The Graduate.

I can sympathise with Dustin Hoffman’s overwhelmed (or underwhelmed – depending on how you look at it) student …except I don’t have a pool to slink into or an old, comely neighbour who can arch their leg in such a ‘come hither’ way.

To digress slightly… wouldn’t an English version have been funnier, it would have been a proto-Hugh grant, dealing with disappointment in a ‘see hear!’ and ‘oh, bollocks’ kind of way. Oh, wait. That would be a bit rubbish wouldn’t it?

Well… to get back to the point. On June 25th. I think. I graduated. I think, I think, I saw a ceremony. I’m sure I did. I know I did. And it was a bizarre one at that. It  involved all sorts of ancient rituals, and that necessary language to make the ritual seem less out of place;  Latin (but, of course). And kneeling. And a sense of immense happiness and sadness all at once.

The happiness, well that comes with surviving three years and having something to be proud of at the end. Not just the piece of paper that says I’m a BA. But, to go all american indie movie on you, the memories and experiences. That’s where the sadness comes in. Some parents might have already said to their kids, ‘don’t be too grumpy about the work, it will be over before you know it, and yes they really are some of the best days of your life.’ So, at a ceremony that celebrates three years of achievements, you’re bound to get a bit reflective. And tearful.

It began at an unholy hour. And I say unholy, cause any hour in the ‘am’ sphere, after a graduation dinner thats before the picture and the pomp and circumstance (thus wholly ridiculous), is so-called. I got out of bed for a re-tread of matriculation, except it was a beginning of the end kind of day. We lined up, for Japanese tourists and our Master, and we were led out the gate to claps of the staff, other students and college members. It was nice. Really nice. I realised what it meant to be a ‘member’ of the college, not just a student attending.

We were poked, prodded and cajoled into rows of 4s – mini crews to bond with, as  the ‘w’s’ graduated within a graduation together. Next came the part from outta space, or rather from the history books, even if it did involve a ‘Master’. This one was not an alien evil overlord, but the head of our college, and she would be conferring our degree upon us. We were lead up to her in our little cluster by the pre-locator , wait for it, as we pulled his fingers. Each of us getting one to hold onto, lest we loose our way in front of proud parents in the Senate House. I haven’t even reached 11 on the weird dial yet. Then one by one, we kneeled in front of her, maintaining an awkward balancing act as she spoke in ancient tongues. And so I slipped out the side chamber, ready to be dazzled by the sunlight and maybe by the fact I’d just become a BA.

To meet the real world. Hopefully with less world weary eyes then Ben Braddock. With or without seeing it all through Mrs. Robinson’s triffic triangular arched leg.


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Falling down the rabbit hole…

Like the famous white rabbit, with the impossibly big watch (rabbits can tell time??), I feel like I’m constantly late for a very important date. Except I’m not. I just keep looking at my blog and lamenting that I haven’t updated in an age. I attempted to catch up my entries last year at quite possibly the worst possible time.

I was in New Orleans. Ok, now if you’re reading you’re like wait, what? Why weren’t you writing about that – and possibly all the more interesting, crazy stuff – like second lines, and booze booze, booze and feathered monks and trombone shorty (ok, now I just sound like the first 5 minutes of ‘Treme’) – well I was trying to! I was attempting to catch up with the stressful exam stuff, push past it for a second time, and get to the summer and this amazing opportunity that landed in my lap!

Then I got stuck again. Or rather I came un-stuck and went out and enjoyed New Orleans – wouldn’t you?

So don’t blame me. Cause unlike the annoying white rabbit, that just pisses Alice off (even though she’s too polite about it to really tell, part of the reason I hate that book… I digress), I will give you answers and explanations. If you still want them.

There’s just one more post I’ve got to write about relating to school – Graduation, I’ll only get to do it once right?!

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It’s Final. Eeep.

And so the time has come. A few months later, and yeah sure it’s a bit of laziness too, I can finally bare to write about FINALS.

The supposed last exams I’ll ever take. Except a driving test, if I ever get round to it. (A bit of a habit for my extended family, not being able to drive, and I might just join their ranks.)

So exams. EXAMS. Tests. Time-pressured Essays. Sources – Or Gobbits – yes Gobbits… its currently being underlined in fuzzy reds lines by this computer. It doesn’t recognise such a pretentious word for extracts… and nor should it.

Well, in my third year I had a time table like this. May 28th, June 1st, June 2nd. 3 exams in a row, with the weekend in between. And no, not all historians suffered similarly, I took the Latin American paper, and thus I was tortured slightly more. It wasn’t Latin America that physically tortured me, just that fact that this paper, paper 28 was placed right after the special subject exam on Monday. Others had a WEEK.

I may be being a moany b-i-t-c-h. BUT everyone has their moments. And I think I deserved it, after all these exams seriously tortured me. Well, I’m not talking about the examiners getting out clamps, or the rack, or those spikey-cage things they had in the spanish inquisition… but I did engage in a bit of self-created mental torture.

I freely admit it. I put most of the pressure on myself. Apart from being at Cambridge, I’ve never truly been able to explain what that means, in terms of academic zeel and pressure. I had not experienced it, until those final days…

I went a bit batty, to be so very frank. I was so stressed. There was pressure in my head, and well I had leaky eyes most of the time.. because you’ve got to blow-off steamy somehow right?

So, exams. They were awful. I’ve not had reason to fear much … but I literally feared these like nothing else. I was so scared of HAP – Historical Argument and Practise, it was inexplicable. It was built up so much over the 3 years, I almost forgot that friday morning that I’d taken a similar paper in my first years. See, HAP, this is why 99% of the students hate you. And well, 50% of the faculty.

Are memories history? Compare the relative usefulness of oral history to its written counterparts? What is the difference between women’s history and feminist history? Ad-libbing of course, but the paper is full of these historical death-traps.

Living for the weekend eh? Well I certainly didn’t between the 29-30th May, 2010. I was a wee-bit busy. It was for the one paper I was vaguely confident about, surprising that I had any confidence left. On Sunday evening I harassed my Professor and DoS for a bit of moral support. I think I worried all my academic tutors so much. Nevermind me, but they thought that I wouldn’t make it until the end. And I kind of wouldn’t have – with out the constant mentoring of Chris and Lucy, and the countless cups of tea in Lucy’s office as she tried to rally me for the last big effort.

Monday morning rolled about, and I’d slept a generous 4hrs. Martin Luther King jnr. and the Civil Rights Movement came and went. I spent 3hrs and 45 trying to put down everything I could remember, and articulate it in the best way possible. Afterwards, I felt pretty good – I was actually excited. But that deflated by mid-afternoon. I was so TIRED. To the bone – I finally understand that expression. Thanks for that gift exams…

I was on the verge of tears constantly, as I had to find it in me, somewhere, to carry on for the last. ever. exam. And it was Latin America – a paper I wish I had another 3 years to revise. Although,  it had felt like it clicked friday afternoon and sat morning, but by Monday my brain was well and truly frazzled.

Next scene. Tuesday morning, after a less then bloody generous 1 hours worth of sleep I got up, jittery, anticipating the exam. I had a hellish last morning to revise… And I might not have got through it without the get-go coffee from Jake. I was flicking through every revision card I had, in a last ditch attempt at  to remember 3 topics. Hoping they came up exactly as 3 questions for the exams. And like some sick joke from the universe, they did. Only I was slightly crazy by then, and not thinking correctly when looking at the paper. I wrote the best I could. And the rest, as I wrote, was history.

The end? Rather anti-climatic. I didn’t exactly run about after the exams… as it didn’t feel like a victory. I just felt like every survivor – lucky to have got through to the other side. That was until I saw my ultra brilliant lecture buddy Lauren waiting for me. She was my one-woman congrats party. She roused me to feel joyful, and I savoured my first victory-sip in the pub that evening with her.

And boy did it prove a victory – I got my 2i. 🙂

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Want to meet Eddie Izzard? Vote Labour….

I was just starting to delve into revision and I was already deep in study-depression. That quite temporary but painful affliction. I can’t really explain why the exams affected me so badly this time round. All I know was that I wasn’t my usual self; attempting to crack jokes to cheer everyone else up around me. It was like those 2… maybe 3 days of the week that I usually go crazy trying to write an essay. I shut myself off, get a bit moany, and don’t really see anyone. Yeah, it was like that. Times a million (and that doesn’t feel like a london girl’s exaggeration.)

However, before you think this is another work related blog post, I would like to say it isn’t…. Around the third paragraph of this entry the title will start to make sense. So, back to the picture of finding myself deep in gloom and with the potential for it to stretch on forever without a break …

My friend Charlotte alerted me to the fact that Eddie Izzard… yes THE Eddie Izzard was coming to Cambridge! What was this all about?? An impromptu gig? A marathon? A transvestite Convention? Erm, no, nope and nadda… It was actually to support the local Labour MP candidate Daniel Zeichner, in the run up to the May 2010 elections.

This may all seem slightly random… after all Eddie doesn’t politics does he? He just rips on politicians… Maybe so but Eddie Izzard has said loud and clear for quite a while now that after all the shows (and the marathons) he would like to settle down.. to erm, become an MP for England (!!). Personally I would quite enjoy that; the image of him kitted out in his full Executive Transvestite gear addressing the speaker of the House of Commons… would certainly shake British politics up a bit! Well before dream becomes an unlikely reality, Eddie Izzard was set to make a flying visit to the park behind Christ’s. Apparently he was invited to speak alongside Zeichner by the Cambridge Labour society.  It seems that someone has good taste.

Charlotte, Aimee and I gathered on a rather cold day and waited around in the park not quite sure where the gathering would take place. The email wasn’t very specific, it sounded like the labour kids didn’t want the park to be descended upon by hundreds of Izzard fans… well a few slipped through the net. Aimee gave up on the mission early, retiring, citing the cold and revision as more pressing. Frankly Mr Shankly, I had given up for the day. And I was to be rewarded for this patience. Eventually we saw a few rather lacklustre  Labour supporters milling about handing out stickers, then a few photographers, and a small camera crew…  it really heated up when the cars with the blacked-out windows arrived. Cause those ALWAYS contain someone important right?!

Mr. Izzard stepped out alongside did Mr. Zeichner. Both were hardly swamped, the studious Labour society kids wanting to maintain some sort of composure and appear slightly professional. Zeichner was given the chance to speak, and so was Izzard. Zeichner used his soap-box moment to prove he was the best candidate for the job; he said a great deal about supporting Cambridge, and helping the city to continue to grow etc. (Politics, in other words.) Izzard stepped forward, and in a rather less personal address he endorsed the Labour Party, he still believes in them, and rather frankly said they didn’t do a bad job really, did they? Hard to argue with a man like him but he was yet to convince me that Zeichner had earned my vote. (Sadly for him, when election day rolled around Cambridge remained a Lib Dem stronghold.)

After the political spin-doctoring came the interesting part. The media of course descended like vultures to ask Eddie about his Marathon running, and attempted to interview him through the local BBC station, and it all seemed like the true fans would never get a chance to speak to him. He was then pulled aside by his manager and told he had to catch a train in 15… I never thought I’d have the courage to speak to him. But after some encouragement from Charlotte I thought now or never.

I approached him (which had the potential to shatter all my naive ideas about him) and shook his hand, congratulating him on the great show he preformed at the O2 in December. He thanked me and seemed quite open, so I thought I’d be cheeky and ask: Why no dresses for stripped? He was too quick for me and responded that he tries to space it out, every other show. So I said: Why no make-up today? But again he was quick to placate me, he let me know there’s always a secret stash of mascara in his car,  for those make-up related emergencies. He went on to speak to Charlotte about Swansea, where his mother is from, and the trials of running a huge number of marathons in a very small number of days. Eddie Izzard is a god it seems. Or maybe one of those rare, but really nice and hugely talented mere mortals?

Whatever he is, I am certain of one thing: There are no flies on eddie …. just bees.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

With the dissertation put to rest you may have thought it was plain sailing until exams… 7 weeks free to revise, until May 28th… Dun-dun-dun day! But I had one teeny, tiny, little thing to do first, only it wasn’t so small, and well… teeny.

Everyone has to do a special subject in their third year, its a unit worth 40% because you’re supposed to be so special at … its kinda like the category you would pick in mastermind.  Only with so many things going, and the dissertation still whirling on waaaay into Easter I was a bit fecked for the first Special trial. The long-essay. A coursework-type piece, 6,000 words long that was supposed to take a far while to research. Those doing a dissertation were really supposed to keep Easter free to research and a draft of the thing. Then the second friday into Easter term we were to hand it in. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved the essay almost as much as my coursework because I’d taken the Martin Luther King jnr. and the Civil Rights Movement Special… and there was vast scope for the essay question, so it didn’t feel too much like a directed piece. In fact, I chose one of the most obscure elements of the Civil Rights Movement – well obscure to those outside of studying it – the Black Power Movement.

Black Power has received a largely negative press since its believed emergence at the decline of the traditional Civil Rights Movement, post-65…. However, the essay title was clearly asking for the student to examine this view, and challenge it:

‘The impact of Black Power on the civil rights movement was negative and self –destructive.’ Discuss.

A history student knows each, and every essay title formula. And it helps. The word ‘discuss’ should set off an automatic alarm bell ringing; it is asking you to closely look at the question, the point of view it raises and more often the not, challenge it.

Black Power. Most students of the Civil Rights Movement were not put off  by BP, instead it is a popular topic. Why?  For one, it goes against the historiographic flow of most literature, or at least it did until 00’s. Most historians had found themselves an easy scape goat for the failures of the Civil Rights Movement, citing Black Power as the cause of the mainstream movement’s demise, failing to see it growing dominance in black culture as a result of this decline instead. It was all too easy to focus on the violence, the anti-white message, the apparent loss of hope and the absence of a shining leader. The bad and the ugly were brought to the fore each time.

Recently however, historians have been less linear in their approach, they have taken a more critical trek through the ever expanding story of the Civil Rights Movement, and more fairly assessed its achievements and failures. And consequently, they have seen the long and deep roots of Black Power. The good, the bad and the ugly. The use of armed defence before the wild, late sixties. The growing despair and difficulties experienced working with white activists in the field. The realisation that the golden leader had his flaws like every human on the planet. Mostly, that the cynicism with the cause did not begin and end with Black Power. It was a deep routed and unending realisation – some people would forever believe in separate and (not so) equal.

*          *          *

I concluded;

Martin Luther King summed up the problematic nature of defining the impact of Black Power on the civil rights movement: ‘Black Power means different things to different people and indeed, being essentially an emotional concept, it can mean different things to the same person on different occasions.’ In essence, when the words “Black Power” were first uttered it was an emotional cry to action, but as yet not defined; different figures within and without civil rights movement interpreted the call to action in various ways. Black Power did seem to embody a change in the direction of the civil rights movement. Those who rallied to the call were no longer advocating non-violent tactics and were no longer working towards a strictly inter-racial political, social and economic future. Moderate civil rights leaders and the white public were perturbed; it seemed that the key concepts of the civil rights movement were being denounced. The Black Power Movement’s call for armed-self defence was interpreted as a call for violent insurrection. Black Power’s critics contrasted it with the mythical image of a non-violent civil rights movement, failing to see the movement’s increasingly militant stance as a response to developments within the civil rights struggle itself. The resulting atmosphere of fear and paranoia was fanned by the white media. The aggressive message implied in armed self-defence coupled with the demands for a black-controlled community, and black self-determination were denounced as ‘negative’ and ‘self-destructive’ responses. In reality, Black Power was a continuation of the struggle and a response to new predicaments. Black Power emerged in 1966, just as the mainstream movement was changing direction in response to the more insidious and invisible consequences of white oppression.  We need to move beyond the notion that Black Power was diametrically opposed to the southern, non-violent and inter-racial movement. Black Power was born out of the tensions inherent within the long black freedom struggle. It was not as palatable a message as the civil rights movement, but it represented a logical response to the continued desire for political, economic and social equality.

In my own way I experienced: the good – writing about something I was really, really interested in, the bad – shattering certain illusions I had about the Civil Rights Movement, and the downright ugly – researching and writing the piece in less then 3 weeks!

For those interested in Black Power and keen to learn more, I suggest a rather less scholarly and more involving historical read: Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ‘til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, (Owl Books, 2006)

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English Representations of the Ghost and Vampire c.1775-1850

You may be pondering the reason for my lack of updates dating as far back as March… Look no further. As of the summer 2009 I began the beast of a project, creating my own piece of work: the dissertation. The harbringer of doom. The destruction of many….. or as I called mine ‘English Representations of the Ghost and Vampire, c.1775-1850.’

Cunningly I was able to combine a love of mine, supernatural fiction, with my degree work. The result was a project to resolve of the origins of vampires in 18th century England. I had always wondered when our love affair with this great literary character began. And more importantly for the historian: why? Alongside this I was able to explore the origin of the Victorian ghost story, and the changing content of tales concerning ghostly apparitions…

Nine months after August 2009, a healthy dissertation was born as of 9.30am, on the 24th April 2010. And rather helpfully, nine months of gruelling (/gruesome) work can be summarised by this awesomely beautiful word cloud created by the Wordle project on the interwebs:

Im proud of it but at the time I wasn’t ready to really appreciate it all because I kept thinking: thank f**k for that! Now that I look back, I’m amazed at the work I managed to produce (I have something of my own, bound on my shelf!!) And I really am glad that I chose to write one as opposed to taking the extra set exam.

For those of you that don’t think a picture is worth a 100o words (or indeed made up of a 1000), here’s a little extract:

Nursery maids tumbling down stairs in fright, a spectral black bear in Essex and Kent, and across the continent sharpened stakes to still the un-dead – in the eighteenth and nineteenth century ghosts and vampires featured in the popular imagination and illuminated the uneasy nature of life, death, and the afterlife. However, historical studies of the afterlife have largely neglected the rich and numerous evidence which points to a strong belief in the supernatural. Instead they have focused primarily on religious belief and how religious doctrines have shaped the construction of the afterlife in human minds. This dissertation aims to address the gaps in previous literature in order to explore exactly how ghosts and vampires were used in England as prisms to explore these contemporary concerns about dying, death and the afterlife.

The ghost has haunted English men and woman for centuries but the following discussion focuses on the unique features of both the folklore and fiction c.1775-1850, exploring the differences in the way that ghosts interacted with the living at this time. In contrast, the vampire was a completely new supernatural being, vampire legends only reached English shores in the eighteenth century. After challenging the existence of the English vampire, this dissertation will look at how various contemporary writers still used the continental vampire folklore and their own imagination to form a supernatural figure suited to expressing various social anxieties. In some cases the sources used in this text have circulated outside of the country and there were various Scottish, Irish and Welsh supernatural legends, but in order to create a manageable dialogue on the ghost and vampire this study focuses on tales printed and circulated in England. However, the promising amount of material on the supernatural afterlife means that future research could create a comparative study encompassing the whole of the British Isles….

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St. Pat’s and the cheapest pub in London

Now with a dissertation deadline looming and an essay and exams to follow in quick succession one might assume that I would have been locked up most of the Easter break. One would assume most incorrectly!

In fact I was down the pub, having a bath, with a couple o’mates in Trafalgar sq. And it was triffic one might say! That was because a group of non-natives found the cheapest pub in central London! Quite how that works out, I do not understand. But I put aside the inner shade of green for the cleverness of those foreign cloggs and found my outer-green togs to celebrate a man of god who killed a plague of snakes. Or something.

The pub in question is the Chandos, a road or two from Nelson’s Column. It’s a rather odd name for a boozer fashioned a bit closer to a wooden 16th century inn, than a Spanish tapas bar. On offer were a variety of  home-brewed ales, beers and ciders. All for around the £2.50 mark. Now this is immediately starting to sound like music to most Londoner’s ears – minus the 7 quid oyster fair to get you there of course.

However, the Chandos wont be to everyones tastes. It’s rather cosy and warm and a tad old fashioned. It has old sofas, wooden panels. And the colour scheme darling, is sooo 1970s brown. Paddy’s day might not having been a fair test in terms of; capacity and service with grace. But it did score triple points for atmosphere, repeat visits to the bar and location. Good company, as always, adds a bonus point too. Fortunately for me this was covered by my adopted Cambridge Ice-Hockey team buddies. Kirsty’s unusual passion for this most un-English sport has meant that I have met some interesting international students (the kind who play ice-hockey for real.) So in our group we created quite the caucasian cocktail; a greek-french, american, canadian and belgian quartet. Who all apparently enjoy celebrating an Irish national holiday, for all the right reasons, with the appropriate history acknowledged.

Unfortunately location (and present company considered) did not come in handy when finding a post-pub, pre-home venue to celebrate clovers and violent saints. We picked up a stray friend of a friend… who apparently is Canada’s answer to Joey Tribbiani. This guy with a cycle was seriously wondering the streets with us, nodding and calling out to girls with a ‘hey, how you doin’.’  Tried and tested that apparently works 60% of the time, all of the time.

Ladies man (ahem) and motley crew combined we all failed to gain entry to the Roxy, Moonlighting (filled with many younger girls, who I did not want Mr.Tribbiani² to meet), etc. In the end we were approached by one of those incredibly desperate English club promoters, the type that realise they are not: a) in a sunny, foreign land, b)  but are charging ridiculous prices, and c) the girls are all elsewhere on this particular day.

She spotted me, the lone female, and seized upon a chance to get the rest of the guys past the bouncer and into the club for free. What she didn’t realise was that I planned to escape the moment the guys found an ‘in’. Take that central London clubbing! Unfortunately the victory was a tad shallow, the thought of a weeks worth of hangovers had brought me back to reality and full-circle to contemplating the work load ahead.

Still I drank to the little green guy who bludgeoned mutant snake hoards. Or something.

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