Relieving academic tedium

In many ways, the British Library is a place that brings joy to my heart. It owns every book ever published in this country; it’s free to join; it’s full of nerds; and it’s a mere 15 minute walk from my flat. Add to that my status as a three-year pass holder (a height only reached by true academics and professional researchers – it’s a merit of my previous job, not my current undergrad status), and it ought to be a dream place to study…

…however, I loathe going there with a passion.

The first problem is that you can’t borrow the books. For obvious reasons this would be a terrible thing, but still, it would make life a lot more pleasurable if I could take the theology texts I’ve only been able to locate there out of the building and into a nice independent coffee place (or my own home).

Secondly, the atmosphere in the reading rooms can get oppressive in the extreme. Lots of people desperately researching things doesn’t create an atmosphere that’s pleasant to read in.

Thirdly, the staff can be vicious – although vicious to the point of being entertaining. Fancy a bit of an academic soap opera? Sit in the registration room and watch the staff shatter the illusions of American undergraduates. [Have the correct paperwork, know what you’re hoping to use the BL for and a previous card and you’ll be treated like royalty.]

Fourthly, 9 times out of 10, I’ll request books that turn out to be stored off-site and will take ’48 hours’ (usually 4 days) to reach me.

But, the bottom line is that the BL contains books I can’t get anywhere else and need to read for essays, so I’ve had to come up with strategies to make time there more bearable. Here are my top tips:

1. Find a study buddy.
Obviously, chatting in the reading rooms is verboten, but it’s good to have someone to raise an eyebrow with, in a ‘shall we go and get a coffee?’ way.

2. Choose the right reading room.
I’d been using Humanities II for some time (it’s where some journals were back in my history student days), but it’s rather dreary. Business & IP is more colourful (and has a spacious mezzanine level that people don’t seem to know about), but the winner by many miles is the Rare Books & Music room. For some time, friends have been telling me that it’s where the coolest readers (and hottest men) study. Yesterday I checked it out and I can confirm that it’s true.

3. Order books in advance…
…and regularly check your BL account so that you know when they’re in. There’s no point making a wasted journey to the BL. Lots are only 70 minutes away, but many aren’t.

4. Create your own reward system
Most people would do something along the lines of ‘after 90 minutes reading, I’ll go to the cafe and eat cake’. I, on the other hand, have come up with a somewhat uniquely Liz scheme…

When I was young, I would fantasise about belonging to the BL. (Yes, I was that special as a child.) It had been explained to me by my Dad that this building contained all the books ever written (well, not exactly, but pretty much). My Chalet School obsessed young mind quickly deduced that a ticket for this institution would give me access to every book its author, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer had ever produced. (That would be 58 Chalet School books, several tie-ins and numerous non-Chalet titles.)

I’m currently in the midst of a bit of a Chalet School regression (thanks to some bargain hardbacks I’ve managed to secure of late), and thus, while struggling yesterday morning with some theology with which I seriously disagreed (and was very badly written), I came up with a plan. At the beginning of a BL session, I would order an EBD book (fortunately, all seem to be in-house) and, if I successfully got through all my theology orders, I would pick it up and have some fun.

The cover illustration is almost as odd as the contents.

Thus, yesterday I found myself reading The Chalet Girls Cook Book. This isn’t part of the series, it’s a bizarre extra with rather odd recipes interspersed with conversation between four of the main characters. Until recently, I’d never even laid eyes on this particular volume – sure, I’d heard of it, but holding a £250 copy in a Covent Garden bookshop was the closest I’d got to it. I’m really rather glad I didn’t buy it now. I’m looking forward to getting my hands upon books that have acquired near mythical status in all my years of EBD fandom. That is definitely a motivation for getting through even the driest theology.

5. Acquire a loyalty card for the BL cafe
You’ll be spending a lot of time (and money) there.

Friday Fun to banish episcopal woes

One of the good things to emerge from the women bishops debacle is that people have done a good job in trying to cheer up those who have been rather down about it. Some of this has been niche church humour, but I thought I’d share a few of the less church-y things that have brought a smile to my face since Tuesday evening…

Chalet School bargainsBargain Chalet School discoveries in an Oxfam shop last month.

Firstly, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, something that kept me going while I was sat at the back of church waiting for Student Alpha discussions to finish, counting down till 10pm when I’d be home and could have a stiff G&T, Twitter provided me with a particularly niche strand of humour. An amazing thing about Twitter is that it brings together people who have things in common who might not otherwise have met. For the first time since I was 12, I have actual people with whom I can have Chalet School related conversations with, and thus, the hashtag #linesyoudneverseeinachaletschoolbook filled me with immense joy. [Yes, the lack of apostrophe was unfortunate, but that’s the way of hashtags.] To summarise, the aim was to tweet a line that you would never have read in a school story series (that runs to 62 books) written between 1925 & 1969. The majority of you reading this won’t have a clue about these books, but the thread has been storifyied and is a joy for fans. Even more joyfully, my family got into it too – apparently largely just to cheer me up.


Ah, the family Liz was never head girl joke…
Also niche, but niche to a larger number of people, is the ever-joyful London Transport geekery. This particular tip-off arrived via a Texan New Yorker – TfL geeks are global! Apparently, Reddit has a regular “I am a…” section where someone willingly answers questions about their area of work. This week’s was an employee of London Underground and the thread, though at times bemusing and tricky to keep track of, is full of gems – not just from the employee, but from fellow public transport aficionados.

For example, people think London tube stations have odd names, but have you ever seen what Oslo’s stations are called, when you translate them into English?

Make your own hilarious comment…

Not discovered via that thread, but interesting nonetheless, is this map of what the London tube map might look like if the balance of tubes north and south of the river was reversed. [In case you weren’t aware, this is a major bone of contention for south Londoners.]

Continuing the transport theme, and segueing to air travel, my favourite holiday destination and other people’s idea of fun – it seems Air New Zealand have finally cashed in on LOTR/The Hobbit. Flight safety videos are usually dull in the extreme, but this is a work of pure genius:

To finish this week, something that is more beautiful than outright fun. The last few days has seen a lot of solidarity amongst my fellow ordinands and our tutors, male and female. Below is a video of one of those ordinands who has captivated college with his performances at open mic nights in France. This poem – Wounds and Scars – is breathtaking in its honesty and truth. There are a lot of open wounds out there at the moment. Here’s to them healing well…

Treasures in Tewks

It’s great having siblings that know you well. Over half-term (how great is it to have half-terms again?!) I paid a flying visit to the shire, [well, I say ‘flying’, First Great Western got my there fairly speedily by train] and as a special treat, my sister had saved an exciting activity for us to do while I was there…

Tewkesbury, on the surface, is a fairly sleepy town. You can walk round it in 20 minutes. It doesn’t have a wide range of shops (its M&S closed down over a year ago), it does have an ancient abbey. The most dramatic thing to have happened there was the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 (part of the War of the Roses) – until 2007, when the town was over-run with water:

Thus, the thought of a exciting activity based in the town was rather intriguing – even more so when I discovered it was part of a fundraising activity from church (which in her case is the aforementioned abbey) – but my interest was truly awakened when I realised it was a competitive quiz:

That’s the quiz sheet – a collection of 30 images involving parts of the town (in a defined geographical area) and the abbey. Our mission was to locate them all and we only had a morning. Joyful. I love a good mission and a random adventure!

Luckily, she’d already identified a few of them (like number 25 – the West Window of the abbey photographed from below) so the task was slightly less daunting. Off we headed to the abbey, where we certainly did not use Verger contacts in order to get a head start… We foolishly assumed that #16 was part of a stained glass window – more fool us, how did we not realise it was a roof boss? [Who knew ‘roof boss’ was the official term for those things on the ceilings of abbeys/cathedrals?] However, it was once we left the abbey that things got really exciting.

In addition to the super-exciting quiz, Mim also took the opportunity to show me hidden nooks and crannies of the town. As we ventured up one alley, we unexpectedly found #11, quickly followed by #5 and #23. The next alley yielded even more – and our shouts of excitement with each new discovery were getting louder. As we paused for a breather (and to write down further answers using a bin as a desk) we spotted another three. Within an hour and a half of starting, we’d crossed off the majority – leaving just a few for Mim to finish off with some younger friends.

But the treasures of Tewkesbury did not end there. In the summer, I had an unexpected phone call from my mother, asking me questions about Chalet School hardbacks thanks to a discovery in the town’s second hand bookshop – it yielded me a copy of The Chalet School Goes To It. Clearly, I needed to make my own visit, though there were serious money implications. Within seconds of stepping over the threshold, I spied a shelf of familiar spines. My sister likes to help other people spend their money and she soon had me convinced that the two first editions and fully dust-jacketted hardbacks I held in my hand were veritable bargains (they really were, but it still came to quite a lot of money). Then, I glimpsed the cabinet…

…I think most Chalet School fans covet a few particular titles owing to their dust-jackets (it isn’t just me, is it?) and I would suspect that a highly sought after one would be The Chalet School Reunion, as its jacket features a collection of characters, with a key as to who’s who. As I approached the till to pay for my discoveries, I spotted three CS books in the cabinet – and there was an immaculate Reunion. (Plus two immaculate Coming of Age of the Chalet School. All three were first editions.) One of the books cost the same as the three I held in my hand, but I was tempted. At least I have now held those books, and that’s something.

Joey Goes to the Oberland, A Genius at the Chalet School & Shocks for the Chalet School

Go, visit Tewks! (Just don’t buy the Chalet School books I left behind.) Or, if you can’t be bothered, devise your own photographic treasure hunt and invite your friends along for a competitive afternoon of random object hunting. Fun for everyone.

Niche and childish Friday Fun (Updated)

Having been on retreat for most of the week, my exposure to things of an internet based, fun nature has been limited. I did discover Draw a Stick Man, but so did most of the Twittersphere and Facebook. If by some chance you haven’t stumbled across it, it’s a genius five minute distraction (and absorbed me while I was finding a viewing of Source Code less than captivating).

If you’re a fan of classic girls’ school stories, you can indulge in 30 minutes of immense fun by listening to a programme on the Chalet School on iPlayer – God bless Radio 4 for commissioning this. Guests are quizzed throughout the show and anyone in the vicinity of my bedroom last night would have heard cries of “Emerence Hope you dumkopf!’ [excellent use of Chaletian German slang I feel] and a frantic yelling of eleven names – “Len, Con, Margot, Steve, Charles, Mike, Felix, Felicity, Geoff & Philippa!” [the Maynard offspring] It also included revelations such as how to pronounce ‘Chaletian’ and ‘Elisaveta’ (neither were pronounced the way I’ve been saying them for two decades). Anyway, it was a lot of fun for me, but probably only fun for a minimal number of blog readers…

If you’re a Greenbelter and/or friends with me and the folk I go to Greenbelt with, you might find my friend Jenni’s video of this year’s festival fun:

Jenni’s recently become passionate about creating videos, which can be a tad disconcerting when you’re out and about with her (I’ve actually just remembered that she filmed some of my birthday, must find out what happened to that…) but produces really quite impressive results. The best thing about this video is that it captures the essence of our Greenbelt – Pie Minister, the French sausage stall, sitting around in our PJs under the gazebo, singing and the obligatory eating of cake in the beer tent. Beautiful.

All of the above is either niche, or not particular new, so I feel as though I’m letting the Friday Fun side down. So as a final attempt to make you laugh this morning, I present you with a series of boyish pranks that really go to show, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…

Attempt one at the pulling the table cloth away trick:

Attempt two:

Attempt three:

And finally, attempt four:

Yes, it’s obviously not quite the disaster it appears to be, but I do rather like the concept. Plus, it made me laugh out loud and this morning that’s got to be a good thing.

WAIT! It’s not over yet…
You know what’s also childish? Sesame Street and my passion for Glee. Thus it is utterly awesome that Sesame Street has parodied the now exiled on Sky tv show. Appropriately for a song about the letter G, this is g-g-g-genius:

How do you define ‘seriously’?

In amongst the birthday cards and gifts my sister brought with her to London on Saturday was non-birthday gift that I knew to expect – a hardback copy of The Chalet School Goes To It which my mother had purchased after a detailed phone call with me a few days earlier. First thing I did after extracting it from its paper bag? Opened it up at a random page and inhaled deeply – there is little better in this world than the smell of a 60 year old hardback school story…

At some point during our picnic I mentioned my latest acquisition and was asked if I had similar rules for Chalet School hardbacks as for paperbacks. (I have a variety of book collection rules but will never go into the tedium of my CS paperback collection here, suffice to say I now have a full set that I’m almost happy with.) I think my response was “Oh no! I don’t take collecting the hardbacks seriously!” – to which the (possibly sarcastic reply) was “So you’d take a book in any kind of condition, with the spine hanging off?”. When I said that I wouldn’t, my friends suggested that I was taking this more seriously than originally claimed – so let me explain:

Firstly, once I had my complete paperback set, my Chalet School collecting passion was fairly satisfied. I had all the stories as well as various other bits and pieces – pretty impressive considering there are 62 books in total. Secondly, the paperbacks were hard enough to come by – the hardbacks are even worse. I’ve acquired a few, some for free, but dedicating time and resources to finding all 58 hardbacks is not something I can justify.

This is the only complete hardback set I’ve seen in the flesh. 
It was the highlight of a New Years’ house party nearly three years ago (a friend was house-sitting). 
In fact, I recently discovered the owner may be a tutor of mine next year, which would be exceptionally exciting. 

But, when I joined Friends of the Chalet School (FOCS) [oh yes, for two years I was that much of a geek – though, to be fair, it was their book selling network that helped me complete my collection] I discovered a terrible thing. When Armada began publishing the paperbacks, they edited the original text. In some cases it was just minor – updating of language and removal of now offence terms – in other cases it saw the deletion of entire chapters, new titles or even two books instead of one. (If you’re a geek too, here’s a list of how the series fared.) Finding that my collection was missing bits of the plot incensed me, so in the back of my head, my priority for hardback purchases is those that suffered most at  the editors’ pens.

[Incidentally, a lot of classic children’s literature suffered from this and is only now being dealt with. Check the editions you grew up with and you may well discover a mention of ‘abridged’ if you look closely enough. And don’t get me started on Enid Blyton & the transformation of Aunt Fanny to Aunt Franny! They’d better not tamper with Arthur Ransome’s Titty…]

Fortunately, when I was a member of FOCS, I was able to read accounts of exactly how these editions differed and in some cases, read the missing chapters. For the first time I discovered that Princess Elisaveta reappeared at the school during WW2, and just how lucky I was to have read the unabridged Three Go To The Chalet School before acquiring the paperback version. (And yes, I’d have loved to write my own comparison, but the hardbacks I owned had already been done.)

So, jumping into bed with my newest hardback on Sunday night was an exciting prospect as I looked forward to new discoveries. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact that Goes To It became The Chalet School At War in paperback gives an indication of the differences. I know, it’s sad, but it makes me happy…

Predictably, once I read one, I couldn’t stop. This is a particularly dangerous prospect given (a) the size of the series and (b) that I’d intended them to go into storage in 3 weeks time. Then I went online to see if I could find any of the old comparison articles. I couldn’t, but did find that new fill-in titles were available. I’m in two minds about these, on the one hand the ones I’ve read have been good and very true to EBD’s style. On the other hand, there are errors and these annoy me, plus, I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do. But, if you’re a fan of the series, I do recommend those sold by the Girls Gone By Publishers (who now have the CS publishing rights). Then I found a real black hole – online fan fiction.

Fan fiction can be rather dodgy. I’ve heard about the mass of Potter related fanfic, much of which seems to veer on pornographic. Suffice to say that CS fans aren’t as lewd – though I did appreciate one story in which the predictable, somewhat formulaic structure of the series was fought against (and where Joey and Jack actually had sex – shock horror!) and there are a couple of predictable girls’ school insinuations. I also discovered a brilliant post end of series story about Len’s daughter which actually brought a tear to my eye, in much the way that occasionally EBD originals have.

Finally, if you are a fan and believe yourself to have fairly encyclopaedic knowledge, what’s better than a few quizzes? It’s possible I may have wasted around 30 minutes of my evening down that particular black hole!