The bleary pilgrim

Bundled into the Corsa. Beltless, unshaven and woozy. Despite its lack of a working radio I still love this car. The defunct Blaupunkt reads “SAFE” in all-caps instead of channel, or frequency. It couldn’t display track number; in this respect, alongside its winddown windows, it’s still very much in the analogue age with its cassette drawer only playing tapes – although I’m told they’re making a comeback too.

A drumstick air freshener swings erratically in vain from the useless volume knob, suspended by its elasticated cord. It attempts to mask a seemingly inerasable aroma; a legacy from the previous owner. It is within the cradle of this benevolent metal cage that my pilgrimage begins.

Now I’m sitting at the back of the kirk, pretty pleased with myself – I’m not even that hungover. Hours ago, I was spinning, loving life at a charity gig. I methodically determine the total sum of the previous evening’s consumption, then repeat it like a mantra in my head, thanking my luck that I wasn’t in a worse state. Mum arrives and I’m promptly told that I stink of drink. Not to worry tough, I’ve still got that chewing gum I purchased last night. As I slip the piece onto my tongue I curse myself for not reading the label properly at the till; not normally an impulse buyer, I am forced to endure its adolescent “bubblemint” flavour. Still, better than nothing, and should stave off the fumes.

The talk begins, and it’s a talk, not a service, with an update from the minister about the pilgrimage route’s official recognition from the local authority, and incidentally lack thereof, and the state of the interactive companion app’s development. I feel a bit of an imposter here on this soggy Saturday morning. The St Magnus way is a project part of commemorating 900 years since the patron of Orkney’s death at the hands of his cousin’s men. This eight-mile stretch I was about to embark upon was dedicated to that very same treacherous relative, Earl Haakon, who ruled the isles jointly with the aforementioned saint. It seemed appropriate that this excursion’s theme was forgiveness, as I felt a particularly heightened sense of the need for self-reconciliation as the walk progressed and my perception of reality became all the more acute.

Haakon is often cast as the villain of the piece when the story of St Magnus is related in a hastily constructed, morally black and white fashion to schoolchildren and adults alike. In place of the mythic archetype, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Norse history expert, presented us with a Haakon who was a great deal more complex than the legend would have us believe. She pointed to how the original source, the Orkneyinga saga of Icelandic provenance, glosses over the decade or so of peaceful rule the cousins presided over before their fateful confrontation on Egilsay. Haakon himself did not wish Magnus to die; it was the verdict of the people that only one could live and it ended up being a cook who swung the axe that killed him. Magnus’s murder is the deed that has defined Haakon in the popular consciousness. However, he went on to live for many more years after event, during which time there is evidence of his pilgrimage. Haakon’s further rule is described as being a prosperous time for Orkney in the saga. While Haakon did not pay for what he had done in his lifetime, during the joint rule of his son, Paul and Harald, Paul was inexplicably imprisoned and maimed; possibly as retribution for his father’s actions.

The next part of the talk concerned Rognvald – the guy who commissioned the building of the cathedral. Unlike pious, quite Magnus, Rognvald was a man of action who was aware of his talents; something which survives in the Old Norse poetry he left behind. One poem in particular drew laughter for its description of Jerusalem, during his visit on crusade (something as a Viking he would have doubtless enjoyed), as an overcrowded tourist attraction.

Friday night had been a wash out. Roads were closed and diversions advised. The resultant new burns and streams that had sprung up overnight out of the saturated heath seeped into walking boots and through socks, making for a squelchy plod across the hills.

My thoughts turned to the lost language of Norn – a kind of Norse/Scots crossover that was spoken up until the 18th century in Orkney, Shetland and Caithness. The Scandinavian countries have distinct languages – Danish, Swedish and Norwegian and yet they are mutually intelligible, to the extent that a Dane and a Swede could understand each other without having to change the language they spoke in much. I consider the possibility of a parallel universe which saw Norn’s continued evolution instead of extinction and mull over Scotland’s rejection of its own independence. What if this linguistic kinship had been maintained? Would we then have welcomed the chance to join into the Nordic family of nations?

These liminal spaces hold great interest for me; particularly the transition between pagan beliefs and Christianity taking place in the middle ages, to which I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to devote study last semester in my late medieval Europe elective course. This topic manifested itself at the most interesting point of the day when we stopped off at Naversdale, Dr Gibbon’s house, and the site of a remarkable discovery. Whilst deconstructing a drystone dyke, her dad found a piece of stone with what looked like a runic inscription on it. These runes were then translated. It turned out that this was part of the Lord’s prayer in Latin, which had been phonetically transcribed into Old Norse; an astonishing example of popular religion in the 12th century.

As we reach the crest of the final summit we are greeted by a field of alpacas in what is quite a surreal scene. Sheep bleat inanely whilst a wind turbine’s blades chop through the air in an oscillating drone overhead. It’s all downhill from here.

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I am the Ferryman

 

Midsummer’s in ten days and I’m eking out all I can of this year’s solstice light, situated as I am just a couple more degrees north of Scotland’s capital where I’ve been studying these past two years at the university. I’ve just learnt that in September I’ll be moving to Hamburg, or “Hamboich” in the local pronunciation (I’m not a pro linguist and most likely neither are you so I’ve put down my best phonetic representation here!), where I’ll be assisting pupils at the Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium in learning English through my British Council placement in the city. Having signed up to WG-Gesucht (Germany’s main flatmate/flat finding service) and made first email contact with my mentor at the school, I’ll be using the coming few weeks to plan for this part of my year abroad.

For me and for the UK it has been a week of significant changes. Although the end of my flat lease in Edinburgh lasts up until July I decided to apply for jobs here in Orkney too and I ended up getting employed in the Kirkwall office of the inter-island Ferry Services. I enjoy telling other people that “I am the ferryman”, but strictly speaking I do no such ushering of souls in person, rather I book people on the boats and sell tickets. In my first week I’ve learnt a lot and it makes a change of scene against a kitchen environment, although each have their advantages and drawbacks.

The political makeup of the country has obviously changed too this week, and I’m left unsure how to feel after the results of the general election came in. I see little cause for celebration even if the Conservatives were denied a majority. Looking across at the party they’ve been forced to appease to get votes through fills me with disgust and dread. Labour may gloat that they were able to defy their internal critics, but the hard truth is they weren’t able to win even if they are still trying to claim victory. With regards to Scotland, this seems to show a halt in SNP momentum and unfortunately the Tories have gained significantly. I maintain that independence is inevitable, but it seems that day has now been put off a good few years. In summary, and what I say here is not hugely original, it was an entirely pointless ballot where the debate, to a remarkable extent, ignored the issue with which it should have been most concerned: Brexit.

Barring all that, it’s nice to be home. I miss the coffee shops, the craft beer and the art school nights out, but there’s something unbeatable about the silence, the space, and the vast skies and seas. Here the nights are unpolluted by the sodium glow, daft singing drunk folk and the strut of oblivious heels ricocheting off the pavement and the stark stone streets.

People. There’s that too I’d have to admit. I embraced The Student this year. Metaphorically of course; I do like to keep that sort of thing to a respectable minimum if I can help it. I met many enthusiastic and talented people, and got the chance to write a lot of articles, which I think helped keep me sane. Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute remotely next year as a foreign correspondent (lol). Anyway here are some highlights if you haven’t had a chance to have a read:

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/marking-marxs-legacy-squabbling-over-socialists-statue/

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/public-service-broadcasting-take-a-trip-out-of-this-world-at-the-international-science-festival/

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/live-from-orkney-radio/

A less social pursuit this year at uni (in that for the most part I was talking to myself in a darkened room) was my flirtation with student radio. I presented a show entitled Flett-cetera on the Edinburgh student station FreshAir, which ended up sapping a lot of my creativity hence lack of blog. Here I talked about life in Orkney and local dialect, had guests on to talk about various cultural topics and read excerpts of poetry. My highlights were getting to interview one of my favourite bands at the moment, Happy Meals, and hosting a live session with The Motion Poets; you can have a listen to both of these below:

Aside from all that major stuff I’ve been watching the new Twin Peaks recently. Having only got into it last year I feel as if the wait for me isn’t enough to justify the intense satisfaction I feel when I see what appears to be the majority of the original cast returning to reprise their roles. The opening few episodes are just as sleek, charming and surreal as the series at its height and I would thoroughly recommend it to any past fans, or, to anyone who hasn’t watched the original, for them to go back and go through it from the beginning. It was ground-breaking TV back then and it continues to have the same power to confuse, bewilder, induce laughter and horrify in the here and now.

Musically I’ve been enjoying the new Toro y Moi single ‘A Girl Like You’ and the new Mac Demarco album, This Old Dog. In the former Chaz Bundick returns to his eighties synths away from the classic rock sound of his previous release ‘Omaha’ to delightful effect and this is of course accompanied by a lo-fi music video where the track finishes and then restarts to make the optimum four minutes twenty seconds mark; clearly, he is ignoring the cries in countless comment sections that vapourwave is dead. Certainly the kind of music that is literally just old 1980s tunes slowed down and pitched a few notes lower is over, but songs in their own right with a ‘wave’ vibe have proved more durable – the ‘chillwave’ label was artificially attached to Toro y Moi’s style by journalists in any case. It seems likely that the video released alongside the song is an ironic statement against those who liberally apply the vapourwave label, it does however revel in those retro sounds yet it somehow retains a simultaneous freshness.

Back to more serious matters. I’m hoping to get everything sorted for my year abroad within the next few weeks – the second semester of which I’m spending at the Universität Leipzig (Happy Meals say good things about the city, so it should be alright). Working 9-5 for the first time in my life is a bit weird, although I must say I do appreciate the more social hours after this free weekend. While politics has left me pessimistic, at least I’ll be getting out of the country fairly soon. I will definitely, and do miss Edinburgh, but I’m glad to be home and I look forward to next year.

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New Who Review

A puddle perplexes companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) in Doctor Who’s series debut, ‘The Pilot’. This strong opening episode should set the tone for executive producer, Stephen Moffat’s final year at the helm of the TARDIS.

After a year away from our screens, Doctor Who is back and finally, with the closure of Clara’s chapter (about whom fans’ views are mixed), we have the introduction of an intriguing new face to the time-travelling team. The episode’s name, although perhaps tongue-in-cheek, is appropriate because it seeks to establish all the fundamental aspects of the legendary science fiction character in a concise 50-minute timeframe. If this is indeed Moffat’s objective following the tying up of many loose ends in his last couple of series’ then he succeeds amicably in giving himself a positive fresh start.

We meet the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) having taken up a lecturing position at Bristol University of all places. More avid fans may know that this is not the first time the uni has been used a location for Doctor Who as parts of 2012’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, where a certain Oswin Oswald is introduced, were filmed around campus. Matt Lucas, who stars as the Doctor’s cyborg helpmate, Nardole (whose comedic quips largely fall flat), dropped out of Bristol in 1995 but received an honorary degree in February. The Time Lord’s lectures are proving popular, despite his teaching poetry when he is contracted to talk quantum physics, which he flippantly equates because of “the rhymes”. Canteen worker Bill is an interested onlooker; thus, their paths inevitably collide and he agrees to become her personal tutor.

The question of Bill’s sexuality, which was revealed in a misleading press release prior to the episode’s airing, was tackled pretty much head on from the start – the episode revolving around an instant attraction between her and an intriguingly melancholic woman. Capaldi’s doctor is never one to pry into the personal lives of those he travels with, so there is no cliched moment of recognition on his part, which plays out very fluidly and naturally.

On the pilot nature of ‘The Pilot’, exposition on is done well overall. The introduction of the TARDIS is highly amusing, with Bill mistaking the blue box for a ‘knock through’ and a lift respectively. Moffat’s comedic strengths shine through when Bill remarks with astonishment that because it is morning now, they must have travelled in time and the Doctor replies, “Of course not, we’ve travelled to Australia!” before flamboyantly revealing the Sydney Opera House behind him.

However, one aspect of the Doctor’s backstory was not handled so elegantly – that of the Time War and his exile from Galifrey. Making the trip to what was presumably the Time Lords’ home world just to make a half-formed point of exposition cheapens the Doctor’s origins, although admittedly it’s always nice to see Daleks, and the watery effect of the sentient puddle’s assuming the antsy battle-tank’s form was also aesthetically satisfying.

Pearl Mackie gives life to an interesting and outspoken character in episode one. If Mofatt restrains himself regarding overly complex plots and contrived resolutions, then this series looks set for success.

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The trip to the Time War is gratuitous, although the leaky dalek visually impresses.

 

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A refreshing take on technology: Public Service Broadcasting’s upcoming concert

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘the modern world’? You might groan in despair at the current state of global affairs. Perhaps you’re perplexed by our times in which social interaction is framed by the shareable; a seemingly impenetrable stat-fest of quantifiable appreciation. Or maybe you cringe every time you hear that irredeemable corporate buzzword of ‘innovation’. You can lament the loss of a more innocent age, or surrender to the inevitable tide.

Some however, separate modernity and the modern and take a more positive view, preferring to optimistically focus on that heavily-laden concept we call ‘progress’. It is this idea that the band Public Service Broadcasting choose to celebrate on their soon-to-be-released single of the same name. Featuring the vocals of Glaswegian twee pop group, Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, the song is a mission statement ahead of the duo’s forthcoming second studio album.

At a time when regressive politics abound and science funding is consistently below target, Public Service Broadcasting offer a refreshing outlook on the steady march towards societal betterment. They provide a counterpoint amongst the prevailing wind of apocalyptic rhetoric and self-righteous gloom.

The above song is a landmark, in that it is the first Public Service Broadcasting tune to feature original vocals. Most of their previous releases have used archive material from the BBC and other sources to give their ideas voice, which they then turn into compelling instrumentals, usually celebrating technology or human achievement in some way.

On Wednesday 12 April, the band will be performing the entirety of their last album The Race for Space, which takes the listener on a journey through the Space Race between the USA and USSR from an impartial perspective that looks at either side of the competition, and captures the spirit behind it in quite a beautiful fashion. The date of the concert is significant because it falls on Yuri’s night, or Gagarin day, and marks the anniversary of the launch of Vostok 1, the first manned space mission. Coincidentally, it is also the anniversary of the first space shuttle launch in 1981, which was planned to blast off on the tenth, but left two days late because of technical delays.

This is a track from said album The Race for Space, which came out in 2015, called ‘Go!’

‘Go!’ serves as a wholesome endorsement of what human beings can achieve if they put their minds to it. There is no real equivalent of such heroics going on today. However, I don’t really perceive anything approaching an unhealthy nostalgia here. While it was undeniably a Golden Era of exploration, by presenting a two-sided story over the course of the album, the band seek to distance themselves from the competitive aspect of the Race. Personally, I find their message uplifting, motivating and moving.

Below is a link to a track from the band’s debut EP, entitled ‘Spitfire’. Its focus is closer to home, although further back in time, historically speaking.

This is just a snapshot into the intriguing world of Public Service Broadcasting. Tickets are still available for their upcoming concert at Usher Hall this Wednesday 12 April, where they will be playing The Race for Space album in full accompanied by string quintet and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, as well as their usual wind ensemble as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

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Jesca Hoop ‘Memories Are Now’ Review

Jesca Hoop’s Memories Are Now is truly something to behold. Conceptually bold in both musicality and subject matter, this is a brave and beautiful project from an artist exerting full masterly control over what she creates. Illustrated with a focused, intense delivery, her fifth album is a verbose and beautiful work that is at once cerebral and sublime.

The title track’s plodding progression is temporal in concern. Crescendos abruptly dissolve to the bare-bones staccato chug of her isolated guitar. Venting her frustration, Hoop looks forward to the future where she’s “got work to be doing”. Creeping plucked double bass and tentative fingerpicked guitar then invite you into the volatile moodiness of the album’s lead single ‘The Lost Sky’. She laments, as a person who clearly values the linguistic integrity and semantic earnestness – “why would you say those words to me if you could not follow through? Go wash your mouth out”.

‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic’ deals with drone warfare over clacking keyboard keys and quivering guitar. Unfortunately, phrases such as “computer says no” and “take back control” resonate differently in British minds than in those of our Anglophone counterparts. The country-influenced ‘Simon Says’ is about feeling disconnected in the social media age, its refrain of “I like what I like” laden with meaning it could only have acquired in the 21st century. Here Hoop coins the epigram of the album in her lyric “w w don’t forget life before the internet”.

‘The Coming’ is the album’s highlight. Warm delayed guitar rumbles below then breaks with abrupt, shattering harmonics. There is no shying away from her subject – the song opens with “Jesus turned in his crown of thorns today […] announced to the earth the end of his reign”. In this nuanced battle with faith Hoop unleashes her most profound lyrics, leaving the listener spellbound and devastated.

Memories Are Now never lets you forget that you are listening to a project that is wholly Hoop’s. She scarcely stops for breath to relate witticism after witticism, and yet somehow these never seem forced. This is a courageous effort that will surely reap rewards.

8.5/10

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The rise of hyphenates and the demise of icons

As the concluding hours tick down on what to many has seemed a fairly dismal lap around the sun politically and in terms of “iconic” deaths I thought it was time to add my evaluation to the numerous top tens, best tweets and wtf moments of 2016.

This year has seen the rise of the hyphenates: retro-politics, post-truth and the alt-right; within its bounds the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Mohammed Ali, Prince, Fidel Castro and most recently George Michael and Carrie Fisher. However, at the outset I was compiling a list of my favourite YouTube channels in a funk of what must have been supreme boredom. Is there anything to add since that fateful conglomeration? Well, perhaps Anthony Fantano’s music reviewing platform The Needle Drop – a concise yet expansive format by a reliable curator that is entertaining enough to be accessible to the mildly curious. It’s been hovering in my recommended bar for months now, but only over the last couple of weeks have I had the weakness to surrender to its insistence and click the link. The results have been rewarding – broadening my mind (particularly in the direction of hip-hop that started with the rap duo Run the Jewels, and which I hope to explore more in 2017) whilst being similar enough to what I already like to build that essential modicum of trust.

January concluded with Jetpacks at the Electric Circus (they were promised them). There unfolded a happy reunion between myself and my former boss and head chef at the Standing Stones. From this stemmed an offer of a job at the restaurant he was then working for, The Roamin’ Nose – an Italian Bistro, and I started working there in mid-February. That month was not only a time of new beginnings, but also of distressing conclusions as I reached the end of Dan Harmon’s brilliant series Community. Meta-humour abundant, inexhaustibly creative and genuinely heart-warming – it’s a definite recommend.

After going to see an icy production of guaranteed crowd-drawer Frankenstein, it was time to get serious and start hunting for a second-year flat. Against an aptly chilly backdrop we eventually fell in love with our ideal high-ceilinged, single-glazed, second floor, compact condo. Controlled, deep breathing was required for our initial visit. We had to see past the battered furniture, the pizza-strewn carpet – underneath the rubble, below the debris lay the real Edinburgh Dream right before our eyes. The occasional mouse is the only aberration in the fabric of this urban paradise.

April was occupied by work, exam leave and depression. Rainy trudges alone to flats an hour’s walk there and back. By the time I’m home my soles are worn, the heel is torn loose and my socks are damp. I resort to eating bread out of boredom. One week I return from an Orcadian interval in the monotony. It seems my flatmate has a girlfriend.

May gives me an excuse to see friends again as the band gets back together one last time before and after exams. Increasing my awareness of the genius of Paradise Lost, I come to embrace Hipsterdom ever further, beginning a relationship with nearby coffee shop Cult Espresso and developing a taste for the mocked “flat white”. In exams I do not excel, but I pass and get to stay on into second year.

In late May I realise that I do not have a job. I phone up the Ferry Inn and make enquiries. In June I start as a commis chef and get a good number of hours. I feel good about myself working here – just enough responsibility while still having leeway for my inexperience. Some prior commitments still linger and work is broken up in the middle of the month with volunteering for the St Magnus Festival. For me the highlight had to be the updated baroque opera, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the Cathedral, which was over an hour of sheer virtuosic bliss in haunting acoustics.

July was filled with Ferrying at the Ferry Inn, which proved an ideal location for after-work meet-ups, although perhaps led to a geographically curtailed social life of convenience. Shopping Week was experienced as an increase in salads on top of usual levels as locals joined the steady onslaught of German tourists and crab-loving Italians arriving infallibly by the busload.

August was a great month for me. My time at the Ferry Inn drew to a close and the labelling puns became ever more contrived. Just as agricultural show season ended I said goodbye to chef whites and donned a press lanyard as good excuse to get into a packed programme of theatre for free at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was lucky enough to see plays about drug mules, Nordic Noir, Dickens adaptations, Beckett reimaginings, and Madame Bovary dragged into the 21st century.

But the fun didn’t stop there. At the beginning of September, I found myself on a Ryanair flight to Berlin for two weeks dedicated to the exploration of northeast Germany including a detour to Prague. The experience was terrifying but I’m very glad I did it and it has given me the appetite for further excursions of a similar nature.

When it was time for Greenday to wake up I had my first opportunity to see my friend’s band The Motion Poets live at the Three Sisters. Combining alt-rock with a distinct bluesy streak and a good feel for digestible indie, I can see the four-piece making a success of it and I wish them the best of luck. Having scored a gig at Bannerman’s in Glasgow this December, it seems that they are already on their way to climbing up the bill.

I went to some excellent gigs in the month of October including Honeyblood at Electric Circus (due to be closed down soon, which is a shame). I saw Warpaint at Queen’s Hall and was engulfed by waves of post-rock techno minimalism at Stereo in Glasgow, where I saw Canadian outfit Suuns. In mid-October I also finished watching the early 90s cult series Twin Peaks, which is an absurd, hilarious and horrific crime drama/soap opera directed by David Lynch. Apparently it’s making a comeback in the new year. Not sure how I feel about that, but I’m sure it’ll be good.

November witnessed a changing of the guard politically, not least in the change of editorship at The Student, where I opportunistically leapt into the void that was the Features editing power vacuum. I have learnt so much already and will hopefully continue to learn and improve for the duration of my tenure.

At the beginning of December, I managed to weasel my way into the FreshAir Christmas meal. My tenuous credentials being that I help compile and rate the weekly playlist, and that I have a friend who has a show. I had only two exams, those being (the now redundant because we’re not going to be in it anymore!) European Social Policy and German grammar. Then a week ago I departed for the isles where I am now typing this, although I’m planning to return to the capital to take in the New Year.

On a personal level 2016 certainly could have been a lot worse. I’ve had a good variety of occupations, fascinations and locations. I’ve seen more of the world and got to experience a lot of culture first-hand. However, I am worried about the world in the coming year because unfortunately there is still a lot of room for deterioration even if we have already witnessed some real crevasses of discourse. How these new lows will translate into new laws in the next few months remains to be seen. All I have to say is that we must maintain vigilance.

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Salutations from the Solstice

December.

Brown leaves linger – decomposing streaks on recomposing streets whose lights and likenesses change to suit the season.

I’m set to return soon, where no such sodden mulch is to be found.

Another semester past. Another set of exams sat. My Auslandsjahr edges ever closer.

My degree stipulates that I must spend my third year in a country that speaks the language I am studying, namely German. It is this which I must seriously begin to plan and organise over the coming weeks. However, I have already applied to a semester at a German university – Leipzig being my first choice (no particular reason apart from a daunting deadline, interesting alumni and an irrational affinity with the East).

As you may have noticed I have only applied for a single semester, which means that I have half the year to fill with something else (that is, assuming I get in). Personally, I didn’t want to spend the whole time at university, and from a pragmatic perspective getting some kind of work experience will potentially result in better career prospects in the long run. Therefore, I am going to apply to teach English with the British Council, and simultaneously to work as part of a cultural exchange programme via the Scottish Government in Mainz.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the positive correlation between the number of people you tell that you are going to do a certain thing and the likelihood of you actually doing it. In a way this is what I am doing with my blog. So, as terrifying as the idea seems – don’t let me back out!

Keeping with the German theme, I’m currently involved with the department’s production of a contemporary adaptation of Die Räuber by Friedrich Schiller. “Rehearsals” are not fully underway yet. Most of the sessions have been ideas-based – only yesterday I was helping to mend plot holes and drag the 18th century play into the social media age (the action revolves around a falsified letter). The production is gender-swapped too, adding further complications.

Now for some general realisations about life. The time for blame is up, both on a personal level and politically. Laying responsibility at the feet of another is all very well, and will give you a temporary ego-boost but is no long-term solution. There is no point blaming yourself, or those with whom you associate – self-pity is not constructive. Rather, take action. Change the way you live in the present moment. Learn from the past and don’t repeat it just because it’s easy.

Secondly, I see no benefit in assuming superiority or inferiority on most issues. To take one example, a lot of my student life has been justifying my degree to others and being made to feel superior or inferior as appropriate. With regard to English Literature it has a tradition of being dismissed as (from the humanities corner) a “poor man’s Classics”, worsted only by Theology, very ‘middle-class public school girl’ or even by one of the lecturers himself as only useful for having interesting dinner party conversations. From the sciences corner, the humanities are dismissed for their lack of utility and concrete skills/technically applicable knowledge. However, the criticism goes even further than that and into flagrant superiority of the STEM subjects. It is this absolute position I take issue with – we need both of these areas for our society to function and progress. To dismiss someone who studies a humanities subject as an ignorant technophobe who struggles with arithmetic is just as stupid as assuming a science student is an uncultured, tone-deaf philistine.

To return to the class issue associated with humanities, vis-à-vis private school and gender bias, this stratification is only perpetuated by a fee-paying system (which granted does not exist in the same way in Scotland) that inevitably undervalues these subjects as an educational investment. By engaging in this (an over-used word these days I know) polarised discourse, those who profess superiority are only sustaining the exclusivity of alleged “high culture”. These hierarchies of media, subjects and modes are extremely unhelpful and ultimately lead to the anti-intellectualism so prevalent today in that they represent a block to critical thinking.

Further honing down on the subject of superiorities/inferiorities, let’s look at the other side of my degree: German. Shamefully I cling to the distinction of German as separate from the romance languages as a one-up on my French/Spanish/Italian (don’t you dare leave out Romanian you racist, yeah but no one studies it – ah well then, the university is the discriminator) studying colleagues. In this area I bow down to those who are plugging away at Chinese, Arabic, or Russian for example. I have come to realise that I am much too Euro-centric in my thinking, restricting myself culturally to a geographically diminutive catchment area. There is a hackneyed saying that goes something like “the boundaries of my language are the boundaries of my world” or that Nelson Mandela quotation about how speaking to someone in their own language is the way to communicate with their “soul” as opposed to intellect. Tactically it seems I’ve restricted myself in going in for German as a language of choice, yet it has a wider sphere when we consider second language speakers. Additionally, there is little to stop me from learning others simultaneously, which neatly brings me to my next point.

I want to go to Spain. Southern Europe anyway. Probably something to do with the Hemmingway phase I’ve been going through. I’m tired of this dreich, northern mentality – it suits me, but I need something to invigorate me. A new way of thinking.

What else is new? Gigwise things have been pretty good. Went to see Happy Meals through in Glasgow. A French-speaking analogue synth pop duo: transcendent.

I sincerely hope you all have a fabulous yuletide and that 2017 avoids the lows of the current annum.

Yours faithfully,

 

Alasdair

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