Friday, 26 October 2012

The Mystery of Charles Dickens - See this play immediately if you are in the UK!

Simon Callow's Mystery of Charles Dickens is breathtakingly brilliant. He weaves exerpts from the novels into the complex rollercoaster of Dickens' life (comfort...poverty...marriage...death of his crashes..) He transforms himself into Miss Haversham, Pickwick, Oliver Twist, Scrooge and carries the audience with him. The enactment of Bill Sikes' murder of Nancy is electrifying and utterly terrifying. The image of his dog being dragged out of the room will stay with me forever... "All this time he had, never once, turned his back upon the corpse; no, not for a moment. Such preparations completed, he moved, backward, towards the door: dragging the dog with him, lest he should soil his feet anew and carry out new evidence of the crime into the streets. He shut the door softly, locked it, took the key, and left the house" (The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens, Chapter 70)

Dickens is an author I loathed as a child (not unconnected to being forced to read The Old Curiosity Shop which left me desolate) but appreciate as an adult. Simon Callow gently mocks the more purple passages but exposes the raw, geniune emotion of the shining characters.

For anyone who wonders how to bring a lecture to life, watching this play is a master class. Rhythm, pause, pitch, all skillfully employed. The Mystery of Charles Dickens should be compulsory viewing for lecturers, readers and speechmakers. Two hours of sheer joy and a new perspective. Wonderful!

The Mystery of Charles Dickens Tickets - Playhouse Theatre |

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

I'll start writing once I've done the ironing or the Noble Art of Procrastinating

Rearrange my pens in size order, wipe my desk, write a "thank you" letter, pay my credit card bill, loaf through Amazon... all things I have done rather than writing a chapter of my thesis. Displacement activities are myriad, I aways think that the less enticing a task is, the more you can justify doing it instead of your work. The old "well I'm not enjoying it so it isn't really wasting time" justification.


Make a realistic commitment. There is not point saying you will write an entire essay before dinner if you know in your heart of hearts that what you are really going to do is spend half an hour reading a magazine and half an hour in a blind panic meaning that you start writing fifteen minutes before you are set to eat.

Break down your task into "chunks" - list each section on a piece of paper.

Strike off items on your list as you write.

Start at a time you know you can work; I like writing late at night and any work I produce in the morning is total drivel.

Off you go! Good luck (and remember, a pot full of perfectly sharpened pencils does not contribute to your final grade!)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Apologies for my computer and a pox on all hackers

I was mortified to find that my e-mail account had been hacked today and a string of bogus e-mails offering dubious delights sent to everyone in my address book. I am deeply sorry for all the inconvenience.

As for the hackers...

To paraphrase the mighty J M Synge

Lord, confound this surly hackers
Blight their brows with pustules spatter,
Cramp their larynx, lung, and liver,
In their guts a galling give there,
Let them live to earn their dinners
In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
Lord, this judgment make from afar
And I'm your servant, Jessica

For the far worthier original (

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Achieving success - the fruits of a group effort

I have been reading to arthur waley's wonderful Chinese Poems  this week. I particularly enjoy the following poem as it illustrates the various groups who provide support and thus contribute to a student's achievements: family, friends and the application of the individual. The humble tone of the narrator is a joy.

After Passing the Exam - Po Chui I (800ad)

 ten years I never left my books;
I went up… and won unmerited praise.
My high place I do not much prize;
The joy of my parents will first make me proud.
Fellow students, six or seven men,
See me off as I leave the City gate.
My covered couch is ready to drive away;
Flutes and strings blend their parting tune.
Hopes achieved dull the pains of parting;
Fumes of wine shorten the long road…
Shod with wings is the horse of him who rides
On a Spring day the road that leads to home.

Despite having been written over two thousand years so, there is a freshness and a sincerity in this poem which still resonates. Although we no longer have the trauma of the Government Exam, Contemporary students may still recognise themselves in Po Chui I.