No Rest for the Academic, Wicked or Not.

Welcome to episode 2 of my occasional research-related ramblings. If I could cope with any more sites, log ins, passwords etc I would have begun yet another, fresh blog [pause to mention The Travelling Hamster and remind people that this one is linked to my BUSINESS – plug, plug]


So, as the great party season approaches [or, if like me you celebrate Hanukkah, passes], what is the best survival strategy? For students beginning their research programme in October, the submission date for the RPA* document is 1st January. Yup, a day when nobody at all is working in the land of academia. At my last meeting with my supervisory team we decided that my own RPA needed to be almost totally re-written in order to persuade the powers-that-be that I have a viable plan. Although I, personally, have not changed my main focus, it all needs couching in less specific terms to give me room to manoeuvre in case I should come to a dead end, research wise. So, between now and New Year’s Day I have a massive amount of work to do – in theory. In reality, though, my amazing supervisor, Daniel, has discovered that nobody will even cast a glance in my general direction until much later in the year [ok a couple of weeks later] so I can breathe again!

I do find it best to work from the rather nice post-grad study room in our department; being at home has too many temptations to do frivolous things such as the washing up. However, the buildings are closed for a while over the time when they are at their most quiet so I plan to carefully check when the uni is open but, hopefully, deserted. Having almost nobody in the library is a God-send, and knowing there won’t be the constant clatter of doors slamming, students moving between classes and other people’s phones ringing means it is so much easier to concentrate. One drawback, though, is that most of the catering outlets are closed even though other facilities are open, so careful planning and advance packed-lunch making is vital. I plan to conquer this oasis of opportunity and be at my most productive over the latter half of December. Please, though, do not remind me of the best laid plans…mice are terrible planners ūüôā

I did briefly mention the scary prospect of progression last time, didn’t I? This, to me, is a very strange concept but I have no choice but to go along with it. When you start a PhD programme, you are actually studying for an MPhil [Master of Philosophy] whether or not your research has any philosophical content. Also, already having an MA, this feels rather silly – I could, in theory end up with both¬† an MA and an MPhil yet know nothing about philosophy whatsoever. [This is my favourite philosophy book, all human wisdom is contained therein:]


Half way through the programme, at around the 18 month stage, it is necessary to produce what is, to all intents and purposes, a mini thesis and sit a mini viva. If, at this stage, it is considered you have made sufficient progress and are heading towards something of doctoral quality you are allowed to progress; to carry on suffering for another 18 months or so and then produce your full thesis, take your viva and hopefully be granted a PhD degree. If you don’t get this far it is likely you will still get awarded an MPhil so all is not lost.

One fact to remember, though. Should anybody try to brag they have the letters MPhil after their name – remember they are, in all likelihood, failed PhD students!!!

*RPA – Research Programme Approval [see previous blog]



The Perils of PhDdom

As a break from the seemingly endless search for relevant literature in connection with my research, I have decided to bore¬† entertain you with a few musings on my progress. It also, hopefully, will enable me to realise I actually HAVE achieved something when I’m really feeling as though it’s all a pointless, uphill struggle to goodness knows what.¬†So, for those of you unfamiliar with post-graduate study, I thought I would begin with a brief[ish] outline of what the process entails.

Firstly, get your proposal/acceptance submitted. As my research is a continuation of my MA, I already had most of the details about my planned topic and, most importantly, the backing of my supervisory team. It can be a daunting process if you’re not sure what you hope to do, but as long as your idea sounds reasonable at first then it is generally accepted that almost everything may change during the actual research.

Funding: Thankfully, the SFE [Student Finance England] now offer MA and doctoral loans so one of the greatest hurdles has been removed. However, in my case at least, the finance only covers my fees and rent so it’s still a good idea to have a part-time job to pay for luxuries; food, utilities, clothing – stuff which can be quite important. My own business is going through a bit of a lean time right now with very little proofreading work and only 1 student requiring English lessons. I’m plodding on with my book publishing on Amazon but, due to the time I need to devote to study, I can’t spend as much time as I should promoting them.

Induction courses: Hmmmmm, what can I [politely] say about these? If you are brand new to a university then they are invaluable. If, however, you’ve been at the same institution since your under-grad days then they can be tedious, time consuming and mostly pointless. There are always a few gems – at my last one we had a talk from a supervising tutor on how the process works from their viewpoint. This was very interesting – training your supervisor is always essential so this gave some useful tips. Being told where the library is and what facilities the campus has, however, were a good chance for a snooze.

RPA. This stands for Research Programme Approval, and it is terrifying! They want to have an outline of what you propose to be doing for the next 3 years in a credible timeline. To me, tomorrow is a vague concept; June 2021 is way, way out of my imagination. Nevertheless, I have drafted something which sounds fairly hopeful – now I need to see if my supervisors and then the RPA committee [I envisage them as bearded old men with top hats and monocles] approve of what I have written. The main cause for panic is that you only have 3 months to submit and obtain this approval [6 months if you are part-time]. What happens if they fall about laughing at my plans? I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Ethics Approval: After the RPA, survivors then have to seek ethical approval for their work. My MA was looking at letters which had been written by people in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. It still needed ethical clearance. Maybe I risked upsetting some of the authors? Who knows. If I were going to dig them up, revive them on some Frankenstein-type machine and interrogate them I can see there might be problems, but as far as I know they are all still sleeping soundly in their graves. This time, however, I am going to have the temerity to question real-live living people too. What’s more, I will be asking them about what they conceive as polite – the chance of offending hundreds of people are looming; maybe I will fail at this hurdle?

Should I cope with all this, there is then the horrible process known as progression. As I have probably already scared you more than enough for one day, though, I’ll leave the delights of that for another time.dwz0hepvmaeir64

Image from

Established …Year Dot

As you may have noticed by now, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, I spend a lot of time on buses. Today was no exception…except that I had made a conscious decision to leave my phone in my bag, on silent, during the journey. [It was only about 25 minutes so no real withdrawal symptoms kicked in!] The reason I felt challenged to do this was a short programme I saw on TBNUK tv this morning, about making a quiet, desert place to be silent with The Lord.

I have been told, and I do not disagree one whit, that I have a chatterbox mind – forever flying off on different tangents and running conversations through over and over again. Silence, mentally, is not easy to achieve. On the whole, I think I failed miserably this morning, but I did notice one particular word – Established.

The new fad for micro-pubs is quite a nice one I think. It seems that almost every week I spot another new one opening up around my neighbourhood. The one I saw today is in Bamber Bridge, and is called The Beer Box.

On its signage it says, proudly, Established 2018., In the current economic climate, I felt this was a very brave, optimistic statement to make. It has connotations of permanence, an expectation of ageing and becoming a grand old fixture on the high street, and I wish them well. However, the actual word made me think of a verse from the Psalms [103:19]

The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.

That’s a pretty big statement – this establishment is from the very foundation of the universe and is undeniably permanent. There are other verses where The Lord¬†establishes things:

Proverbs 8:27 When He established the heavens, I was there, When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep [talking about wisdom]

Exodus 6:4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners [talking about the descendants of Abraham]

and Genesis 17:7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. [speaking to Abraham, who was childless, promising him he would be the father of countless generations]

The basis of the word establish is, clearly stable. Something firm, fixed, unswerving. I decided to check with the OED for further meanings, and really liked these two in particular:

b. To ratify, confirm, validate.

c. To confirm, settle (what is weak or wavering); to restore (health) permanently; to give calmness or steadiness to (the mind).

What a wonderful feeling of security and stability those definitions bring to mind. Surely these are things that only The Lord, ultimately, can ever promise us. So, my little business was established in 2016, the Beer Box was established in 2018, but we have no idea how long anything we begin will last Рunless The Lord himself has promised that He has established it.

Guilty as charged, M’Lud.

Google – Love it and loathe it in equal measures. I changed to Gmail after being hacked countless times through my old Hotmail account. I also prefer Google Chrome as a browser and the Google Alerts are a really handy way of getting relevant news snippets to my inbox. This article, from a New Zealand publication, arrived in my alerts email recently:

I love this article on many levels. Firstly, I also hate the ready-made reply options in the new Gmail – it even dared suggest how I begin a whole new email until I turned that horrible function off.
However, I must admit I am guilty of over-using exclamation marks. Yet now Google is almost forcing them upon us in our lazy moments. I hereby vow to try my best to rein them in when I am writing.

Does anybody have the contact details for any self-help groups, perhaps?

EVERY Nation and Tongue!

I have written a few times in this blog about language death, and I can highly recommend David Crystal’s book on the subject – but, then again, I can recommend just about every book he has written!¬†However, whilst at a Bible study last week, a very familiar phrase suddenly piqued my linguistic interest.

The phrase ‘from every language and tribe and people and tongue’ [Revelation 7:9] suddenly knocked me off my feet. OK, I was sitting down at the time, but you get the idea, I’m sure. Let me stress, I believe every word of the Bible is true, divinely inspired by God Himself. So, for it to state EVERY LANGUAGE, it must mean just that – even those which have long been extinct, or are maybe dying out and we still don’t even know they exist.

My mind wandered off….it often does that, though usually it comes home eventually. We know there are still tribes who have barely been touched by our so-called civilisation. The Amazon rain-forest and the depths of Papua New Guinea are just two areas which spring to mind. But, if they have never been reached by the outside world, how can they ever have heard of Jesus, the Bible or know anything about God?¬† Some say Romans 2:1-16 explains this – I honestly don’t know, but I do believe that God is, above all, just.

Sometimes, I think we just have to accept that we, with our small, mortal minds can never begin to understand things so immense – so my way of thinking is ‘Just let God be God’. Let’s face it, if we could understand everything, our tiny minds would probably not be able to cope with it all anyway. After all, I believe it is a real blessing that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring – ignorance is often bliss I reckon.

So, after such a ‘heavy’ post, I’ll leave you with two very different YouTube videos of songs based on the ‘Every tongue’ theme: one is a wonderful brass band, the other is an amazingly joyful celebration, I’m sure you’ll love at least one of them – I love them both, by the way.  РDavid Crystal: Language Death [Google Books]

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.…

9¬†After¬†this¬†I looked¬†and¬†saw¬†a multitude¬†too large¬†to count,¬†from¬†every¬†nation¬†and¬†tribe¬†andpeople¬†and¬†tongue,¬†standing¬†before¬†the¬†throne¬†andbefore¬†the¬†Lamb.¬†They were clothed in¬†white¬†robes,with¬†palm branches¬†in¬†their¬†hands.¬†10¬†And they cried out in a loud voice: ‚ÄúSalvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!‚ÄĚ



Just a really quick post; one of my poems,¬†Stop, will be appearing in the September edition of Asylum Magazine. I’m hoping it may help people; it’s also featured in my book¬†Fractured Reality available on Amazon [shameless plug – why not?!?!]

Check the magazine out at:

They’re also on¬†¬†Twitter: @AsylumNW

And their publishers are on Facebook:

Finally, my book is available here:




A few thoughts to make you chuckle – and then think. Hope you enjoy them, Mitch Teemley writes some really good stuff – highly recommended.

Mitch Teemley

The work week has just begun (oy!).

A few thoughts on work:

563325_4294593483892_4195369_n‚ÄúPeople who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.‚ÄĚ ~Thomas Sowell

committee-meetingIf you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.  ~Charles Kettering

bored-at-work1The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.  ~Robert Frost

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.  ~Tom Brokaw

Make a difference.

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Le Beautiful Stroke?


I speak French. Yup, I know lots of French words:¬†oui, chat, chien, merci, beaucoup¬†..see? However, until I saw a T-shirt which a customer in Sainsbury’s was wearing, I had never, ever, wondered what¬†beaucoup actually meant.

The aforesaid T-shirt was worded thus:




A penny [or should I say euro?] suddenly dropped for me.¬†Beau = Beautiful.¬†Coup = Stroke/Blow. So, the word¬†Beaucoup must mean ‘beautiful stroke’? Or, to paraphrase slightly into vernacular English – ‘nice one’?

Francophones, PLEASE put me out of my misery!

A Surprising Language Lesson from The Hairy Bikers



Although I love to cook, I’m not really a fan of cookery shows on TV – all those ‘drizzles of this, confits of that…’ nope, I like to thrown different things in a pan and see how they go together. On Wednesday night [25th July] , however, I had switched over to BBC2 a little early, ready for the next episode of¬†Picnic at Hanging Rock – I’m gripped by this strange tale of the Australian Outback at the turn of the 20th Century. Anyway, when I switched over I happened to catch the last 5-10 minutes of¬†The Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure. They were cooking swordfish with a ‘gremolata’….zzzzzzzzzz. I did prick up my ears, though, when they’d finished this recipe and announced they were going to a small area where the locals spoke…..ANCIENT GREEK!!!!!

I speak a little modern Greek myself, but I had no idea that anyone, anywhere, still spoke the old version. Greek has 2 forms nowadays, the Katharevousa, [a ‘high’ form used for legal documents, official ceremonies and so on] and Demotiki,¬†the everyday language of most people. This type of situation is called Diglossia, it also occurs in other linguistic areas, such as Arabic-speaking countries.

The bikers, though, were in Italy? I knew that the Greeks had settled much of the southern part of the country in ancient times, but I had no idea that the language had remained there. The bikers met a man, in a village called Bova, who only speaks this ancient version of Greek. They needed 2 interpreters for their conversation: Ancient Greek РModern Greek and Modern Greek РEnglish. Phew! No quick-fire repartee there. They asked him why the villagers still stuck to this anachronistic tongue:

‘When you lose a language, it’s like somebody dies’ he replied.

[The Greek part is from about 54 minutes, unless you also want to find out how to make gremolata !]

[This is a page with more information about Greek in Italy.]

This morning, I opened my Google Alerts email [where I get a selection of posts and articles each week about spelling, language, punctuation etc] to read this article about an endangered language in Australia.

The battle to save languages goes on; I can’t help wondering if it’s one we can ever truly win. The man in¬†Bova gives me hope.


Climbing Everest




Normally, you’d expect this to be on my travel blog – The Travelling Hamster¬† – after all, Everest is definitely nowhere near Preston, where I’m based. However, I have recently been through a very challenging few weeks and decided to look back through some of my earlier writing. I think it must have been in mid 2011 when I wrote this piece. I’ve come a long way, but sometimes it’s good to take stock of where we are and where we’re going.

Climbing Everest

I am somewhere on the route to the summit of Everest; I used to live here until a Yeti pushed me all the way down. Now I see Yetis everywhere. I don’t know how much further the summit is, yet I have glimpsed it on fine, clear days. I am not always sure how far I have come, either, though as I look back down to base camp I can see it getting smaller and smaller. Sometimes I still slip back and end up there, but I have learnt how to get this far so I can do it much quicker each time I need to. On bad weather days there are thick clouds of confusion, self-doubt and I cannot see the path, much less believe I can walk it. Strange shadows and noises from the gloom startle and discourage me, but when the cloud lifts a little I can see they are usually only imaginary, or else small enough to overcome with carful planning and strategy. I have learnt this, I just need to remind myself of what I CAN do in the darker times.


Base Camp


It is safe at base camp, snuggled on the sofa, safe from the yeti – people shouting in the street, children bouncing around and startling me, crowds, having to ask and answer questions – all these are scary so I stay safe at home. I have friends to help who understand; take me places I really HAVE to go, accompany me along the once-familiar but now treacherous paths I must walk. It’s good to have people to keep me safe, the world is so big and bewildering. BUT – the view from base camp is limited, the horizons narrow. Some days I think I may want to see a bit more? Maybe tomorrow.




There are so many dangers out in the foothills; bigger towns, crowded buses, so many people I have to be aware of, checking for potential threats. I have tentatively taken a few steps; ridden a bus into Chorley,¬† a small. neighbouring town. It feels good seeing the sights again, it is still a familiar place yet I am cautious, planning my movements armed with my list, my security blanket. The view from here is good; it isn’t as dizzyingly high as I thought it was, I can let go of the helping hands and look round alone – and this gives me a real sense of achievement. I have conquered a small hill; and am half way towards the next peak –

Preston. Larger, noisier, busier, yet there are safe havens such as the Harris museum, a welcome shelter of peace and rest where I can enjoy the sights and feel as though I am in my natural habitat. Outside, though, there are crowds who startle me, traffic and narrow pavements. I feel jostled, hemmed in, I want to escape to a more peaceful place which I can take at my own pace. Here I cling tightly to my guide – she explains and reassures me over and over as I ask interminable questions. “Where are we going next?” “What have we come in here for?” “Where are we going next?””Can we go for a sit down please?””Tell me again what we’re here for” – It would tax the patience of a saint yet I am lucky that people are willing to help me through this steeper path as I cling tight to the imaginary rope which tethers us together.

After a few forays here I start to recognise the paths and feel slightly safer, sometimes I can go down some of them on my own a short way but it is good to know there is somebody supporting me still who understands this place. Maybe one day I will feel much less fear, but for now I am happy it has lessened even a little.




There are things at this height that I know I will enjoy; swimming, socialising, visiting a few other towns. I make attempts to try these. Some of the paths are too steep yet and must be approached from a different level when I am more secure with my footholds, but some I can manage, at first with the guidance of friends and family – it can be terrifying and I cling tight to them, but then realise the path isn’t quite so steep and I can let go cautiously and go further alone. The feelings of reaching these targets are immense pride and renewed confidence for the journey ahead. Sometimes I try too much before I have all the correct equipment and find myself sliding back to base camp, but I am not as content to rest here and know the routes from here much better now; so I know I can attain the level I was at earlier.




There will always be avalanches, unforeseen, sudden, knocking me totally off my feet and forcing me back down, down, lower and lower. They hit fast and hard and leave me reeling and feeling trapped, unable to shout for help. They often come from the DWP, frightening me with threats to my supply-line of benefits; sometimes they are letters from the solicitor I misunderstand, sometimes they are physical such as changing meds. When they happen I make myself safe in my sofa-base, snuggled here in this secure haven where the world cannot startle me further. I sit and cry, think dark thoughts, feel hopeless – but somewhere there is a glimmer of knowing I have survived this far and I am strong [incredible as that seems right now]. After a few hours, days or even a week I will call weakly to a close companion and share my burden. They cannot always help but they can sit with me and listen whilst I talk – this is the first step back on the road. There is no way of avoiding the avalanches; but the higher I go the less they hurt, usually.




I have met many people along the way who have given me advice and equipment to help me in my ascent. I have been given protective equipment, such as breathing exercises and methods to challenge the threats I think I see – belittle them until they are barely hindrances on the climb. Sometimes I use these readily but other times I forget where they are stored in my pack and only later, after calling for help and believing I am falling, do I realise I had the tools to cope all along. It is, and will always be, a learning process in which I am getting more skilled, slowly. I also have a big stick. This should be used to lean on and defend myself against the real wild creatures of self-destructive thoughts and discouragements. Instead, though, I often turn it on myself. I now know I should not do this and am learning to watch out for it – but it is a difficult weapon to wield. One day, though, I hope to attain mastery over it but it will take much practice and I am bound to receive more injuries from it before then.


The view so far


There are still cloudy, hazy days when I cannot see where I am going or where I have been, but the views are widening and giving me a better sight of the summit and the resting places on the way up. There are still some rock faces as well as gentler climbs but on a good day I can look behind me and see how many obstacles I have overcome. If I have faced these before it will be much easier to face them again. I will always need friends and guides as there are many difficult glaciers and ice-bridges ahead, but I am not facing them alone. It is a journey of self-discovery too; finding new talents and strengths I never knew I had. I still have no idea how long it will take, and to rush is to risk slipping on the ice. Time is immaterial, ascent is everything.


If you need someone to help you, the following links may provide a place to start:


Rethink Mental Illness

The Samaritans

Heads Together

It took me a while to ask for help – don’t make the mistake I did.