Sunday, May 13, 2007

Making a complaint

So my tutor got back to me on Friday, in a mail encouragingly beginning 'hello, everyone'. Everyone! It turns out that he gave extensions he wasn't authorised to give to several of us, and the Course Chair has said that the only way out is for us all to make a formal complaint.

This is slightly distressing, because Tutor has actually been incredibly helpful, and I might - probably would - have ditched this course before Christmas if he hadn't been so supportive. But there doesn't seem to be an alternative. I have asked him to pass my email address onto the other people affected, so we can coordinate our approach. I could do without the hassle, but at least it means there's a good chance that this can be put right.

I spent part of the day doing a series of searches on 'Belgian Studies'. After five years in a Belgian village near nowhere in particular, with petty-minded parochial neighbours, I don't particularly want to spend the rest of my life specialising in things Belgian. By the time I left Belgium I was quite close to a total crack-up, and only the fact that the other half got there first prevented me from descending into gibbering idiocy. But it has to be acknowledged that I have the wherewithal to make a contribution to cultural studies in Belgium. I know the country quite well, after living there for ten years; and I read Dutch with almost as much facility as I read French. In fact, I make the greater part of my living from translating out of Dutch. I translate sociological and cultural texts - conference papers and abstracts - for a major Dutch -speaking Belgian university. So I am, or will be, in a position to tackle this wayward, fragmented society as a research subject. So I searched on 'Belgian Studies'.

Now, departments of Belgian Studies do exist. Specifically, they exist in the US, one or two UK Unis, and - intriguingly - Romania. In every case they are sub-divisions of French departments. Qui dit Belgique dit France, it appears. And there are places where Flemish culture is studied. Without exception, Dutch (or Flemish, if you prefer)- speaking parts of Belgium are studied along with the Netherlands. Nowhere appears to tackle Belgium as a whole. This is understandable, partly because it is a very fractured country, and partly because very few anglophones can work with Dutch and French. It does not - so far - appear that anyone outside the country has made a comparative study of the ways in which history, literature and art were used to construct a specifically 'Belgian' identity during the years surrounding the founding of the state in the early 1830s. Or, for example, of the ways in which visual materials have been used differentially by sister political parties on either side of the language divide in their election material (there are no 'Belgian' political parties. But a party will work together with its cognate in parliament - cf. the two Green parties, the francophone 'Ecolo' and the Dutch-speaking 'Agelev').

So this appears to be an under-researched area. Bugger.

The nazi in the off licence

Yesterday evening I went into the off licence at about a quarter past nine and stopped on the threshold with some shock. It was crammed with braying young men, exuding alcohol fumes and wearing a variety of WWII army uniforms and in the centre there was a chap wearing jackboots and a swastika.

I didn't say anything - one small middle aged woman, not feeling very well, was not about to start a confrontation with half a dozen enormous lads who probably play rugby - but my feelings must have been all over my face, because another of them, not uniformed but wearing stained formal dinner dress, said 'We won the war, bitch'.

There was a good deal of kerfuffle because the card they were using was refused and it took them some time to make alternative arrangements, and there were loud jokes about 'revision parties' and how much longer it would take 'the girls' to get ready, and I just kept staring at this strapping great lad in his Nazi uniform in appalled wonder.

Then I remembered an older teacher at school's comment when one of the class, reading aloud, mispronounced the word 'nazi'. Everyone laughed, and she said 'This kind of thing makes me very happy, because it tells me that a generation is growing up untouched by this awful part of our history'. I could see her point, but I'm not convinced. Across Europe, we're trying to extirpate the celtic cross from football grounds. It does have a contemporary meaning; it's not something lost in the mists of history.. I wanted to know what this lad thought he was doing, why he'd made the choice,and whether he understood what his uniform represented. I wondered too why the other lad had reacted so aggressively to my facial expression, and how exactly 'winning the war' made it OK. They were plainly drunk, but presumably there was some point when the choice was made when they weren't drunk. And drunkenness is not really an excuse, ever. By that I mean that people may do things when drunk that they wouldn't do sober, but alcohol, removing inhibitions, reveals what's underneath. And what was underneath in the case of some,at least, of these privileged young men was loutish - ignorant, discourteous and loutish.

Monday, May 07, 2007

FA Cup Finals and Pointless Husbands

The FA Cup Final yesterday: well, the ladies', anyway. It was great fun, though Charlton startled us all by scoring before our girls had properly got out of the dressing room, in their heads at least. There was a lot of jumping up and down and shouting, and we won 4-1. The match had its moments, but there was a lot of random passing around the midfield. The Charlton goalie faffed and panicked a lot and was about four feet tall. There were nearly 25000 people there - I've seen the place emptier at a league match - and I wouldn't say the standard was any lower than it usually is at the City Ground.

I remember how I felt when we watched Arsenal beat ManU inCardiff in 2005 and this ... well, it just didn't feel the same. PatrickHerring vividly remembers being hugged almost to death by a screaming female relative on either side of him when Vieira sent his pen into the net that afternoon. Partly it was the lack of tension today; we knew we'd lost, that day in Cardiff, from about twenty minutes in. And partly it just didn't matter in the same way. Sad but true.

My tutor mailed me to say he'd found my answer phone message when he got back from holiday. He went away on holiday when he received my essay too. I love him to bits; maybe it's just jealousy when I say he seems to have an awful lot of holidays. He says he's 'looking into it' but disturbingly, he asked me whether I'd cleared my extension with something called 'regional learning support'. Now, I've never heard of them, and no one has ever suggested to me that I should clear an extension granted by a tutor with them, so I'm slightly anxious that he's covering his back.

So I celebrated this possibility by tactlessly asking the other half, with whom I'm supposed to be running a business, what he had done today, apart from a bit of shopping. All sorts of bits and pieces, he said. What bits and pieces? He read the mail, apparently, and did 'all sorts' of other bits to our accounts program. Did he translate anything? No. Did he do some work on last year's accounts? No. Or any other of the admin I haven't got time to do because I'm translating all the time? At this point he began to snarl. I don't know anyone who would put up with his work rate in either an employee or a partner, but I'm also supposed not to mention it. He said I was perfectly welcome to do as little work as he did, if I liked. So, er, where would our income come from. He shrugged.

I love this man dearly. My children also love him dearly, especially the youngest, who won't go to bed unless his daddy puts him there. I wanted to slap his face, hard. I imagined my hand prints on his cheeks. I am not a violent person. My palms itched. I went away and poured a glass of wine. I came upstairs and vented my rage on this blog.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So this evening I was rummaging about and I discovered my blog, which has been dormant for six months and which I thought didn't exist any more. And to my astonishment, I saw that a few people had read it. And because it's 2.15 in the morning and I'm vaguely fed up, I thought I'd reactivate it.

It is a bank holiday weekend, and I'd cleared my work diary for the visit of my much loved cousin, who is kind of my only sibling, if that makes sense, but he was exhausted after a business trip to a number of gallery curators' conferences in central Europe and decided not to come. This enabled my bank holiday weekend, much anticipated, to descend into extreme shitness without hindrance.

And it kicked off with the delayed return of my last assessed essay (4K words, 70% of the non-examined component) for my current module in my MA Cultural Studies with the OU. It was very pleasing to be given a mark of 87%, and to be told that my ability 'to critically engage with the subject' was outstanding. It was less pleasing to note that there was a thick felt-tip line through my mark, beside a stamp which said 'Assignment submitted late. Score not accepted for assessment purposes'. I had my tutor's permission for the late submission; and, if this score is disregarded, it's mathematically impossible to pass the module. The idea that I may have achieved the necessary marks for a distinction on this module, but will be failed on it, has reduced me to a state of gibbering hysteria. I phoned my tutor but he's not at home; he's probably having a bank holiday weekend away, beato lui. Tsja.

The day kind of descended from there. So now I'm drinking a rather good Mirabelle and not sleeping.

In other news, our oriental black kitten Abou was joined by his red cousin Theo in November, and they are now inseparable. When I work out how to do it, I'll put up a picture. And tomorrow we play Chelsea (did I ever mention I'm an Arsenal fan?) which is stressy, and on Monday I'm going en famille to watch Arsenal Ladies play Charlton in the final leg of their quadruple attempt at the City Ground, which is ten minutes' walk away. It will be nice, at least, to go to the City Ground in my own colours. Patrick and I are already arguing about which of us will be wearing the 2005 Cup Final flag. I think I'm going to lose.