Culture vulture

The past fortnight has been one of either culturally related events or aspects of culture ranging from the multicultural diversity of UK universities in the 21st century to the myriad opportunities of living in the festival city. My supervisors encourage me to do various things in support of my research, one suggested attending any courses that took my interest while the other simply extolled me to enjoy being a student. The first was fairly easy to deal with – a quick romp through the extensive online catalogue at the learned place revealed little in the way of temptation but then it is only semester one. What skills do I need to improve or add to the repertoire? Well writing has never been easy, I was the one who gathered up all kinds of obscure but fascinating resources and you know who made them into something concise and readable. So a one day course on the writing process seemed ideal – duration wouldn’t interfere too much with my usual routine, no assessment and only for postgrad research students. But enjoy being a student was proving more difficult – I’ve never liked alcopops, mood-altering substances or loud music in dark places and I’ve had to take voluntary redundancy from sex. Then I discovered I could get any ticket for classical concerts at the Usher Hall for £5 – oh happy day, the cultural wilderness years of the Highlands are but a distant memory. On Friday night it was the RSNO playing Mahler and Sibelius – here’s a good review of an excellent concert by a chap who I happened to notice was sitting in front of me. Next month Carmina Burana and a Mozart piano recital, but I need to kerb my enthusiasm as it’s turning cold for being out late of an evening and their feline majesties are not amused.

The writing course was also a cultural event as, of the twenty students attending, only two of us were from the UK. It was fascinating to hear from so many diverse backgrounds and research interests that included how to escort patients in Thailand and the importance of urban green spaces in Taiwan. But I did also find myself wondering why there was so few native English speakers – I suppose people assume if they’ve managed the first degree, then writing a thesis will just come naturally. Oh isn’t it jolly fun being older and wiser!

I did learn some interesting things though especially the pomodoro and free writing techniques. Curious? Briefly, the pomodoro techniquepomodoro technique is about time management or more accurately procrastination and distraction management – you make a list of tasks each lasting 25 minutes, you set a timer and off you go. After 25 minutes you have a 5 minute break as hopefully you have completed the task, if not continue else do the next one on the list. For writing tasks it is important to not allow distractions – email, phones, the internet, people – to interrupt the productive flow. Why pomodoro? Because that’s how long it takes to make a good pomodoro (proper Italian tomato sauce). Free writing is something that you might do as part of a pomodoro – you hand write continuously without being distracted by mistakes – punctuation, grammar, spelling – or pausing for thought, on your chosen topic for 5 minutes. I found this really liberating as I usually have loads of ideas but can never get started. And writing by hand means that you don’t switch to edit mode as you do with word processing – seeing the text on screen is much more inclined to interrupt the narrative flow.

There was more culture with a visit to the Scottish National Galleries Van Gogh to Kandinsky – Symbolist Landscape in Europe exhibition but it was hard to enjoy without my German interpreter – sometimes being without her is just too darn hard.

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