I spent this week in Cambridge.


I’ve not been back to Cambridge since I went to the folk festival in 1994, where I got showered in (someone else’s) beer when the Saw Doctors came on stage and everyone cheered.  That was before I got my A-level results.  At eighteen, I was offered a place at Selwyn College to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic with a Choral Scholarship, but I didn’t get the A-level grades that I needed so I ended up at Manchester instead.  I can honestly say that after the initial disappointment, I have never felt a moment’s regret about not getting there.  But I do have to admit that this week was a bit strange.  Life would have been very, very different if I’d gone there and not to Manchester.  For one thing, I’d have ended up as a medievalist, not an early modernist!



But I didn’t, and I was back in Cambridge to visit some archives.  I spent a happy hour or two in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College looking at Archbishop Parker‘s corrections to his Whole Psalter, and a day in the University Library Manuscript Room looking at some bits and pieces.  I didn’t find anything earth-shattering, I don’t think, but there were one or two useful bits and bobs.






The trip was combined with a family holiday, so after my day and a half of work I was able to join my family doing a few, more touristy, things.  The weather was very, very warm, so we went swimming in the lido on Jesus Green, which was very pleasant indeed.  We went out to Wandlebury Hill Fort, Houghton Mill and Wimpole Hall, although bad planning on my part meant that the hall itself was closed on the day that we visited! The Botanic Gardens were beautiful and the children thoroughly enjoyed the activities in the explorer backpacks that they borrowed.  I think we all wished we’d had longer to spend there.



Danny Kaye

Danny Kaye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With sincere apologies to BBC Radio 2, because that really was a terrible title.  The thing is, I’m running out of novel and interesting ways to describe similar weeks!

I have spent much of this week reading and writing about historical and literary theory – the likes of Jauss,  Bourdieu, Skinner, Thompson and Fish.  This is because I need to place my work on ‘knowingness’ in sixteenth century ballads in a wider theoretical context.  I’m not, however, all that happy swimming about in theory, as I find that major theoretical models seem to read too much into things.  There always seems to be a touch of the Emperor’s New Clothes about them – I always want to point and shout ‘Look at the king, Look at the King, Look at the King, the King, the King!  The King is in the altogether…’.  More apologies – a Danny Kaye moment.  Still, I’ve written 1700 words on the theory, and I’m nearly happy with it, which is good because I have my third panel meeting in ten days or so, and that’s my piece of written work for it.  It would be quite good if it actually came to an end though, rather than just stopping dead!

The other major strand of my work this week has been to continue re-drafting my chapter plan for the panel.  I think it’s getting stronger all  the time, although I dare say that there are still plenty of areas which will cause discussion in the meeting.

On Wednesday the second of my disks of scans from the British Library arrived through the post.  The single most expensive CD I have ever bought in my life, and what’s more, it’s going to take HOURS of work to transccribe the ballads.  But they really were beautiful, and although looking at the scans is not quite the same, it reminded me of the sense of awe I felt sitting in the BL reading rooms looking at the originals.  Little sixteenth century doodles…

Today I read ‘I Could Speak Until Tomorrow’.  It is an anthropological study of the oriki poetry of Nigeria, and although the parallels may not seem obvious, there are some spooky similarities with the way the ballads use obliqueness to cover further levels of meaning.  I found it very interesting.

The other major news of the week is the good-natured argument I have been involved in over the use (or in my case the leaving out) of the Oxford comma.  Personally, I can’t stand the thing.  The best description of it is definitely to be found in Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’.  For those that don’t know, the Oxford  comma is the one to be found before the ‘and’ at the end of a list.  It litters US writing.  My supervisor likes it, but I don’t.  In fact, I’d go so far as to put my grammatical hatred for it as second only to that for a misplaced or missing apostrophe.  He keeps putting it in and I keep taking it out again.  This state of affairs will probably continue until I re-write the work (in this case, the title of my theory piece) so that there can’t possibly be a need for it.  It will probably go to the panel as ‘Methodology’ as an avoidance tactic!

I’ve just been out in the garden listening to not one, but two, owls.  And the male is definitely singing.