a week or two. I decided last week that juggling was wearing me out, so for the sake of my sanity and my children I would take a couple of weeks off before they go back to school. As the epitaph ballad went on holiday to Ireland with me in May, this will be the first proper break I’ve had for months.

Art Everywhere turns UK’s streets into world’s largest art show | Art and design |

Today’s Guardian has a free guide to the art works and on the website, a gallery.


History students will no longer tolerate or believe grand narratives | Colm Tóibín | Comment is free | The Guardian.

So many big issues in such a short article.  Fascinating to me because my other historical passion (aside from the early modern) is Irish history.  Of all the places in the world where you might drop mandatory history in schools, I’d have thought Ireland would have had more sense.  Of course, the fact that it’s no longer compulsory doesn’t mean it will disappear from the curriculum altogether, but it’s a worrying thought…

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