The year so far, between now and the 2nd of October, has not worked as planned. Not that I consider plans to be proof against unforeseen complications, and each plan is set up with alternatives in the A, B, C, and often D sub-sets capable of accounting for crisis. However, the problems this term were well beyond my ability to compensate and thus I fell back to plan K, which boils down to ‘keep the shit together’. That worked until about the 9th at which point I officially lost it, but that didn’t last long and I am now back home in relative comfort.

The result of all this plan-failure is that I am about 6 weeks behind on just about everything; (I’m probably only about 3 weeks behind on the thesis research, but everything else is consistently behind about the same amount). I can, with any luck, salvage some of that and I don’t think I will have to give up on any of my commitments but it does mean that my ‘break’ for xmas exists only in a hypothetical sense, thus the quotes.

I have written about half a dozen versions of this particular update and none of them are really worth the time to edit or impose on some unprepared reader. The only important thing to know is that writing is very difficult to accomplish under certain circumstances and I hope those circumstances do not return in early January when I go back.


That most compact of adverbs has its place, but it will have no room in anything I edit. I know that its insertion in the margins of student papers, usually adjacent to some concluding sentance which, the author hoped, made a point of sufficient clarity, is meant to indicate both the failure of that goal, and a prompt to defend the statement with more vigour.

When I read an editor’s comment that consists of only this, I don’t read it as ‘So? Please make your claim more explicit.’ Instead, I see this; ‘So? Who cares? Certainly not me. You have wasted my time and I will not waste it further with unnecessary key-strokes. Count yourself fortunate that I even bothered to hit shift at the start.’

Yes, that’s harsh but really, that’s not helpful. This is, or rather was, on my mind a while ago because that adverb was repeated with painful regularity by two editors who returned a paper last week. They still want the paper, and their comments are, ultimately, beneficial. I’m just not in the mood for that sort of interrogation. I’ve got until Jan 15 to make fixes, so it’s not an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, one may ask what was manner of crisis kept me from PBS since 23 Oct. You can ask, but there is little to tell. The trials of the doctoral student are well known but they are not really part of my experience. My research is going well, although slowly. I have no serious doubts about the course of the project, my methods, or my goals. My supervisor is the model of helpfulness and dedication. The minor irritations that most students experience, but accept as part of the ‘life-style’, for me, become colossal obstacles to work, sleep, and ultimately mental health. Now that’s a touch of hyperbole. I would not even consider joking about clinical depression and I know that my experiences are not universal and thus worthy of universal sympathy. However, there is only so much one can do on 3-5 hours of sleep a night, for 5 weeks straight.

The little room I was given in a 4 room flat, at the start of this term, would have worked out if there was some way of replacing all the occupants with ninjas. The people themselves were fairly quiet, when they were in their rooms, working. Otherwise, they were the loudest people I have ever had the misfortune to experience. Everything was loud. The doors, the kitchen cupboards, the chairs, the cutting boards (every chop, and it was always ‘chop’ and never slice) was audible. Every dish that was cleaned required several good whacks on the stainless sink. And all of this could and would happen at any time of the day or night. No-one (other than me) closed doors on their own. Everything was left to slam shut on its own, except the front door.

Oh, the front door. I had written the most polite and respectful note (necessary as hardly anyone was reliably around when I thought of this) and taped it to that door one early morning, in hopes that I could stop people from slamming that door shut as they came and went. This way, I wouldn’t need to wear earplugs constantly, and I wouldn’t jump from my chair (or bed, or slumber) at the gun-shot level volume. That note was promptly torn down by the first person who read it, and the door continued to be slammed, quick energetically, when that particular person left the building.

Sometime around 9pm, maybe 27 Oct? I was typing in mid-sentence for a draft that was, by then, a good 4 weeks behind schedule when the door, in a manner that would have produced diamonds if coal were left in the jamb, blasted through my earplugs and kicked all my careful prose out of my head. I jumped up, ran to the window, stuck my head out and stopped.

I’m not sure what I would have actually said (or shouted) at the back of the student, heading up the street, ignorant of the wreckage he was making of my already damaged psyche but I doubt it would have been at all coherent or fit for reproduction in text. I had already told the college about this and, to abbreviate the details, a room did appear, which is quieter (at least so far as the maximum volume of any one source of noise is concerned) and I am now safely re-deployed.

I’m still very far behind in the non-thesis projects. I have a massive sleep debt and I have to un-do my irregular sleep pattern I developed at the other room. I am now capable of some writing again, which is why PBS is getting this little catalogue of complaint.

As compensation, here is a picture of what £100 will get you from Bennett & Kerr, rare books in Steventon Oxfordshire:


And, here is the new place, with ample shelving and more desk space.



And now, back to some normalcy.

coram rege

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

Back in October, at the formal start of my doctoral programme, my supervisor suggested I start looking for relevant examples of gentry behaving badly in the archival records of the Court of King’s Bench. A substantial quantity of those records (specifically, the plea and controlment rolls, which record the workings of that particular judicial body) are online as digital photos in the AALT database (the Anglo-American Legal Tradition project) hosted by the University of Houston. While this makes them much more accessible it does not make them any easier to understand.

Over the last six months, wedged between the conference papers, background reading, archival workshops, and seminars, I have slowly and tediously, learned how to ‘read’ these documents in a way that actually helps with my work. Although, I can’t claim fluency yet. In an effort to remind myself that there has been some actual progress during that time, and because I don’t trust my own memory to keep any of this strait, I will share what little I have learned about the King’s Bench over a few blog entries.

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Oxford students never change

Oxford students never change

This is one of the circulating copies of S. B. Chrimes, C. D. Ross, and R. A. Griffiths (eds.), Fifteenth-Century England 1399-1509: Studies in Politics and Society, (Manchester University Press: New York, 1972), from the History Faculty library in Oxford. Most of that is pencil, but really, what the hell is that about? At least there isn’t any highlighter (in this volume at least). And now, I shall erase several years of ‘active reading’ with my trusty Stadtler. And I’m dead certain, no future scholars will feel cheated of some brilliant marginalia because of my act of restorative vandalism.


An armed society is an ironic society

Robert A Heinlein, a science-fiction author that I have only a passing familiarity with, was either a melodramatic hack or a social critic of such Swiftian subtlety that he is mistaken for an ultra-conservative crank. He may be a mix of both. In 1942 he gave us the quotable axiom that “an armed society is a polite society.”1 That phrase has been dragged out regularly in the most recent ritual pantomime of social and legal debate about gun violence in the United States.

I would be neglecting my pedagogical responsibility as a student of violence if I did not try and comment with some informed opinion on this issue. While I am unqualified to discuss the peculiar American relationship with guns and their pseudo-sacred rights to personal arms, ill-defined in their founding documents, I can make an argument about the utility of arms and their relevance in maintaining social order and protecting the vulnerable as it applies to the American context. Fair warning, however, that this may get contentious.

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The rhetoric of murder

[Edited on the 16th Dec. to cull commas and sharpen the argument]

There is a rhetorical quirk that, if it were common in any other circumstances would be so irrelevant as to preclude mention, but its use in the context of violence makes it jump out and slap me in the face. I have only occasionally commented on current events, usually when it connects with my academic interest (or responsibility, depending on my mood) but I feel that vague obligation to do comment on this one detail.. There is a habit amongst commentators discussing large-scale ‘senseless’ acts of violence to add the qualification that the victims were  ‘innocent.’ It’s delivered in an unconscious, almost ritual, way but it indicates an unacknowledged sub-text behind Western ideas about crime, punishment, guilt, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of violence.

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Odds, sods, and a contest (with prizes*)

I regret that today’s blog entry has no real theme, other than they are reasonably recent events. Consider this a commonplace collection for the internets. Most of these are at least relevant to the general purpose of the blog. They have some historical element, they relate to research or the tasks of the academic, or the inform the ongoing experiment that is the LD student in higher-education.

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In sight of shore…


By monday I should have some time to write something worth reading here, of the update variety. Oxford is seriously pushing my limits for sensory overload and information management. All things considered, there is only one potentially crippling problem that is at least 3-6 months deferred. As expected, it has nothing to do with the work I will do or the expectations of the programme (all safely within my abilities). This problem is entirely the fault of an outdated UK mental health system and their apparent indifference to certain types of learning disorders, managed in adults, with medication they apparently find morally repugnant. That’s at least, my reading at the moment (coloured as it is with the scarlet mysts of educational fury).