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.

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Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday afternoon I sent off first draft of my first chapter to my supervisors.  It’s been a tough week, as on Monday evening I was really struggling to make the chapter work because it had just evolved out of my notes.  I couldn’t get the separate bits of the chapter to hang together – it was just some chunks of text that could have been completely separate entities if they weren’t all on the same page.  A frantic call to a friend about the disorganised nature of my work resulted in some very good advice.  “Write down the points you want to make on index cards, then arrange them into order.”  How right he was.  So I spent Monday evening juggling index cards.

On Tuesday morning I started with 12 index cards, a blank document and  heavy heart.  I got some blue tac and stuck the index cards to a convenient bit of blank wall next my desk, and  stuck a couple of post-it notes on to a few of them to remind me where I had found evidence to back them up.  By Tuesday afternoon, I had 5000 words.  Okay, so not all of them by any means were completely new and original for the new document, but the opening few paragraphs were, and I’d made substantial alterations to the bits that I had copied and pasted in from the old notes.  A first draft was ready for proofreading by Thursday afternoon, so I had a night out!  I took the family to see Steve Tilston at Garstang Unplugged, and we all had a lovely evening.

Friday morning I spent proofreading and making alterations, then in the afternoon I fiddled with the footnotes and bibliography.  I sent it off mid-afternoon, having reached about ten thousand words somewhere along the way.  It’s interesting, because not long ago I commented to a friend that I hadn’t ‘planned’ a piece of work in years.  Everything had just, sort of, evolved out of my research and seemed to come out okay.   This is partly because I never knew exactly what I wanted to say until I was saying it.  But this time it just didn’t work, perhaps because my command over the material was not quite as confident.

I have to say I’m not entirely happy with the end result.  It’s probably the chapter I’m going to find most difficult, as it is the most interdisciplinary, looking at the similarities and differences between art music, from church and court, and the popular music of the ballads.  I’m a bit worried about how my music specialist is going to react to it and I’m certain that my other supervisors are going to find plenty of stylistic problems too.  All in all, I’m quite nervous about my supervisory meeting next week.  Between now and then, I’m going to do some more reading on reader reception theory because I borrowed some books from a very nice German teacher at the university at the beginning of the year and it really is time I took them back!  I also have a conference paper proposal I need to write, as the call for papers closes this week.

 

Scream Cropped

Scream Cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I swear that if I hear myself described as ‘the lady with the headache’ once more, I’m going to scream. Actually, I probably won’t, because it would hurt, but inwardly at any rate, I’d be doing a Munch. The word ‘headache’ alone doesn’t begin to describe it. Forget migraine, I’ve had them and this was nothing like it.  ‘Thunderclap headache‘ begins to get somewhere close.  At my age, spending 9 nights in hospital after an ambulance transfer is quite an achievement.

 

 

For a while they thought it was a brain haemorrage or a stroke, but thankfully it wasn’t.  So after CT scans, MRI scans, lumber puncture and an ultrasound of my head which had a name with ‘Doppler’ in it, the headache that caused me to vomit, sweat like the proverbial pig and hardly able to move for several days was revealed to be Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome.  A pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, if I could think of a worst enemy on which to wish pain.

 

 

Essentially, what happened was that the blood vessels in my brain went into spasm, twice, almost 24 hours apart.  It happened like flicking a switch – the second time I was just sitting there, minding my own business feeling slightly nauseous when suddenly it felt like my head exploded.  Cue ambulance teams, A&E and breaking my own personal record for a hospital stay. But what is really interesting is why it happened.  Not stress, not the pressure of juggling working on a PhD with bringing up a young family…  no, it was the SSRI antidepressants which I’ve been on, on and off, for most of my adult life.   They were stopped dead and that’s that.  Never again.  The neurologist said I need to discuss alternative forms of antidepressant with my GP, but to be honest, for the moment I’m reluctant to let anyone mess with my head for a while…

 

On the plus side, all the scans revealed that I do indeed have a brain, which will probably come as a relief to my PhD supervisors in Manchester!  It also meant that the neurologists found a cavernoma on my brain, which could in the longer term, cause epilepsy.  So for now I have to take things easy for a bit.  I’m signed off university for another couple of weeks, and I have to see the neurovascular medics at the Royal Preston Hospital to discuss the management and treatment of my brain blackberry.

 

There are many things that I have to be thankful for.  Accuse me of melodrama all you like, but there were moments that I didn’t think I’d make it home so merely sleeping in my own bed is one!  At the risk of being over-emotional, this post will finish with two bits of fairly unprofessional and homespun wit and wisdom.

 

First, things I have learned.  Never underestimate the value of a brain that goes about from day to day performing its functions normally without you even realising it is there.  Family and friends are the most important things in the world and we can’t tell them how much we care about them often or strongly enough.  Going without cuddles is very, very lonely.  There are several excellent reasons to leave your front door unlocked, one of which is allowing the paramedics access to help you when you are alone.

 

Steve Tilston

Steve Tilston (Photo credit: Bryan Ledgard)

Second, people to thank.  A random list based on the fact that I’ll probably never get chance to thank these people properly.  Andy, the first response man, who held the hand of a total stranger while she vomited and screamed.  My husband, children and wider family, because I love you all and when I needed you, you were there as always.  The ambulance team from Blackburn or Burnley (sorry, I forget) whom I could not recognise again because I don’t think I opened my eyes long enough to see you.  The staff of the Royal Preston Hospital, who were without exception calm, patient, compassionate, reassuring and kind.  My lovely friends, for managing to make me laugh despite it all.  My supervisor, Glyn, for undertaking to sort out anything at the university for me.  And finally, my friend Steve Tilston, for writing beautiful songs and singing them in soothing tones that got me through several very long nights.