Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Technology Run Amok

You know that children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The basic idea is that if you give a mouse a cookie, it will want other stuff, which will lead it to want more other stuff, and so on, until it wants a cookie.

My life is feeling like that a bit.

Before I came here, I got an ipod thingy so that I could listen to books on tape at night and stuff. I got it only a few weeks before I came, so I didn't try it out under lots of circumstances. But it works great for the audio books part, and I can check my email and such sometimes, and I can pre-load maps and such on to help me not get as lost, and I can look up birds and so on. Which is to say, if you give a Bardiac a way to listen to audio books, she'll soon want something more, and something more. Let's say I've become pretty dependent on it. And it's very handy when I travel.

But (you knew there'd a "but," didn't you? If I were Spenser, there'd be a big old trochee there, right in the middle of a bunch of iambic lines!) if you use it to listen and check email and stuff, the battery only lasts up to say, 48 hours. Usually, 10 hours would be plenty, because I can just plug it into my computer.

But I'm traveling this weekend, from Wednesday night (a LONG busride) until Sunday (another LONG busride) with a long Friday busride in between. (Another time we'll talk about my aparent propensity for self-abuse re certain forms of travel.) And there's not much better for a long busride than a good book on tape, right? (I'm listening to a series of lectures on medieval European history right now. I didn't even know anything other than England existed back then!)

But that's going to run down the battery.

Now, if I had had the ipod for a good long time before I came, I would have realized that having a plug into the wall recharger thing would be useful, and I probably would have gotten one. But I didn't.

So now, IF I really want to listen to audio books on the busrides (and I do), I'm going to have to pack my computer so that I can recharge my little ipod. And if I pack my computer so that I can recharge my little ipod, I'm going to have to pack the charger cord to recharge the computer. And if I pack my computer so that I can recharge my little ipod and pack the charger cord to recharge the computer, I'm going to have to pack the clunky converter adaptor thing so that I can plug the cord into the wall.

In other words, because I wasn't a very good planner when I came, I'm going to take a whole laptop computer (thankfully, it's small) and electronic stuff so that I can recharge my ipod, which is itself little bigger than a few bills folded together.

But just think, that way I can blog, too, if I want! And if I pack another cord, I'll even be able to upload pictures! And if I take a cord to upload pictures, then I should probably take...

Bardiac Tries to Teach a Text and an Idea

Every so often, you put something together for yourself, and it's cool. And then you try to explain the coolness to your students, and they give you a look that indicates you're anything but cool.

Today in one of my classes, we'd read some texts by and about Elizabeth I, including the speech at Tilbury. The students in this course aren't good readers yet, so we were going over image by image. Here's the first bit:

My loving people, I have been persuaded by some that are careful of my safety, to take heed how I committed our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I tell you that I would not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear! I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects. Wherefore I am come amongst you at this time but for my recreation and pleasure, being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust.
One of the concepts I was trying to get across was the old King's Two Bodies thing, where the king (or queen) has a physical body and a spiritual body. Elizabeth does this with the weak body of the queen bit contrasted to the body of a king later in the speech.

But here, there's that great moment where she uses zeugma when she talks about "laying down... [her] honour and [her] blood," the honor being very much an abstract, spiritual thing here, while her blood is her physical body. And I thought, hey, this is cool because usually, as much as I love the word "zeugma" (and I do!), I don't often actually notice it (except in Pope, and I don't teach Pope often), but here the zeugma enacts the king's two bodies imagery so amazingly clearly, and it's perfect.

I was all excited about that, but my students were unimpressed, alas.

Work Cited
Elizabeth I. "Speech to the Troops at Tilbury." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th edn. Vol. B. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 699-700.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'm Changed

Travel is supposed to change you, and it's changing me, especially as a teacher.

For example, spending some time here, just looking around, I realize that there are a lot of images I see over and over again, images that would have been familiar in early modern England. And suddenly, seeing those images in literature works differently for me.

When I first read The Faerie Queene, I thought it was unfathomable that the reader, I, was somehow supposed to know it was St. George right from the first stanzas, before we'd gotten his name.

Now, after seeing the cross of St. George in so many places, both with a guy killing a dragon and alone, I get how I was supposed to know.

Having that experience, I had my students look around when they went traveling early in the semester for the guy with the red cross on a white shield, asked them to ask people who he is. And they did. And told me about it in class, and had pictures of where they'd seen him or his shield. So they have a sense of St. Georgeness as they start the poem (which we're going to start discussing today, yay!) that I just didn't have.

And now I need to think about how to communicate that experience somewhat if or when I teach the poem again. (I haven't read The Faerie Queene in some years, and I'm enjoying it again the way I did the first times I read it, so I'm going to figure out how to teach it again, soon.)

I think Charlse I is coming to feel sort of the same way to me. He's MUCH bigger in imagery all around (pictures, paintings, reminders, whatever) than he has been in my memory, and I think that reading, say, Oroonoko with that imagery in my mind will give me a richer experience (though I've long taken pleasure in the text).

We don't have regular surveys in our program (for very good pedagogical reasons), but do have sort of "surveyish" lower level courses. Now I need help thinking of a theme for a surveyish course that will let me teach some of the narrative poems that are just so darned much fun.

And now, time to get ready to convince my students that The Faerie Queene is worth all the money and time they've put in, and will be worth even more time!

Edinburgh, Part the Third

We finished seeing what we wanted to see at the castle, had lunch with some other folks, and then headed down the Royal Mile (which feels like a bit more than a mile when you're walking up it) to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. You aren't allowed to take pictures in the in the palace itself, though we did get to walk through with an audio guide.

The coolest thing, for me, was seeing the room where David Rizzio was murdered. You see, I'd forgotten about David Rizzio, and seeing the room and the labels brought back to me what I'd learned about that.

(This week, in one of my classes, we read about Mary, Queen of Scots, and read a letter from her to Elizabeth and then read the description of her execution. In the letter she wrote to Elizabeth, she alludes to Rizzio's murder. So I asked my students, both of whom had gone to Edinburgh, if they'd seen the room where Rizzio was murdered. But neither of them had gone into the palace or the castle, just looked at them from outside. Now I understand you're on a budget, but if you don't go into places, and aren't going into museums and stuff, how are you keeping happily busy visiting a place such as Edinburgh? Yes, I know, pubs and shopping.)

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey were beautiful in the way that ruins sometimes are, very stark, but not as lonely feeling as some.

After visiting the Abbey for a while, we decided to skip the full garden experience (we also didn't have time to visit the botanical gardens, alas) and go find Greyfriar's Bobby. At first we only found the "grave marker," but as we were walking away, we also saw the little statue thingy. (Wikipedia has two versions of the story, make of it what you will.)

Then it was time for dinner! Pub dinners are, in my limited experience, pretty darned good, warm and filling.

The next morning, my friend had gone off with the group on the bus, so I spent part of the morning at the National Museum of Scotland. What a fabulous space! You enter into a lower section (at least I did), with a big openish area that feels really welcoming somehow; the light's gentle, and you can check bags, get maps, and so on. From there, you walk up stairs to a central hall where you can see way up to other floors, and which is flooded with light. (And naturally, I checked my bag and didn't carry my camera around.)

I mostly visited historical artifacts from Scotland, but I wished I could have spent the whole day. I did find the exhibit areas to be confusing and mazelike; it's hard to follow around because the space is divided up and onto different floors and areas on floors. Still, the museum is totally worth a longer visit than I gave it.

And that was my visit to Edinburgh. I wanted to try to catch up because tomorrow I'm going to Ireland!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gendering Remotes

What is it about men that makes them, in a room full of other people, grab the remote and switch the channel continually?

It feels like such a territorial move, done totally unaware (I'll give them credit for not trying to be rude on purpose) that other people even exist.

When I was in high school, in a biology class, seated at two person desks, alphabetically, making some point about gender, the teacher pointed out that the boy sharing the desk with me had his stuff over about 75% of the desk. And yet, the boy did the same thing every single day, even after it had been pointed out to him (by the teacher).

The way men handle remotes reminds me of that.

What really bothers me is that I'm too anxious about being labeled a shrew or something to tell the man who's doing it to just settle on a channel and put down the effing remote. Or I could just walk over and take it from his hand. That would shock everyone.

(Yes, it's possible that there are women just as guilty, but I've watched TV with both men and women, and never had a woman change channels like that without consulting other people in the room about choices. And I've had a lot of men do it.)

Okay, now I've vented.

Edinburgh, Part the Second

One thing about being a tourist in the UK I've learned is that most touristy stuff opens about 10 am. Some things open at 11. So you have to figure out what to do with yourself between breakfast and a tourist thing. Today, we wandered on the Royal Mile a bit, and managed to get to the castle just about the time it opened at 10 am. There was a bagpiper playing; you can see him in the picture, which I took while carefully trying to not show the massive stadium type seating that was being dismantled around the yard in front of the castle.

It was only later that night, when I turned on the TV for a little evening relaxation, that I realized the stands were for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and then I was sad that I hadn't taken a picture. I ended up watching the whole of the Tattoo TV show; I think it was from a few nights earlier, but I'm not quite sure how things work. I don't know if they do one night, or if they do the same show for several nights, or if they have several nights with different shows. The TV station was in Gaelic, I think; at any rate, I didn't understand what was said.

Anyway, the Tattoo involves a variety of military bands, many bagpipe bands (One was from Brasil!) but some others. There was a Dutch military band that did part of their performance in WWI era uniforms on bicycles, playing and doing a sort of comedy thing (someone got a flat, someone else fell, but it was clearly planned for fun). There's this thing some of the pipe bands do, where they do a sort of slow step, and somehow, it's just beautiful. And then the night ended with the collected bands playing all together, and then marching out, finally leaving only the host band marching down the Royal Mile (yes, the very place I had walked!), playing among other things, "Scotland,the Brave." (I know, I'm ever so predictable, but I love "Scotland, the Brave.")

It was pouring rain, and yet everyone did their bit and the fireworks went off. (I couldn't help thinking about someone having to take care of wet wool uniforms. I think it was a holdover from my days in marching band.) And let me say, the castle is a heck of an impressive backdrop for military bands marching around and playing!

But that was all in my future (and a tired future it was, since I stayed up LATE watching the TV show!).

On to the castle! Weirdly, for me, but maybe because it was a bit drizzly (I know, hard to believe in Scotland!), but I didn't take a lot of pictures, not even inside. This is St. Margaret's Chapel
, the oldest building in Edinburgh. It was tiny inside, much smaller even than it looks from outside.

For some reason, since not getting to see the coronation seat at Westminster (it was out for repairs, I think), I've been totally fascinated to see the Stone of Destiny, aka the Stone of Scone (which, confusingly to me, is pronounced Scoon), and I started telling my friend about how excited I was to be seeing it (because we were headed to the part of the castle that holds the "Honours of Scotland," the crown, and other regalia, and the Stone), and she thought I was going off on some fantasy medieval Lord of the Rings sort of thing. She didn't quite believe me that yes, there was this stone, and we were going to see it. And then there it was! (You're not allowed to take pictures in the area, because of security, and I try to respect rules--no, really, I do!--so here's a link to the official site picture.)

I hadn't realized the chains were there, maybe for moving it? or chaining it somewhere? Anyway, it's a big rock, and a cool big rock.

We also saw the crown, the oldest in the UK, and the rest of the honours. There's a HUGE sword. It's easy, seeing these things, to understand how JRR Tolkein could have brought mystical, magical elements so fully into his works, since so many things and places are sort of imbued with this specialness.

I saw the room where James VI was born! (And yes, it amused me that he's totally James VI in Scotland. And during the Holyrood audio tour, when Prince Charles did a welcome thing, he was introduced as the Duke of Rothesay, and not the Prince of Wales.) I don't know why, but I got a kick out of seeing where James VI was born. I always think of him as a middle aged guy coming to England with a thick accent and lots of pals to take over the court (because that's when he has become sort of real to me), but he was a newborn.

Here's a picture of the dog cemetery from when soldiers were barracked in the castle and had dogs. And buried the dogs in this little garden.

More to come, as we left the castle and went down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace and the Abbey ruins.

(Do you know how much more time it takes to write a blogpost if you play youtube videos of the 2010 Royal Edinburgh Tattoo? Longer than you might think!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Edinburgh, Part the First

I love taking pictures of hotels and hotel rooms. I booked this room over the internet, using a site that gives you ways of looking that include price and distance from whatever counts as the center of town. I wanted cheap. So I got this room, and it said it was in the eaves and had no view. But cheap. I hadn't been able to get on the school trip because I was too late, so I took the train up and made separate arrangements. But another prof was with the school trip, so we'd made plans to hang out together when the trip got there later in the afternoon.

When I got to the train station and found my way out (no mean feat), I went first to the Knox house (I know, but a First Blast of the Trumpet, people!) and then to St. Giles church.

After St. Giles, I got a taxi and asked to go to the Royal Terrace Hotel. Unfortunately, my reservation was at the Terrace Hotel. But no worries, because the people at the Royal Terrace were very nice and pointed me down the street to the Terrace Hotel.

I rang for someone, and a very tall man came to check me in. As I was signing the register, he asked me if I'd gotten a description of the room, and sounded more than a little doubtful. I said I had, and he handed me a ring with four keys (front door, inner front door, room key, and bathroom key) and sent me up the stairs all the way to the top. (He didn't show me or offer to carry my bag.) So I went up these stairs, and then there were more stairs in the back, so I went up there, and found my room, along with the bathroom.

They were right about the no view part, but I did get nice morning light!

After getting settled in my room and dropping off some stuff, I went to meet my friend and fellow professor who'd gone up on the school trip and was staying a bit closer to the center of town.

And then we decided, hey, it's a misty, drizzly day, let's walk up Arthur's Seat! It doesn't look that bad, but it's a pretty good walk up to the top.

And from the top, you get some really good views of Edinburgh! No doubt the views would be better on a clear day, but somehow, "clear day" and "Edinburgh" don't seem likely to occur in the same sentence very often. The most important thing to notice is that Edinburgh is hilly. The part of the city where we mostly went was two hills, with a bridge between them, and in the gully down there, the train station.

We walked back toward my friend's hotel, in the newer central area of town (on the northern hill). Arthur's Seat is just beyond Holyrood Palace and the Abbey Ruins, so we walked by there and stopped in a pub for dinner. Yum.

I took a cab back to the right hotel, hoofed it up the stairs, and that was the end of the first day!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If I Had Boatloads of Money

I was in train stations today, and so had plenty of opportunity to look at ads for some of the latest film releases. There's one out that has a long list of male names and one female name at the very end. It looks to be some sort of spy thriller sort of film.

If I had a boatload of money, I'd buy the rights to a script like that, hire a kickass director (etc), and make my only condition that the roles be completely gender reversed, not as in writing new roles to be "for women" but just putting women actors in all those roles (I would let them change the first names if they really wanted to. Or not). So we'd end up with a spy thriller sort of film with a list of women's names and one male name at the end.

If you have boatloads of money and want to try out the idea, please do. I give it to you, free of charge.

A Question for Austen Folks

Since I'm here at "The Abbey," I've become way more aware of what a huge load of work managing a great house might be, and how someone would surround himself with stuff he loved at such a house, and how far it would be by carriage to somewhere else, and so on.

And it's gotten me wondering: I seem to recall that Bingley's pretty rich, and has a house of his own (doesn't the end of the novel make the point that the Bingley's won't be too near the Bennet home?). So why is he renting the house in the novel?

Thursday, September 15, 2011


This is a misericord from the choir in Lincoln Cathedral. It's a lion fighting a dragon. It's amazing how much, well, I don't know quite what to call it, personality? character? individual creativity? medieval artists put into little things that would hardly be seen, isn't it? Lincoln Cathedral, for example, is famous for a small carved imp set WAY high, far beyond where I could actually easily see it.

Happily, there are lots of fun carvings here (as there seem to be in the medieval churches I've seen so far). I think that's part of what makes the churches feel so warm and human.

So, Lincoln. The cathedral and castle stand on a hill, and then there are old shopping streets on the side of the hill. I didn't feel like I had nearly enough time, but that was partly because I didn't just split off from some folks I was with.

You know how when you get a certain number of people together, then suddenly things get way slower. One person needs to use the bathroom, so everyone waits. Then you're about to go, and someone else decides s/he needs to go, too. So you wait. Or one person wants to look at this or that, and another wants to look at something else, and so on. I should have just wandered by myself, because I'm sure I'm as slow as anyone looking at the stuff I want to look at, but also more impatient than most looking at some other things.

For example, I hate shopping for clothes/shoes sort of stuff anyway. And when I say "hate," I mean I HATE. It's torture. So I really, really do not understand why anyone would go somewhere special and cool, somewhere with a castle to see, a cathedral, used bookstores, neat buildings, and look at shoes or blouses or whatever.

It's as unfathomable to me as wanting to dye myself purple.

You can look at shoes any time, in pretty much any medium or larger sized community in most countries! Why would you want to look at dresses when you can walk through Roman ruins?

Now, okay, if you live amongst Roman ruins and cool castles, and you need a pair of shoes, that's understandable.

Clearly, I'm not doing my part for fashion.

But, back to Lincoln. The cathedral is beautiful as a space, but a little overwhelming. It's very cool to see the Norman part, and then over and around that, the later medieval part, and then even later stuff. Way cool. We were led around by someone with a quiet, understated humor, so seeing the mistake in rebuilding was funny. (If you look to the lower middle part of the picture, you'll see that there's a place where the center line is off. I was told that the Norman part was built, then there was a fire. And in rebuilding, they started at the far end from the part that survived, and didn't quite line up when they reached the older part.)

There's a sort of trapdoor in the floor about a meter and a half from a huge column thing; when you open it, you can see the foot of the Norman column, in line with where the older building would have been. So the mistake means that we have this amazing bit of Norman remnant there.

And if you look closely, you can see where the Norman mason made a mark to be able to center a compass thingy and where Norman masons worked the stone flat enough to be the base of a column. Yes, in 1072 or so, another human being was working that stone, and here I am, another human being, looking at the mark he made. There's something about it not only being a finished piece, but also being a part of a work in progress, and seeing it as a work in progress that really blows my mind.

In the chapter house, we learned about how earlier kings (pre-Tudor, it seems) moved around a lot, and often held parliaments in chapter houses. So this one still has a throne in it for the monarch. They said it was really old, but it didn't look THAT old. (Of course, what counts for old?)

The castle, too, was beautiful. It felt more open and uncrowded than some castles. I think that's because the old military stuff was torn down and a smaller prison complex was built? (I didn't get to spend as much time wandering around the castle as I might have wished, alas.)

I've gone all backwards, though. I should have started with the Roman ruins. Here's the east (err, I think) gate, a gate that's been in continuous use for almost 2000 years. My mind boggles.

I may have to try to go to Lincoln again for a short visit to walk more around. I could easily spend more time in the castle, the cathedral, or just walking up and down the hill to wander the narrow streets (but not to look for blouses!).

Here's a final image (sorry for the tilt; that's me, not the cathedral):


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


There's an advisee I'm in contact with from Northwoods because I've been his advisor for a couple years now. He's a good student, very smart. He listens to advice, except sort of doesn't.

For example, he'll come and ask about X, and he wants to do X in a specific way. But I'll suggest he do X in another way and explain why. Then he'll insist on doing X his way, and some weeks later, will come back and say that it didn't work and get all frustrated with the system. So eventually he'll do X, maybe in the way I suggested, maybe in another way. And he'll say that he sees that in retrospect maybe the way I suggested would have been smoother.

Then he'll come ask about Y, and he wants to do Y in a specific way. But I'll suggest he do Y in another way and explain why. Then he'll insist on doing Y his way, and some weeks later, will come back and say that it didn't work and get all frustrated with the system. So eventually he'll do Y, maybe in the way I suggested, maybe in another way. And he'll say that he sees that in retrospect maybe the way I suggested would have been smoother.

Then he'll come ask about Z... you get the idea.

It's frustrating that he doesn't seem to realize that he's coming to me for my perspective because I've wrangled with this system before, and even though I don't control the system, I've figured out some ways around and through and under. But he always insists that I just don't understand adequately and gets frustrated that I suggest another possibility. Or he gets frustrated at me for being the system.

I should just nod and let it go, shouldn't I?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bloggidy Meet Up!

I met another blogger today, and it was WAY cool :)

(I didn't think to talk about whether we should blog about meeting, so until I hear or not, I won't say anything more specific.)

But fun! Cool! Neato!

(I gave the other blogger a tour of the Abbey, and s/he was suitably impressed. I should get a title just for living here, something really original and neat.)

Professor B, In the Conservatory, with the Laptop

I'm sitting in the conservatory. There's a fountain burbling in the next room over (the conservatory has four "rooms," all with glass on all sides, connected by doors). I'm outside, except without the chill or wind. And the sun is glorious.

It's all quite civilized.

Nonetheless, Gawain must be prepared to cut off the Green Knight's head! It would seem so much more fitting to be studying Austen somehow.

The place is utterly quiet, though it's late morning. I don't think the students much use the conservatory, nor have I so far. I remember thinking when I first saw it, that it would be a perfect place to work, but then I sort of forgot, because there are other good places to work. And then I went by it on a house tour and remembered. And here I am.

I saw the RSC Macbeth last night, and it was really good and really interesting. They took out much of the witchy stuff, and the witches parts that were left (the prophesying is pretty much all) was played by the same child actors who played Macduff's children. That was creepy; they were sort of zombified to do the witches' parts, and not when kids, and then they walked around a bit on stage and stuff after (there was a lot of ghosting about) and were again a bit zombified. Okay, by zombified, I mean they had makeup to make them look a little creepy, not really full out zombie makeup.

The effect of losing the witchy parts (the opening, the bit about harassing the sailor because his wife was stingy with her nuts, etc) was that the prophesying part didn't feel nearly as connected with witchy, evil, nastiness. Instead, the nastiness was all human (and there was plenty of it). The actor playing Macbeth looked especially nasty at times, too (the part where he talked about keeping spies in the households of his retainers, especially).

They also combined the parts of Seyton and the Porter (and he also got some of the doctor of physik's lines), and that role was played with a smarmy sliminess that worked really well.

It was played on a thrust stage (as Stratford upon Avon) with a door at the back of the playing space (and other entries, too). That was the door Duncan was behind when he got killed, and then from that time it pretty much became a sort of hellmouth. Whenever a character was killed on stage, s/he would (after the stage was mostly empty) slowly rise and walk through the hellmouth. And naturally enough, Seyton was the doorkeeper, and would stand and wait for them. (And then they'd come out again, because there was a lot of ghosting. Banquo broke out, in fact, during the dining scene.) Macbeth was killed on stage (but, happily, his head wasn't cut off), and he, too, got up slowly and walked into the hellmouth at the end.

They played Ross as a priest, in mostly a black cassock with a cross/crucifix (I wasn't close enough to see which). I thought the actor did an excellent job with the part. I think they also gave him other lines (the old man, for example), so the part felt bigger than it does when I read the play.

It was played mostly in vaguely medieval costume, except the party scene, which had people looking like they'd stepped out of an 18th century costume drama.

All in all, I thought it was well done, thoughtful, and thought provoking.

(One last thing: the theater is new, and full of fancy bells and whistles, and they seemed to want to show off a lot of those bells and whistles, even when it didn't really seem to contribute to the play much.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Measure, Time, and Place

The last couple evenings, a colleague here and I have been (re)reading a play aloud and talking about it in preparation to go see it tomorrow. Road trip!

What a good way to spend a couple of lovely evenings. And damn, I wish I could write just one little bit as good as that play.

Week two has ended. It was mostly good, and next week, Gawain is up in one class!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sometimes a Small Question

It's medievalists and linguistics question time! I've started wondering about this, and I'm hoping someone out there might know, or know how to figure it out.

Some words (especially place names) here aren't pronounced quite the way they look, much to my chagrin. For example, Worcester is pronounced like Bertie's last name, Wooster, and not as it looks at all. And Leicester is pronounced "Lester."

But, I tend to think of Middle English as pronouncing all the letters, except when they're not. (So Canterbury sometimes has four, sometimes three syllables in Chaucer.)

SO, if you were to meet up with a Middle English speaker, would s/he say "WoRkester" or WoRcaster" or something like that, or "Wooster." (I'm guessing the first "e" would sound more like when you hear someone say "clark" rather of "clerk" for the "Clerk's Tale" because that's how their accent sounds.)

What do you think, folks?

ps. Do you know that "lollygag" sounds funny to UK folks? Yep, evidently not what they call it when lazing around.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Not Chuffed

I find the word "chuffed" incredibly appealing. Unfortunately, it sounds totally stupid coming out of my mouth. I'm not chuffed about that, not at all.

I have a boo boo. The outer side of my right foot hurts sometimes, inside, not on the skin. I think it started last winter, maybe a fall during skiing? (At which point I'm sure I was thinking about how much my bum or pride hurt.) And then I figured, well, it will just get better.

And mostly, it did.

Except I spent this whole month in London walking and walking and walking a lot. And every night, my feet hurt. But that's just walking. But then this outside of my foot thing was also a part of it. But you know, me being me, that I'm not going to stop and put my foot up for six weeks, not while I'm in London, not while there's biking to be done, or playing outside, or whatever. I'm just not that good.

I've been playing outside a fair bit (aka running really slowly) in my magical five fingers. Usually, my feet are fine and happy after playing outside (the lawns here are lovely, and it's okay to run on them!) but today, my foot didn't feel so great.

I am not chuffed about this, either.

Bleargh. I'm pretty sure what I should do is rest it for three or six weeks or whatever as much as possible. (I'm a total whuss, and pretty sure there's nothing broken or anything, because my whussitude is such that I wouldn't be able to walk for 5 or 7+ hours on it if something was broken, and I've done that pretty regularly around here.)

But I'm also pretty sure that I'm just going to muddle through with it because there's too much to see and do.

Can I ask: when you're being all touristy and walking around from, say, 9 to 6, with maybe an hour sitting (subways, lunch, etc) in there, do your feet ache for HOURS and not want to walk until morning at least? Please tell me I'm not the only total whuss.


Two good classes today. Tomorrow, poetry for some students. I hope they don't hate it.

Monday, September 05, 2011

York, Beyond Expectation

I know what you're thinking. York's got to be great! You have high expectations. There's the Minster! There's the city walls to walk around! There's the medieval part! There's the Viking stuff! How could anything be beyond expectation?

I went to the National Railway Museum. I know some people are really into trains, but I'm just not. Who cares except that it gets you from point A to point B safely and quickly at not too much cost? I don't.

Until I saw this:
This, my friends, is a steam locomotive that's been carefully cut-away and painted in color-coding. What's even better, an explainer comes around and explains how the steam locomotive works. It's incredibly ingenious, interesting, inherently inspiring, even. (I couldn't help myself.)

Starting at the far left of the first picture, is where the coal is. And here's where the driver and the fireman work. The driver drives (and there's a lot to that), and the fireman feeds coal into this hole (helpfully painted orangy-red). And it's not just a matter of tossing coal in, but the fireman has to make sure the coal is all burning evenly and going to burn as hot as possible.

On the other side of that hole is the fire. Where the fire is was painted yellowy. The part that's blue, with the pieces sticking out is where there was a double wall of metal (iron? steel), with space in between and supported and held together with those sticking out pieces, which were riveted into the two sides. That space was filled with water (indicated by the blue on the train here). And not just water, but water that was getting very, very hot.

At the bottom here, is where the ashes could be moved and air let in, and the arrows up indicate where the hot air is going. And that's really hot air, remember.

There's a brick wall thing that angles into the area from the lower right, which forces the hot air to circulate just so, and helps the fire burn hot and evenly, so they said.

What we have so far then is a big space filled with burning coal, surrounded mostly by a double wall filled with water getting hot, and with the hot air rising. But the hot air doesn't just rise anywhere, no indeedy. It's forced by pressure and hotness to go into those many, many tubes that you see the entry for in this picture.

You know the part of a steam locomotive that looks like a long cylinder with nothing happening? Well, what's happening is that the cylinder is filled with tubes full of really hot air, and all surrounded by more of that water that's getting hot. The massive surface area of all those tubes means that there's a LOT of heat transfer.

The blue here indicates the part filled with water, and of course you have to imagine that the cut away tubes are actually there. And as the water turns to gas, it goes up, and that's indicated by the light blue. But that hot steam gas is then forced to go BACK through the small tubes inside tubes that you see on the right part of this picture, which superheats it! (Enbiggen the picture and you'll see the blue tubes inside the yellow/orange tubes) (This is so cool!)

Then that superheated steam is forced into one of the thingies that runs the pistons, first on one side (piston goes one way, wheels make a half a turn), then on the other side (piston returns, wheel makes another half turn), and then the steam gets to escape.

Meanwhile, that hot, sooty air hits the big strainer looking thing, which catches the embers (mostly), and keeps them from flying up the smoke stack and catching the whole country on fire.

Now, you can tell why I found this unexepectedly and amazingly cool. Who would have thought?

And I also saw this.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I'm living in a corridor with several other faculty and some partners. It's like a dorm, except with huge luxurious rooms. Which is to say, not much like a dorm at all.

Except right now, several people are skyping. I can hear the voices from their computers (not enough to make out the conversations), and the people on this end are yelling into their microphones, it sounds like. And one of them occasionally carries her laptop into the hall (I think to get better reception).

Skyping: the middle aged dorm life version of my old dorm neighbors playing "Your Love is Like a Nuclear Waste" way too loudly.

End of the Weekend

I had a great time in York, and will be posting some pictures when I have more time. For now, though, I need to finish prepping for tomorrow.

I had dinner with several students I don't know this evening. They aren't in my classes, but are in the one big class, so we were talking a bit about their work for that class. Of the three students, two sounded like they'd had productive weekends, and one scared me in that "I don't like libraries or reading or intellectual stimulation" way. I hate to say it, but students who seem so uncurious and resistant about everything bother me. (You can start in on how I'm an intellectual snob any minute.)

One of the students is working on a small research project, and seemed to be having trouble getting started. The trouble is that s/he hadn't heard of a basic concept in western culture and couldn't make heads or tails of the basic information s/he was reading about this research topic because s/he has such a week foundation. I hope I was able to help a tad, though, by asking a few questions.

It's, well, scary and frustrating to think that a US college student is so absolutely clueless about something this important. Maybe it's this student, maybe it's NCLB, or who knows, but it's not good. (At least this student was obviously curious and making an effort to learn!)

And now, I need to spend some more time with Raphael Hythloday!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Week One, a Work in Progress

We're on (mostly) a four day teaching schedule here, with three day weekends. That way, students (and faculty) can travel without interfering with coursework. So today, I have my last classes of the week, then I will call a taxi and head to the train station and on to York for the weekend.

Most folks are heading to London, but since I'm sort of Londoned out, I'm going to York.

So far, classes are mixed. One is really good, one is very good, and one is a struggle. I hope things will get better in the struggle class and keep good in the others. In the struggle class, we started with Utopia, which can be a bit of a slog if you're not into reading lit; I think that was the case for these students. But I hope as they read the second part, it will be more fun.

In the other classes, well, at first the one class wouldn't admit that "The Dream of the Rood" was darned strange, but I finally got them to acknowledge that they'd never read anything from the point of view of a piece of wood before, and then they got more into it. We're starting Beowulf today, and that's just a grand piece in so many ways. I got an email from a student who'd told me s/he had trouble with Beowulf before, but was finding this translation a joy. S/he sounded excited, and that's generally a good sign.

In other good news: I've been trying to play outside regularly and it's going well. To give you an idea of the size of this place, from the house to the gate, it's .8 miles (longer in kilometers!), so a run to the gate and back is 1.6 miles. You can slip outside the gate or go other places, but I'm just getting there.

My goal by the time I leave is to comfortably (well, as comfortable as I get playing outside) run 5k without stopping. I'm halfway there, about.