the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar

I’m mostly using my Tumblr for bloggery now, as it seems more suited to the rather bitty multimedia-y crossposting shit which is increasingly my online output; anyone with a Tumblr (you know, out of the three of you still reading this) feel free to link up or whatever it is people do there. I don’t know if I’ll keep posting the heavier university letter things here (now that I’ve applied for law school, there’s definitely a season’s worth of lifeposts to come in September) or abandon this blog and name entirely. I do feel vaguely attached to the old LJ, having maintained it for more than five years now. (Wow, I feel old.)

Disappointingly, I didn’t get to spend that much time with the family over Easter; between having the first week in London, the last in Brum and lots of skating around England in between, there wasn’t much time, though we had a good ol’ family hill-climbing holiday in Shropshire. As a sidetrack on the way up to Brum I went to the 413 meet in Manchester, which was pretty cool daddio, and met airmyst for the first time in meatspace after an on-and-off internet acquaintance that we’ve shared for about… eight years. (Wow, I feel really old.)

She gave me a delicious cake, I gave her one of my old dumbphones to replace the hideously broken dud she was somehow using, and following this highly amiable Material Exchange we’re now plotting post-exam Cultural Exchanges between Leeds (feat. Royal Armouries) and Birmingham (feat. Cadbury World… yes, this “exchange” is pretty much guns for chocolate.)

Exams are kicking off very soon, and despite the grotesque amount of my degree these four papers represent (a shade under 50%, diss and second year both counting for a quarter) I’m not hugely worried. For the first time in my life quite a while I’m actually revising seriously; fortunately I have a capable and highly amusing studybuddy in the form of Louis, by far the most… committed (intentionally loaded statement) student in War Studies. We’ve had so much fun revising the Peninsular War (ie, getting ourselves the thorough understanding which doesn’t seem to have really emerged from the actual module) that we’re putting the resulting notes online for the amusement and hopefully educational reinforcement of our class. And huge thanks to Toby McLeod for his folder of Peninsular War tricks, which I sadly must get back to him asap.

As well as Bill giving me a huge pile of his old Nintendo crap to sell on ebay (which has been an interesting learning experience in itself), I’ve scored a very brief research job in Brum; interesting stuff on an old paper company. It’s looking to be similar to the sort of homework I did on my diss, so all fun, and hey, something to keep me in baconburgers now the dissertation proofreading gigs have mostly dried up.

Despite the utterly confused weather, it feels like summer is here already. I am relaxed and confident, happy with how the days are going by.

the glass is half full, but the bottle’s half empty

I had my last lecture three weeks ago. Taught uni is effectively over, as the third term is nothing but exams (1x take-home essay for Tragedy and Farce, 3x bog standard exams for Rum, Sodomy & The Lash and Yah Boo Frenchy.) I don’t feel particularly well prepared – gobbet prep in particular has been so fucking shambolic and contradictory that I gave up entirely in a fit of despondence and am resolved to teach myself the entire Peninsular War and wing it from past papers. But I didn’t exactly feel prepared for the last set of exams, either, and they went just fine; I reckon letting my reading follow my interests and getting a good feel for the underlying themes beats any amount of structured revision and grinding out flashcards.

The adrenaline burn from diss is gone; so, too, is the weirdly horrible post-partum depression that comes from having something so central to my life suddenly vanish (probably exacerbated by the comedown from a week of almost zero sleep and criminal quantities of caffeine.) Replacing both has come the realisation that uni is essentially over; the last term is just a long, drawn-out goodbye.

They say you get out what you put in, and I’ve put my life into uni. Brum has been good to me. I have made dozens of friends, most of whom I’m not day-to-day with but who I know I’ll be able to turn to for the rest of our lives, and I’ve met a couple of people whose graves I’ll cheerfully piss on if the opportunity comes. I have written a novel (ish; won’t feel fully comfortable saying that til Ten Ways is done) and discovered a career. I’ve gone from being a semi-closeted firebrand on various aspects of religion and politics to being utterly apathetic about both. I’ve discovered that I am genuinely talented and intelligent in a few specialised fields, which has been a heartwarming surprise, and become so good at the motions of self-confidence that even I can’t tell if I’m faking it most days. I have had enough vague romantic failures and missteps for six seasons of a tacky comedy show and two straight-to-DVD features. I have turned from someone who’s far too easily emotionally involved to someone who’s far too detached and distant, but as a useful side effect of the process I really don’t find that worth fretting about. I have been desperately miserable and cloud-high happy in peaks and troughs like a sound-wave graph of a battleship duel. I’m not going to close with a “most importantly”, not because it’s desperately twee but because there’s no most importantly.

I have had a hell of a time, in all the best ways, and I’d trade the entire miserable litany of shit that was my childhood for just another month of it all. But I’m also more than ready for it to be over.

In my “consultation” shit-talk a year ago, I wasn’t exactly kind to the department. Here and elsewhere, I’ve said worse; the often-laughably-bad administration, the essentially arbitrary marks, the gagging discrepancy between how much a humanities student pays and how little they get. But that’s just my constant negativity: it really, really wasn’t all bad. And if that last little paragraph of furious bravado turns out to be true, if you are actually some net-literate creeper researching War Studies at the University of Birmingham, let me say, here and now, I highly recommend it. The tutors are bros, the course is fascinating, the uni itself is wonderful. The organisation is frequently a hideous mess, and a thousand and one things will go wrong, but hell, things always do.

I’m not who I was when I signed up for this, but if I could go back and have a second stab at it all, I wouldn’t change a single thing. (OK, some poor module choices and the cascade-failure clusterfuck of my second year house; but nothing important.) It’s been a good three years.

Now onward, and upward.

and you’re setting them up, and I’m knocking them down

So posting has been thin on the ground of late; I tend to blog about interest, and as university has gradually become more routine in the long inevitable slump towards graduation there’s just generally less to say; going through the motions, ticking off the days. The only things of serious interest to me have been law and dissertation, neither of which I can really post about in detail. Writing about my experiences with law firms, in the age of HR staff with Google, is a balancing-act-over-a-minefield of candour vs employability, and the minor revelations so rarely seem worth the effort.

And diss – when I kicked off, I had a plan to chronicle the entire research process (hell, I even had a tag in mind – “disserting genuously”). But between the outside-of-uni small-arms-expert brofessor who’s helped with research requesting general discretion, and my tutor straight up telling me “don’t blog about this” (yeah, I’m pretty notorious in the history department these days) I’ve rather failed on that count.

But the thing is is finished now, after an all-week sleep-loathing burn of tea and adrenaline and months upon months of prep. It’s very much been affected by its design process, has cut back hugely on the gun-fetishing pseuodacademia and technical language, bulked out hugely on the generic info-dumping history, and goes a little outside my comfort zone on the theoretical front; overall, it’s absolutely not the dissertation I would have written for Rob. I don’t think any of these are good things or bad things, just things. (OK, on reflection I guess the gunwank thing is probably objectively good.) It is not perfect – these things are never perfect! – but it’s a fair reflection of my ability, and that’s good enough for me.

Everything’s gone a bit quiet, but I think that’ll change soon.

“I wish I could fill in some sort of health and safety form that exempted me from going to lectures.”
“It’s a fuckin’ minefield of safety risks out there, I’ll concede.”
“A bee could fly into my mouth and sting my oesophagus.”
“You could fall victim to some extremist ideology and die in a shopkeeper-killing rampage.”
“I could get hit by a bus, or a plane could crash on the lecture theatre, or there could be a tidal wave.”
“The logical conclusion to this is a health and safety endorsement for you and several decades of food and fuel to be secured in a comet-proof bunker.”
“Sounds about right.”
“Of course, there are comets and there are comets. I reckon in order to be safe you and everything you want or need in life should be sealed within a solid 100km wall of tungsten in every direction.”
“Hmm.”
“Now, I don’t think we actually have that much tungsten on Earth, or even in the solar system, so we’re going to need to branch out. Essentially, what you need is a health & safety form that puts out in a clear and logical sequence of arguments that, rather than go to lectures, you should be supplied with the necessary resources and support to embark upon a campaign of galactic conquest.”

when retreat is not an option, and remorse just ain’t your style

When I got back to Brum, the weather was best described as diluvian. Midway through last week it was so bright and sunny to almost qualify as sweltering. Today, building on icy encroachments yesterday, the entire lake froze over, and every blade of grass was lined with frosty filigree. Not that it isn’t nice to have everything so gloriously clear and bright (well, and rather sad to see the sprinkling of bemused seagulls wandering around listlessly on the ice), but I am now firmly convinced that the sky just has no idea what it’s doing.

Not that it’s affected me that much, as most of the time since arriving at Mason could, with occasional breaks for meals, naps, lectures and all-too-brief human contact, be characterised as an all-weeker (like an all-nighter but… yeah). Almost eight thousand words of presentably coherent dissertation have been produced and submitted, and sufficient facts, references and cool things generated that the remaining five thousand will be generated by whittling my notes down rather than building them up. Having filled and emptied my tea caddy twice and averaged less sleep than Alte Fritz, I have spent most of the week thoroughly addled and fear I have made a bit of a fool of myself to several people. But now I am sane enough to make amends.

Most of the doubts about my diss have evaporated now. I think what I handed in wasn’t particularly well structured, but the individual components, the concepts and the research, are good enough that a sustained process of rearranging and pruning will eventually yield A Decent Diss. That, and now that having handed it in I’ve finally managed to get a copy of the module handbook off a friend (the history office’s provision of ancillary material being nonexistent, par for terrible course [hurr]) I’m clear on the fine detail. A meeting with my supervisor on Wednesday should help with the structure sufficiently (or, alternatively, throw me into a tailspin of terminal doubt) that the rest will be plain sailing.

This enormous press shitstorm about USMC corpse-desecration in the sandpit is depressingly absurd. I cannot understand the mindset that can sustain outrage at piddling on a dead man but not at the idea of attacking and killing him in the first place.

The night after handin, I went bowling with Redbrick at Star City (the West Midlands commercetainment megasprawl, not the secret cosmonaut-training town) for the first time since I was about twelve (my bowling skills haven’t improved since then). A Good Time was generally had (I avoided spending my student loan on those appalling 10p sliding machines, and seemed for once to satisfy the usual “so what is it you actually do at Redbrick?” question), and I will very much miss the Redbrick crew. This has been something of a theme in third year: good times wistfully characterised as things to soon be lost, recent events tinted with surreal pre-emptive nostalgia.

But it ain’t over yet.

sang like a sparrow in the pouring rain

Back to tiny, dingy, not-nearly-enough-marble-Lenins-around England, and things are going well; fears that academics would seriously mind my disappearance were allayed with a hearty “Welcome back! How’d the invasion of Russia go? Did you leave it as you found it?” in my first seminar back. Should’ve bought them souvenirs.

My first essay mark of the year (an unassessed about battle tactics in the Peninsular War) has come back – 68%, annoyingly short of the First I want will have come hell or high water want. But only 2% short, and one of the two problems with it (a poor footnoting practice that no other tutor has gigged me for in the last two years) is easily dealt with; the lack of specificity will be harder, though I think I can work on it. Dissertation wise, the thesis I really needed for my research has finally come through from the British Library, so I’m seriously getting to grips with that and hope to have an introduction and possibly chapter done for the week; so far, so good, though several of the sources I need will either have to be bought at considerable expense or visited in a library somewhere. But I was going to have to do a research trip to London at some point anyway, and if the sources are in Leeds I am totally happy with doing the Royal Armouries again.

Last weekend was spent visiting my doppelganger (a friend through Siz, who is disturbingly like me in practically every respect save for being a foot shorter and a lady) at her stable in Tonbridge. As she was laid up from a horse-related injury, we happily squandered the weekend lazing around munching popcorn and watching Venture Bros and Generation Kill. It’s very nice just chilling in someone’s company without feeling any obligation to do or be anything. The only cloud was that I managed to leave my flask behind, but I made do while it was in the post (accompanied by some sublime flapjack) – ‘making do’ included bringing a mug and teabag to my special subject lecture/seminar and begging some boiling water off Dr Snape. (Who gave us all teacakes that lecture; I’ve said “our academics are cool” before and you can be damn sure I’m going to be saying it again.)

You may recall [oh god has it really been] two years ago, me getting into a flat panic about my first ever piece of serious uni work. My first-year flatmate went through the exact same thing over her first essay this week. So I sat down with her, reassured her of the non-worthlessness of everything and helped cut 3k words down to 2k; there is a pleasing circle-of-life aspect to this. (Now, I am the master.) Besides that, Mason is crawling with wannabe RAs intriguing for votes and handing out sweets door-to-door in some surreal reverse Halloween.

Filming completed on the two GTV productions I got bit parts in; when the episodes go online, I may post links if they’re not terminally embarrassing (chances are low). I went to see a student production of Trainspotting (starring a chap I know from school) which was very good and very grim, though there’s a very strange dissonance when you facebook-stalk the cast after the fact and see people who you only know as a violent, threatening Scots psycho frolicking in happy-hipster duds or playing ukuleles. The future is so weird.

Redbrick won a Guardian Student Media Award for Best Website! While I’m very hesitant to claim any responsibility for that – pretty much everything I did on the site, Chris H came along and did better – the (mostly unspoken) consensus is that our coverage of the Birmingham riots was what put us on the radar, and I was part of the team that pulled that through. Also on the society front, Tea Society had their AGM this week; the committee were unanimously re-elected and the one contested position was a very close-run thing. All in all a thoroughly civilised affair with nice cups of tea everywhere. Law for Non-Law Society are tooling up for our Christmas Networking gig, inviting lawyers and attempting publicity everywhere.

It’s coming to me now that this really is the beginning of the end; that I’ve got, essentially, one term left at university before real life comes. And that’s vaguely terrifying.