Freshers’ Flashbacks (plus Global Goals)

Watching Freshers’ Week go by as a second year is a strange experience. I suppose it’s a living form of nostalgia, but, for me at least, it’s far more preferable than actually having to go through Freshers’ again. As a second year you can just go to the events that you know are good, and this time you can do it with a tight knit group of friends rather than a bunch of acquaintances (who may well go on to become your tight knit friends but that’s a different matter).

The other great bit about being a second year this September is that you can skip all of those awful welcome talks and get stuck straight into the business of studying the stuff you’re interested in. Although not being able to find where your lectures are does still occasionally happen.

Of course, first week is still super busy. Not only are you tackling the mountain of reading set for class, but as a second year you probably also have commitments to societies, and a group of friends who you’d like to see after having been scattered to the four winds during the summer.

This year I’m on the Drama Society Committee as their Union Liaison and Equality Officer, I’m in the choir, I’ve joined the UEA Student Labour party, and I need to keep up with this blog and other sites I write for. So it’s nose to the grind already, but I have a feeling that this year is going to be good.

You can find out more about Drama Society by going to ueadramasoc.com

You can find out more about Drama Society by going to ueadramasoc.com

On a completely separate note, I hope you’ll forgive me for writing just briefly about the new Global Goals.

So back in 2000 the UN developed a list of goals which were known as the Millennium Development Goals. The idea was to get countries around the world to sign up to a set of commitments which included reducing infant mortality rate, ending extreme poverty, ensuring universal primary education, etc. To find out how successful this was please watch this video (tldr: we did a pretty good job):

Now however, it is time to set a new list of Global Goals, and we need to each be a Global Citizen.

Please do check out this video and follow the links to the Global Goals website.

Without wishing to sound too preachy, I try to remember when a seminar seems dull or an essay not worth the effort, that a good quality education is a rare and precious thing. But, in time, it is possible that education could be available for everyone.

Global Goal 4

From Medieval City to Medieval City

The last week or so has been incredibly busy as I’ve been ricocheting between medieval cities along with all my bags of stuff (I think) I need for uni.

Of course it’s all been terribly exciting, I spent the last few days before coming back to Norwich in York where my medievalist tendencies could really run wild. Then I made the great trek south again to finally move into my new room!

York and Norwich are similar in many ways, both medieval cities with beautiful cathedrals and quaint side streets, but York has somehow tapped into the potential of their history more with lots of exciting museums (well, exciting to some of us) and a real sense of pride in their heritage. Which isn’t of course to say that Norwich doesn’t have any of these things, I just think that perhaps we haven’t reached our full potential – but then again it’s nice living in a relatively quiet cathedral city.

Despite the fact that I have an awful lot of reading to do before class starts next week I spent a good deal of time trawling through second-hand book shops which York has in plenty, and buying books which have tenuous links to this years modules.

FullSizeRender

This cafe had very dramatic lighting

I may also have stopped briefly to admire the York Medieval Studies centre, but only because I had to walk past it every day…

A girl can dream

A girl can dream

Besides being a weekend break it was also an opportunity to size the city up and start thinking about whether this was somewhere I could see myself living for postgrad study, to which the answer is definitely yes although admittedly it is still early days.

I’m now back in Norwich and properly in our new house which is both exciting and very odd. Having a living room is a strange luxury after halls and living so near to town means shopping is a lot easier, however it’s weird to come downstairs every morning to find your friends in the kitchen – it still feels a little like an extended sleep over, but I’m sure I’ll acclimatise soon.

My friends and I were walking across campus late at night recently, post start of year party, and my instinct was to head to the ziggurats rather than catch a bus into town. This got me wondering who was living in my old flat and wondering if they liked it. I remember that when I arrived the bare room seemed very austere and foreboding but it soon became my own, and I hope that whoever lives there now also falls in love with those strange buildings we call the terraces.

Fingers crossed this year is as good as the last!

The Minster is very grand, but I'm still a Salisbury lass at heart

I’ll admit the Minster is very grand, but I’m still a Salisbury (cathderal) lass at heart

Norwich: A City of Refuge

At the moment it’s impossible to go anywhere and not hear about the refugee crisis. When we flick on the TV it’s the nine o’clock news, it’s the cover of every newspaper, and it’s the main topic of conversation on most social media.

And yet it still feels very distant and far away. Perhaps this is a symptom of the UK’s isolation as an island, I suppose that if you live in Greece or Hungary then it’s all too real.

At the moment the main way people in the UK can help those fleeing the atrocities occurring in Syria is to donate to charities such as Save the Children and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), lots of towns are organising donation drop offs, and it’s worth dropping your MP an email to check whether they are going to back plans for the UK to offer asylum to more refugees.

The most recent figures mentioned by the UK government suggest we’ll take ‘at least 10,000’, this is a vast improvement on previous promises, but in the face of millions of refugees (currently half of the Syrian population have been displaced from their homes) it feels like a drop in the ocean.

I can’t offer any great wisdom on the situation, I don’t even begin to claim I have any answers, but I do hope that Norwich will play a part in the housing of some of the refugees who come to the UK.

In 2007, Norwich became the UK’s first City of Refuge; this network was set up by high profile writers in the 90’s to create safe havens for those who were in danger because of their writings. Norwich was considered a suitable candidate for this position not only because of its international status as a city with a rich literary tradition, but because it is a city which has historically welcomed those who have been persecuted.

In 1565, Norwich invited Protestants from the Spanish (catholic) Netherlands who were being murdered because of their faith. They were known as ‘the Strangers’ and are why we still have places in Norwich such as Strangers’ Hall. They also brought their pet canaries with them which soon became hugely popular and eventually gave their name to the Norwich football club, which are still nicknamed ‘The Canaries’.

Norwich FC Badge

Norwich FC Badge

The Strangers are a huge part of Norwich’s history, and as they made up a third of the population of the city, in those whose families are from the area, they are still a part of the city’s present. The Strangers’ other contributions to the city include the printing press, Anthony de Solempne and Albert Christian were refugees from Antwerp and the first printers in Norwich – which for a city famed for its literary history is obviously an important first.

Strangers' Hall (Image from coolplaces.co.uk)

Strangers’ Hall
(Image from coolplaces.co.uk)

The city also welcomed French Huguenots in the 17th century, and Jewish children saved from Nazi occupied Europe by the Kinder Transport at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Without wishing to over egg the pudding, I hope I have made it clear that I see Norwich as a prime example of why we need to open our doors and do our bit to assist during this humanitarian crisis. Norwich is an amazing city that has been populated and improved by migrants and refugees for centuries, and I hope it is a grand tradition that we continue to live up to.

We are living proof of what Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir meant when, calling on the Icelandic government to home more refugees, she said, ‘They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host.’

‘People of whom we’ll never be able to say in the future: ‘Your life is worth less than my life.’

Staying in Love With Literature

September is finally here, bringing alone with it that strange mix of cold grey mornings and hot midday suns. But more importantly the first notices of the books you need to buy and the articles you need to read are appearing on Blackboard (the UEA intranet that allows your tutors to set work and post recommended reading lists, etc.)

All summer I’ve been champing at the bit to get started on this autumn’s modules (Medieval Lit, 17th Century Lit, and Writing Journalism) but reading the module outlines has suddenly made it all very real. Laid out carefully before you is all the knowledge they expect you to accumulate and all the assessments that you will need to pass by Christmas, and knowing that these grades are going to count towards your overall degree it suddenly feels a lot more daunting.

Over the summer I have deliberately avoided reading anything that I didn’t enjoy. It didn’t matter if it was high-brow or trashy, the only requirement was that I enjoyed it. I wanted to spend my summer reading things without constantly checking the page number, without worrying about finishing it before a deadline – in short, I wanted a summer of not reading like a literature student.

I love studying English, but it does have a way of taking over your reading habits. After a long day of studying books it’s hard to get excited by the prospect of spending all your leisure time doing the same. This leads to the list of Netflix shows you’ve been meaning to watch growing shorter, but the stack of books you want to read growing ever higher.

I miss the days when I would whip through two books in a week and not think anything of it, when books gripped me late into the night because they were exciting not because there was an essay due next week.

So this summer I have truly indulged. I’ve found a new favourite author in Mary Renault (who incidentally turns out to have lived on the same road in London as me, although not at the same time and to be fair it is a very long road…), a historical fiction writer who was studying in Oxford when Sir Arthur Evans was making his breath taking discoveries on Crete and shipping them back to Oxford’s Ashmolean museum.

Evans discovered the remains of the palace of Knossos, a Minoan palace that is thought to have been destroyed by an earth quake over two thousand years ago. What captured Renault’s imagination however was the Minoan depictions of bull leapers, and it was these frescos she used as inspiration for her retelling of the myths of Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens and slayer of the Minotaur.

ViviLnk

After finishing my A-Levels I went to Greece for a week, specifically to Athens and Crete, the two main locations for her novels. The pleasure of reading them was heightened by the fact that I recognised the landscapes she was describing and had seen the frescos she referenced (I could write a whole heap more on literary landscapes but I shall spare you).

My favourite of the frescos - 'The Ladies in Blue'

My favourite of the frescos – ‘The Ladies in Blue’

Renault has been largely forgotten these past few years, but there is a concerted effort being made to revive this wonderful writer. Her books have been republished by Virago and many well-known writers and academics have said that her work inspired them (Bettany Hughes, Hilary Mantel, and Emma Donoghue to name a few), hopefully this attention will allow her work to go on and inspire another generation of readers.

On a separate note, I read this poem by Walt Whitman for the first time recently. I’ve had a soft spot for Walt ever since I watched Dead Poets Society, but this poem particularly appealed to me because I think it captures something of what it is to study the subject you love.

Walt Whitman

There is much we can learn from the rigorous examination of literature, but sometimes we need to wander off by ourselves, enjoy it simply for what it is, and read it in that perfect silence.