You may have noticed that I didn’t post a blog last week.  This was mainly down to the tremendous amount of stress I was under – several problems, nothing to do with my PhD and way beyond the scope of this blog, came together to make last week the week from hell.  What few attempts I made to do some work mainly consisted of staring at the screen, writing a couple of sentences, staring at the screen some more and then deleting the couple of sentences.  One step forward, one step back.  On Wednesday evening I went to the Willows Folk Club in Kirkham, where I had a lovely chat with an old friend, Sue Bousfield.  Sue has worked with the EFDSS on their Full English project, so it was nice to talk about my work with someone who is familiar both with the material and the style of English folk songs.  Hard to know whether it was the music (and herewith I attach Steve Tilston singing the traditional song ‘Courting is a Pleasure’, simply because I can’t find a video of him singing ‘Martin Said to his Man’, which is known to late Elizabethan or early Jacobean – I forget which) or the conversation with Sue about the extent of source material from the mid-Tudor period, but on the Thursday, for the first time in weeks, I managed to write 1000 words.  And what’s more, I didn’t feel the need to delete them.  Writer’s block demolished?  It seems so.  Still, I have an enormously long list of things to do and although I am slowly ticking things off it, it gets longer and longer all the time.  The latest addition is to explore the Full English Digital Archive.

On Saturday I went Hebden Bridge for the afternoon , to the Trade Roots Festival.  I spent Sunday afternoon working on my ballad epitaph article, then on Monday I went into Manchester to read a book by Steve Hindle and have lunch with a friend.  By Monday evening, I felt much better.  My plan this week was to get the first draft of the full length version of my ballad article complete by yesterday afternoon, and thankfully, I managed.  That meant that today I was able to turn my attention to the seminar paper that I will be giving in a couple of weeks, on the Thomas Cromwell ballad flyting.  By just after lunch I was happy with the skeleton I’d constructed.  I will practise it over the next couple of weeks, but I have no intention of fleshing it out any more than it already is.

Advertisements

It’s been quite a week.  First of all I had two days at home looking after my sick little boy.  Then on Wednesday I went into Manchester to have a supervision meeting.  I spent most of the day reading and managed to catch up with a few of my friends, which was nice because I hadn’t seen them for a long while.  The supervision meeting was very productive, with both my main supervisors setting me completely different pieces of work and discussing the work that I wrote on the Cromwell ballad flyting.  I was surprised about how positive they were about that.  It was barely even a first draft and I thought it was pretty rubbish, especially in terms of its flow.  However, I am very pleased by the detailed feedback I was given and its certainly given me something to think about when I go back to it.  But that will be a little while off.  I have to re-write my chapter plan, again, with some different case studies, and I have 2000 words to write on reception theory, speech act theory and knowingnesss.  So that’s what I spent yesterday reading up on.  I’d done some work on speech act theory before, so I started with reception theory and wrote a bit on that yesterday.  I have to say it’s been rather hard work, and I’m not entirely convinced by it all.  Theory is all very well, but when it meets practice it seems to collapse…  Oh well, it remains to be seen how it comes out in the wash.  I picked up some more texts in the library today, so that’s Monday and Tuesday sorted at the very least!

Today I was on a three hour course on ‘Evidencing Your Skills’, all about how to match your experience to competencies required by employers.  It was rather too long, I have to say, but it was a useful reminder of how to prepare for life beyond the PhD!  So I’ve set myself several targets from that, too.  The first is to contact the careers service at the university, as there are a few options I’d like to discuss.  I am also going to force myself to write some proposals for conference papers, as I haven’t done that yet at all.

And so a new year begins.

Ice skating at Lytham

Ice skating at Lytham

I have spent a lot of it so far cataloguing ballads, to the extent that my analysis spreadsheet is now so enormous that I am probably going to have to take it to the university print services department to get it printed out – I guess it will be bigger than a research poster and will cost me a small fortune!  Especially as I’ll probably have to get two copies of it so that I can give one to my supervisor.  I have, however, identified a nice section of wall in my study where I can stick it up.  Actually, it’s the only section of wall that’s big enough!  Still, I’ve got to finish it first, and although it’s getting there, everytime I look at anything I find more ballads that I need to add in.  There are just so many it’s amazing.

I have to say that after several days concentratedly staring at little boxes on a computer screen and tiny print  on paper, I was heartily sick of ballad analysis and ready to give it a break, so I did.   I went ice skating in Lytham with my children and had a whale of a time.  I didn’t fall over once, so I was very pleased with myself.  The next morning I spent doing more analysis and a LOT of filing, and then went up to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve with the family, which was very wet, but I saw several snipe, which was nice.  The weather wasn’t, it has to be said, as you can see from the photograph.  The snipe, which you can’t see on the photograph, were on the diagonal strip of land across the middle right.  I like snipe.  You’d think that something so stripy would stand out like a sore thumb, but it’s actually really good camouflage.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

From the new Tim Jackson hide at Leighton Moss in the rain.

I spent an evening working on my talk for the Historical Association in Manchester, and I need to spend a bit more time on it.  It’s called ‘No Lion Wilde: Popular Depictions of Mary I’ and obviously it focuses on the ballads of the reign of Mary.  I’m quite looking forward to giving a talk to the H.A.  It’s not quite the same as one aimed directly at 6th formers, and although I gave a fairly intellectually-heavy seminar for the postgrads at university, that was only 20 minutes long – not a full 50 minutes.  So although it’s a bit scary, it’s fun.  I’m adapting the 6th form talk I gave in November to have longer excerpts of the ballads, as they, after all, are the crucial bits.  Other than that, it would involve putting in more theory, and I don’t think that’s all that appropriate.  I need to make it interesting but appreciable by a general audience.  The great thing about the Historical Association, though, is that although the audience is of the general public, they are assumed to want high quality, challenging lectures!  I suppose it’s the questions that are the really scary bit, as I can’t prepare for them.

I was instructed by my supervisor to get back into writing as soon as I could, and so far this is something I haven’t managed to do.  Instead, I generated a massive amount of ballad analysis by printing an awful lot of stuff from EEBO.  So much stuff, in fact, that I went through an entire printer cartridge in one day.  Then I had to read it.  Then I had to file it.  The trouble is that I know that there are several things that I am missing:  I haven’t read most of the Churchyard/Camel ballad flyting, and I know that I haven’t even printed several of the ballads I photographed at the Society for Antiquaries when I visited them last November.  I did, however, finally get on with ordering copies of a lot of things I saw at the British Library, so as I’d been putting that off I’m quite pleased with myself.

What else have I done?  I put several ballad tunes onto Sibelius so that I can listen to them and it makes the process of analysing them, in due course, easier.  They are now in a folder of their own, with copies of the lyrics that go with them.  I’ve read through Cheap Print and Popular Piety again too.

My plan is that next week, when the children go back to school, I will go back to my piece on the Cromwell flyting of 1540 and finish a draft of that.  It’s something to look forward to.  I’m going to give the rest of the missing ballads a break for a few days while I get stuck into writing again.  Should be fun.

Yesterday, rather unexpectedly, I sat down and started writing again.  I was overcome with an urge to sest my thoughts down on paper (well, computer screen) as I read the first publication in a ballad flyting from 1540.  I wrote down what I thought about it, how I interpreted it and the background to is as I read it, and very fulfilling it was too.  In a couple of hours in an afternoon, I wrote almost 1000 words. Whether or not any of them make it to the final cut, or even into the chapter I present for my next panel in January, remains to be seen, but it felt good.  Really good.  And I’m itching to get back to it again.  I feel like I could easily pour out 8000 words on this flyting alone.  Of course, I need an angle, and a sense of where it fits in with everything else, but I’m finding it fascinating and fulfilling at the same time.  I’m happy.

Most of this week I have spent analysing the extant sixteenth century ballads.  I have a big spreadsheet with the names of the ballads in one column and all sorts of topics and features listed across the top.   I have comments in some of the boxes, and others are just ticked off.  It’s a slow and painstaking process, but it’s fun.  Every now and again a little gem turns up, some of which I’ve posted here, and sometimes there are things that I spot that I think are really exciting.  It’s great.  Then today, I came down with the lurgy.  I have a headache, catarh and I’m either freezing cold or sweating.  So I retreated to the sofa with several blankets and a copy of the Oxford History of Print Culture.    I’m not at all sure about some of the arguments put forward in it.  For example, I’m not at all sure that I agree with Angela McShane’s belief that ballads didn’t spread the news.  I don’t think you can divorce news from commentary in the period, and I find it difficult to understand how her argument for the seventeenth century transposes back to the sixteenth when there were no newspapers.

Yesterday I went in to the university, where I had a long discussion about the Cromwell ballad flyting with my supervisor, over a very nice pot of tea. Definitely the way forward for supervision meetings.  After that I went to the library and picked up a few books, then had some lunch with some of my fellow postgrads.  Unfortunately, one of them is leaving.  He’s had enough.  As he said, what’s the point in carrying on when you look at your source material and think ‘Who cares?’