Posts Tagged 'University'

The Power of Songs to Make Us Cry

What is it about certain songs that touch one so deeply?  With some it’s the lyrics, others have such a beautiful melody, or even just the tenderness in the voice of the singer.  For me, there are a few, just a few, very special songs that I know, whenever I listen to them, will move me.  I’ve never actually shed tears solely from listening to a song, but some bring me very close.

Some songs hold a connection to someone we know, the subject and lyrics may remind us of someone in our family, which means that the song automatically connects to that person in our head.  An example would be Handbags and The Gladrags.  I find this song so incredibly sad, because it makes me think of my own Grandad and the line ‘That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you’ makes me think of all the sacrifices my Grandad has made to give me things I wanted over the years, and how hard he worked to do it.  Some connections are less obvious.  For example, (another Rod Stewart song, sorry) in Maggie May, there is a line; ‘The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.’  The line always makes me think of my Dad, and how he’s ageing but still wants to be young, and the injustice of growing old, hanging on to youth.

Sometimes songs remind one of a time and place, a period in one’s life.  For example, two songs will always remind me of the phone call that told me I’d been accepted into University.  Immediately after I’d put the phone down, I played Last Night and Someday, both by The Strokes, to celebrate, and those two songs will always take me straight back to that moment of elation and pride.  Similarly, a group of songs will always remind of a certain summer that I spent in my flat, shut away behind closed curtains, which I will always think of as the summer when I found myself and learned to write.

I mentioned, at the start of this post, tenderness of voice.  Some songs have an emotional power, for me, because of a quality in the singer’s voice.  Examples of this would be Last of The Ladies, or any song really, by The Courteeners, because of the gentleness and  touching quality of Liam Fray’s voice.  All of their songs are excellent, and almost all of them are beautifully moving, because of his voice.  Similarly, Pete Doherty.  Many of the songs Doherty sings with The Libertines, Babyshambles, or on his own, have a euphoric and celebratory note, and are uplifting.  I happen to think that almost all of them are fantastic music.  Some of them, a small selection, are more sedate and take on a beautifully poetic and almost heart-breaking quality.  An example would be For Lovers, which is Wolfman featuring Pete Doherty.  This song is so sad in the tone, audibly, and incredibly sung.  Last summer I was out walking on my own with the dog and I turned off the path onto the Heath, near where I live.  I was surrounded by a vast expanse of fields on one side and a view over the river and fields full of horses on the other.  As I set off, veering slightly downhill, with the sun setting in a flare of gold and orange and green, over the fields, For Lovers came on my Ipod, and it took my breath away.  The beauty of the moment, and the sound of the song, was magic.

Just over a year ago I went to the funeral of an eighteen-year-old boy, who was a very close friend.  This young man was devoted, in a way you can’t imagine, to music.  He spent any time he had travelling down to London for gigs.  His heroes were Morrissey, Robert Smith, and Pete Doherty.  He’d shook Morrissey’s hand, and was a regular visitor to Pete Doherty’s gigs and flat, and was on friendly terms with him.  There is a video of him playing the guitar while Pete warbles through Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.  The funeral was a very religious, catholic ceremony, and nothing in the service moved me that much.  Aside from feeling undeniably devastated at losing this friend, I didn’t actually cry all the way through the ceremony, until it ended, and I heard the first few notes of Music When The Lights Go Out by The Libertines.  Nothing else in the service had spoken about this person as an eighteen-year-old lad, or even as a human being.  The service talked about God and heaven, but nothing personal.  When this song started playing, I felt suddenly that it was Dale’s funeral.  Since then, the song will always be special to me, even more than it was before.

In the way that smells can take me back to a memory, or a time and place, and make me instantly remember where I was and what I was doing, create a picture in my mind of a specific situation, music takes me instantly back to specific emotions, and recreates that feeling deep inside me, every time I hear it.

Mandelson to widen education goalposts

Lord Mandelson has revealed a plan which proposes to make university education more easily accessible, giving applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds a two-grade head start, effectively lowering the minimum entry requirements for low-income families. The sentiment that university should be available to any capable applicant regardless of their situation is itself welcome and admirable. However, surely a more effective method of assistance would be to increase the financial aid available to disadvantaged students, rather than simply widening the goalposts and making it easier to be accepted.

The university system is built on certain foundations and academic achievement is arguably its most central and significant value. That an able and worthy applicant with the potential for academic success should be denied the opportunity for education and subsequent progression and standard of life because of their financial background is inequitable but to remedy this unfairness with a lowering of standards is a great misjudgement.

By giving any student who achieves mediocre grades at A-Level extra points to enable them to meet the requirements and be accepted by a university, this will mean that the level of ability in students and success at universities will be lowered, creating a domino effect through exam results and into the workplace with sub-capable graduates who were given a golden ticket in spite of their lower academic merit.

If there are competent applicants who are capable of achieving success at university but are prevented from doing so because of their family’s financial circumstances and background then the partiality could be balanced by offering disadvantaged students greater financial assistance, increased grants and loans and more pecuniary support from both the Government and the universities, rather than simply making it easier to get in. This would secure the same academic standards and requirements but remove the fiscal barriers which may inhibit many adept students.

If the academic standards are broken down then this will place greater demand on the already insufficient number of places available and would lower all of the education levels for students once at university because the level of capability in the seminar room and lecture theatre would be diminished, which would therefore affect the entire higher education system. While Lord Mandelson’s proposal is commendable, has thought been given to the students who are awarded a place under the new practice? The education system is formed on the basis that students are prepared for each new level they enter and are accepted on the merit of their previous achievement, which serves as an indicator that they are capable of reaching the common standards and keeping up with their peers. If students are let in under rules which warp and essentially override grades and academic attainments then there is no indicator that they will be capable of functioning at the standard level once they are accepted. The strain they will face to keep afloat for three years and the inevitable increased risk of failure are cruelty rather kindness or favour.

Social mobility and greater equality are vital to our progression as a society but sacrificing education standards and the entire education system in order to extend a hand of charity to disadvantaged applicants regardless of merit is both unfair to the students who do deserve a place based on academic capability and detrimental to the system because it effectively negates the need for A-level results which in turns negates the need for exams and inevitably education at all. Lord Mandelson’s planned change is a convenient solution to placate a component in society which is currently unable to meet the set requirements. Why not concentrate more energy on improving standards in schools and thus increase the levels of achievement at A-level, meaning that more students actually earn a place at university and are fully prepared for the demands they will face when they arrive? This would both provide more students with the opportunity to aim for university and sustain the levels of education at university. A more sensible immediate option would be to offer greater financial assistance to those who need it, which would maintain academic standards and provide the desired equality.

The new plan is equivalent to awarding places on a football team regardless of whether or not the applicants can actually play football. The need for entry requirements is not to decrease the number of accepted applicants but is to ensure that those accepted are capable of functioning at the necessary level once on the team or at university. A football team holds trials not to be elitist and discriminatory but to ascertain the level of ability and talent in each player. Similarly, the education system is not designed to inhibit acceptance but to maintain standards. Thus, anybody accepted to university must surely be required to prove they are deserving of a place based on academic achievement and ability. The element of unfairness should not be removed by removing these particular barriers but by removing financial ones, making it easier for students to receive monetary help from as many sources as possible, and to improve education levels in schools so that more students achieve the higher grades they need to be accepted.

Students: Deadline Rebellion

Deadline Rebellion
Vikki Littlemore

Why is it that all students, given weeks and months to prepare an essay or assignment, wait until the day before, the night before, even hours before the deadline? It seems to be an unspoken rule and inherent, mandatory compulsion. Students will spend time doing anything they can to avoid doing work and then panic and hyperventilate the day the assignment is due in. There is no better evidence I can offer than to confess that even now, as I type these words, I am approaching the deadline for 6,000 words of final assessments, due in tomorrow, and I’m only half finished. I’m powerless and simply cannot finish that work until I only have an hour left. This has been the case for every single piece of work I’ve completed this year, and I’m not alone. In this age of technological advancement, the Facebook Generation post status messages leading up to the deadlines of their work, informing their friends of their constantly updating word count or the fact that they haven’t even begun yet, effecting a form of communal atmosphere where classmates feel as though there are working alongside their colleagues. The sense of unity no doubt helps calm and encourage the desperate student and reassures that one is not alone. However, the time spent updating Facebook statuses could obviously be better spent completing the work.
The essay questions and assignment information are all provided at the very beginning of the course, meaning that effectively students have everything they need to complete all the assignments in the first week. Obviously this defeats the object and would negate the content of the course, but it does nevertheless illustrate the point that there is no reason to wait until a day before the deadline, there is ample time to prepare the work in advance. So why?

Is it deficit of time? This does understandably factor into the equation, as there are so many assignments due and so much reading to get through, that it is often difficult to get ahead and often one is merely keeping one’s head above water from one day to the next. This does however apply to the main body of the course, not the assignments. In my experience, students spend vast amounts of time socialising and flirting with alcohol, drugs and each other, and immense periods of time quite literally doing nothing, why then are they unable to complete work in advance? Speaking from very current experience (ie. while I’m typing this), it’s a psychological block. It’s the same principle as your parents telling you ‘don’t touch the iron, it’ll burn you’ and then eagerly waiting for the first opportunity to touch it, just to find out. When we are enforced to comply with something and denied the freedom to form our own judgement, we rebel by doing the opposite. The reason we touch the iron is because we are told not to, despite knowing full well for ourselves that we will inevitably be burnt. Similarly, because the deadlines and workload are enforced, we feel an overwhelming urge to rebel and therefore feel the need to decide for ourselves when we complete the work.
We know perfectly well that sensibly speaking we should begin the work well in advance, prepare it thoroughly and give ourselves plenty of time to complete it, but something in us, the rebel in us, feels compelled to deviate from protocol and decide for ourselves that we shan’t start the work until the date and time that we chose. Even though the brain advises against it, the heart demands that we assert our right to make the decision ourselves, the proverbial ‘cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face’, doing it ‘just because’.

This is understandable. After twelve years of school and all the regimented discipline, rules and education with little or no freedom whatsoever granted from parents, teachers and the Government, we are suddenly handed on a golden platter the opportunity to decide something for ourselves, the first opportunity in our lives to rebel while remaining within the rules. It is a delicious and irresistible prospect. Why should we do the work when the university tells us we should? We can spend our time watching Jeremy Kyle and do the work in under an hour on the deadline date. It’s our choice to make, our right.

Our time as students has always been traditionally and inherently entwined with acts of rebellion and assertions of independence, whether it be political activism or staying in bed until three in the afternoon. It is the first time in our lives when we are truly independent and adult, allowed freedom and decisions. Unlike school, if we don’t attend a lecture, nothing happens. We don’t get detention and our parents aren’t informed. We have the freedom to make that decision, we decide for ourselves. Thus, the eternal state of studenthood is mythically linked with rebellion and anarchy.

So, is the reason for leaving work until the last minute so profound and dramatic as innate rebellion and a need for independence? Or is it so simplistic as laziness and preferring to drink until we fall over? Is there even a reason for it? Well, there must be, given that every student I’ve met acknowledges and practices this mystical and unwritten law. There must be some reason, or it wouldn’t be as innate and inevitable as it evidently is.

My conclusion is that I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I knew why I was typing these words rather than completing my enormous piece of work, which is a very important final assessment, 50% of my course mark, and due in tomorrow, and which I haven’t even begun. It is impossible to answer but undeniable nonetheless. Students are powerless to this built-in inability to complete work in advance. As a good friend has just said; so it always has been, so it always will be. That’s it.

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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up ( with your thoughts.

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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Pete Doherty,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day

Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road

Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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