‘Eating My Words’: The Perils of Episodic Viewing – ‘The Casual Vacancy’ Part 2

After having criticised the opening episode of The Casual Vacancy last week, this Sunday I was left devouring my words (excuse the pun). Yes, my main issue with the first episode was that character Howard Mollison’s obesity was not obvious enough. This seems like a minor issue, but my argument was that Rowling made Mollison obese in order to compare him with heroin addict Terri Weedon to show how they both cost the tax payer to treat, yet Weedon is ostracised whereas Mollison is not. I felt that it was important that the BBC did not downplay this social commentary, as I believe that this forms a vital part of Rowling’s novel and the message it aims to convey: none of us are perfect, so why should we have the right to be prejudiced against others, particularly those less fortunate than us? In interviews Rowling has said that it infuriates her when people lack empathy, which is why I feel her novel is so important. It forces us to empathise, to consider important issues such as class divides, inequality, prejudice, self-harm, alcoholism and mental health issues. I felt that the comparison of Mollison’s addictive relationship with food to Weedon’s drug habit was one of the most effective ways in which Rowling criticises society’s tendency to favour a certain class or habit over another. This is why I was disappointed that Mollison’s obesity was not made more obvious in the first episode.

However, on Sunday night I did indeed eat my words. The second episode perfectly handles Mollison’s weight problem, directly comparing it to Weedon’s heroin addiction through references to Dr Jawanda’s methadone clinic, which Mollison is eager to close down. Mollison undermines the doctor, suggesting that the methadone clinic is a waste of money, and she sharply retorts with questions about the cost of his heart surgery. Mollison had visited the doctor earlier in the episode for a repeat prescription of some cream to treat a rash caused by his excessive skin (a result of obesity). The doctor asks him if his weight loss plan is working and he sheepishly brushes off the question, giving a vague reply. I am glad that the BBC retained this crucial scene from the novel, as it is a great example of Mollison’s stubbornness, refusing to lose weight despite the advice of doctors and, in doing so, costing the taxpayer through his need for heart surgery and rash cream. This all comes to a head at an entertainingly disastrous dinner party, one of my favourite scenes from the book, in which Dr Jawanda delivers a few home truths to Howard and we punch the air. Michael Gambon is superb in this scene, conveying perfectly Mollison’s pig-headedness. His silence in response to Dr Jawanda’s criticism shows us that he knows he’s in the wrong, yet he’s too proud to admit it and to change his lifestyle, making him even more a character that we love to hate. Making this scene all the more deliciously, and perhaps wickedly, humorous is my personal favourite Samantha Mollison, knocking back the wine and watching the chaos unfold.

I am still waiting to get excited by the presentation of Colin Wall’s OCD. So far I am not convinced, but I have learnt my lesson about making premature judgements. After all, these are the perils of episodic viewing. Maybe Wall’s anxiety disorder will become more obvious as the episodes progress. There have been glimpses of it, such as when Colin is asking his wife for reassurance about why his students are making rude hand gestures at him. His wife pretends that they were gesticulating at her instead in order to soothe him, which demonstrates both Wall’s paranoia and the emotional and physical toll that his illness takes on his loved one. This is another way in which Rowling’s novel presents us with important issues and aims to educate us about them, or at least make us question them rather than ignore them. I’d like to see Colin’s OCD become more obvious in the final episode, as it would be interesting to see a realistic portrayal of the often misunderstood disorder on the small screen.

‘The Casual Vacancy’: Underplaying Rowling’s Social Commentary

I love a good BBC adaptation. Bleak House is a personal favourite, with Charles Dance’s delightful performance as the stern and malevolent Mr Tulkinghorn and the spontaneous combustion of Johnny Vegas’ Mr Krook. Yes, Johnny Vegas spontaneously combusts. But, for about a year now, I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of J.K Rowling’s first book for adults The Casual Vacancy on the small screen. On Sunday 15th February 2015 at 9pm the wait was finally over. I was back in Portsmouth for the weekend, the telephones were unplugged, mobile phones were switched off and everyone was condemned to silence. I just hope it’s good! I prayed as the opening credits started to roll and my Dad had already broken his vow of silence (as usual). Sigh.

The Casual Vacancy is set in a small village called Pagford in the west of England. In the opening chapters, beloved member of the community Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly, leaving his seat on the council vacant. This creates a frantic scramble among his fellow townsfolk to fill his position, although not everybody has good intentions. The major struggle of the novel concerns the council’s disagreement over whether or not to cut ties with the neighbouring council estate ‘The Fields’, an area that the late Barry Fairbrother was passionate about improving. From here emerges the themes of ignorance, class divides and social mobility, issues that are very poignant in our current political climate. Rowling herself has said that the novel is not only about the casual vacancy of Barry Fairbrother’s empty seat in the council, but about ‘vacancies’ in general. Each of her characters has a skeleton in the closet and each has a vice with which to purge feelings of emptiness, some of which are very close to my heart, such as alcoholism and OCD. Said skeletons begin to be revealed on the Parish Council website by a mysterious, seemingly omniscient figure, claiming to be the ‘Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’. Who is it? And what will be the consequences of his or her revelations? It is a truly moving and perceptive novel to which everyone will relate somehow. If you have not yet read it I highly recommend that you do!

I am disappointed to say that I was rather underwhelmed by the first episode of the BBC’s adaptation. Admittedly, much of this was because when you read a novel you create the perfect image of the characters in your mind, knowing where every freckle is on the nose, how they walk, how they talk, what they like to eat for breakfast. They become as much yours as they are the author’s. Unless that’s just me. But, because of this, it is sometimes difficult to accept that certain actors have been cast as these beloved characters. However, my disapproval of the casting of Michael Gambon as Howard Mollison is on more sensible grounds than this rather juvenile disappointment of the betrayal of one’s own imagined characters. Although it is lovely to see Gambon portraying another of Rowling’s characters (he was Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films), Howard Mollison is supposed to be morbidly obese and Gambon is nowhere near large enough. This may sound like a stupidly picky point, but Mollison’s weight is actually an important part of the book. Overeating is Mollison’s vice, that’s the point. It is one of the ways in which Rowling explores addiction in the novel. Heroin addict and mum of two Terri Weedon is demonised by the people of Pagford, and the snobby, middle-class townsfolk are keen to keep their distance.

Nobody bats an eyelid that Mollison continues to eat himself into an early grave despite having already undergone heart surgery. But really, there is no difference between Terri’s heroin addiction and Mollison’s overeating. Both cost the tax payer through the running of the methadone clinic and the need for heart surgery, yet Terri is constantly ostracised throughout the novel whilst Mollison believes that he is better than the people of The Fields. Rowling is clearly making the point that nobody has the right to judge others and Mollison’s weight is a crucial component of Rowling’s social commentary. It is one of the ways in which she unites humanity with mutual flaws in an attempt to ridicule prejudice. For this reason, Gambon should be given a padded suit.

Another frustrating thing was that, if I had not read the book, I would not have had a clue what was going on. Characters were not sufficiently introduced and there was too much unnecessary build up to Fairbrother’s death (he dies in the very beginning in the book). There were also way too many panning shots of the idyllic countryside setting (which, admittedly, is beautiful and perfectly suits Rowling’s purpose of creating a stark contrast between the middle-class village and the poverty-stricken Fields, but even so).

On a more positive note, Keeley Hawes’ performance as Samantha Mollison is spot on. Samantha is an unhappily married alcoholic and runs a lingerie business in the village. In the television series her shop is presented as almost like a fetishist shop, which creates a hilarious contrast to the otherwise peaceful and picturesque backdrop of the village. Samantha’s character is rather tongue-in-cheek. She is a bored middle-aged woman and takes to lusting after members of her daughter’s favourite boy bands. There is a kind of comic tragedy about her; although we know that her situation is melancholic we cannot quite take her seriously due to Rowling’s wickedly sharp dialogue which, thankfully, is transferred onto the small screen: ‘Look, Miles! Tits! Be a man! Grab a handful!’

Despite my initial disappointment, I will continue to watch to see if the series progresses more successfully. After all, I’m eager to see how the village reacts to The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’s first online post…

Foodies, Fashion Gurus, Art Lovers, Poets: Exploring the East End

Personally, I believe that students of Queen Mary are extremely lucky to study in such a vibrant and interesting area of London. We get the best of both worlds. For those people who dislike the hustle and bustle of the inner city, the location of Queen Mary is perfect as it is tucked away in Mile End, surrounded by many different bars, pubs, and markets. On the other hand, for those cosmopolitan individuals who love the city life, we are only a few tube stops away on the central line from central London.

But for me, it’s all about the East End. Think about it, when people come to London for a day trip you usually hear them squealing excitedly about Camden Market or Oxford Street. You don’t tend to hear them exclaim ‘I can’t wait to go to Brick Lane for a curry!’ And it’s their loss. We are blessed to be able to study at the centre of one of London’s hidden gems. Shoreditch is just a short bus ride away on the number 25 or the 205, where you’ll find quirky cocktail bars and pubs. My personal favourite is Brew Dog (which can also be found in Shepherd’s Bush and Camden) as it sells craft beers and ales, which makes a nice change from the standard draught lagers that are found in every other pub. It also has a downstairs seating area which reminded me of Snape’s dungeon from Harry Potter, which was also an attraction. Another highlight of Shoreditch for me is the BoxPark because of the immense variety of food it has to offer! This is because businesses are given just a 12 month spot in the BoxPark, meaning that it is constantly fresh and exciting. There are also bars inside the BoxPark and, for those of you who are interested in poetry like myself, there is a Spoken Word open mic night there once a month called BoxedIn, which is definitely worth checking out.

Walk towards Whitechapel and swing a right and you will end up at Brick Lane, the student saviour! The area is brimming with Indian restaurants all scrambling to offer you the best student deals. Often with starters, mains and sides for £10 and the choice to ‘Bring Your Own Booze’, you really can’t go wrong as it makes for a fun and cheap night out. On a Sunday Brick Lane also hosts a massive vintage clothing market and food market, which offers a variety of cuisines. The vintage market is affordable and perfect for all fashionistas as its vast range and size means that you could easily spend the whole day browsing the rails.

Finally, my little hidden gem of the year: the Bow Arts Centre. Situated at 181 Bow Road, the ‘Nunnery Gallery’ is a contemporary art gallery and exhibits work from a different ‘emerging artist’ each month. The gallery is tucked away behind Grove Hall Park which, along with its small size, makes it seem intimate and secret. Inside the gallery is the Carmelite Café which, although slightly pricey, offers a fantastic range of lunches, cakes, breakfasts and snacks. Perfect for a special treat!

Here ends my whistle stop tour of the East End, all the areas that I believe are the perfect student hot spots. We have something for everyone: foodies, fashion gurus, art lovers, poets. I can honestly say that I would not have wanted to study anywhere else.

English Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future

Perhaps all I wanted to do was to confide or confirm my taste (probably unconditional) for literature, more precisely for literary writing. Not that I like literature in general, nor that I prefer it to something else, to philosophy, for example, as they suppose who ultimately discern neither one nor the other. Not that I want to reduce everything to it, especially not philosophy. Literature I could, fundamentally, do without, in fact, rather easily. If I had to retire to an island, it would be particularly history books, memoirs, that I would doubtless take with me, and that I would read in my own way, perhaps to make literature out of them, unless it would be the other way round, and this would be true for other books (art, philosophy, religion, human or natural sciences, law, etc.). But if, without liking literature in general and for its own sake, I like something about it, which above all cannot be reduced to some aesthetic quality, to some source of formal pleasure, this would be in place of the secret. In place of an absolute secret. There would be the passion. There is no passion without secret, this very secret, indeed no secret without this passion. In place of the secret: there where nevertheless everything is said and what remains is nothing – but the remainder, not even of literature.

–   Jacques Derrida, ‘Passions: “An Oblique Offering”’, trans. David Wood, in Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 27-28

Less well-known than his more famous (and frequently bowdlerized) elaborations of ‘textuality’, this formulation of Derrida’s pertaining to ‘literary writing’ articulates an unconditional relation to such writing which would put some pressure on familiar historical attempts to ‘defend’ literature qua sub-field of the ‘humanities’. If the homology isn’t hubristic, a similar concern lies behind our attempt, in this book, to bring together a collection of approaches to the discipline of English Studies which affirm literature in all its difference.

English StudiesEnglish Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future, is a text which hopes to articulate something of what is affirmed by the singular investments made in this subject by its practitioners, whilst avoiding the good conscience and defensive commonplaces found in the frequently-reductive journalism on the topic. The last hundred or so years of literary scholarship (and yes, ‘theory’) have given the lie to the claim that our wing (or crypt) of the humanities must or can somehow be ‘defended’; for who could presume to ‘defend’ something so dangerous, so enigmatically performative (and performatively enigmatic), as literature?

The book comprises a sequence of essays – organized, with a little licence, around the idea of the ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’ of the discipline – which cohere around the necessity not of intervening on behalf of the discipline, but gesturing toward some of the ways in which this intervention is constitutive of the discipline. Accordingly, the publicity material for the book will tell you that it ‘[Brings] together a proposal for English to be understood as a “boundary practice”; an exploration of the study-guide genre; an account of Derrida’s “the university without condition”; a consideration of how the subject might negotiate current technological changes and government interventions; the dilemma of cognitive literary criticism; a case study of English and “employability”; and the relationship between English in Higher Education and Secondary Education’. Nowhere in this collection is the ‘identity’ of the subject taken as read; indeed, an interrogation of this putative identity is shown to be methodologically fundamental to the affirmations of English Studies we find here. At some remove from ponderous debates about ‘canon’ (which take as read an idea of the discipline’s unwavering formal interior), and equally apart from insolent attempts to define the ‘essence’ of literature, the essays collected in this volume localize the importance of English Studies and its constitutive autocritique, historically, politically, epistemologically, and ethically.

English Studies… began life as a conference held at Queen Mary in June 2013. Our call for papers began: ‘Faced with pressure to quantify and commodify our research and our teaching through the narrow and potentially homogenizing parameters of concepts such as “impact”, many researchers and teachers in English departments seem to retreat from the challenge of affirming what it is that we value in the study and teaching of English.’ These pressures, if anything, have been exacerbated since then, and so this book is intended not as an overview of the ‘state of the discipline’, but as an invitation to continue discussions in this vein – discussions which, we believe, are crucial to the discipline’s future(s).

Performances that Changed Lives

I individually asked a group of 1st year Drama students at my University about a performance that changed their lives and why. A mixture of excitement and profundity, the answers were touching and made me smile all the way through this process.

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“A serious – and often seriously funny – writer”: Researching Beryl Bainbridge

My book on the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, imaginatively entitled Beryl Bainbridge, was published at the end of 2014, but the origins of the project go right back to my undergraduate degree. I first read Bainbridge’s According to Queeney (2001) on a final-year contemporary literature module at Hull and confess I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was something peculiar, ambiguous and intriguing that I found hard to pinpoint, something which undercut the sentimental cover image of a rosy-cheeked Hesther Thrale mère et fille. I filed it away in the mental folder marked ‘deserves further scrutiny’.

As I got towards the end of my MA at UEA and my thoughts turned to PhD research, I dusted off that folder and alongside a series of ludicrous and unmanageable projects, Bainbridge stood out. I also remembered Jane Thomas, who had introduced According to Queeney to the reading list at Hull, talking about how scandalously Bainbridge had been neglected by academics. These memories sent me hurrying to the UEA library to see what else she had written and whether I could face spending three or four years in her company.

Huw Marsh, 'Beryl Bainbrudge' (Northcote House, 2014)
Huw Marsh, ‘Beryl Bainbrudge’ (Northcote House, 2014)

I started to read Bainbridge’s back catalogue, first in a fairly piecemeal fashion and then more systematically. All sorts of connections began to emerge, not just between the earlier novels, which loosely follow the contours of Bainbridge’s adolescent years in and around Liverpool, but also between this period and the later historical novels like According to Queeney and Master Georgie (1998), which tended to be treated as a separate phase of her career. It seemed that whether she was writing about her own past or the world-historical past, Bainbridge was always asking questions about the nature of history, memory and representation. She was also engaging with pressing debates in contemporary fiction and criticism (particularly from critics concerned with the nature of the postmodern), and whilst her exclusion from these debates seemed wrongheaded it also provided me with a viable project.

In the absence of a raft of Bainbridge scholars, the application process was largely a matter of putting out feelers to see who was interested in supervising the project. Fortunately a number of potential supervisors expressed an interest, including Mary Condé at Queen Mary. I chose QMUL not just because I thought Mary would be a great supervisor, which she was, but also because of the Department’s reputation. And by reputation I don’t mean just the Top Trumps metrics of league tables and KPIs, but rather the comments and recommendations of tutors and other people who know the department and the atmosphere it fosters. It was also a shortish bike ride down the canal from where I lived, which helped.

I enrolled part-time for the first year and applied for and was awarded AHRC funding from the second year onwards (this was pre Block Grant, which ages me). The research itself was fun – genuinely – and although there must have been moments of crisis I seem to have blocked them from my memory. I was fortunate that early on I spotted a tiny, two-sentence report in the Guardian saying that the British Library had bought Beryl Bainbridge’s personal papers, and even more fortunate that they let me access the papers before they had been catalogued. It was exciting to know I was the first person to study these documents and I never quite knew what I was going to find. Sometimes I would trawl through final drafts or proofs that varied little from the published texts and at other times I would find an alternative ending, or an unpublished play, or an erotic doodle in the margins of a letter. It was hard to avoid getting side-tracked by tantalising detective work on fragments from diaries or letters, but dead ends and wild goose chases are all part of the process.

The archival work helped me develop a stronger understanding of how Bainbridge constructed her stories and of the underlying research she stripped away to create her elliptical novels. It also brought to the fore questions of fact and fiction and the ways in which Bainbridge narrativised the past in its many senses. Among the documents is a scrapbook prepared by Bainbridge, which gives a ‘key’ to the people on whom she based characters from her early novels, including photographs and short bios. For the biographer, this would have been invaluable, but for the literary critic schooled in postructuralism and suspicious of biographical readings it presented a series of questions: how much ‘weight’ should I give to Bainbridge’s claims that her early novels were fictionalised memoirs? Do they even work as such? If so, why were they published as novels? And are there any connections between these fictionalised autobiographies and her later fictionalised histories? It also spoke to a series of questions I had been asking about the ways in which Bainbridge’s personality and her anti-analytical attitude toward her work affected its critical reception. There was a tendency, I noticed, to dismiss Bainbridge’s novels as the ‘slight’ or ‘minor’ work of an eccentric, and to overlook the depth and complexity of the fiction itself.

All of these questions were complicated by the fact that Bainbridge was alive – and able to answer back – while I was researching and writing the thesis. I ummed and ahhed about whether to contact her, but when it was announced she would open the summer fete in the Suffolk village where my girlfriend (now wife) grew up, it was practically unavoidable. (N.B. Please be aware the above photo was taken some years ago and I have since rethought my hair choices. And yes, that is Terry Waite, who lives in Hartest and invited Bainbridge to open the fete.) We subsequently arranged an interview and spoke for a couple of hours, fuelled by strong cups of tea. As I expected she was welcoming but guarded and reluctant to analyse or attribute meaning to her work. The interview didn’t fundamentally change the direction of my research, though I’m glad I took the opportunity to meet her and it helped fill one or two gaps in the documents. In fact, it was worthwhile just to visit the Camden townhouse that formed the setting for several of her novels, complete with full-sized stuffed buffalo in the hallway and airgun pellet hole in the ceiling from when her mother-in-law tried to shoot her.

Such was the apparent eccentricity of Bainbridge’s life that it’s tempting to focus on the anecdotal when writing about her (see paragraph above), but when I reflect on it now I hope my research has helped to reveal what a serious – and often seriously funny – writer she was. Not only did my PhD inform my recent book but it also opened up avenues for current and future research projects on history and historicity, comedy, and contemporary canon formation. One of the things I love about research is that it opens up questions rather than closing them down.

As is sadly so often the case, an upsurge of interest in Bainbridge’s writing arrived only after her death, but there is a growing sense that she is now gaining the recognition she deserved. KCL recently staged an exhibition of her paintings, suggesting a whole new side to her artistic practice, and a biography is forthcoming from her friend and assistant Brendan King. More controversially, in 2011 the Man Booker committee awarded Bainbridge’s Master Georgie (1998) a posthumous ‘Best of Beryl’ award in recognition of her record five appearances on the Booker shortlist without a win. Too little too late, perhaps, and that seems to be the view of Mark Knopfler, singer and guitarist with giants of eighties rock Dire Straits, who I will forever associate with interminable childhood car journeys and my conviction that ‘Money for Nothing’ was about a man who got his ‘chips for free’. The lead single from Knopfler’s new solo album is entitled ‘Beryl’ and includes the lines ‘Beryl/Every time they overlooked her/When they gave her a Booker she was dead in her grave’. I may have spent years researching Bainbridge but I did not see that one coming…

Three Tips to Save Money in London

1) Get a railcard

To help with travel costs, get a 16-25 railcard to save a 1/3 on train fares (which is great for visiting family and friends across the country). More interestingly though, the card can be tied to your oyster card and will save you a 1/3 on tube fares too. Prices for the railcards vary but they’re frequently on offer online for under £30 online and they last for 12 months. Once you have your railcard, take it to a ticket office at a major tube station and ask a member of staff to tie the card to your oyster card (Stratford station is happy to do this for you and is just down the road from Queen Mary). You have to fill in a form which you can do online or in person, but it doesn’t take long. If you’re a mature student, don’t worry. Students over 25 and in full time education can still get the railcard for the same price and length of time as younger students.

2) Shop at large supermarkets

It’s easy to overspend anywhere if you’re not careful with your cash, but particularly in London it can be tricky to find larger supermarket chains within easy access of where you’re living. Stores on Mile End road such as Sainsbury’s Local and Budgens are great for grabbing some late night snacks or topping up your supply of bread and milk, but a weekly shop in local convenience stores will seriously set you back financially if done regularly. If you’re living on campus or in an area where there isn’t a big supermarket nearby, my advice would be to order online. This is a great option for cutting out the miserable agony of dragging endless heavy bags of tins, cans, and bottles across London and risking the carrier bag splitting and all your purchases exploding over a poor unsuspecting passer-by. If you order online as a group, be sure to keep a note of how much everyone owes to save hassle later. Be sensible with what you buy – try to avoid ordering vast quantities of your favourite junk food and think practically about which meals you can make with what you’re buying.

3) Think about what you’re eating and be prepared

Once you get busy at university, it’s easier to get lazy and order a takeaway or just scoff a family size bag of crisps than it is to prepare a proper meal. If you’re unsure about cooking, the solution is to learn how to cook basic foodstuffs (rice, pasta, noodles) and add vegetables and meat to make sure it’s balanced enough to give you energy and keep you full. Eggs are great for keeping you full and won’t break the bank – learn to make tasty omelettes and you’re sorted. Buy a loaf of bread and make sandwiches rather than buying them elsewhere.  Take a bottle of water/juice/squash with you when you go out instead of spending £1.50 on a bottle of Diet Coke in a corner shop. These little things will make all the difference and will mean you don’t have to fork out for overpriced items when you’re on the go.

You’re at the heart of London – get out there!

As students at a London university, we do not always appreciate the capital city enough. We take places close to us for granted. However, I was given the opportunity to study English and History at Queen Mary and I am making the most of it! Being at the heart of London, I have access to so many attractions and places to visit. You need a couple of years to fully experience and engage with the city. I never saw myself living in London, and yet here I am, accomplishing a dream that I never knew I had!

My interests lie in photography and history. So, a good place to start my exploration was at museums. The best thing about them is that they are completely free to visit and there are so many to choose from in London alone. I was lucky enough to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum for my module ‘Literatures in Time’ last year. Studying English at university is not only about reading books and articles but being able to visit exhibitions and attend lectures on a topic that interests you. In this way, we are actively learning and gaining a deeper understanding about our subject matter. You can either go with a specific motive or just enjoy the artifacts at your leisure.

Not only does the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection span two thousand years of art, it also covers work from all parts of the world. So if there is a particular period or culture you want to research, you can do so by admiring the products of their time and the changes that occurred since. You can make your own judgement as to whether there are similar traits within different cultures, as England is a multicultural country. There is beauty in the mixture of backgrounds and traditions as it indicates assimilation and appreciation of one another.

The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

There are a few modules that Queen Mary offers on architecture and museums around London alone which indicates the recognition of the importance of enhancing education through current research and artifacts to fully appreciate culture. It is a different experience to sitting in an hour’s lecture and only being given the chance to get an overview rather than the in-depth detail that we need. You can research further through resources outside of the university space. If interested in architecture, take a trip to the British Museum. The glass roof is spectacular. The Great Court used to be a courtyard and a competition was held to redesign the area. It is a two-acre space, allowing room for visitors to wander and rest and is known to be the largest covered public space in Europe. The work on the roof began in 1999 and was designed by Foster and Partners in such a way that the panes of glass are non-identical. It is definitely a sight to see!

Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

If there is a question that you have had a burning desire to get answered, and you never had the courage to ask, then go and research it for yourself! A sense of satisfaction will be achieved. I have taken up the module ‘Black Writing in Britain’ and I was conversing with my peers about a question that has been on my mind since a Year Seven history class. My question was, ‘Would I have been considered black because of my brown skin colour?’ Now studying this course, it is helping me understand that Asians and Black people in Britain in the twentieth century were viewed as part of the same minority group. Although they are from different time periods, from the sixteenth century to today’s day and age, the conception of the ‘other’ remains within our mind-set in the modern day. After nearly ten years, I am still trying to understand my identity as a British-born Bangladeshi.

What I am encouraging you to do is to not leave any questions unanswered. Research, research, research until you find your answer. Grab any opportunity you can and make the most of your time at university. It’s the best time to explore and develop your learning through visiting extraordinary places!