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Change Of Address

In order to more effectively consolidate all of the crap that I have accumulated, all future content will be posted to garymcgrath.wordpress.com

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Adjusting to Postgraduate Study

I’m now roughly halfway through a History MA. I say ‘roughly’ because I have finished what, for want of a better term, I have come to regards as the ‘easy’ stage. The real challenge still lies ahead. I am currently staring down the gauntlet, at the wrong end of 20,000 words and I have realised one thing; the entire experience has been markedly different from anything I could have expected or prepared myself for.

The first real shock when you begin postgraduate study is the increased volume of work.It is something which you try to mentally prepare for, but it still takes you by surprise and by the end of the first week if you don’t feel like you have had the stuffing knocked clean out of you, then you are either superhuman or lying. Or perhaps possibly both. The reading lists alone tend to be longer than a first year undergraduate core text. These are, of course, merely lists of ‘suggested’ reading and, if in the course of my academic life thus far, I have learnt anything at all, it is that the term ‘suggested reading’ in more or less analogous to ‘light bedtime reading’.

Hyperbole aside, you will certainly find a step up in pace such as you have never met before. No, it is not like changing from college/6th form to university. It is much more intense. The best thing you can do by the end of the first week is to laugh. If you can laugh, then you have a good chance of surviving. You will definitely need that sense of humour later on. I won’t lie; it won’t stop you from occasionally feel as if you are going insane, but you’ll at least believe that you’re having fun whilst you slowly lose your mind.

You do eventually adjust. The trick is finding new ways to cope with, and to stay on top of, the vastly increased workload. I refuse to believe that even the most seasoned of academics can steel themselves to pour through dusty tomes every waking moment of every day. No matter how strong your passion is, sooner or later something else will become more appealing. The trick is to find ways to keep yourself engaged with what you are doing when your mind does begin to wander. I have now begun to understand why so many historians like to pepper their work with anecdotes which on first glance may seem to have little relation to the main thrust of their argument. It’s because we need such diversions account of a runaway horse one morning on the streets of later eighteenth century Norwich (C.B. Jewson, The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich 1788-1802). Day-to-day life is full of such irreverence, and it does us well as historians to remember this fact.

The past 4 months have been tough and exhilarating at the same time, but it is in beginning to prepare myself for the hefty task of researching a Masters dissertation that the real fun is starting to begin. I can already feel the lure of the archives calling.

Snow

Do we stop playing because we grow old, or do we grow old because we stop playing?

Actually, we grow old because of the continual deterioration cells within our body, occurring over a span between two points in temporal space measured by an arbitrarily defined and implemented calendar system.

But aside from that, one of the times you know that your inner child has well and truly kicked the proverbial bucket is when you awake early in the morning, blearily rubbing your eyes and staring out of your bedroom window, to be presented with a view of a countryside turned bright white. The virgin snow lies pristine and fresh in the morning, crisp and perfect with an inviting charm, and your first thoughts are not that of excitement and wonder, but dread and despair.

As a child you would see a world transformed, a world of excitement and exploration. As an adult you realise you are, effectively, trapped. Miles from any town and all routes of transportation impassable, you realise that you are completely cut-out off from civilisation.

Well, actually we have telephones and radios and TV and the internet now so I guess that isn’t true. And the house is pretty well stocked up so there’s no trouble there. And, of course, on a clear day you wouldn’t be going anywhere anyway. But now that you can’t, you feel the need to. Maybe it’s something to do with a primitive fight-or-flight mechanism that we are hard-wired to feel anxious when we are forced to stay in one place. Maybe logic just takes a back seat when your brain is hell-bent on trolling you at every available turn.

Of course I immediately regretted the decision to leave my Christmas shopping until the last-minute. All of those excuses I fed myself about waiting to get essays done, and how I had been under too much stress at the time all start to seem suddenly very silly indeed in the face of the bigger stress presented by this veritable conundrum of logistics. Town is miles away. My car will never get down that snow-covered hill… hang on, where IS my car? Oh, it’s that large looking snow drift over there, or rather it is inside it somewhere. I hope. Well, that’s not a good sign. Not getting anywhere in that.

I guess the one consolation is knowing that probably no shops are open anyway. But with only a week to go until Christmas, and with all of my shopping still left to do, I am feeling more than a little foolish.

I should have known this would happen. I’ve seen enough films that I should know better – leaving things to the last-minute is always a bad plan, doubly so at Christmas. Of course, if this was a film then a series of bizarre circumstances and hilarious hijinks would ensue. Everything would go wrong for the first half, until I realise that Christmas is about love and family and that all of those other things which had gone wrong weren’t important at all and it all pulls together nicely into a heart warming scene at the end. Probably everyone is standing around the tree, an open fire blazing, whilst the camera pulls out and upwards away from the sitting room window, rising up to show an idealistic scene of a snow-covered patch of suburbia whilst saccharine holiday songs play over the end credits. Of course in reality there would just be a lot of awkward silences; a shaking their heads mental notes are made to strike you from the Christmas card list next year.

Not that I believe I have any grounds on which to complain. I pity the poor sods nervously checking announcements on public transport operations as they try to return home to their families for the holidays. At least I have been stuck in the right place. Maybe next year we may wise up to the fact that we have been blind-sided by snow for three years on the trot now, and all be slightly more ready for it, but I’m not getting my hopes up too much. And besides, when all is said and done, snow is still fun.

Random

“The widespread northern leg contrived inside tennis.”

Sentence constructed entirely using a random word generator. The only variable which was changed was whether the next generated word should be a noun, verb, adjective, etc. and the only addition I made was ‘The’ at the beginning for ease of readability.

The other day the age old subject about how some people insist on grossly misusing the word ‘random’ in order to describe anything which is slightly wacky or bizarre came up and I wondered what it would be like to write something truly random by means of using a random computer based generator in order to completely remove any chance for prior forethought.

The end result doesn’t seem so bad, even if it is nonsensical. When I get some more time I may even generate (I can hardly say write) a longer piece of random text to see what I get. Because I love cheap gimmicks.

Otherwise, I realise I’ve not been writing much lately, so I endeavoured to chnage this over the past few days. I’ve not gotten anything solid down yet, but I do have something brewing in my mind now and with any luck will soon develop into something. It’s all rather exciting, especially considering how long it has been since I’ve been able to really latch onto an idea for any length of time.

Fingers crossed…

Fiction Friday Entry for April 17

Writing Prompt: Include this line somewhere in your story: “I’m never doing that again.”

It wasn’t exactly nothing. That is, it wasn’t that it was not something but more an absence of something. The sum of its parts did not entirely add to a whole and, instead of order, chaos had now become what some people would refer to as ‘the current social paradigm’. And one such person was Paul, a relatively non-descript fellow save for the fact he had gained some amount of recent fame for being the person who had successfully negotiated what, for all intents and purposes, had constituted the end of the universe.

Paul sat alone in this absence of something, or at least he thought he sat. Spatial conventions, he figured, did not technically apply any longer. Something floated ponderously by his head. By now he had given up trying to hazard any guesses to what these objects were. Their shape defied identification and, theoretically at least, they could have once been anything; a small rock, a mug, last weeks newspaper, for all it mattered now it could have once been France. Whatever it had once been, it drifted on slowly by and eventually twinkled and vanished in what he thought may have passed for the mid-distance. He sighed.

It had all happened rather quickly. Paul’s face was contorted into an expression of deep thought, as it had been for some time now. Under any ordinary circumstances he would have been quite pleased with this arrangement, but then these were no longer any ordinary circumstances. Back when things had mattered, back when there was still some semblance of order, no matter how imbalanced it may have appeared back then, he had been paid to think. Some people are natural born doers. Paul was a natural born thinker. And that was where all the trouble had started.

There is a school of philosophical thought which holds that our experience of reality is a merely subjective occurrence. That is to say that order only exists because we perceive it to do so. This is a dangerous line of thought since, if followed to its logical, albeit extreme, conclusion then it can ultimately mean that nothing technically exists, or even if it did it wouldn’t matter any way. Unfortunately it had also turned out to be true.

On the day that everything had disappeared it had just so happened that enough people had been, at exactly the same time, thinking exactly the same thing. This went broadly along the lines that given the infinite multitude of variable possibilities within the universe and given that any single thing is merely relative to a set of purely arbitrary constructs of thought that existence itself must logically be declared null and void. Paul had joined this thought and the resulting mass of minds thinking as one that the universe when considered as a whole was so immensely unstructured as to be negate any possibility of existence had meant that the universe was presented with very little option but to agree and, as a result, had consequently and obediently scrapped the rule book, descending instead into a state of total unreality.

Which was where Paul now found himself, helpless and for all he knew totally alone. “Well”, he thought to himself in silent monologue, and with a certain sense of clarity and conviction he had never felt before, “I’m never doing that again.”

Fiction Friday

There’s this blog I’ve been following called Write Anything, which is a pretty good read for the aspiring writer type. I thought I would finally bite the bullet, so to speak, and take part in one of the weekly writing prompts they run since it was about time I posted some creative writing (that was kind of what I had intended to use this blog for). So here goes nothing. Be kind. Or else.

***

A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.

They always had said that dentistry could be a tough gig. He had always used to laugh at such statements. “What is the worst that could happen?”, he would ask, “I’ll pull out the wrong tooth?”. Today had been an altogether different story.

For it had been a tough day indeed. From when his first patient, a walking brick wall of a man with more muscle than skin, hair or organs combined and festooned from chin to toe with tattoos, had settled himself in the chair to when he had arrived home to find a burst pipe, 6 inches of water everywhere and one slightly drowned and extremely concerned cat the day had been one long, unrelenting assault of mishaps and bad luck.

And that was why, despite better judgement, he was currently standing in line at the cinema. He normally wouldn’t have attended, but the friends he was staying with at short notice while his house was being drained out had been quite insistent. The evening was mild, as was common for spring. Twilight was just beginning to settle in as the afternoon sun died away. Storm clouds were silently edging their way across the sky, creeping ever closer, and a metallic bite to the air left no doubt in the mind that April would soon be living up to its name in full. He stood glumly as the line moved slowly, ponderously, sluggishly until at last it had been whittled down to the last few survivors. It is a fact of life that there will always be a queue at the cinema. Tradition is a notoriously hard thing to break, and thus far both television and the internet had yet to break this one.

It happened suddenly. A sound behind him, some form of commotion. He looked around just in time to be confronted by the face of a man he had long since forgotten. And then suddenly something was not right – searing pain coursed up through his body. He took one step backwards, his eyes still fixed on the familiar face. Slowly he forced his gaze downwards to witness the inevitable sight of the knife protruding from his side. He felt the warmth of his blood as it began to soak his shirt. Stumbling to his knees, he watched the man turn and slowly walk away as his friends rushed to his aid.

They had always said that dentistry could be a tough gig.

Modern Urban Phillosophy for the Apathetically Lazy

Traffic lights are deeply symbolic, when you think about it.

There’s a group of us, all standing by the edge of the road wanting to get to the other side.  We would never have assembled as a group under any other circumstances, but we have been bought together and united in our common conviction that we, not being happy with the side of the road we are currently on, need desperately to get to the other side.

And the people already on the other side want to get to where we are.

And so we stand around waiting for the fabled green light.

It all seems deeply symbolic if you ask me.

Nationalisation?

I am overcome by simultaneous confusions of bafflement, disgust and anger at the news that as a result of the recession there are now families struggling even to afford basic necessities.

Rising prices leave families struggling to put food on the table.

The reason for my bafflement arises from how this can be allowed to even happen, in this supposedly more enlightened modern age in which we are supposedly living in. It is clear that the current levels of social provision for those out of work are simply not enough for those with families to care for. Hell, it’s stressful enough managing my own budget and I only have my own mouth to worry about.

Of course people should not be dependent upon benefits and hand-outs, but in the current economic condition there is simply no other option for many people. The job market has now become so stunted that it is beyond a joke; as more businesses go under and more people are laid-off from their work, the competition becomes fiercer and fiercer. It is clear that there is no longer sufficient available work to go around and employers are either unable themselves to recruit any more, or in some cases are happy to sit back and enjoy their own new found prosperity in being able to be even more picky than normal in their selections.

For all of its promises, it is doubtful as to how much is going to change after the recent G20 summit in London. They may have pledged $1trillion to the IMF and world bank, but there is little said in the way of where this money is going to be coming from. Why was the provision of work not discussed in greater detail? Government provided work would give people the means to support themselves with the two-fold effect that the government itself would be generating extra income for itself in order to manage its own rising debts. Would not nationalisation of key industires – public services, utilities, the banks, etc. be an effective means to this end? This was the tactic used during the Great Depression, and I see no reason why it should not be employed now.

G20 Protests

It’s late and I am tired so I don’t have time to write a lengthy post right now.

Sufficed to say I have been virtually glued to the television all day watching the news reports of the anti-capitalist protests against the G20 summit which have been occuring in central London today.

Since I was unable to attend in person I feel compelled to lend my voice (however small that may be) in support of the protestors. It really is time that those in power wake up and realise the glaring faults within the system that has failed us all, and which even now they are fighting desperately to mend.

More wordy post to follow hopefully tomorrow… err, better make that later today.

http://www.g-20meltdown.org/

This had better be an April Fools joke…

Tea prices set to increase as consumption begins to outweigh manufacture, according to the BBC.

I can just imagine the news reports in a weeks time:

Britain panics. Supermarket shelves have been emptied of teabags as panic buying grips the nation. World leaders are set to meet in order to discuss a global tea contingency strategy. Hospitals are struggling to cope under the pressure now put upon them by many being forced into going cold turkey, and police are now out in record numbers in attempts to curb any violence which may erupt between bands of roaming tea addicts who may be facing sobriety for the fist time in upwards of 15 years.