All written out

14,105 words later and I’ve emerged, blinking into sunlight and a rash of library fines.  The Monster gets handed in today, and I made the usual error of forgetting just how much time suckage goes on with the bibliography and the footnotes, which are prescribed by the MHRA and their inimitable obsessive compulsive approach.  The MHRA is a handbook.  It is 96 pages long and teaches people to prepare works for theses, dissertations and academic books.  Reading it cover to cover is surreal.  Who would have thought that quotation marks could mean more than, well, someone speaking?  Oh, but they aren’t.  In the hallowed pages of the ludicrously assembled MHRA they take the form of vagrant heathens which, if not suitably disciplined, hold the difference between a Merit and Distinction in their murky, quotation paws.  Basically, as far as I can understand it, academic institutions figuratively wallop you for not putting your commas in the right place.  Having bright ideas is part of the game, but lack of intellectual insight and putting your page numbers in the wrong place are punished with equal vigour.  If you refer to a footnote at the bottom of the piece (and academic essays are riddled with those) you must put a full stop at the end like “p. 129.”  If the page number refers to a book.  If the page number refers to an article in a journal, then they’ve got another fiendish system to fuck you up.  Because then you must put it in brackets, like so : “(p.129.)”.  This is enough, dear readers, to pull you into regular nightmares where letters and symbols loom out of you from nowhere.

During the last two evenings it has rained heavily and I have sat peering at a lap top, checking things until I cannot see and eating beans on toast. and drinking Yorkshire tea.  That has been my life.  This is not good.  However, I have very much enjoyed the tea.

Imagine my sheer fucking joy, dear dwindled readership, when collecting the 14105 words of academic gold from the printers yesterday, spirally bound according to rules, covered with plastic sheet according to rules, the whole document dripping with the sense of complete anal retention that is invested in every page regarding line numbers and paragraph alignment.  The peculiar anti-climax that comes with being free of study is heightened by a lovely sunny day here in London.  And soon there will be Bluebird, trundling through Soho en route to Bloomsbury with a suitcase full of library books and a dissertation to hand in (stopping off on Bar Italia en route, oh yes lovely, I’ll have a cappucino please) and ending a relationship with one college that I have had for six years.  And then? Who knows.  I am certainly not sure.  I am working on a spoof novel but got so high on Yorkshire Tea it just went a bit crazy.   But at least if you drop Yorkshire Tea over an electric typewriter (all my first drafts are typed) it doesn’t have the same disastrous effect as pouring hot fluids over a computer, whereupon everything, including your unrealised brilliant works of fiction, melts.

The one great big decision has been made.  And that is that after the absolute mayhem of the last two weeks I shall be departing for a holiday.  Which leads me to announce – brace yourselves – there will be no Bluebird update next week from Italy.  BUT from Monday 11th October there will be an post EVERY day, lucky people!  And just think how much time I have to annoy now my academic commitments are done, stapled, dusted and spirally bound?  My week in Italy will be documented day by day – but with a time delay of a week so please check back on 11th October.  In the meantime, I pack my Bluebird knapsack, hop on a Pisa-bound flight with HorridAir with Mr Bluebird, take my Italian grammar book and hope for the best travelling through Siena, Lucca and Chianti, stopping only to sup the wine and bask under the splendid Tuscan sun.

Arriverderla.

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“Enter Title Here” Yes….but what title?

I must apologize, dear readers, for not having done terribly interesting city-based things this week.  Having booked the week off work I am now faced with nothing but a pile of typed research with little clue how to process it.  And still the Dissertation deadline looms in five weeks, with monstrous awfulness, filled with all my academic promise (apparently).  I keep the deadline hidden from conscious view, and it only rears its head when I deem it suitable – which is when I have actually put the nail varnish down and done some actual work that day.  A good 2,000 word day should do it – anything less I get antsy.  But then people ask you out of the blue how it is going, and you have to face the fact you haven’t made any progress since last Thursday and a horrid chill that feels a bit like a touch of flu whacks you in the frontal lobe.   The monster is growing.  And you sort of wish you never mentioned it to anyone in the first place, in order to not have to deal with the inevitable “how’s it going?”.  Novel writers have often advised : never, never say when you are researching or working a novel.  Don’t even think of mentioning it – no, no, no.  Never mention it in its embryonic stages as nothing good can possibly come of it.  The “how’s it going?” will always be answered with a tranced shake of the head, as if the writer has descended into an abyss of staring at library walls while nursing hangovers (which he probably has by the way) and the questioner begins to question – well, whether you’ve got it in you, frankly.  Jeez.  Only when your book is written up, only when the dustjacket is folded and the the Waterstones delivery vans are waiting with baited breath should you even MENTION that you write anything.  Do yourself a favour.  Just pretend to your friends or family that you are an oncologist or something in the meantime.

But this Dissertation has given me irritable bowel syndrome, which I resent.  Everyone knows I am doing it because I blabbed it out about two years ago.  Every moment when I ought to be resting, I cannot resist the scratching of my MA itch.  I changed the colour of my pen cartridge six times.  I use a calligraphy pen; I fight the boredom by focusing on the style rather than the content.  I wonder if I should dye my hair, and did one of those fiddly colour tests when you dab a load of chemicals behind your ear to see if the hair dye is going to melt your brain.  I fiddle with the tweezers.  I open the window and scream, hurling the paperwork down into the path of the 460 bus route.  Okay, I don’t do that last one – but I never thought history would be quite this dull, dear readers.   When I was a girl I often set fire to my homework by misplacing my lit cigarettes (I had a wonderful childhood) and nearly burned down a good friend’s car by flicking my pre-breakfast Marlboro Light absently into the back seat when I thought I had hurled it out of the window.   I still fear setting fire to it now and losing the deadly crappo writing I have done.  My USB has been in and out of my laptop several times daily, and everything is emailed to me.  Twice.  So I can see how bad it is.  And still I wonder whether someone might sneak in at night and rob me of my research of London Transport in the 1890s and I will wake up screaming “GAAH!  The Central Line!!”  (Who would do this – TFL?)

In this dearth of academic activity, thank God for “Mistresses”.  This parade of utter silliness comes to a close on BBC1 tonight, following a four week lunatic melodrama.  So far there is one unplanned pregnancy, double infidelity, a terrifyingly fierce Joanna Lumley, a marriage that only started in Episode 2 under threat by the end of Episode 3 and a dead body.  Presumably the dead body is that of the commissioning editor of the series, which started out as funny and peppy , jumping along from sexual crisis to romantic shenanigans at a fast rate for the first two series, but became over-serious and a bit like “Dynasty” set somewhere near Reading in the third series.  It’s like filling your brain with marshmallows, which is precisely the antidote to days spent ruminating on discourses of historiography.  This explains why I fell oh so happily into those Designers-at-Debenhams draped Mistresses.  It isn’t clear what kind of town it is that they live in, though.  It’s simultaneously suburban, rural, filled with snazzy locations to have affairs and bizarrely has a cake factory in the middle of it.   This Mistresses Town also has extremely chic wine bars where four very busy people manage to meet several times a week to not talk about how they might be sleeping with each other’s husbands and a series of modern gastro pubs where they can get mullered after a spot of designer shopping.  Siobhan seems to live in a hellish cottage in the middle of nowhere, where she keeps crooking her neck to avoid both the sixteenth century beams and her ex-lover’s new wife, and where everything is painted a ghoulish dentist-room-green.  The funny Scottish one with the goggly eyes lives in an Edwardian townhouse with the bloke from The Office and Sarah Parish lives in a glass-fronted uber-home in what appears to be the Lake District.  Their make-up and hairstyles are high-maintenance and smack of the town; Trudi’s marriage may be disintegrating before her eyes but by God those eyes have four shades of Clarins eye make-up on them, thank you. For reasons that are not entirely apparent, Joanna Lumley is installed on Sarah Parish’s sofa struggling with an underwritten role and an unmoving lipline.  Every question is answered with a question, as if to hammer home the plot points, whilst simultaneously removing any semblance of characterization:

Joanna Lumley : Are you sleeping with Richard?

Sarah Parish : Who?  What series are we in?  Who’s Richard?

Joanna Lumley : The one from ‘The Office’.  Are you sleeping with the one from ‘The Office’?

Sarah Parish : Oh, do you mean you saw me on Thursday when I made that shopping trip in Episode 3 after I’d spent that hour with him in the motel room that nobody knows about?  How could you, mother!  Of course I’m not sleeping with him.  You haven’t told Siobhan have you?

Joanna Lumley : [through perfect lipline] No.   Does Trudy know?

Sarah Parish: Of course not! But she saw that furtive gaze we had during the woodland walk in Episode 2.  Shall we tell her? [lengthy pause.  The Parish eyebrows furrow].  Have you been using my Clarins eye shadow, Joanna?

All is not quite as it should be.  “Mistresses” is required at the moment.  There is a Dissertation that will be written, but not today.  Meanwhile, here’s hoping normal service will be resumed next week.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Kindling

I got with the kids today and downloaded a kindle thingy which means I can read books on the clinical and uninspiring surface of my huge computer screen.  The problem is I then have committed myself to reading the bastard things, once the initial buzz of delight at instant books appearing on my desktop has worn off.  I selected Juliet Gardiner’s most recent epistle: ‘The Thirties’.  We love the Jules in Bluebird Towers.  She wrote an excellent book on the home front during the war and was the historical adviser for the Channel 4 1940s house, which is where I want to live (but without the bombing).  She knows all sorts of fascinating details about individual lives and we just think she is fab.  Of course, that means I have a four hundred page book which is staring out at me on my computer and I am firmly stuck in Chapter Two with it’s details of fiscal policy.  I mainly want to get to the section that is about Charlestons and shoes but am unsure whether there is one.  I am also reading, at the same time, Roy Hattersley’s ‘The Edwardians’ and Gerald Clarke’s biography of Judy Garland, so most likely I will get it all twisted up in some inter-war nightmare in which King Edward is singing ‘Get Happy’ and La Garland sorts out the problems left behind after Churchill fannied about with The Gold Standard.  I think British politics is all the poorer, my friends, for its absence of tap-dancing and Irving Berlin medleys.

None of which gets my Dissertation written of course. I have a meeting with the Doctor on Tuesday (academic, not medical – there’s no way I’m going into his office to talk about my periods, thank you) in which I hope to finally present him with the title.  It’s on the idea of safe spaces in the West End for respectable women in the late Victorian age, and I keep having to explain to people it’s not ENTIRELY about shopping.  Well, not really.  I am off to the London Library to read bygone issues of ‘The Lady’ from the 1880s, with their irate letters to the Editor about standards, usually letters filled with disgust about prostitutes not wearing hats and children having the impertinence to grow taller etc.  The London Library is a bastion of civilized learning in that hotbed of the London underworld, St James’s Square.  It’s full of corduroy-clad squires from the shires sleeping in armchairs, buried under editions of Country Life.  The staff wake them up once a year when their membership fee is due.

I am not going to write about this election anymore because it is arse-numbingly dull.  I have a headcold and am retiring to bed for the afternoon with Agatha Christie’s ‘They Do It With Mirrors’.

Chick Lit 1860s-style

Another afternoon when I should be working, and chose to spend it in the company of M E Braddon, instead.  If you don’t know M E Braddon, you surely should.   One of the most prolific female authors of the 19th century, she published over 80 books, 3 of which are still in print.  Sensation Press have done their best to resurrect her thrillers, but there’s still another 77 texts which remain out of the reach of readers, unless you’re a member of the London or similar other university-quality library.

She writes thrillers about bigamous marriages, murders, headstrong female anti-heros (usually with that indication of Victorian female impropriety – red hair), and early female detectives.  The daredevil plots, destruction of families, suggestion of sexual impropriety and basic unruly ladies would be enough to make the scripts of “Dynasty” look like “Anne of Green Gables”.  I bought a cheap Wordsworth Classics version of it one day in Waterloo and decided to read the first page whilst waiting for a friend outside the Old Vic –  I stood there and read the first three chapters and finished it about three days later, having found it utterly un-put-downable.  Most of what Braddon does is from the standard sensation thriller genre and borrowed directly from Wilkie Collins – who remains the master at this type of literature (more of him later in this blog, I imagine).  Although it is obvious from the books that Braddon was writing and publishing very quickly – flinging out at least two thrillers a year for most of her career, that doesn’t stop it from being pleasurable.  In fact, the slight trash element of them is what makes her novels so much fun to read.  These novels were written to make the reader’s hair stand on end. If you want to find out how 1860s housewives got their kicks pour a strong tea, recline on the chaise longue and cop a load of Braddon.  Free to read on Google Books here:

http://www.publicbookshelf.com/romantic-suspense/lady-audley/

Scribbling

Recently I took three days off work to try to focus on my studies.  I spent most of those three days beetling around the Underground like a mole – Central to Northern, Circle to Hammersmith & City and back again.  Of course, it is all designed to confuse us because the Circle isn’t even a Circle any more.  I had to go to the Womens’ Library in Aldgate, a place where it is forever 1978 and – despite the noble feminist ethics of its foundation – has the most disappointing and cross male doorman in London. I had to hand over my driving licence to get in, and wasn’t allowed to have it back until I left the building. 

Like the British Library, they treat every visitor like a suspect and make you feel vaguely oikish, whilst you shuffle around in your bag to retrieve a pencil, the only writing tool you can take into the reading room.   In the reading room there were no gents, obviously, and a very helpful lady who showed me where the pencil shavings were to go.  Then I viewed The Englishwoman’s Report and Gazette from 1879 on a microfilm at the back of the room next to the broken printer, where there was no natural light, and realised what a unique place it was.

Lots of journalism from the late nineteenth century hasn’t been collated and archived.  Apart from the fact there was simply a vast amount of magazines and newspapers (more than now) – some of it was rendered significant and some was not.  Women’s domestic journals were generally consigned to the dustbin of journalistic history.  But anyone doing any kind of study on the history of advertising, clothing, consumerism, politics, household maintenance or medicine would find half the stuff I trawled through invaluable.   They seem to have drunk a vast amount of Ovaltine, suffered from biliousness (are these two linked?) and some up with novelty ideas to get stains out of babies’ clothes. The table decoration section featured seven different seasonal decorations throughout the year, most of which involved ferns.   Cocoa was big business, with an advert featuring a large cup of the stuff on the front cover of the magazine for two years.  There was also the usual smattering of advice about what to do if you are fat, want to look thinner ( get a maid to stand behind you and pull on your stays until either one of you feels faint) and how to dress well but inexpensively. 

I was exhausted after an hour of this, as I felt like I had been harangued by several agony aunts shouting at me regarding what to do if my jar of Bovril fell over etc.   I then got told off for wandering into the wrong section  – “Sorry.  That’s only for staff!”  and ended up reading a journal for young ladies full of fictional moral tales about young girls who move to London innocent and pure only to fall into the evil paths of someone called Cedric or Neville who instantly corrupts them, supposedly to chill the faint female hearts of rural Britain and urge them never to leave their villages, lest they become deviant laudanum addicts and prostitutes in the space of one morning.   

This Londoner proved her deviance by going home, putting her slippers on and spending the next two hours trying to cable-knit a sweater.  God, I’m hardcore.