Nadhim Zahawi, Tory landlords, Grenfell Tower

Because I want to make this point in as many places and ways as I can: here is the list of landlord Conservative MPs who voted against making homes habitable under the Homes and Planning Bill. On the list is Nadhim Zahawi, the millionaire Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon, who during the expenses scandal was revealed to have spent the most on energy bills of any sitting MP, including heating his horses’ stables. Evidently, he was far more concerned about those animals than he was the human beings living in places like Grenfell Tower.

I am singling out Zahawi because I am ashamed that he is MP for my beloved hometown, and because the contrast between a man who lavished money on animals but wouldn’t vote to save people is so disgusting. Of course, today he’s busily retweeting all the condolences and the fundraising links. But I think everyone should know the part he – along with the rest of the landlords, Boris Johnson, and everyone who ignored the Grenfell Tower residents’ campaign – played in the tragedy.

Teachers from Kensington Aldridge Academy (one of them known to me), the school closest to Grenfell, have begun this fundraising page for victims. Please donate there.

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Career planning for the frivolous.

The finishing line of my DPhil is apparently in sight. I’ve rewritten and deleted this paragraph a lot, obviously, but the gist is that I have to send my Faculty a schedule for completion, and my supervisors got quite excited. There is now a schedule. My mouth is quite dry.

Meanwhile, I am obviously researching and angsting over jobs. Again, can’t really talk about that without an oral desert and a twitching superstition gland, but I CAN talk about the other side to job-hunting.

Thus, putting the pro in procrastination, and making public a list I wrote last week:

Jobs at which I secretly believe I would excel:

1. Hostage negotiator.

I could do that.

2. Member of the Kennedy family.
3. Set dresser for theatre or TV, but only if all the sets were people’s student bedrooms.
4. Florist.
5. Royal nanny.
6. Curator and/or founder of a small (it must be small), esoteric museum on any of the following subjects: bookplates, Madge Kendal; Dorothy L Sayers; the Mitford sisters; Shakespeare’s women; the reasons why Jo March should have married Laurie; the now-demolished Surrey Theatre; sundry instances of Liverpudlian true crime; Alfred Douglas’s deranged family; and the less successful partners of famous actors/writers/artists. In no particular order, and somewhat worryingly, these are the subjects on which I know most, and which (crucially) that I think might make the kind of small, weird museum (nothing that would merit a large, lucrative museum is included) run entirely on an individual’s obsession, and which slightly frightens the punters. These are the museums I most love. It is my parents’ fault for accidentally taking me to Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, as a child. They were thinking Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but there turned out to be pictures of naked Satanists. I wish I’d been more traumatised. Also, when finding a link to check it was actually Boscastle, I discovered, heartstoppingly, that ‘Neopagan Witch Cecil Williamson tried to open a museum to hold his collection of witchcraft and occult artefacts in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1947‘. Guys. We could have had Cecil’s Museum of Witchcraft AND Gyles Brandreth‘s Teddy Bear Museum (you don’t know. You weren’t there) both in my town.

I could hold that (I definitely couldn’t make it).

7. Suffragist.
8. Travelling tutor for children who live/perform in circuses.
9. Parisian.
10. Proprietor of year-round Christmas shop.

There, you see. If academia doesn’t work out, that’s at ten plausible career options…

That was quite a silly post. I am planning more sensible posts, regarding lecturing-from-iPads, Oxford’s new Interdisciplinary Network on Celebrity, and my thoughts on the RSC‘s #RSCWinter13 season (though that’s less a post, more feelings), but now I’m going to edit the draft I’ve been editing since the late Middle Ages, and then see Quartet. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

David Tennant back at the Royal Shakespeare Company?

Right. Take a look at these tweets.

and in reply to the above….

And then the slightly more substantial “the RSC are trying to silence me” joke Tennant made the other day.

Now, this is obviously just speculation on my part, but given a) Greg Doran’s takeover as Artistic Director, b) the time elapsed since Hamlet and (although not for the RSC) Much Ado About Nothing and c) the fact that it’s so totally what I want to believe, I’m going to chuck it out there and hope for Macbeth, Richard III, Iago or (at a push, and I don’t think it will be) Coriolanus. I’d be especially thrilled by Richard III.

I can already feel the pre-ticket anxiety. Obviously there could be other very exciting projects on the horizon for the RSC, but I probably won’t be as excited unless it involves a Clean Break residency or a play about Ellen Terry.

EDIT:
Okay, apparently it’s Richard II (thanks Poly Gianniba!). Given my great great love for the Jonathan Slinger/dir. Michael Boyd version from the Histories season, this gives me an almost comical existential dilemma.

Oh, what am I saying? It’s Tennant on a stage. Possibly with homoeroticism. Sign me up.

Advent Calendar Day 22: Snow!

English: Dry stone walls in the snow - on the ...

Dry stone walls in the snow – on the edge of Erringden Moor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Snow and Snow

 

by Ted Hughes
Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying “It”s snowing!”
But it is not. And nobody”s there.
Empty and calm is the air.

 

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

 

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight—
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

 

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

 

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.

 

[Because my flat is the tiniest flat, most of my books – especially childhood books – are at home in Stratford-upon-Avon. This Hughes poem has been one of my favourites since I was little; it was in The Puffin Book of Christmas Poems (1990). I had quite a few children’s poetry anthologies; this was by far the best. It’s with me as I type. It may be out of print now but ebay certainly has copies…]

 

Advent Calendar Day 9: Hamlet!

Marcellus:
[…]Some say that ever, ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Horatio:
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
[…]

Hamlet, I.1.181-188.

2009 filmed version of the RSC production of Hamlet dir. Greg Doran; I.1. Peter de Jersey as Horatio; Keith Osborn as Marcellus; Ewen Cummins as Barnardo; Robert Curtis as Francisco.

Copyright RSC / Illuminations / BBC.

(when I worked in FOH for the stage version of this production, Keith Osborn and Peter de Jersey’s delivery of these lines were one of my favourite moments in the play – it was the mixture of chill and comfort)

n.b. I am not suggesting anyone should have A Very Hamlet Christmas. It would not end well.

[REVIEW] Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

https://i2.wp.com/www.oxonianreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/shakespeareshrine-e1353084043362.jpgMy review of Jane Thomas’s Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon was published in the 18 November issue of the Oxonian Review. You can read it online here.

Apart from the legitimate book-reviewing part, there’s a healthy dollop about the time your own correspondent was a guide in the aforementioned Birthplace (2010). Let’s just say that my mother cannot recall the sight of me in costume without hysterical laughter. I talk about that too. I also go on a bit about Oscar Wilde and French nudity. As ever, any excuse.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

(Jessie White got in touch and asked me to take part in the Happy Birthday, Shakespeare! project, to which I also contributed last year. I was delighted to comply… albeit belatedly.)

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Shakespeare is now 448, the subject of a World Shakespeare Festival, a Cultural Olympiad, and a multi-billion pound industry spanning theatre, education, tourism and heritage. Last year, I talked about how Shakespeare defined my life. I suppose this post is something of an update, explaining what Shakespeare has meant to me in the past 12 months – when my life has gone in a quite unexpected direction.

I’m now 25, and a lecturer at the University of Oxford. I teach whatever I’m asked to teach, which results in increasingly unlikely combinations of Early Modern, linguistic and seventeenth-century tutorials and seminars. Unlikely, because I’m a Victorianist who’s really a Shakespearean – or at the very least, a Shakespearean as much as I am a Victorianist.

I started my thesis as a dedicated researcher whose eclectic teaching career had veered between coaching South Warwickshire’s smallest for the 11+, SEN tutoring from scratch, and a low feeling of dread as an EFL tutor succumbing to swine flu. I had taught, but didn’t think I could teach. At Oxford, I taught my first tutorials and classes in a state of total nervousness. Near-blind with panic, I studiously ignored the advice and encouragement of everybody who told me the following:

1) that I could teach,
2) that I would teach,
3) that I knew as much as any other new tutor, and
4) that I might actually be a talented tutor.

These people (who included both my supervisors, the academic for whom I research-assist, my priest and Leah Scragg) were all wrong because they didn’t know just HOW BAD I was at teaching. Obviously.

I plunged on, firmly discounting the positive evidence (the hilarity, the feedback, the 2:1 from my first student that made me happier than any subsequent Gibbs Prize ever could), and suddenly got a lectureship that spun me silently into terror.

I started the lectureship in October, at a new college. In December, I was asked to teach a last-minute Shakespeare tutorial, for a student I’d never met. It would be the first time I’d taught Shakespeare’s plays.

I can’t remember how I prepared; I know my major concern (impostor syndrome) was the fact that I was three years younger than my student. Despite this, I was relieved that, for the first time, I’d be teaching within my specialism.

It was on the way to that tutorial that I was mistaken for a 17-year-old interview candidate applying for Archaeology. Not an auspicious start.

I had always said that what interested me about teaching was not imparting knowledge, or pedagogical theory, but the students. I’m lucky enough to work with some exceptionally bright and interesting young people, and it’s understanding their interests, inclinations, prejudices, strengths and weaknesses that challenges me to find the best ways of testing and encouraging them in their work.

I’d always distinguished myself from “real” teachers who spoke about the “Eureka moments” –  the instant when a student’s eyes light up that makes it all worthwhile. The fact that my students were passing their exams and enjoying their tutorials suggests that some of them must have understood something – but I couldn’t remember experiencing a “Eureka moment”. If it had happened, I’d been too busy being scared of teaching to notice.

This was the tutorial that changed everything. Teaching Shakespeare felt more like sharing a mutual enthusiasm than adhering to rigid roles of teacher and student. We were talking about the relationship between emotion and poetic form (via everything else in the world) and I asked her to turn to Romeo and Juliet‘s first conversation (which runs as follows, up to their first kiss) and see what was interesting about the form:

ROMEO
 93   If I profane with my unworthiest hand
 94   This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
 95   My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
 96   To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

 JULIET
 97   Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
 98   Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
 99   For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
100   And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO
101   Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET
102   Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO
103   O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
104   They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET
105   Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO
106   Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

[Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 5]
When she worked out what she was reading, my student looked up and her face was transformed.

Those fourteen lines make up a perfect Shakespearean sonnet. Such is the young lovers’ mutual intoxication with each other that their words instantly form a metrically perfect poem. It’s something you can’t fully sense in performance. It was something I’d found out years ago via some forgotten book, but to her it was brand new.

She got it; she understood. I was watching the Eureka moment.

I’m wary of Bardolatry – I think there are dull plots, thankless characters, and occasionally turgid scenes alongside the transcendent in Shakespeare (in particular, I avoid productions of King Lear and as I would a skydive). Nevertheless, I still think Shakespeare is the best – breathtaking, and brilliant, and now so universal that those individual discoveries, made on an ordinary afternoon in Oxford, seem all the more miraculous. Despite Shakespeare’s fame, every day people discover him for the first time.

This week, I told another group of students about my supervisor’s recent article (co-written with Emma Smith) on All’s Well That Ends Well. One of them marvelled that there was anything new to say about Shakespeare. As ground-breaking research like this article prove, there is. But what’s also vital and exciting about Shakespeare is when he’s new not to the whole of scholarship, but for individual students and theatregoers. My students’ discoveries and realisations are as miraculous to them – and, indeed, to me – as any academic theory which changes the way we study. What’s new to them is as valuable to me as it is to them. I don’t know any other writer who can inspire such awe and admiration.

I’m currently teaching the Romeo and Juliet student for her finals. She’s very tired, very intelligent, and very stressed – well within the bell curve of “normal for Oxford Finalists”. She also has no idea what I owe her. My gratitude to Shakespeare is in some ways easier to voice. Shakespeare helped a terrified DPhil student teach and enjoy it. Teaching Shakespeare is the best sort of teaching, because Shakespeare was, and is, the best of writers. I’m grateful for that, so: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare.