Thursday, 3 April 2014

Fight the Stupids! (and support independent bookshops)

I have just finished listened to a fascinating interview with Timur Vermes on BBC Radio 4's Frontrow programme (the heaven of getting Radio 4 wherever you are!) His book, Look Who's Back , a satirical novel in which Adolf Hitler returns and is stunned by the modern world, is definitely one I will be reading. One of the interesting points which arose from the interview was that his publisher had suggested that the language of the book was too complex and that it should be simplified. The gist of Mr Vermes's response was: there are some jokes in there but why shouldn't readers have to work to get to them?

New Orleans is particularly rich in independent book sellers and the slogan of one, Maple Street Book Store is "Fight the Stupids!" In a world filled with reality television which reduces our humanity and creates caricatures which convey of the worst of the human condition, it is wonderful to know that there are people fighting against the tide of ignorance!

If you are in New Orleans, take advantage of the independent book shops before they vanish. They are a haven, staffed by people who live to read and offer a carefully curated collection of books. The evening talks give the opportunity to listen to and meet authors who would otherwise might be in accessible. I heard a gripping talk by Richard Campanella on his book Bourbon Street which taught me more about the history of this multi-layered city than I would ever have gleaned from guidebooks.

Fight the Stupids!

Maple Street Bookshop, New Orleans

Octavia Books, New Orleans

Garden District Bookshop, New Orleans

Heywood Hill, London - my favourite place in London!

Kitchen Witch Cookery Books - an Aladdin's cave (and try spice mixes made by the incredible Philipe)

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spring has Sprung!

"Aprile is the cruelest month" according to Chaucer who had clearly never spent March in Louisiana battling the howling winds! Today, however, all the misery is forgotten as spring appears to be making a guest appearance after a weekend of truly miserable rain (I volunteered for Hogs for the Cause which degenerated into a mud bath within minutes of opening. Fortunately the turnout was incredibly good and the barbecue was nectar of the gods.

I spent a wonderful morning discussing Chinese culture with the bright students of Isidore Newman School and emerged into brilliant sunlight which made me think of the last lines of ee cumming's poem "if i have made, my lady, intricate" which sum up the creeping of delight into the psyche;

if i have made, my lady, intricate

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes(frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind-if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy-if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

-let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death"-
you only will create
(who are so perfectly alive)my shame:
lady through whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day - celebrate with a poem

Parades... green rivers... flashing shamrocks... Saint Patrick's day is unrecognisable today!
New Orleans becomes Irish!

I am in New Orleans which is packed with people wearing green. It is wonderful to see people celebrating Ireland and the diaspora.

Rather than buying the Made in China Leprechaun's hat, how about reviving the Irish custom of entertaining family and friends with a dance, a song or a poem?

The following is the first stanza of The Exile's Return, by John Locke which tells the story of an exile returning from Texas after longing for his homeland for so long. The entire poem is eight stanzas long and does teeter on the Plastic Paddy territory but St Pat's is a day to be as sentimental as you like! Read proudly and remember the generations who gave up so much for us.

The Exile's Return

Glory to God, but there it is-
The dawn on the hills of Ireland!
God's angels lifting the night's black veil
From the fair, sweet face of my sireland!
O Ireland! isn't it grand you look -
Like a bride in her rich adorning!
With all the pent-up love of my heart
I bid you top of the morning!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Managing your revision or study

As I try to finish my thesis, I am reminded of all my poor study habits! Including:

  1. Procrastinating
  2. Overworking when I am on form resulting in exhaustion 
  3. Distraction... jumping from one topic to another

All the above are common experiences. I suggest the following remedies!

  1. Get on with it. You know you have to start! The arranging of your desk/books/papers isn't really preventing you from studying.
  2. Try to work in blocks with some flexibility. Give yourself breaks. Run around the room to get the blood flowing. Add exercise/eating/time out into your study plan. 
  3. Create a study guide. As you think of new topics, write them in and schedule them within your existing plan. That way, you are acknowledging that there may be something you need to also study but you are not neglecting existing work. 
If your plan is too rigid, you will find sticking to it challenging. If you do get behind, rework your plan, don't panic and try to cram everything in. Most importantly; be realistic and be kind to yourself!

Good luck

Friday, 14 February 2014

Revision Planning - IGCSE, Pre-U, A Level, Common Entrance, 13+,11+

The exam content may differ but the basic premise is the same; you study for a period of time, assemble the facts and techniques and attempt to distill your learning into a few short hours. One of the common consequences of this situation is a month of blind panic during which you know that you should be revising and can't think where to start. So here is an idea:

1; Acquire a copy of your syllabus

2; Go through the above, dividing content into three columns marked "confident I know this," "need to go over it," "not the faintest clue"

3; At this point, you will need to seek help with anything that falls into the latter category

4; For the remaining topics, start allocating revision time. Clearly, your focus is on updating your knowledge of the familiar but consecrating more time to the unfamiliar

5; Break down your time into realistic blocks (seriously, are you going to cane through a topic a night?) Factor in time-cushions for unexpected delays

6; Start each day with a recap of yesterday's learning. This could be an essay question, a quick summary or a concept map.

7; Get on with it!

Alternatively, come to a Brandon Learning Centre revision course... !

Let me know if you would like ideas for any aspects of revision or study skills.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Double ordination - double blessing

This morning the Congregation of Rosary Hill School Church had the wonderful experience of witnessing the ordination of Fathers Sebastian and Paul. The service was incredibly moving; the sincerity of the celebrants was evident as was the devotion of the families. In a world in which we hear daily stories which make us question our faith, it is inspiring to see two men and two families who have dedicated their lives to the service of God. My prayers, utter respect and gratitude are with them.