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At the height of his career - during the time he was writing Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend - Dickens wrote a series of sketches, mostly set in London, which he collected as The Uncommercial Traveller. The persona of the 'Uncommercial' allowed Dickens to unify his series of occasional articles by linking them through a shared narrator.
It was strikingly appropriate that Sir Geoffrey Hill should have focused his final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry on a quotation from Charles Williams. Not only was the lecture, in May 2015, delivered almost exactly seventy years after Williams’s death; but Williams himself had once hoped to become Professor of Poetry.
Greece is not alone in suffering from budget cuts arising from the era of austerity. In the UK, local councils, libraries, museums – all public services have been cut. Criminal Justice has not escaped this cost-cutting. The consequence has been fewer police officers on the streets, less money for legal aid lawyers, and closures of Magistrates courts.
Tomorrow Oxford will celebrate Alice’s Day, with mass lobster quadrilles, artwork and performances, croquet, talks, and teapot cocktails, and exhibitions of photographic and scientific equipment. The diverse ways in which Alice and her wonderland are remembered and recast reveal how both heroine and story continue to speak to many different kinds of audience, 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s book was first published.
The latest incarnation (I chose that word advisedly!) of the Jurassic Park franchise has been breaking box-office records and garnering mixed reviews from the critics. On the positive side the film is regarded as scary, entertaining, and a bit comedic at times (isn't that what most movies are supposed to be?). On the negative side the plot is described as rather 'thin', the human characters two-dimensional, and the scientific content (prehistoric animals) unreliable, inaccurate, or lacking entirely in credibility.
Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D. D. Everest takes you into a world where bookshelves are enchanted, librarians have magical powers, and spells aren’t just something to read about in dusty tomes. It’s ideal for kids around the age of 10 who perhaps enjoyed the magic of Harry Potter, but it can also can be enjoyed as a family read with younger children who’ll be excited by mysterious apparitions and strange goings-on.
Various Archie Green covers – from L-R: UK paperback, UK hardback, US
Archie Greene receives a curious birthday present; an old wooden box containing a book written in a language he can’t read, along with the command to return this book to its rightful place on the shelves in the Secret Library. This is the first step on Archie’s journey to meet the family he never knew he had and a band of people dedicated to finding and saving magic books.
Atmospheric and exciting, I enjoyed this book so much I’ve since recommended it to several children in my 8-12 bookgroup. With a paperback edition hitting bookshelves early in June I took the opportunity to interview D.D. Everest about this book.
Playing by the book: Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is a wonderful fantasy novel. What is it about fantasy as a genre that appeals to you? I’m especially curious because of your background as a journalist and non-fiction writer, both of which seem to be about as distant as you can get from fantasy… which is maybe part of the answer?
D. D. Everest
D. D. Everest: You’re right. One of the (many) reasons I love the fantasy genre is that it is so far removed from my other work as a journalist. When you deal with dry facts all day it is such a treat to escape to another world of magic and adventure.
But I have always loved magical fantasy. My favourite books growing up were the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. What I love most about those books is the depth and detail that Tolkien gives to the world he creates, the layering of the stories and the myths and the cultures that he describes.
Playing by the book: I love books where true facts coincide with the story and this very much happens in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret; John Dee really did exist and was Elizabeth 1’s adviser, and there was indeed a Library of Alexandria which was destroyed by fire. What other truths have you smuggled in to your story? (What other truths did you discover during your research which you would like to have included in your story)
D. D. Everest: I think including real facts and places grounds a story. It connects it to the real world so it feels like you can almost touch it. It’s something I really wanted to do with the Archie books. Using history is a great way to give the story some of that depth that I mentioned before.
John Dee, who is in the first Archie book, was a real person. He was described as Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician. He really did collect books about magic and he did think he could talk to angels. The Great Library of Alexandria is also historically accurate, although the part about Alexander the Great’s magical book collection being kept there is just wishful thinking!
Another historical detail I included in the book is the Great Fire of London. In Archie’s world, the fire was started by a magical experiment that went wrong. That plays a big part in the second book Archie Greene and the Alchemists’ Secret.
Playing by the book: With another hat on you’ve written several non-fiction books. How has writing fiction compared? What’s been more difficult about writing fiction? And what has been more enjoyable? Do you still write non-fiction?
D. D. Everest: Writing fiction is much harder, especially fantasy because you are creating a whole world from your imagination. That world has to be plausible enough for people to believe in it and exciting enough for them to want to read about it.
Writing children’s books is the most challenging of all. Having said that, I don’t write for children as such. I write what I’d like to read. But I hope children will enjoy it.
The best thing about writing for children is that they have such rich imaginations that you have lots of licence to be creative. So, you have a big canvas. But the other side of that is they have very high expectations. They question everything in a way that adults don’t, which means they could get ahead of the plot or find holes in the logic. So you have to work really hard at that.
Playing by the book: Can you share a little of the research you did for Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – I imagine you spent time exploring the back streets of Oxford and visiting atmospheric libraries, perhaps even learning some bookbinding skills?
D. D. Everest: Luckily, I was doing some work at the university when I was writing the first book so I was in Oxford quite a lot. I wandered around at night taking lots of photos with my phone. I sometimes show the pictures when I do school events. Again, it grounds the story and makes it feel real.
For example, there is a description of when Archie first goes to the magical bookshop and he crosses a cobbled square and goes into some narrow lanes. If you go to Oxford it is very easy to find that cobbled square!
Playing by the book: Libraries play an important role in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret. Can you share a memory/experience of libraries and the role they’ve played in your life?
D. D. Everest: Most of my memories of libraries are of being told to be quiet because I was talking too loudly! That’s probably why I wanted the Museum of Magical Miscellany to be a noisy place, full of children laughing. Books should be exciting and fun. And magical books should be even more exciting and fun, so that’s how I imagined the Museum.
I have been lucky to see some famous libraries like the British Library, which are fabulous places. I’ve always wanted to have my own library – with revolving bookcases and secret passages. Perhaps I will one day!
Playing by the book: Did you always want to be a writer? If you weren’t a writer, would you rather be? (A professional football coach, perhaps?)
D. D. Everest: I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was very young. I didn’t really know it at the time but looking back I can see it now. I was the kid who wrote pages and pages when the teacher asked us to write a story. My stories were always too long and complicated to finish in the lesson time. I still do that!
When I’m not writing I manage a junior football team. Most of them have been with me since they were about six – they are now 17. They are a great bunch. I’m not sure how good a manager I would be but I do enjoy it, especially on match days.
Playing by the book: What’s the most magical (in any sense) book you’ve read recently?
D. D. Everest: I really enjoyed Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. It is very imaginative and beautifully written. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is so original. The other really clever book I’ve just read is Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. He’s a great writer – I loved his Bartimaeus series.
One of many interior illustrations by James de la Rue ffor the hardback edition of Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret
Playing by the book: What magic trick would you most like to be able to perform?
D. D. Everest: I’d like to be able to vanish, so I could avoid people I don’t want to talk to. I’d love to have a permission wall around my study, too, like the one that protects the Museum of Magical Miscellany so that only people with the secret mark could come in. But best of all I’d love to be able to talk to magical books like Archie!
Playing by the book: Oh, yes I’m with you on that one! Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that such magic comes our way!
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World War Two was the most devastating conflict in recorded human history. It was both global in extent and total in character. It has understandably left a long and dark shadow across the decades. Yet it is three generations since hostilities formally ended in 1945 and the conflict is now a lived memory for only a few. And this growing distance in time has allowed historians to think differently about how to describe it, how to explain its course, and what subjects to focus on when considering the wartime experience.
Picture this. A legendary hotel concierge and serial womaniser seduces a rich, elderly widow who regularly stays in the hotel where he works. Just before her death, she has a new will prepared and leaves her vast fortune to him rather than her family.
For a regular member of the public, these events could send alarm bells ringing. “She can’t have known what she was doing!” or “What a low life for preying on the old and vulnerable!” These are some of the more printable common reactions. However, for cinema audiences watching last year’s box office smash, The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson, they may have laughed, even cheered, when it was Tilda Swinton (as Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis) leaving her estate to Ralph Fiennes (as Monsieur Gustave H) rather than her miffed relatives. Thus the rich, old lady disinherits her bizarre clan in what recently became 2015’s most BAFTA-awarded film, and is still up for nine Academy Awards in next week’s Oscars ceremony.
Wills have always provided the public with endless fascination, and are often the subject of great books and dramas. From Bleak House and The Quincunx to Melvin and Howard and The Grand Budapest Hotel, wills are often seen as fantastic plot devices that create difficulties for the protagonists. For a large part of the twentieth century, wills and the lives of dissolute heirs have been regular topics for Sunday journalism. The controversy around the estate of American actress and model, Anna Nicole Smith, is one such case that has since been turned into an opera, and there is little sign that interest in wills and testaments will diminish in the entertainment world in the coming years.
“[The Vegetarian Society v Scott] is probably the only case around testamentary capacity where the testator’s liking for a cooked breakfast has been offered as evidence against the validity of his will.”
Aside from the drama depicted around wills in films, books, and stage shows, there is also the drama of wills in real life. There are two sides to every story with disputed wills and the bitter, protracted, and expensive arguments that are generated often tear families apart. While in The Grand Budapest Hotel the family attempted to solve the battle by setting out to kill Gustave H, this is not an option families usually turn to (although undoubtedly many families have thought about it!).
Usually, the disappointed family members will claim that either the ‘seducer’ forced the relative into making the will, or the elderly relative lacked the mental capacity to make a will; this is known as ‘testamentary capacity’. Both these issues are highly technical legal areas, which are resolved dispassionately by judges trying to escape the vehemence and passion of the protagonists. Regrettably, these arguments are becoming far more common as the population ages and the incidence of dementia increases.
The diagnosis of mental illness is now far more advanced and nuanced than it was when courts were grappling with such issues in the nineteenth century. While the leading authority on testamentary capacity still dates from a three-part test laid out in the 1870 Banks v Goodfellow case, it is still a common law decision, and modern judges can (and do) adapt it to meet advancing medical views.
This can be seen in one particular case, The Vegetarian Society v Scott, in which modern diagnosis provided assistance when a question arose in relation to a chronic schizophrenic with logical thought disorder. He left his estate to The Vegetarian Society as opposed to his sister or nephews, for whom he had a known dislike. There was evidence provided by the solicitor who wrote the will that the deceased was capable of logical thought for some goal-directed activities, since the latter was able to instruct the former on his wishes. It was curious however that the individual should have left his estate to The Vegetarian Society, as he was in fact a meat eater. However unusual his choice of heir, the deceased’s carnivorous tendencies were not viewed as relevant to the issues raised in the court case.
As the judge put it, “The sanity or otherwise of the bequest turns not on [the testator’s] for food such as sausages, a full English breakfast or a traditional roast turkey at Christmas; nor does it turn on the fact that he was schizophrenic with severe thought disorder. It really turns on the rationality or otherwise of his instructions for his wills set in the context of his family relations and other relations at various times.”
This is probably the only case around testamentary capacity where the testator’s liking for a cooked breakfast has been offered as evidence against the validity of his will.
For lawyers, The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis is potentially a great client. Wealth, prestige, and large fees for the will are then followed by even bigger fees in the litigation. If we are to follow the advice of the judge overseeing The Vegetarian Society v Scott, Gustave H would have inherited all of Madame Céline’s money if she was seen to be wholly rational when making her will.
Will disputes will always remain unappealing and traumatic to the family members involved. However, as The Grand Budapest Hotel has shown us, they still hold a strong appeal for cinema audiences and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Feature image: Reflexiones by Serge Saint. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Last Thursday, I gave my new-model pirate hat an outing, to Oxford Bookfeast at the Pitt Rivers Museum and University Museum of Natural History. Now, I've always wanted to visit the Pitt Rivers, ever since I heard it's where Philip Pullman based the scenes from His Dark Materials where Lyra examines the trepanned skulls. And then I started seeing friends' photos popping up of shrunken heads and, well, you can't really not look, can you?
But it somehow didn't happen; I must've gone to Oxford twenty times last year, but I was always catching later trains to miss rush hour rail ticket prices, and by the time my Oxford meetings were finished, it was always just about museum closing time. But, at last! there I was. And it was a flying visit, but look at the beautiful architecture in the Natural History Museum! The delicate ceiling structure almost looks like it's made of dinosaur bones, I felt like I was inside the rib cage of a wonderful prehistoric beast. I didn't have much time. And fortunately the guard didn't mind me running up to him and asking, Please, sir, can you tell me where to find the shrunken heads?
And the guard did better than that; he instantly sussed what kind of visitor I was and gave me a whirlwind tour of the weirder aspects of the museum. Running me past the trepanned skulls, he showed me the shrunken heads (assuring me that the people had died of natural causes first, not been killed for their heads). Then he whipped open these cabinets to show me all sorts of voodoo dolls. I think he said that the white one in the bottom shelf was a health doll, designed to help people remotely with medical conditions, not hurt them. Like acupuncture by proxy.
More shrunken heads. One of my Bookfeast helpers looked slighty wary when I mentioned these; she said that the museum is a bit sensitive about them and wants to see them repatriated and buried. But she also mentioned that illustrator Ted Dewan says they'll only get rid of them if they take his head, too. Hurrah! I want to watch the showdown. But I do hope they keep the heads.
Another wonderful curio: a witch in a bottle. The guide said that they're not sure if there really is a witch in there, but they're not going to open it to find out. I really need to spend a week looking and drawing in this museum, not just fifteen minutes running around. If I ever get stuck for story ideas, I know just where to go. What a marvelous place.
And here's my pirate event! Bookfeast really packed in the kids, I think there were at least six schools represented. I read them You Can't Scare a Princess! (with lots of communal ARRR-ing) and showed them how I go about turning three sheets of paper with typed-out words on it into an illustrated book. Then we all together drew a picture of Captain Waffle, and then I set the kids off designing their own pirates, who are looking for their own unique versions of treasure. I do hope they go away and make stories about their pirates.
With two of my three publishers based in Oxford, I forget how many times I've been up and down the rail line the last few years. But on Saturday, it was extra fun because Stuart came along with me. I wore a new hat for the occasion.
Ever since my trip up to Caption comics festival, when Di Cameron texted me, Come quick to the Story Museum! Ted Dewan's demonstrating the Storyloom! and I missed seeing it, I've been itching to get back there. And a party celebrating the 20th birthday of the Oxford Children's Book Group was the perfect excuse. Here he is, the magnificent Ted Dewan.
I hope if he ever pops his clogs, he will have written into his will that I can have his bicycle. But he probably won't, because the Story Museum will have hooked him up to all sorts of cogs and springs and whirling things and he will live forever. Or maybe he'll stick around like that guy in the Roald Dahl story William and Mary, with his brain in a bucket and a single eyeball sticking out. ...Sorry, I digress. What I'm trying to say is that I will probably never get his bicycle.
Every time I visit the Story Museum, I find new and exciting things. The museum isn't open to the public yet - it's a work in progress and still raising funds (yes, do donate!) - but they host amazing events in the meantime. And on this occasion we were met in the entrance by these awesome murals by Anita Klein.
I've been a big fan of Anita's printmaking work ever since I saw it in the Greenwich Printmakers shop gallery, and I didn't know she had any connection to the children's book illustration world. But the murals work perfectly here.
The inside of the Story Museum is unfinished, much of it looking like a mopped-up and dusted version of how it looked when the museum team moved in to the former Post Office sorting office and telephone exchange. (You can read more about the building's history here.) But there's a real charm to its imperfection - as a visitor, I also feel a bit like an explorer - and it's already dotted around with strange little curios.
Ted Dewan, master Loomkeeper, took us on a tour to visit Rochester's Extraordinary Storyloom. The Story Museum's a big place, with lots of strange nooks and crannies, and the museum team discovered many remarkable things while they were moving into the building.
Ted revealed to us the story behind this feat of Victorian engineering, a heart-rending story of one inventor's unrequited love and a sinister tale of child exploitation.
You'll have to go the Story Museum yourself to find out the whole story, but I'll give you some peeks.
And isn't this a fine piece of gadgetry? In its day, it rendered a writer's work obsolete. Stories could be written BY MACHINE.
'Twas a fearsome thing for people in the profession. Look at the stops on the control panel. So many storytelling options!
Of course, writers fought back. Who wants to be replaced by whirring springs and coils? Oh, but look how beautiful they are; no wonder publishers were swayed. A machine that will never argue, never miss a deadline...
And here, deep inside, you can catch a glimpse of the Storyloom's inner core. Why a rose? It all goes back to Barnaby Rochester's love for Felicity Blight, the daughter of wealthy mill-owner Albert Blight. But Felicity had no love for her father's dark factory, or Barnaby's metal roses...
Rochester discovered that orphan children were the perfect grist for his mill. Once he'd put them in the seat of the Storyloom and drained their imaginations, they became much more orderly, upright members of society. So it was a win-win situation.
Ted the Loomkeeper maintains the Storyloom in perfect working condition. So we thought we'd try it out.
Here's picture book writer and illustrator Layn Marlow warming up the engine and loosening the keys. Layn was quite skeptical, since Ted made no claims to the Storyloom having a picture generating function. (But at least it wouldn't put illustrators out of work.)
Oxford-based illustrator and writer Mini Grey was a somewhat willing volunteer to be a source of imagination for the Storyloom. (I don't think she was listening when Ted was talking about the orphans.)
Gosh, it IS awfully fun operating complicated machinery like this.
While the machine was running, the visitors browsed some of the explanatory panels:
I got a bit carried away. The machine's Gyre widened slightly and it overheated, but the centre seemed to hold and nothing fell apart.
Unsurprisingly, it took a very long time to suck all the imagination and creativity out of Mini's brain...
...but wow, the stories that machine churned out! Those of us in the room made a pact that we would share the publishing proceeds and by this time next year, I'm sure I'll be able to buy A THOUSAND bicycles like Ted's. Mini didn't join us in making the pact, she was a bit wobbly by that point and couldn't quite envision how it might work.
Model citizen that she now is, Mini cast the deciding vote on whether the Storyloom is pure humbug or Victorian genius.
I'm aware that there was some cruelty involved in sucking Mini's brain empty, because the jar of humbugs sitting in front of her chair wasn't enough to keep her going throughout the entire procedure; she was quite hungry when she emerged. Fortunately the Oxford Children's Book Group provided her with a lovely cake to eat, and she generously shared it with us. Here's its leader, Moira Da Costa, who's stepping down from her post after a fine run. I can't imagine why, perhaps she's planning to take a more active role in feeding the Storyloom with Oxford's writers. Yes, that must be it, Oxford has such rich pickings. Look at that almost maniacal laugh. Gaze upon this woman and tremble.
Oh, a little plug for Mini Grey's top-quality books. You really ought to buy them, now that she won't be able to make any more. It's a good cause. Here's a small selection, you will spot them in the shops.
And if you want to support everything that is evil and exploitative, you can buy Ted Dewan's books. But I'd advise against it, I'm terribly concerned about that Bing Bunny chappie, I suspect he's going to take over the world. Or at least our televisions.
Marie-Louise Jensen, Layn Marlow, Michelle Harrison
I'm always posting photos and telling you the people's names, but sometimes you won't recognise the person, just the book covers you see in the shops. So here you go. Next time you buy one of these books, be aware that their creator took part in the Reformation of Mini Grey. They might have been good, well-intentioned people when they arrived at the Story Museum, but I doubt it.
Marie-Louise smuggled in an early, uncorrected version of her new book, going incognito.
And then we left. Don't be fooled by these angels at the doorway; this Story Museum, with its working Rochester Storyloom, is engaged in some of the most nefarious practices imaginable.
But in the meantime, Stuart, Layn and I went out to source more material for the machine. Mini came, too, and we spent some time discussing her new career options, possibly as a government advisor on national reading schemes. And at the Lamb & Flag pub, we found some top-quality Storyloom fodder! Two of Oxford's most imaginative storytellers, Sally Nicholls and Neill Cameron.
After she has been of assistance to the Story Museum, we will remember Sally fondly for these amazing novels:
And Neill Cameron, for these remarkable comics, including Mo-Bot High, Pirates of Pangaea and his regular feature in The Phoenix weekly comic about how to make comics. After he teams up with the Story Museum, please help him find a Proper Job, thank you.
And then Stuart and I were called away by Ted Dewan to his lair at Oxford Castle. (See? I told you the Storyloom can make us rich!)
Oxford Castle used to be a prison, and the Story Museum and Oxford Literary Festival regularly put up visiting writers there. Who are, oddly, never seen again.
And there in the courtyard, we found a BIG BANG! Or more accurately, a bucket full of perfect, steaming bangers! Ted's friend Max Mason has been running a wildly successful restaurant called The Big Bang and has just relocated next to Ted's castle, since that's where all the action is now. Thanks so Ted, we got to go along to its launch party.
Yup, there's Bing Bunny, he's making his mark everywhere. Well, then Vern and Lettuce can hold their own next to Bing. (Fortunately Max provides vegetarian options, since Vern and Lettuce don't actually eat meat.)
Max and The Big Bang source all their food locally, from farmers within a twenty-mile radius. And the menu looks amazing (and affordable), I'm definitely eating there on my next Oxford visit.
It's great to know we can trust in Good Food and in well-sourced restaurants like Max's. Because Oxford's full of Story Museum curators and writers and we all know we can't trust them.
Marilyn Horne, world-renowned opera singer and recitalist, celebrated her 84th birthday on Wednesday. To acknowledge her work, not only as one of the finest singers in the world but as a mentor for young artists, I give you one of my favorite performances of hers:
Sesame Street has always been a powerful advocate for utilizing music in teaching. “C is for Cookie,” a number that really drives its message home, maintains its cultural relevance today despite being first performed by Cookie Monster more than 40 years ago. Ms. Horne’s version appeared about 20 years after the original, and is an excellent re-imagining of a classic (with great attention to detail—note the cookies sewn into her Aida regalia and covering the pyramids).
Horne’s performance shows kids that even a musician of the highest caliber can 1) be silly and 2) also like cookies—that is, it portrays her as a person with something in common with a young, broad audience. This is something that members of the classical music community often have a difficult time accomplishing; Horne achieves it here in less than three minutes.
Sesame Street produced these segments not only to expose children to distinguished music-making, but to teach them about matters like counting, spelling, working together, and respecting one another. This final clip features Itzhak Perlman, one of the world’s great violin soloists, who was left permanently disabled after having polio as a child. To demonstrate ability and disability more gracefully than this would be, I think, impossible:
American children’s music, as described in the new article on Grove Music Online[subscription required], has typically been produced through a tug of war between entertainment and educational objectives. The songs on Sesame Street succeed in both, while also showing kids something about classical music itself: it’s not just for grownups. It’s a part of life that belongs to everyone. After all, who doesn’t appreciate that the moon sometimes looks like a “C”? (Though, of course, you can’t eat that, so…)
Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
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Not long ago, I passed a roadside sign in New Mexico which read: “Es una frontera, no una barrera / It’s a border, not a barrier.” This got me thinking about the nature of the international boundary line separating the US from Mexico. The sign’s message seemed accurate, but what exactly did it mean?
On 2 February 1848, a ‘Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement’ was signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo, thus terminating the Mexican-American War. The conflict was ostensibly about securing the boundary of the recently-annexed state of Texas, but it was clear from the outset that US President Polk’s ambition was territorial expansion. As consequences of the Treaty, Mexico gained peace and $15 million, but eventually lost one-half of its territory; the US achieved the largest land grab in its history through a war that many (including Ulysses S. Grant) regarded as dishonorable.
In recent years, I’ve traveled the entire length of the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border many times, on both sides. There are so many unexpected and inspiring places! Mutual interdependence has always been the hallmark of cross-border communities. Border people are staunchly independent and composed of many cultures with mixed loyalties. They get along perfectly well with people on the other side, but remain distrustful of far-distant national capitals. The border states are among the fastest-growing regions in both countries — places of economic dynamism, teeming contradiction, and vibrant political and cultural change.
A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector.
Yet the border is also a place of enormous tension associated with undocumented migration and drug wars. Neither of these problems has its source in the borderlands, but border communities are where the burdens of enforcement are geographically concentrated. It’s because of our country’s obsession with security, immigration, and drugs that after 9/11 the US built massive fortifications between the two nations, and in so doing, threatened the well-being of cross-border communities.
I call the spaces between Mexico and the US a ‘third nation.’ It’s not a sovereign state, I realize, but it contains many of the elements that would otherwise warrant that title, such as a shared identity, common history, and joint traditions. Border dwellers on both sides readily assert that they have more in common with each other than with their host nations. People describe themselves as ‘transborder citizens.’ One man who crossed daily, living and working on both sides, told me: “I forget which side of the border I’m on.” The boundary line is a connective membrane, not a separation. It’s easy to reimagine these bi-national communities as a ‘third nation’ slotted snugly in the space between two countries. (The existing Tohono O’Odham Indian Nation already extends across the borderline in the states of Arizona and Sonora.)
But there is more to the third nation than a cognitive awareness. Both sides are also deeply connected through trade, family, leisure, shopping, culture, and legal connections. Border-dwellers’ lives are intimately connected by their everyday material lives, and buttressed by innumerable formal and informal institutional arrangements (NAFTA, for example, as well as water and environmental conservation agreements). Continuity and connectivity across the border line existed for centuries before the border was put in place, even back to the Spanish colonial era and prehistoric Mesoamerican times.
Do the new fortifications built by the US government since 9/11 pose a threat to the well-being of borderland communities? Certainly there’s been interruptions to cross-border lives: crossing times have increased; the number of US Border Patrol ‘boots on ground’ has doubled; and a new ‘gulag’ of detention centers has been instituted to apprehend, prosecute and deport all undocumented migrants. But trade has continued to increase, and cross-border lives are undiminished. US governments are opening up new and expanded border crossing facilities (known as ports of entry) at record levels. Gas prices in Mexican border towns are tied to the cost of gasoline on the other side. The third nation is essential to the prosperity of both countries.
So yes, the roadside sign in New Mexico was correct. The line between Mexico and the US is a border in the geopolitical sense, but it is submerged by communities that do not regard it as a barrier to centuries-old cross-border intercourse. The international boundary line is only just over a century-and-a-half old. Historically, there was no barrier; and the border is not a barrier nowadays.
The walls between Mexico and the US will come down. Walls always do. The Berlin Wall was torn down virtually overnight, its fragments sold as souvenirs of a calamitous Cold War. The Great Wall of China was transformed into a global tourist attraction. Left untended, the US-Mexico Wall will collapse under the combined assault of avid recyclers, souvenir hunters, and local residents offended by its mere presence.
As the US prepares once again to consider immigration reform, let the focus this time be on immigration and integration. The framers of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were charged with making the US-Mexico border, but on this anniversary of the Treaty’s signing, we may best honor the past by exploring a future when the border no longer exists. Learning from the lives of cross-border communities in the third nation would be an appropriate place to begin.
I didn’t do any of these things. I got distracted. As it turns out, searching the word “chocolate” (“It is not addictive like nicotine but some people, ‘chocoholics’, experience periodic cravings”) reveals a whole smorgasbord of suggested links to delectable food summaries and from my first glimpse at the makings of a meringue, I was gone—making mental notes for recipes, stomach rumbling, eyes-glazing over. Mmm glaze.
In the end, my “research” was actually quite fitting to the season. Because, really, when it comes to Valentine’s Day in the 21st century, only a handful of things are reliable and certain—and almost all of them are made with sugar.
→Snack was originally a verb, meaning ‘bite, snap’. It appears to have been borrowed, in the fourteenth century, from Middle Dutch snacken, which was probably onomatopoeic in origin, based on the sound of the snapping together of teeth… The modern verb snack, ‘eat a snack,’ mainly an American usage, is an early nineteenth-century creation.
Top 5 Favorite Random Food Facts
Attempts to can beer before 1930 were unsuccessful because a beer can has to withstand pressures of over eighty pounds per square inch.
Brownies are essentially the penicillin of the baking world.
→Vegetable products, esp. savoury cakes, were occasionally ‘sacrificed’ (the same vocabulary is used as for animal sacrifice) in lieu of animals or, much more commonly, in addition to them. But animal sacrifice was the standard type.
→Food is a form of communication that expresses the most deeply felt human experiences: love, fear, joy, anger, serenity, turmoil, passion, rage, pleasure, sorrow, happiness, and sadness.
Georgia Mierswa is a marketing assistant at Oxford University Press and reports to the Global Marketing Director for online products. She began working at OUP in September 2011.
The Oxford Index is a free search and discovery tool from Oxford University Press. It is designed to help you begin your research journey by providing a single, convenient search portal for trusted scholarship from Oxford and our partners, and then point you to the most relevant related materials — from journal articles to scholarly monographs. One search brings together top quality content and unlocks connections in a way not previously possible. Take a virtual tour of the Index to learn more.
On the 15th of February 1944, Allied planes bombed the abbey at Monte Cassino as part of an extended campaign against the Italians. St. Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order, here around 529. Over four months, the Battle of Monte Cassino would inflict some 200,000 causalities and rank as one of the most horrific battles of World War Two. This excerpt from Peter Caddick-Adams’s Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, recounts the bombing.
On the afternoon of 14 February, Allied artillery shells scattered leaflets containing a printed warning in Italian and English of the abbey’s impending destruction. These were produced by the same US Fifth Army propaganda unit that normally peddled surrender leaflets and devised psychological warfare messages. The monks negotiated a safe passage through the German lines for 16 February — too late, as it turned out. American Harold Bond, of the 36th Texan Division, remembered the texture of the ‘honey-coloured Travertine stone’ of the abbey that fine Tuesday morning, and how ‘the Germans seemed to sense that something important was about to happen for they were strangely quiet’. Journalist Christopher Buckley wrote of ‘the cold blue on that late winter morning’ as formations of Flying Fortresses ‘flew in perfect formation with that arrogant dignity which distinguishes bomber aircraft as they set out upon a sortie’. John Buckeridge of 1/Royal Sussex, up on Snakeshead, recalled his surprise as the air filled with the drone of engines and waves of silver bombers, the sun glinting off their bellies, hove into view. His surprise turned to concern when he saw their bomb doors open — as far as his battalion was concerned the raid was not due for at least another day.
Brigadier Lovett of 7th Indian Brigade was furious at the lack of warning: ‘I was called on the blower and told that the bombers would be over in fifteen minutes… even as I spoke the roar [of aircraft] drowned my voice as the first shower of eggs [bombs] came down.’ At the HQ of the 4/16th Punjabis, the adjutant wrote: ‘We went to the door of the command post and gazed up… There we saw the white trails of many high-level bombers. Our first thought was that they were the enemy. Then somebody said, “Flying Fortresses.” There followed the whistle, swish and blast as the first flights struck at the monastery.’ The first formation released their cargo over the abbey. ‘We could see them fall, looking at this distance like little black stones, and then the ground all around us shook with gigantic shocks as they exploded,’ wrote Harold Bond. ‘Where the abbey had been there was only a huge cloud of smoke and dust which concealed the entire hilltop.’
The aircraft which committed the deed came from the massive resources of the US Fifteenth and Twelfth Air Forces (3,876 planes, including transports and those of the RAF in theatre), whose heavy and medium bombardment wings were based predominantly on two dozen temporary airstrips around Foggia in southern Italy (by comparison, a Luftwaffe return of aircraft numbers in Italy on 31 January revealed 474 fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft in theatre, of which 224 were serviceable). Less than an hour’s flying time from Cassino, the Foggia airfields were primitive, mostly grass affairs, covered with Pierced Steel Planking runways, with all offices, accommodation and other facilities under canvas, or quickly constructed out of wood. In mid-winter the buildings and tents were wet and freezing, and often the runways were swamped with oceans of mud which inhibited flying. Among the personnel stationed there was Joseph Heller, whose famous novel Catch-22 was based on the surreal no-win-situation chaos of Heller’s 488th Bombardment Squadron, 340th Bomb Group, Twelfth Air Force, with whom he flew sixty combat missions as a bombardier (bomb-aimer) in B-25 Mitchells.
After the first wave of aircraft struck Cassino monastery, a Sikh company of 4/16th Punjabis fell back, understandably, and a German wireless message was heard to announce: ‘Indian troops with turbans are retiring’. Bond and his friends were astonished when, ‘now and again, between the waves of bombers, a wind would blow the smoke away, and to our surprise we saw the gigantic walls of the abbey still stood’. Captain Rupert Clarke, Alexander’s ADC, was watching with his boss. ‘Alex and I were lying out on the ground about 3,000 yards from Cassino. As I watched the bombers, I saw bomb doors open and bombs began to fall well short of the target.’ Back at the 4/16th Punjabis, ‘almost before the ground ceased to shake the telephones were ringing. One of our companies was within 300 yards of the target and the others within 800 yards; all had received a plastering and were asking questions with some asperity.’ Later, when a formation of B-25 medium bombers passed over, Buckley noticed, ‘a bright flame, such as a giant might have produced by striking titanic matches on the mountain-side, spurted swiftly upwards at half a dozen points. Then a pillar of smoke 500 feet high broke upwards into the blue. For nearly five minutes it hung around the building, thinning gradually upwards.’
Nila Kantan of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps was no longer driving trucks, as no vehicles could get up to the 4th Indian Division’s positions overlooking the abbey, so he found himself portering instead. ‘On our shoulders we carried all the things up the hill; the gradient was one in three, and we had to go almost on all fours. I was watching from our hill as all the bombers went in and unloaded their bombs; soon after, our guns blasted the hill, and ruined the monastery.’ For Harold Bond, the end was the strangest, ‘then nothing happened. The smoke and dust slowly drifted away, showing the crumbled masonry with fragments of walls still standing, and men in their foxholes talked with each other about the show they had just seen, but the battlefield remained relatively quiet.’
The abbey had been literally ruined, not obliterated as Freyberg had required, and was now one vast mountain of rubble with many walls still remaining up to a height of forty or more feet, resembling the ‘dead teeth’ General John K. Cannon of the USAAF wanted to remove; ironically those of the north-west corner (the future target of all ground assaults through the hills) remained intact. These the Germans, sheltering from the smaller bombs, immediately occupied and turned into excellent defensive positions, ready to slaughter the 4th Indian Division when they belatedly attacked. As Brigadier Kippenberger observed: ‘Whatever had been the position before, there was no doubt that the enemy was now entitled to garrison the ruins, the breaches in the fifteen-foot-thick walls were nowhere complete, and we wondered whether we had gained anything.’
Peter Caddick-Adams is a Lecturer in Military and Security Studies at the United Kingdom’s Defence Academy, and author of Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell and Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives. He holds the rank of major in the British Territorial Army and has served with U.S. forces in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
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Subscribe to only history articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS. Image credits: (1) Source: U.S. Air Force; (2) Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0004 / Wittke / CC-BY-SA; (3) Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J26131 / Enz / CC-BY-SA
In the Autumn of 2011 I found myself at something of a loose end in the beautiful city of Tbilisi, Georgia, working with the Marjanishvili Theatre there on a production of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Unsure of what my next project might be, my attention turned to an old love, Shakespeare’s Henry V. Having long been intrigued by both the story and the title character, I set about reading the text afresh. For perhaps the first time, I realised I no longer sought to play the lead role myself, but found myself still driven to have the story told in a fresh, vibrant, immediate fashion.
Prior to setting out for Georgia, I’d been involved with a five-man production of Doctor Faustus during which I had been struck by how well the classical verse seemed to lend itself to the more intimate company structure. In previous years I had also been a member of a small-cast version of Macbeth, which had likewise seemed to benefit from the experiment. These earlier experiences must have been in my mind when I started thinking about how I might stage Henry V.
Morgan Philpott in Creation Theatre’s production of Henry V
At first, I was curious to see if it might be possible to tell the story using only five actors, and was interested to see that it was. However, as I took another swing at it, I began to distil the idea further. It became apparent to me that in most key scenes there were three distinct ‘voices’. These, I thought later, might more often than not be termed the petitioner, the advocate, and the judge. The petitioner often seemed to pose ‘The Question’ at the top of the scene (such as The Archbishop of Canterbury in I.2), whilst the advocate rallies either for or against his or her cause (such as Exeter in the same scene). Finally, each key scene seemed to have a singular figure who would judge the outcome and lead the way onwards (Henry).
Obviously, it was not possible to achieve a wholesale three-man cut of the text without considerable and audacious changes to the original — mostly in the form of character amalgamations, slight re-ordering or outright edits — but I believe the integrity of the piece as a whole, and crucially the story, remain intact.
Having gladly agreed to an application of performance rights from Creation Theatre in Oxford, I then stood back completely from the process of production. What I was intrigued to find was how well the three-man format seemed to bring out the comedy of the piece. The pace, also, seemed more in tune with what I believe was Shakespeare’s intent. Of course, both these factors are entirely to the credit of the director, cast and creative team, but I was pleased to see them both used so effectively in a production in which I played a modest role.
Gus Gallagher trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After ten years as an actor, playing such roles as Romeo, Coriolanus, Mercutio, Macduff, and Dr. Faustus, he turned his attention to writing. The Creation Theatre adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V is Gus’s first produced work. He is currently working on a piece about the life and times of King William IV, as well as a play about The Jarrow March of 1936. Oxford World’s Classics are sponsoring the production, which is on at Oxford Castle Unlocked until September 14.
For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog.
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Image credit: Morgan Philpott in Henry V. Image copyright Creation Theatre Company. Photography by Richard Budd. Do not reproduce without permission.
Last week the Oxford World’s Classics team were at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford to witness the first Oxford World’s Classics debate. Over three days we invited seven academics who had each edited and written introductions and notes for books in the series to give a short, free talk in the shop. This then culminated in an evening event in Blackwell’s famous Norrington Room where we held a balloon debated, chaired by writer and academic Alexandra Harris.
For those unfamiliar with balloon debates, this is the premise: the seven books, represented by their editors, are in a hot air balloon, and the balloon is going down fast. In a bid to climb back up, we’re going to have to throw some books out of the balloon… but which ones? Each editor spoke for five minutes in passionate defence of their titles before the audience voted. The bottom three books were then “thrown overboard”. The remaining four speakers had another three minutes each to further convince the audience, before the final vote was taken.
...The Nicomachean Ethics! Well done Carolyne and Lesley!
Kirsty Doole is Publicity Manager for Oxford World’s Classics.
For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
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Image credits: All photos by Kirsty Doole
Thanks so much to everyone who came along, and a special thanks to the people who dressed up!
And who put up with my singing voice, which is as clear and melodic as Iris's:
Back in the festival Green Room, Horrid Henry's Francesca Simon asked to try on my Seawig:
And the daughter of our Oxford University Press publicist Harriet Bayly turned out to be a big fan of our upcoming book, Cakes in Space and we spent some time drawing Pilbeam the robot. (This book is the Uncorrected Proof copy, not the final version.)
I got to meet NYC-based writer Polly Shulman and her husband. Polly's written a book called The Wells Bequest, which I can't wait to read.
Oxford's always great fun to visit. Here I am, chucking Lewis Carroll under the chin, and the view from my bedroom in a hall of residence in Christ Church college.
Hogwarts breakfast! The Great Hall is pretty cool.
We met up with The Story Museum's Tom Donegan and Neill Cameron, Philip Ardagh, Nicolette Jones and Ted Dewan in the pub. We were raving about the amazing Storyloom that Ted's designed, and just as the last few us of were about to leave, he invited us back to The Story Museum and said he'd fire it up for us. It's just too awesome to contemplate. (You can read an earlier blog post I wrote about it here.) Here's Ardagh, hard at work on it:
And this photo of Reeve is just plain weird:
Big thanks to Oxford lit fest for hosting us, everyone who took part in our event, Nicolette for chairing, The Story Museum, Oxford University Press and everyone who made is such a fantastic weekend. If you missed us, keep an eye on my Events Page to see if we're coming somewhere near you!
Last week I traveled to London and Oxford with my husband on a combined business/sightseeing trip. In Oxford I was busy doing research for an upcoming book, but I squeezed in a visit to a brand new Story Museum exhibit that I'd read about at Monica Edinger's excellent blog Educating Alice. The exhibit's curators asked a number of authors and performers (the majority will be more familiar to the British than those of us who reside on the other side of the pond) to pick their favorite childhood literary character. The chosen ones were then invited to dress up as their character and be photographed by Cambridge Jones in their new duds. Each story character was given his/her designated space or room that features the photograph as well as other props. Many include sounds that heighten the experience (the wind howls in the Mary Poppins room, for instance) or recordings of the authors and performers reading a story or being interviewed about their characters. The exhibit takes up the whole of the museum and is set up like a treasure hunt. Visitors search out all 26 characters and check them off. A completed list earns the museumgoer a prize, redeemable at the museum shop across the way.
The day I visited I was the only adult sans child, and I felt a bit conspicuous as I stalked the building clicking away with my camera. While I can't list all there was to see, here are some of my favorites. As for choosing my own childhood literary character, I have to go with Peter Pan (also chosen by author Cressida Cowell). My absolute favorite exhibit space, though, was the one dedicated to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Holly Smale selected Jadis, the White Witch as her character. To enter, you open an unmarked wardrobe and push past a row of fur coats. Then you're inside a magical darklit room dominated by a huge sled and a life-size photo of Smale dressed as the White Witch. Goosebumps will follow, I promise.
The entrance to the exhibit opens with a tower of cards referencing Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
Another section features an assortment of costumes to dress up in.
And, once clad, a throne to sit on.
Neil Gaiman chose Badger from The Wind and the Willows as his favorite character.
Katherine Rundell picked Max from Where the Wild Things Are.
Here's Katrice Horsley sailing through the sky dressed as Mary Poppins.
Another childhood hero of mine--the Wicked Witch of the West, as portrayed by Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman.
The exhibit remains open until November so if you find yourself in the neighborhood, it is well worth a visit. And if a trip to Oxford isn't in the cards, why not dress up as your own childhood story hero? I'm getting out my green tights right now. Add a Comment
...right in the heart of Oxford! I haven't been able to show off these pictures up to now, but they've just been released, so hurrah!
My Oliver and the Seawigs co-author Philip Reeve and I toured The Story Museum while the crew were in the midst of setting up their new exhibition, 26 Characters, and we wrote an article for Inis about it! I LOVE Inis (pronounced 'Ih-nish'), the super-stylish magazine published by Children's Books Ireland. Check out the lovely cover by Chris Haughton of this latest issue:
You'll need to read the article for more of our impressions about the exhibition, but the gist of it was that 26 authors were asked to pick a character from their favourite childhood book. Then The Story Museum helped them dress up as the character for portraits by photographer Cambridge Jones, and created a whole room in the museum that makes you, the visitor, feel like you're stepping into the world of that book. It's very impressive! Here's Neil Gaiman as Badger from The Wind in the Willows:
The First World War has survived as part of our national memory in a way no previous war has ever done. Below is an extract from Full of Hope and Fear: The Great War Letters of an Oxford Family, a collection of letters which lay untouched for almost ninety years. They allow a unique glimpse into the war as experienced by one family at the time, transporting us back to an era which is now slipping tantalizingly out of living memory. The Slaters – the family at the heart of these letters – lived in Oxford, and afford a first-hand account of the war on the Home Front, on the Western Front, and in British India. Violet and Gilbert’s eldest son Owen, a schoolboy in 1914, was fighting in France by war’s end.
Violet to Gilbert, [mid-October 1917]
I am sorry to only write a few miserable words. Yesterday I had a truly dreadful headache which lasted longer than usual but today I am much better . . . I heard from Katie Barnes that their Leonard has been very dangerously wounded they are terribly anxious. But are not allowed to go to him. Poor things it is ghastly and cruel, and then you read of the ‘Peace Offensive’ articles in the New Statesman by men who seem to have no heart or imagination. I cannot understand it . . . You yourself said in a letter to Owen last time that [the Germans] had been driven back across the Aisne ‘We hope with great loss.’ Think what it means in agony and pain to the poor soldiers and agony and pain to the poor Mothers or Wives. It is useless to pretend it could not be prevented! We have never tried any other way . . . No other way but cruel war is left untried. I suppose that there will be a time when a more advanced human being will be evolved and we have learnt not to behave in this spirit individually towards each other. If we kept knives & pistols & clubs perhaps we should still use them. Yesterday Pat & I went blackberrying and then I went alone to Yarnton . . . the only ripe ones were up high so I valiantly mounted the hedges regardless of scratching as if I were 12 & I got nice ones. Then I went to the Food Control counter & at last got 5 lbs. of sugar . . . It was quite a victory we have to contend with this sort of sport & victory consists in contending with obstacles.
Gilbert to Owen, [9 February 1918]
I have been so glad to get your two letters of Dec. 7th & 18th and to hear of your success in passing the chemistry; and also that you got the extension of time & to know where you are . . . I am looking forward to your letters which I hope will make me realise how you are living. Well, my dear boy, I am thinking of you continually, and hoping for your happiness and welfare. I have some hope that your course may be longer than the 4 months. I fear now there is small chance of peace before there has been bitter fighting on the west front, and little chance of peace before you are on active service. I wonder what your feelings are. I don’t think I ever funked death for its own sake, though I do on other accounts, the missing a finish of my work, and the possible pain, and, very much more than these, the results to my wife & bairns. I don’t know whether at your age I should have felt that I was losing much in the enjoyment of life, not as much as I hope you do. I fear you will have to go into peril of wounds, disease and death, yet perhaps the greater chance is that you will escape all three actually; and, I hope, when you have come through, you will feel that you are not sorry to have played your part.
Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bonfiglioli. Do not reproduce without permission.
Owen to Mrs Grafflin, [3 November 1918]
This is just a very short note to thank you for the knitted helmet that Mother sent me from you some time ago. It is very comfortable & most useful as I wear it under my tin hat, a shrapnel helmet which is very large for me & it makes it a beautiful fit.
We are now out at rest & have been out of the line for several days & have been having quite a good time though we have not had any football matches & the whole company is feeling rather cut up because our O.C. [Officer Commanding] has died of wounds. He was an excellent [word indecipherable] father to his men & officers.
Margaret Bonfiglioli was born in Oxford, where she also read English. Tutoring literature at many levels led to her involvement in innovative access courses, all while raising five children. In 2008 she began to re-discover the hoard of family letters that form the basis of Full of Hope and Fear. Her father, Owen Slater, is one of the central correspondents. After eleven years tutoring history in the University of Oxford, James Munson began researching and writing full-time. In 1985 he edited Echoes of the Great War, the diary of the First World War kept by the Revd. Andrew Clark. He also wrote some 50 historical documentaries for the BBC.
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Now that Noughth Week has come to an end and the university Full Term is upon us, I thought it might be an appropriate time to investigate the arcane world of Oxford jargon — the University of Oxford, that is. New students, or freshers, do not arrive in Oxford but come up; at the end of term they go down (irrespective of where they live). If they misbehave they may find themselves being sent down by the proctors (a variant of the legal procurator), or — for less heinous crimes — merely rusticated, a form of suspension which, etymologically at least, involves being sent to the countryside (Latin rusticus). The formal beginning of a degree is known as matriculation, a ceremony held in the Sheldonian Theatre, in which membership of the university is conferred by being having one’s name entered on the register, or matricula.
Tutors, fellows, and readers
Being a student of the university involves membership of one of the colleges or private halls; despite their names, St Edmund (Teddy) Hall and Lady Margaret Hall are actually colleges; Regent’s Park College is neither a college nor a park. Christ Church should be referred to simply as Christ Church, rather than Christ Church College, although it is also known as ‘the House’. Magdalen is pronounced ‘maudlin’ and should never be confused with another college of the same name at Cambridge University (affectionately known as ‘The Other Place’, originally a euphemism for hell), which is pronounced the same but spelled Magdalene.
Each college has a head of house, referred to by a variety of terms: Principal, President, Dean, Master, Provost, Rector, or Warden. Teaching in college takes the form of tutorials (or tutes), overseen by Colleges tutors (from a Latin word for ‘protector’); the earliest tutors were responsible for a student’s general welfare — a post now known as moral tutor. Colleges are governed by a body of fellows (students at Christ Church), or dons, from Latin dominus ‘master’. The title reader, a medieval term for a teacher used to refer to a lecturer below the rank of professor, has recently been retired at Oxford in favour of the American title associate professor.
Mods and battels
At Oxford, students read rather than study a subject, a usage which goes back to the Middle Ages. Final examinations were originally known as Greats; this term is now used only of the degree of Literae Humaniores (‘more humane letters’) — Classics to everyone else. No longer in use is the equivalent term Smalls for the first year exams; these are now known as Moderations (or Mods) in the Humanities, or Preliminaries (or Prelims) in the Sciences. Sadly, the slang equivalents great go and little go have now fallen out of use. University examinations are sat in Schools, a forbidding edifice on the High Street (or ‘the High’) which gets its name from its original use for holding scholastic disputations. Students are required to wear formal academic dress to sit exams; this is known as subfusc, from Latin subfuscus ‘somewhat dark’.
College exams, rather less formal affairs, are known today as collections, from Latin collectiones, ‘gathering together’, so-called because they occurred at the end of term when fees were due for collection. Confusingly, the term collection is also used to refer to the end-of-term meeting where a progress report is read by a student’s tutor in the presence of the master of the college. As well as fees, students must pay their battels, a bill for food purchased from the College buttery — originally a wine store, from Latin butta ‘cask’, but now extended to include a range of student delicacies.
Lecturers dusting off their notes and preparing for the new term, for whom such usages are second-nature, may benefit from the salutary lesson of the wall-lecture –a term coined by their 17th-century forbears for a lecture delivered to an empty room. The term may be obsolete, but the prospect remains all too real.
I spent a lot of time with these little dudes: Jampire, whom I really ought to name, but who is still 'Jampire', and the Iron Bear, who is probably made of bronze and is really named Paddington, but I just like calling him the Iron Bear. Anyway, I spend a lot of time at Paddington station. And today I was Oxford-bound!
It's quite fun travelling in full costume, it makes so many people's faces light up. Also, I tried travelling with my Bakewell Tart hat in a bag last time and the cherry came off the top, so it's safer just to carry it on my head, all the way to Oxford's Story Museum. Which is where my co-author David O'Connell and I did our Jampires show!
Huge thanks to everyone who came along and drew with us! I'm lucky, both of my current co-authors can draw, so we can do fun drawing double acts. We taught everyone how to draw a Jampire, but then went on to create other beasties. (Mine here is a Sushipire and Dave's drawing a Ricepuddingpire.)
We even sang our brand-new Jampires song, and got everyone to join in the jammy chorus! (Thanks for your help putting that together earlier this week, Philip Reeve!) I was nervous about forgetting the lyrics, and writer Holly Smale offered to come on stage again and help me. (The last time she did it was for my Shark song at the Hay Festival.) She didn't actually turn up, but she was well represented upstairs in a Narnian wood, dressed as the White Witch. (The best of the costumes in the 26 Characters exhibition, I think.)
And our Jampires jam-maker came along!
Here's Emma Preston-Dunlop from The Butch Institute here with her assistant. (Emma has just spotted a Jampire lurking in her jam, oh no!)
I came home with a jar of her Cherry Bakewell with Amaretto syrup and Almonds jam and must confess that already a shameful amount of it has been eaten. Uh... by the Jampires, yeah.
Emma gave a great demonstration about how to make jam, using very basic kitchen equipment, and everyone got to have a good sniff of the bubbling raspberry mix.
Bramble tats, that Emma is DEDICATED to jam, a proper Jampire.
When I arrived, Dave was still leading his comics workshop for older kids, and I caught the tail end of him signing his Monster and Chips books.
A fabulous day, thanks so much for hosting, Tom Donegan and the Story Museum!
Little has been written on the subject of pension trusts, and the ways in which pension laws and trust laws interact. As academic subjects, many issues such as the purpose of a pension trust, employer duties, and the duties of directors of trustee companies, have long been under-represented. However, pension trust law is a technical area that requires more attention, and is also considered to be an exciting area of law that has been ignored in academia for too long. Author of The Law of Pension Trusts, David Pollard, explains why he decided to fill this gap and what issues he felt needed to be tackled in the law of pension trusts:
David goes on to explain why he finds pension trust law so interesting, and what the most significant pension cases were in the past 12 months. He also predicts how pension schemes might change and develop in the future:
Do you agree with David about how pension schemes might change in the future? Write your responses in the comments below.
Feature image credit: Minhas Economias, My Savings by Jeff Belmonte. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Throughout the month, we’ve been examining the myriad aspects of the human voice. But who better to discuss it than a singer herself? We asked Jenny Forsyth, member of the Sospiri choir in Oxford, what it takes to be part of a successful choir.
Which vocal part do you sing in the choir?
I sing soprano – usually first soprano if the parts split, but I’ll sing second if I need to.
For how long have you been singing?
I started singing in the training choir of the Farnham Youth Choir, in Surrey, when I was seven. Then I moved up through the junior choir when I was about 10 years old and then auditioned and moved up to the main performance choir at the age of 12 and stayed with them until I was 18. After this I studied for a Bachelors in Music, then did a Masters degree in Choral Studies (Conducting).
What first made you want to join a choir?
I had recently started having piano lessons and my dad, a musician himself, thought it would be good for my musical education to join a choir. We went to a concert given by the Farnham Youth Choir and after that I was hooked!
What is your favourite piece or song to perform?
That’s a really difficult question – there is so much great music around! I enjoy singing Renaissance music so I might choose Taverner’s Dum Transsiset. I also love Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine and Bogoroditse Devo from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.
I also sing with an ensemble called the Lacock Scholars, and we sing a lot of plainsong chant, a lot of which is just so beautiful. Reading from historical notation – neumes – can give you so much musical information through such simple notation; it’s really exciting!
I’ve recently recorded an album of new commissions for the centenary of World War I with a choir from Oxford called Sospiri, directed by Chris Watson. The disk is called A Multitude of Voices and all the commissions are settings of war poems and texts. The composers were asked to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. I love all the music on the disk and it’s a thrilling feeling to be the first choir ever to sing a work. I really love Standing as I do before God by Cecilia McDowall and Three Songs of Remembrance by David Bednall. Two completely different works but both incredibly moving to perform.
However I think my all-time favourite has to be Las Amarillas by Stephen Hatfield – an arrangement of Mexican playground songs. It’s in Spanish and has some complicated cross rhythms, clapping, and other body percussion. It’s a hard piece to learn but when it comes together it just clicks into place and is one of the most rewarding pieces of music!
How do you keep your voice in peak condition?
These are the five things I find really help me. (Though a busy schedule means the early nights are often a little elusive!)
Keeping hydrated. It is vital to drink enough water to keep your whole system hydrated (ie., the internal hydration of the entire body that keeps the skin, eyes, and all other mucosal tissue healthy), and to make sure the vocal chords themselves are hydrated. When you drink water the water doesn’t actually touch the vocal chords so I find the best way to keep them hydrated is to steam, either over a bowl of hot water or with a purpose-built steam inhaler. The topical, or surface, hydration is the moisture level that keeps the epithelial surface of the vocal folds slippery enough to vibrate. Steaming is incredibly good for a tired voice!
I’m not sure what the science behind this is but I find eating an apple just before I sing makes my voice feel more flexible and resonant.
Hot drinks. A warm tea or coffee helps to relax my voice when it’s feeling a bit tired.
Regular singing lessons. Having regular singing lessons with a teacher who is up to date on research into singing techniques is crucial to keeping your voice in peak condition. Often you won’t notice the development of bad habits, which could potentially be damaging to your voice, but your singing teacher will be able to correct you and keep you in check.
Keeping physically fit and getting early nights. Singing is a really physical activity. When you’ve been working hard in a rehearsal or lesson you can end up feeling physically exhausted. Even though singers usually make singing look easy, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with lots of different sets of muscles working incredibly hard to support their sound. It’s essential to keep your body fit and well-rested to allow you to create the music you want to without damaging your voice.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
When I was younger I played the piano, flute and violin but I had to give up piano and flute as I didn’t have enough time to do enough practice to make my lessons worthwhile. I continued playing violin and took up viola in my gap year and then at university studied violin as my first study instrument for my first two years before swapping to voice in my final year.
Do you have a favourite place to perform?
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world with the Farnham Youth Choir, with tours around Europe and trips to both China and Australia. So, even before I decided to take my singing more seriously, I had had the chance to sing in some of the best venues in the world. It’s hard to choose a favourite as some venues lend themselves better to certain types of repertoire. Anywhere with a nice acoustic where you can hear both what you are singing and what others around you are singing is lovely. It can be very disconcerting to feel as though you’re singing completely by yourself when you know you’re in a choir of 20! I’m currently doing a lot of singing with the Lacock Scholars at Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, so I think that’s my favourite at the moment. Having said that, I would absolutely love to sing at the building where I work as a music administrator – Westminster Cathedral! It’s got the most glorious acoustics and is absolutely stunning.
What is the most rewarding thing about being in a choir?
There are so many great things about singing in a choir. You get a sense of working as part of a team, which you rarely get to the same extent outside of choral singing. I think this is because your voice is so personal to you can find yourself feeling quite vulnerable. I sometimes think that to sing well you have to take that vulnerability and use it; to really put yourself ‘out there’ to give the music a sense of vitality. You have to really trust your fellow singers. You have to know that when you come in on a loud entry (or a quiet one, for that matter!) that you won’t be left high and dry singing on your own.
What’s the most challenging thing about singing in a choir?
I think this is similar to the things that are rewarding about being part of a choir. That sense of vulnerability can be unnerving and can sow seeds of doubt in your mind. “Do I sound ok? Is the audience enjoying the performance? Was that what the conductor wanted?” But you have to put some of these thoughts out of your mind and focus on the job in hand. If you’ve been rehearsing the repertoire for a long time you can sometimes find your mind wandering, and then you’re singing on autopilot. So it can be a challenge to keep trying to find new and interesting things in the music itself.
Also, personality differences between members of the choir or singers and conductors can cause friction. It’s important to strike the right balance so that everyone’s time is used effectively. The dynamic between a conductor and their choir is important in creating a finely tuned machine, and it is different with each conductor and each choir. Sometimes in a small ensemble a “Choirocracy” can work with the singers being able to give opinions but it can make rehearsals tedious and in a choral society of over a hundred singers it would be a nightmare.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining a choir?
Do it! I think singing in a choir as I grew up really helped my confidence; I used to be very shy but the responsibility my youth choir gave me really brought me out of myself. You get a great feeling of achievement when singing in a choir. I don’t think that changes whether you’re an amateur singing for fun or in a church choir once a week or whether you’re a professional doing it to make a living. I’ve recently spent time working with an “Office Choir”. All of the members work in the same building for large banking corporation, and they meet up once a week for a rehearsal and perform a couple of concerts a year. It’s great because people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other are engaging over a common interest. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, secretary, manager, or an intern; you’re all in the same boat when learning a new piece of music! They all say the same thing: they look forward to Wednesdays now because of their lunchtime rehearsals, and they find themselves feeling a lot more invigorated when they return to their desks afterwards.
Lastly, singing in a choir is a great way to make new friends. Some of my closest friends are people I met at choir aged 7!
Header image credit: St John’s College Chapel by Ed Webster, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
The project will make some 1.5 million digitized pages freely available online from the two institutions' collections of Greek manuscripts, 15th-century incunabula, Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books.