Monday, January 31, 2011

Brief Confession


The difference between a cookie and a biscuit is in the baking. The word "biscuit" comes from Latin, bis ("twice") + coctus, past participle of coquere, "to cook." Twice-baked biscotti tend to be hard and dry, but they keep forever, whereas cookies (coming from the Dutch koekje, or "little cake") are baked once, and are meant to be somewhat more soft and moist on the inside. These are best eaten within a few days--or hours, depending on your ability to resist temptation--or they will dry out and become stale. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am an absolute cookie monster: I have never met the cookie I wouldn't try, and only rarely met the cookie I wouldn't devour (or want to devour) ten of in a sitting. I particularly enjoy those filled with chocolate, oats, peanut butter, or a combination of all three. My devotion to the cookie is only ever broken at Christmas time, when the homemade biscotti from my mother's kitchen take over in my esteem--though there are always plenty of cookies around, as well!

So, I have a confession to make: since I have been in England, I have fallen in love with Sainsbury's Milk Chocolate Digestive Biscuits.I don't know when or how it happened; at first it was a casual romance, a temporary tryst, a fling...but then I started spending more and more time with them, and we got to know and appreciate each other, and now I just adore them! For about 28p I get a sleeve of twenty or so delectable shortbreads, dipped on one side in just the right amount of chocolate, which falls in waffle-like ripples across the back of the golden rounds. They are crunchy without being hard, sweet without being too sweet, and completely satisfying--I have rarely wanted more than two or three at a sitting. They go perfectly with a cup of tea or coffee, as a quick dessert, or even as an appetizer when I come back from rowing ravenous and they are the only comestibles to hand. They are a staple in my cupboard: I can be out of eggs, milk, and bread for days, but when I run out of digestive biscuits, it's time to go food shopping.
Though I will always remain faithful to my first love, the cookie, Sainsbury's Milk Chocolate Digestive Biscuits are an important part of my life here in England. They fulfill me, they make me happy, and they have firmly fixed themselves in my heart...and possibly, on my hips.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MS Photos!

Don't count on me always posting twice in two days--I definitely do not have
that much free time--but I was excited and just had to make a short addendum to my previous post. I have just learned how to add photos to this blog, and as my classmate Ben was kind enough to let me borrow his flatmate's camera to take photos of the MS today (which is permitted, as long as no flash is used), I thought I would share a couple of interesting ones. To the left we have fol 84 v, the final leaf, which contains Robert Brewster's witness of Will Bloys's claim to ownership of this book. You can probably just barely make it out in a slightly darker ink than the other scribbles on the page. The brown smears are actually places where the acidic ink is eating through the paper--a common problem with MSS, and highly inconvenient, is that they eventually self-destruct!

To the right we have that delightful list of words, including "crapulosity," compiled by one of my favourite hands--certainly the most legible in the collection, and one whose comments tend to be humorous or whimsical. And, obviously, he is interested in language, which makes me like him (I say him, by the way, because women were not able to go to university then, and it is highly unlikely that they would have had occasion to write in young gentlemen's note books). I determined today that there are probably actually six hands present in the MS. This one tends to write almost exclusively in dark ink and in straight, clear, very modern-looking letters.

In marked contrast is this next hand, below, which I have taken to calling The Poet, as he usually either copies down poetry he has read or composes his own (at least, I cannot determine it to be anyone else's). Some of it is quite good, and may end up in my paper.
In this photo of fol. 15 v. he has copied a short poem by William Strode, "Oft when I looke I may descrye." Note the use of J in place of I. He also likes to use abbreviations, and he varies his letter forms at random, so he can get pretty tricky to read, but his is not the worst hand in the MS.

Sigh, I know that wasn't much, but I really ought to be getting to bed (it is post-midnight yet again! This is not a good way to start the term...) but I will leave you with one final photo. There are many to choose from, and there are like to be more once I know what I am looking for, but for now this will be enough to give you a taste (and hopefully not enough to get me into any real trouble in case I am breaking any laws in making this public). Below is a photo of a full pagewith at least five hands on it. I know the image is not very big, but you can probably tell at least that there are different colours, and that some writing is sideways and some is
upside-down. These students, whoever they were, made really good use of their paper--which is to be expected, as paper was quite expensive back then. It is pages like these (and this is what most of them look like, except with even less blank space) that keep me twisting in my chair and turning the MS this way and that in my hands, instead of leaving it on its foam rests like I am generally supposed to. It's more durable than you'd think, and though I am very careful with it, I am always impressed by how well it has survived the centuries since it was written (the earliest date I have found in it so far is 1647).

Hopefully I will have more to say soon, both about the manuscript and about the rest of my life. Right now it is mainly reading, rowing, and investigating my friend 142, with occasional forays into the kitchen (I made chocolate-covered cashew clusters tonight, just because I could). Oh, and now and then, when there is time, I sleep. Which is what I am going to do now. Good night, all!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MS. Rawl. Poet. 142

"What on earth is that?" some of you may be asking yourselves. While others of you, perhaps with a slight air of superiority, are thinking, "I know what that means." Well for those in the first group, I shall translate: MS means manuscript. Rawl is short for Rawlinson, which refers to a collection of MSS (that's the plural) amassed by Richard Rawlinson in the first half of the 18th century (that's the 1700s) and bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in his will. Poet pretty obviously refers to poetry, meaning that this particular MS contains some poetry (though not exclusively; poetry just seemed the most prominent), and the number 142 is to help differentiate it from the other 238 MSS that begin with MS. Rawl. poet. These of course comprise only a fraction of the collection, which contains over 5,000 shelf marks.

Now, why on earth am I beginning my post with the name of a manuscript? Simple: because that is what I have been spending my time on this past week, so it is all I have to write about. MS. Rawl. poet. 142 and I are becoming very good friends, and it all started with me calling up a random selection of commonplace books and miscellanies to see if I could find something interesting to work with for my B-course essay on textual criticism and history of the book. One of our options is to produce an edition of something, so I went fishing for a something. Starting with the catalogue of poetic MSS, I read through all the descriptions (these cover other collections as well, not just Rawlinson) and tried to select a few that either named authors I knew or sounded unusual in some way. This resulted in a list of at least 50 possibilities, so I randomly called up six--which arrived in their grey boxes in all different shapes and sizes, made to fit the MS--and went through all of the other 5 before discovering this little gem. I don't really have time to describe all of them, and my guess is that most people aren't as excited as I am about really old paper and ink. Suffice it to say that some were in large, bound, folio volumes with extremely legible and even writing, meant as a presentation manuscript or intended for the press, while others were small, irregularly shaped leather-bound commonplace books where owners had scribbled down bits and pieces of anything that interested them, from poems and songs to bits of sermons or lectures to entire chapters of books.

MS. Rawl. poet. 142 (let's call it 142 for short) is one of these latter, but what makes it even more fascinating is that it is covered in writing, horizontal, vertical, upside-down and sideways, in every margin, between and across other texts. Plus, it comes in at least four hands, possibly more, meaning that it was shared or passed down from one user to the next (I rather think it was concurrent, but I can't prove it yet). I think they were students, because they mention lectures and Doctors early on (when they copy down a lot of poetry and history), and later they are interested in sermons.

I have already written a bit about reading 17th century hands, but it still astonishes me how very varied the letter forms can be, even within the same hand. One of the hands wrote almost exclusively in italic letters, while another mingled italic with secretary, and sometimes the form would switch mid-word: the letters e and s, if appearing more than once in a word, were almost certain to take on two different forms. One wrote almost entirely upright letters, one had a pronounced slant, and one scribbled and scratched so poorly that I have to stare at a word with my nose nearly touching the page for a few minutes just to work out what it means. This is exceptionally difficult when the word is in Latin, as occurs with regularity in this manuscript--as does Greek, but it is relatively easy to recognise the different alphabet, so I know when that is happening! The most common abbreviations are "ye," "yt," "yn" (that's y, superscript e, etc) for the, that, and then, the "y" coming from the Anglo-Saxon rune known as the thorn. This gets confusing when the same hand decides to use "y-superscript-w" to mean you (spelled "yow"). Most u's are v's and i's are j's and vice versa. There is also a lot of "w-superscript-ch" for which and words that end in "-tion" are often left at "-tio" with a superscript squiggle called a tilde denoting the n. All of these superscripts were obviously meant to save space (I like the idea; I've even adopted some of the abbreviations into my own note-taking!) and to make writing faster.

The pages have been foliated in pencil for reference, which means each sheet has been numbered. This is different from pagination, in which each side of a sheet is numbered. So, page 1 has two sides, the recto (what we might call the front) and the verso (the back). This is denoted by writing Fol. 1.r for recto and Fol. 1.v for verso. I am telling you this because below I have recorded some of the more interesting tidbits from my reading of the MS so far, and I want you to understand what my notation means. I have maintained the spelling as closely as I could approximate in type, though I have expanded "-tion" and a few other contractions.

Fol 9.r - Left margin: “Dews his wordes” and below that a fun vertical list of words that perhaps our scribe found interesting...or made up: “Ancillating. Assassination. Infamoused. Crapulosity. Excarnificating, Pupillary age. Purpurrted. Proditorious. Vid-quid sir.”

Fol 11 r - Left margin, light brown: "The Empirour of Chinois never speaks to his subjects but at ye window of his gilded chamber yt ye reflection may dazzle theyre admiring eys.” Latin follows.

Fol 13 r “What time a yeere Summer at Willies: always so durtie.”

Fol 15 r has strange margin notes, such as “He wants furniture for ye vpper roome,” and in another hand “Gloworms in a glas for fish with a Bownett.” And “Pares not good till rotten.”

On fol. 15v the Carew poem (In Her fayre cheeke two pitts doe lye) in the final couplet, “Come then & Qill me wth thine eye / For if though let me live I dye.” Qill!

On Fol 17 recto the name “John Starling” has been scribbled (John once, Sta-, Starlin-, J-, Starling, and Starling)

F21v sideways in a lovely hand, “Shakespear. But J more weak than is a womans teare / Tamer than sleep, gentler than Jnnocence / More fearfull than a virgin in ye Dark.” [Troilus and Cressida: But I am weaker than a woman's tear, /Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance, /Less valiant than the virgin in the night /And skilless as unpractised infancy.]

F35 sideways “The Bee yt naturall good-huswife leiyed up her sweet sweat in her waxen cabinet.”

F 84v (final page of MS) Scribblings everywhere. Along inside margin: “They le thinke wee are all madd & in Bedlame” Hehe!

“Robert Brewster is wittnesse that Will Bloys owneth this booke” [Both William Bloys and Robert Brewster appear on the 1656 Suffolk constituency of the UK Parliament. Bloys appears in 1654 as well.]

Obviously this is just a smattering of the material to sift through--I think "crapulosity" is still my favourite, though!--and it has taken me over a week just to transcribe what I have (more than I have posted here, obviously, but there is lots more to go). I do not intend to transcribe the entire MS, as that would take ages and would probably not result in anything useful, but I am giving a presentation on 142 this coming Tuesday, and I hope to get ideas from my classmates on what to do with this fascinating find. I am also going to do some research into its provenance (origin and movements till it got into the hands of Mr. Rawlinson), and of course I will read up on Mr. Bloys and Mr. Brewster, as well as on William Strode, whose possible autograph appears near one of his poems on Fol 16.r. I'll keep you posted (ha) on any interesting developments.

For now, I think I ought to try to get some sleep. This post, composed between the hours of 1 and 2 a.m., is brought to you courtesy of a tank session with the rowing club at 9 p.m., followed by a brisk walk home in the cold at 10:15 and a long shower preceded and succeeded by a few nibbles, all of which got me utterly wired and not at all in the mood to go to bed. Blasting some country music didn't help, either... But now I am thinking about tomorrow (today) and the time I must spend reading and researching before erging at 7 p.m., and I think I should rest.

Feel free to comment on this--or go crazy and write me a letter in good old-fashioned manuscript!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Slandering Santander

Well, actually, it's not slander, because what I am about to rant about is true.

You may recall that in the beginning of the year I tried to open an account with Barclay's, but had some trouble because of their overworked staff making a mistake with the copy of my license. I reapplied with them, and because I was in a hurry to be able to access my money, I applied at Santander, too, figuring that whoever got back to me first would win my business. Santander told me to come back in a week to pick up my card and account information, so I assumed their application process was just faster (Barclay's takes 3 weeks!), but what I was misunderstanding was that I had actually opened the account the day I went in, not just applied for it, and it was open while I was waiting for the card to come. I went in 7 days later and was told by a very young help desk representative at the door that they did not receive cards there, and I would get mine by mail. Confused, I left, and checked my pidge every day for a notice. Two weeks later I got the card from Barclays and began using that as my bank account, and assumed that Santander had forgotten about me...till I got back from Christmas break and found an invoice in my pidge saying that I owed Santander £10 for having the account open for two months (they charge £5/mo.) plus 10 pence as an overdraft fee, as that £10 had been taken from an account with no money in it!

Obviously annoyed by this, I went down there today to explain my situation and tell them I wanted to close the account and that I didn't think I should have to pay for it, as I never even knew it had been opened. The more mature man at the front desk explained to me that I had opened it the day I came in and signed the papers (though I was not given an account number or any other information that day with which to prove that I had an account), and that if I wanted to close it I had to go over to University Accounts. The University Accounts manager (who hardly looks older than University age, himself) asked me a few questions about when I had opened the account and where I now had my money (he didn't believe that Barclay's had an account that didn't charge international students), and then he apologised for the misinformation from the original help desk kid, but told me that he was not able to remove the charge from the account. He said that I could try calling Customer Service HQ, but as it wasn't technically a mistake or overcharge on their part, they probably would make me pay it before they could close the account. Having been on the phone with customer service people before, I weighed the hassle of that against the ten pounds and decided to fork it over and get this over with. Of course, he couldn't accept my cash himself, and he referred me to the nice girl at the window to do that. I paid the the £10.10 and got a receipt, and then waited as she fought with the computer, trying to close my account. She said that because the 10p charge wouldn't actually show up on the account till 28 January, she couldn't show it as paid, and thus could not close the account.

She sent me over to the Customer Service phones by the ATM machines, where I pressed 1 to speak to the headquarters. An Irish-accented boy answered, though he must have been in training because I could hear his female supervisor telling him what to say. I explained the problem, and asked him either to take off the 10p or to put it through onto the account so that I could pay it and close the account. He said he was unable to do either, and that I would have to wait until the 28th. I asked if they could at least put on record that I had already paid it, so that the account would automatically close on the 28th. He said no, I would have to come in and close it. But what if I were leaving the country tomorrow? I would have to call to close the account. Really?? There is *nothing* you can do for me? Why call yourselves Customer Service if you cannot actually provide a service to me, the customer, in any capacity? He said he was sorry, but he hoped I had a nice day. I didn't want to rant at him, as obviously it wasn't his fault--but that's how they get you, isn't it? You have to go through so many people who didn't actually cause the stupidity you are dealing with, so you can't direct your anger at them (well, you could, but it wouldn't be fair, and it wouldn't get you anywhere), and eventually your anger just peters out and you let them have their way.

Extremely frustrated, I went back to the girl at the window and told her that they had been useless, and that I guessed I would see her in 3 weeks. I came back here, feeling like the guy at the end of the Stewart Lee sketch about the Apple Shop (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yQP3frvrA0). I felt also a vague, vengeful determination to warn people away from Santander, whom I didn't really like to begin with and only went to out of urgency at the start of term. Santander is a big, impersonal bank, quite full of itself, overpriced, and comprising an excessively complex internal system of deferred responsibility, the sole purpose of which appears to be to inconvenience the customer in whatever way it can.

Consider yourself warned.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Series of Surprises

Well, this term is shaping up to be an incredibly busy one, and as it appears I will never have a sufficient chunk of time in which to write the fulsome posts I prefer, I am going to have to get out whatever I can, whenever I can. Below is a brief account of my week at home, and soon to follow will be an even more brief account of what little I have done since I returned to Oxford.

When my mother picked me up from Philadelphia International Airport she had a big red bow with her in the car. This was for me to wear, naturally, as my arrival was a complete surprise to everyone else in the family. [Digression: I don't know about you, but I *love* surprises! I love seeing people I didn't know I was going to see; I love receiving gifts or honours I didn't know I was going to receive; I love discovering I like something I thought I would dislike... I just love being surprised. And yes, I know not all surprises are positive, but it makes life infinitely more interesting.] I attached the bow to my shirt, and we headed first to my father's office, where she had me wait in the car for a few minutes while she went in to tell him she had his Christmas present waiting outside. My father can be a bit of a pessimist at times, so he imagined she was finding a euphemistic way to tell him something was wrong with the car, or that there had been some disaster, so when he came outside his expression wavered somewhere between skeptical and terrified. I came running up from behind some bushes shouting "Daddy!" and gave him a big hug. I wish someone had taken a photo of the way his jaw dropped! He was so happy to see me--and so very surprised--that he was trembling. He gave me lots of hugs and took me inside to say hello to everyone (I worked in the office every summer from about age 13 to 25, so they all know me quite well there).

The introduction-by-Mom followed by surprise-I'm-home process was repeated when we got home, where my sister Cori was waiting to make bourbon balls with Mom. Cori jumped up when she saw me, but her first words were, "I KNEW it!" Apparently something I had posted on Facebook the day before had made her suspicious that I might try to surprise everyone. Clever little thing! But she was still really happy to see me, and we got right down to business melting chocolate and making the bourbon balls. I was glad to be able to help, because I had missed making the biscotti, which we do every Christmas Baking Day--though Mom had saved the icing and sprinkling for me. We were hoping my other sister, Christina, would come home to join us, but she had worked a long shift and was going last-minute shopping with her boyfriend, so we ended up calling her to let her know that I was home. She didn't recognise my voice at first--probably because she did not expect it to be me calling--so we played a little guessing game till she figured it out. She sounded stressed, so I didn't ask her to come home. I know how much I hate shopping, especially with big crowds of people, and she is a lot like me.

That night we had cheesesteaks for dinner (my request, as there is no such thing here in England!) and I went to bed tired and happy. The next day was 23 December, the day for preparing the cookie trays (gifts for the family...though we're always a little stingy and keep a big tray for our Christmas day breakfast!) and the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. Because I have been having so much fun in the kitchen, I wanted to help my mother so I could learn how to work with fish. Of course, not all of our fishes were coming from our kitchen: Grandma D. was making her baccala and the anchovy-stuffed peppers (mmmm) and I think the mussels; we had ordered a big tray of calamari from a restaurant; Chrissy's boyfriend Joey was making scallops... so all we had to do was clean the shrimp and prepare the crab meat and make the tilapia and the salmon loaf and the spaghetti with clam sauce, and of course a baked ziti, because some of my cousins don't like fish, hehe. And yes, that is more than seven, but we had so many extra contributions this year that it couldn't be helped! And it was a good thing, as our extended family is quite large, and requires a lot of food. In the midst of all this preparation my mother realised she had forgotten something vital at the grocery store (I can't remember now what it was) and she ran out to get it, leaving me cleaning shrimp at the kitchen sink. While she was out, my brother Nick walked in, having driven down from the Newark area where he attends medical school. He did a bit of a double-take when he saw me, and asked, "What are you doing here??" "Cleaning shrimp," I answered nonchalantly, but with a smile. He came and hugged me--Surprise #4!--and he sat and chatted with me for a while as I continued to make up the cold shrimp tray. Later he asked me to go shopping with him, and even though it meant that I missed the stuffed shrimp and tilapia stages of fish preparation (which I really wanted to learn!), I went, because I so rarely get to spend time with my brother. That night we had some family time; Nicky built a fire, and everyone watched 'The Snowman," which I had been wanting to see for a long time (Cori had given it to me the previous Christmas, but we never got around to watching it).

The next day was Christmas Eve, and we had planned to surprise at least the grandparents (whom we knew would arrive first) by having me Skype-call from upstairs and pretend I was still in England. It worked beautifully, with both grandmothers having conversations with me and saying how much they missed me, and me doing my best not to let anything in my room show up in the background. When I finally came down and hugged them they were delighted, and so surprised! As the rest of the aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived, I gave happy hugs to everyone, and they were so glad I made it home for the holidays--as my cousin Elizabeth said, it wouldn't have been the same without me. We took lots of photos and ate LOTS of food, and had some good conversations (and maybe some not-as-good ones) and gave gifts to those we wouldn't be seeing on the following day. It was a jolly time, and the evening ended with a brief late-night visit from Mary-Elizabeth, who promised to return the following day.

Of course, the following day was Christmas, which began as always with my sisters and me running and jumping onto my brother's bed to wake him, followed by our rushing downstairs to see if Santa came, and then getting out the cookies and coffee and egg nog to have for breakfast while we open gifts, one at a time, so everyone can see. And yes, we range in age from 23 to 28 and we still do this. And it's awesome.

I won't spend too much time talking Christmas, because as delightful as it is, I think it is both personal and universal enough that reading about the way someone else experiences it won't be all that interesting to most of you. I will say that we had an amazing lasagna dinner (best in the world), we heard an interesting grace thanks to my father, and we stayed up late to watch "It's a Wonderful Life," which was interrupted by another visit from Mary who was headed down to D.C. early to avoid the big snowstorm that was predicted for the next day.

The snowstorm brought the next pleasant surprise, which was that I had three extra days in New Jersey. On the first one I got to participate in a surprise 30th birthday party for Jen, a high school friend of my brother's (and mine, too, though I was closer to her brother, Brent). This was especially fun, because I got to catch up with some people I hadn't seen in years, and I always find it fascinating to see in what varied directions our lives go after high school. Of course, some things never change, and at more than one point in the night we felt like we were right back in the Bishop Eustace cafeteria, gossiping and giggling and generally goofing around.

The next two days were a mixture of hanging out with my siblings and a good friend or two, and sorting through things at home that I wanted to take back with me, and maybe a little bit of worrying about the work I had meant to accomplish over the break that was now being put off for a few more days. And then, almost before I realised it, I was back on a plane to England, a trip which I have already described in another post.

Now I must finish getting dressed for work (5 more days of telethon...sigh), so I will sign off here. I wish you all a pleasant day!