Category Archives: musings

Eavesdropping through time and space

Previously I said I found something while filing, but that’s not exactly true. I found two things. First is a book by William Finch, The Sea in My Blood. It is his account of life of smack fishermen. But before I start talking about the book and why I found it interesting, I want to talk about the other thing I found. And it is a letter from Finch to Principal Anderson, who fulfilled this role when Finch was at Marjon. The book was a gift to Anderson when it was published.
Suddenly I felt like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that took place in the past. Between two men that never met. And they never will as both are no longer among the living. That is the experience that only the archives are able to provide.
Finch was not only a Marjon. He was an original Marjon, the first year that graduated after the colleges merged. I n his letter he recollects the move: ‘…after a year at Battersea into the luxury of Marks Chelsea (by the 20’s standards)’. And the rules: ‘…and woe betide this miscreant caught stubbing his fag on the school gate post.’ Both of these sentiments I have found before in the memories of other students, and now I feel like I am in on a joke.
After Marjon, Finch went on to become a great teacher, educator artist and writer. He was an inspiration to many and somebody I would love to have known. But at this point, I am contented to listen to him speaking from the past.

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The language you speak-Tony Wright’s Interesting English

One of my favourite things to do in the archives it digging through our book collection. Maybe because there is such a wide range of material there, from fiction to resource books, from published dissertations to poetry. During my last foray among the pages, I found Interesting English by Tony Wright. Tony was at one point working on teacher education programmes in Marjon and is currently retired.
There is something very interesting in the approach of Tony’s book. What the book does is making people stop and think about the language. It is not just simply resource for teachers on how. It also asks why and in what way. It shows influences persons capability and relationship with language.
Apart from tasks that exercise the understanding and mastery of the language, Tony sets ‘thinking’ questions. One of them was especially standing out to me.
‘Is English your friend or foe? Can you explain why?’
I think that this is a profound question that any learner should ask themselves.
I remember when I first started to learn, English was my foe. It was something that my parents forced upon me. Something I saw no point doing, something that had to be endured. And even now, so many years later, I observe adults that treat English as something to be conquered, or as a necessary evil to be accepted. How can anyone learn under those circumstances? Can anyone learn under those circumstances? I think not. Yet the questions about the language are so rarely asked, so rarely taken under the considerations.
Tony’s book can make the reader aware not only of technicalities of English, but also of the human side of the language. He proves, that the separation of the language from the feelings people have towards it, is impossible. The language is not a construct, but a landscape to be explored.
And you? Have you ever asked yourself about your feelings towards the language you speak?

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Memory vs Archives

 

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Paul Tobin strolling down the memory lane

We recently had Paul Tobin again with us, but this time not as a poet, but as a historical source. He donated pictures from his album from the time he was a student here 1980-1983. He was sittig patiently numbering them and adding names to the faces. He would name the place and the event, from a raging party to a RAG week. Two things I would take away from that session:
1. Archives are no match for human memory. We could have records of students, their names, dates of leaving and enrolment. But we wouldn’t have the stories that go with them. We wouldn’t know that the board games were all the rage (a picture of two students in the middle of a heated scrabble game), what a shirtless, strangely posed man was doing (he was a show-off), and what is that strange thing in a corner ( a coffee grinder, that at the time was a must-have of every student- obviously:- ). A picture might be worth a thousand words, but sometimes a picture demands a thousand words. A thousand words the archives are usually unable to keep.
2.Human memory is no substitute for dating and marking. Paul’s memory is very good. He was able to remember dates, faces and names from over thirty years ago. He could remember the details of parties, places, people, and occasions. But even he would occasionally stumble. A great help was then the notes he made thirty years ago, when the pictures and memories were still fresh. It is so much better to get a picture with date, occasion/place and the people’s names written on the back. This way it would never lose its meaning, even if the human memory fails.
I’m not as good with morals as I would like to be or, as a writer, I should be. But archives need people to fill in where paper and pen cannot. And people need archives at the limits of their memories. So maybe it is time to pop into local archives, see what the archives can do for you and what you can do for the archives.

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Digging my Potato

I am back finally. Life gets in the way of archives but the archives are always victorious in the end.:-)
I’ve probably said that before, as a creative writing student I didn’t have any contact with first hand historical sources. And in a way I am still blown away by the sources we have in the archives. I am talking notes and reports that are so old that you can’t say if they were written in a brown ink or it just faded to be that way. It is going page by page minutes of meetings that were held long before you were born. Or chasing the entries in the catalogue that turns out to be defunct. And being a person that is prone to making strange analogies, the archival research seems to me like digging for potatoes.
Sounds crazy I know, but imagine if you will the archives as a field. You know that the ‘potatoes’ are there- the things you want to know, you just need to dig them up. Sometimes you dig and dig and there is nothing. Just random information that you don’t need right now. But just as you are about to give up on this patch- there is a potato. Here is what I dug out recently, all concerning the library/books.

  • The amount that library books cost in 1846, just after St. Marks College was open. It was £60, under ‘extra requirements’.
  • ‘ … books to the value of one pound be presented to college kitchen maid on her departure to Australia, in acknowledgement for her long and faithful services.’
  • In ’45 the library is barely mentioned in the prospectus. I guess it wasn’t deemed as important as it is nowadays.
  • In ‘71-‘72 Librarian Report mentions a significant book donation from British National Book Centre Exchange Scheme and London Institute of Education Library.

All those little potatoes might be used in the project about the history of our library. They may be transformed from loose information into something coherent. In other words, the potatoes are going into a salad.:-)
So next time you read historical book, know that you’re ‘eating potatoes‘ somebody had dug out for you.:-)

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Divorced from History

I see it happen way too often, the scientist and its subject become separate, divorced from each other through tools, methods and rigidity of thinking. The astronomer cannot see the stars through the equations on the page, the doctor cannot see the patient through the pharma bottles. Even the educator (yes, educating is a science or so I believe) cannot see the pupil through tables of statistics sometimes. But it is quite strange when a person cannot see the history through the day-to-day existence.
We have many different memories that the former students left in the archives and I find it entertaining to read each and every one of those memories. The one I’ve read recently are from 1911-1913, more than a hundred years old. And the story is quite similar to others in many places, a ‘country bumpkin’ found himself suddenly in the middle of London life. He describes the usual student shenanigans, the teachers, the rules. But today I want to say about this other thing that he recollects:
‘We cycled to Epsom and saw the two most exciting Derbies ever run. One when a grey mare Jagalie a rank outrider won 66/1 and the next year 1913 Emily Davidson the suffragette threw herself under the King’s horse and was killed. The favourite Craganour won but was disqualified after the bookmakers had paid out thousands of pounds.’
This memory made me think about the fact that we might not be the people that actively make the history, but by the very act of witnessing we are part of it. And nowadays we have more power to tell our point of view in history and be heard. And we should do that if we have the opportunity. Why? That brings me to my other point. Observe, how in his memories, he equates the day when there was a big pay-out at the races with an important moment in the history of the human rights. And that brings me to my second thought: can we really say what is important for the history? Or maybe we divorce the history from our daily lives because we simply cannot tell what would interest the future historians and we are bound to see our present just as that. Present.

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War Memorial Fail

When I wrote about our war memorials a year back, there was this one thing I changed in my behaviour. I no longer pass the plaques, monuments and other memorials indifferently. There is something about standing and writing down the names that make you realize that it is exactly what they are for- reading the names that are written on them. And maybe this is a little bit out of the subject of this blog, but nonetheless I wanted to write something about what happened to me recently:
I was walking by the Torquay war memorial the other day and noticed a curious thing. The monument is surrounded by a low fence, a chain strung along stone posts. I came closer, looking for a way inside. I don’t have eagle’s eyes, and the writing on the plates are barely visible from behind the chain. But there is no break in the chain-fence. I can’t approach and read the names on the plaques. And what exactly is this fence keeping out? Alright, I am (fairly) able-bodied, and can cross this fence with one stride, but what about those who can’t? Can’t an older or disabled person read our memorial? The Torquay war memorial is thus defunct- it doesn’t work as it should if we can’t read the names. And if we can’t read the names, why is it even there?

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I can’t tell history

History is a story with murky beginning, with no end in sight. That much everyone knows. But as I’ve learnt, by digging in dusty papers, is that history is a story you don’t tell- you interpret it. Having found an interesting bundle of letters in one of the folders I thought I can interpret a story of J.V.B King for you. However, sometimes you build an interpretation just to see it crumble before your eyes.
J.V.B King- a student of St. Mark College in the years 1915-17 and like many young men he went to fight in the WWI. The letters I found are dated 1919 and 1920. King had been discharged from the army. He wrote both to Rev. Hudson, the principal of St Mark College, and to the Board of Education to be released from his agreement as student teacher. ‘I no longer feel fit to become a teacher.’ he says in his letter to the Board of Education. ‘…I desire to lead an open air life…’ and the reason for this letter is that he had been gassed during his service.
Few months later, unable to contact him, the secretary of the Board of Education wrote to Rev. Hudson. ‘I have no direct evidence that he had been gassed,’ says the letter. Oh my precious history nerds! Please come out of the woodwork and tell me: could you obtain such evidence back then? A doctor’s note perhaps? Could you even do that with the so many people dead, maimed or gassed? I’m sure that he lived, I can’t remember seeing him on the war memorial…
Thus the letters end and I still don’t know if J.V.B King got his release. I even wonder if he really lost his health or he simply wanted out. If the former, then I can only imagine how heart-breaking it must have been to not be able to pursue something he worked hard for. If the latter, then I can’t really blame him as teaching, to me, is a worthy equivalent of hell.
I wish I could tell you the rest of it, that King became a farmer and happily grew cabbage to the end of his days. But, the history is the only story I cannot tell.

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