Calling Open University students

We know you’re bright, you know you’re competitive.

You’ve also probably experienced a little of life, you might have been around a little, you may well have learned a number of things outside the narrow syllabus of your course.

Would you like to use that knowledge and experience in a different forum?

Would you like to take part in competing for a major quiz trophy?

A couple of us are considering putting together an Open University quiz team.


If so please drop me a line (either as a comment here or via the ‘contact’ detail on the webpage) so we can chat about it.


After the Fire

Look, I really don’t know why I’m being random with my blog titles tonight; it’s a Neil Young track FFS…

So I’m on the move again – tutorially speaking.

My new tutor runs two sessions – Monday and Wednesday.

I’m probably going to switch to Monday; Wednesday is one of my ‘riding’ nights because The Lovely Soph goes to be weighed and eat pasta and drink beer, play cards and do whatever else it is they do at her slimming classes.

Tonight’s class was interesting – if only from a compare and contrast aspect.

My new tutor is markedly different to my former.

A random quote from her comes to mind, the context is making contact with her: “I usually check my email at least once a week”.


In a peculiar reversal one of the students wants to switch to the tutor group that I’ve just left. She lives about 15 minutes away from the Birmingham study centre, the journey to Worcester took her 40 minutes.

So it’s change. And change. And change.

Right, gotta go.



You are in a classroom

Cue: Twilight Zone music

It isn’t any normal kind of classroom.

It’s full of ghosts, the spirits of students past.

The radiator clicks and buzzes as hot water is forced through it (in much the same way the brains of the past students would have clicked and buzzed as knowledge was forced in to them), yet the room remains cold.

The ancient-looking VCR in the corner is partnered with a television that might have been John Logie Baird’s prototype.

Incredibly, the room smells of chalk dust, yet there’s a wall-length white board; the room hasn’t seen chalk in at least twenty years.

The walls are festooned with ‘trendy’ posters to promote aspects of the classics to the students.

The students; where are the students?

They were here once.

Young, eager, brimming with excitement and anticipation.

Eyes wide open, brains receptive to new ideas…

On their terms.

Homer looks sternly down from above the white board.

What odysseys have you seen in here, Homerus?

What journeys will you see yet?

The furniture is comfortable but small.

The man sitting in his comfortable but upright chair at his functional yet slightly too-small desk feels like a Gulliver in a Lilliputian place of learning.

There are voices.

Next door eight or nine people are engaged in prayer.

The man finds this surreal.

Two more voices are heard, outside the door.

Students for the same class as the man, but less bold – haven’t operated the door, have chosen to stay outside to discuss… something.

The class is due to start in four minutes.



A103 update

Well there’s news and there’s not news, in a peculiarly ‘messed up’ kind of way.

The big development is that I’ve switched tutor groups.

The sole reason for this is because the OU had put me in a tutor group that invoked a two and a quarter hour round trip.

Whereas the tutor group that’s twenty minutes away… doesn’t.

Unfortunately (1)…

This change means that I have to go to another introductory tutorial tonight (having already attended the introductory tutorial in my former group in Birmingham).

Although my new tutor has said that I don’t have to attend I’ve decided that I’m going because as well as spending time getting to learn about the processes (again), procedures (again) and methodology (again), it’ll also be a chance to meet everyone in the tutor group.

This is a valuable opportunity to get to know the other students as well as being a pointer on where people are in their personal development. It’s also an opportunity to set up local networking contacts; too many good things to miss out on (whereas I’d be coming in as the ‘new boy’ if I missed tonight).

So I’m going. Again.

Unfortunately (2)…

My former tutor has suggested that my new tutor should be the one to read, mark and comment upon my submitted assignment (TMA01).

This seems logical.

I’ve put this point to my new tutor and I’m waiting for her to get back to me, but the cost – in terms of time – means that I’m not likely to get the feedback for TMA01 until well until next week or possibly later when, it seems, everyone else on the course will have had their feedback today.


Meanwhile elsewhere…

Work continues on TMA02 – this assignment is in four parts.

Part 1: Art History, is the analysis of a painting previously described (and believe me, very extensively googled from all over the world!).

Part 2: Literature, is to read and in no more than 300 words, write an analysis of the sonnet ‘February Afternoon’ (1916) by Edward Thomas.

Part 3: Music, is to write, in no more than 300 words, a descriptive analysis of ‘For No One’ by The Beatles – paying particular attention to features such as the verse-chorus structure, melody, rhythm, timbre, texture and the relationship between words and music.

Part 4: Philosophy, is to answer five questions in no more than 300 words (total) relating to a (seriously pretentious yet totally belief-suspending) dialogue between two people on artistic creativity.

All four parts are to be completed and submitted by 16th November.


TMA02 part one, is in process; should be completed by this weekend.

TMA02 part two, haven’t looked at it yet but as I have a blind spot about poetry anyway it’s going to be hard to get to grips with!

TMA02 part three, I’m really looking forward to that one, I might even do it next instead of the poetry thing.

TMA02 part four, whilst very comfortable with both objective and subjective philosophical discussions in various conceptual or abstract forms, I’m not sure I will be able to get my head around the tedious dialogue construction that we have to work with!

Ah well, at least it’s keeping me off the streets at night.



Bully boy

A blank page is more intimidating than one with words.

This evening I have read that van Gogh was intimidated by a blank canvas.

Moan: Why do so many write ‘van Gogh’ as ‘Van Gogh’? It’s incorrect, people. The guy’s first name wasn’t ‘Van’, it was Vincent. His full name was Vincent Willem van Gogh. Go on, look it up. And note my correct use of capitalisation when you do.

I’m not van Gogh, not in any sense, but I am similarly intimidated by a blank canvass – in this instance a blank page.

My assignment (Mr Phelps) is:

In no more than 300 words, write a descriptive analysis of this painting. Pay particular attention to features such as the composition of the pictorial space, to the organisation of form and detail, and to the use of lighting and tone, and say how you think these contribute to the effect of the work.

‘This painting’ is Man Reading by Georg Friedrich Kersting:

I know what I’m supposed to look at, appreciate the distinct areas I should pay attention to.

But it’s the blank page, sitting there, intimidating the life out of me.

I could bow down to the bullying intimidation; could do this assignment in significantly less than 300 words but with very little attention to the areas I’m supposed to dutifully visit.

Words such as ‘cold’, ‘boring’ and ‘lacking heart’ spring to mind.

But I won’t give in, will not let myself be intimidated by the bullying blank sheet of paper.

I’m off to bed though.

Not as an act of procrastination, oh no.

You see, my head’s so full of artistic analysis I need to sleep on it to let my subconscious process it all down in to manageable chunks.

Brian Sewell, you’d better look out!

Oh yes.

But first bed.

And perhaps a chapter from ‘Guerra‘ to help my mind switch off from this high-level concentration.


A103 blues (a bit like an Oxbridge blue. Not)

The Open University Internet bulletin board specific to the current module (A103) of my course carries two posts in particular that have irritated the hell out of me.

I suppose being irritated by only two posts out of so many isn’t that bad really, but bear with me for a moment.

One is a post from a chap who is looking for some assistance. Fair enough, we’re all keen to help each other.

But in his post he goes on to say: ‘I hope you can advice me‘.

Ffs, get a grip man!

You’re studying for a degree in English Literature and Language and you don’t even have the ability to distinguish ‘advice’ from ‘advise’?

When I was at school one would be on the receiving end of a swingeing punishment for such an awful use of grammar.

The other irritation scratching away like an itch below a piece of flaky skin originates in a thread that was begun to identify students in the Birmingham area.

After several responses from different people a woman responded with ‘Hello Brummies‘.

What the hell?

By what bizarrely twisted version of logic can she even begin to believe that everyone attending study group in the Birmingham area is a Brummie?

Brummie: a native of Birmingham

Has she not heard of (wait for it) travel?

To me her salutation speaks volumes about the cosy, narrow, suburban, white middle-class, sheltered existence that she lives within.

She has clearly experienced so little of life.



Open University students will know that the acronym ‘TMA’ stands for ‘Tutor Marked Assignment’.

Anyone who’s read deeply of Arthur C Clarke (author of many SciFi classics and founding father of diverse sub-sets in the genre) will know that ‘TMA’ stands for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly.

Yeah, you do; you know what one is.

It’s caused by the large black obelisk discovered on the moon (in Tycho crater – get the naming convention now?) in the book, film (and T-shirt) ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ .

But back to the other kind…

TMA01 was presented to the OU this evening; it is an almost incisive, not terribly witty (I thought it might be best for the time being to hide the shallowness of my intellect and keep my sense of humour powder dry) examination of how the author of a lacklustre ‘set piece’ uses language to highlight and contrast scenes of an exceptionally moribund piece of naively packaged, anthropomorphic, idealistic, drearyism it’s been my misfortune to read since…

pause, itch, scratch, ponder, doze…

Well, a very long time.

It’s not badly written, as such.

Just boring.

And all of the other things above.

But it was fun, writing the essay. It was a challenge.

I’m looking forward to the next part – Art History.

Speaking as someone who would, if he had one, wear an ‘I Love Brian Sewell’ T-shirt and, also speaking as someone who thinks Gainsborough is the wittiest artist we’ve ever produced, I think I’m going to find Art History a bit of an uphill struggle too.

I have a tutorial next week.

I have to slog all the way in to Brum on Saturday for said tutorial.

Bearing in mind how mentally worn out I am by the time Saturday comes around, I’ll probably end up presenting myself in a slightly less favourable light than Eddy Grundy at parents evening.

Oh well.

They’ll just have to take as they find.

Alright Clarrieluv?


Worn right out (but smiling muchly)

parental guidance warning, the following passage contains examples of extremely gratual laziness

The first bit of good news is that the OU essay is finished.

I did the breakfast in bed thing then later while The Lovely S showered then went to the gym, then collected my PO Box post then went shopping I…

Well, you know.


Stayed in bed.

And worked on my essay!

I did, honest!

The Lovely S came back, I dragged myself out of bed, in to joddies and t-shirt then drove to the yard.

Christine and Young Laura were already there; I hauled Vinnie out of the field, groomed him then loaded his tack in the lorry.

Arthur and Vinnie loaded well, settled down and we drove to Bissell Wood.

Once unloaded, tacked up and with Christine and I suited and booted in our XC armour we set off.

Two laps of the mini-XC with Arthur leading then without breaking our pace we cantered straight out on to the bigger track.

After two larger fences Vinnie took the lead – up until that point we had not been going well, he was desperate to overtake Arthur (racehorse mentality!) and I spent much of my time standing in the stirrups trying to hold him back.

But the minute he hit the front everything changed.

He sped up and we attacked each fence in a confidently aggressive way; I let him bowl on and adopted the much more normal cross-country riding position as we stormed around the course.

He was brilliant.

Even the dodgy-looking scary fences that caused us major problems last time flew underneath us as we stormed around the track at 30mph.

The bottom line is that we jumped everything (except the water which was being repaired and therefore out of commission); we were confident, positive and settled in to a proper balance and rhythm.

Back at the lorry I dismounted, untacked, groomed and loved Vinnie up. I’m so pleased with him, he continues to improve; he’s brilliant.


This is the second bit of good news.

With Vinnie back in his field at the yard – thoroughly well groomed (again) – and wearing two sliced apples on the inside, the lorry mucked out, swept out and put away, tack put away, a load of washing in the yard washing machine, it was time to head home where I had an urgent date with…

The shower!

As soon as I got in I peeled off my soaked (sweat-soaked) joddies, socks, t-shirt and underwear and fell upstairs in to the bathroom.

Right now I’m scrubbed clean, sweetly-smelling and sitting on the couch watching Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway (I’m giggling).

I’m completely worn out.

Like, totally, dude.

The Lovely S has – while I’ve been out having fun with Vinnie – cleaned the house from top to bottom, done loads of washing and ironing and even now she’s in the kitchen cooking veggie Spag Bol because I’m too bushed to even stand.

But I’m still smirking.



Quiet but not idle

Yeah, sorry.

I’ve been busy as hell lately.

Work and horses and reading and writing – chiefly those – have meant I’ve been remiss in other areas and, I can see, have neglected looking after The Lovely S to the degree of care, attention and all-round nurturing that one as lovely as she deserves.

I’ll try and fix these things but time ebbs away from me as I reach for it.

And to complicate things further…

My OU course is hotting up.

This week’s mailing comprises two DVD’s, 18 CD’s and a stack of text books large enough to make Tom Cruise look tall (if he stood on them. Which he won’t because they’re my text books and I treat them better than that!). And the study calendar which seems to be dictating a punishing pace even for an avid Art-fiend like wot I am (to paraphrase the immortal Ernie Wise).

I’m supposed to hand assignment one in by next weekend but I’ve set myself the target of getting it off in the next two days instead. It’s an essay – an observational crit of excerpts of a work published in the early 1900s.

The trouble is – because the output is literary-focussed I can’t get out of author mode. I’ve edited the flippin’ thing about 32 times this week alone. I’ve now removed the smart comments about the author’s near-terminal use of aliteration. There remains a comment that includes the words ‘Disneyesque idealism’ but they’re germaine and valid so stuff ’em, I’m leaving them in!

I’m supposed to be taking Vinnie cross-country schooling tomorrow afternoon – Bissell Wood again; Christine and Arthur have volunteered to accompany us. But we said, earlier in the week, that if the weather was too wet we wouldn’t go. Guess what? It’s going to be too wet. Probably.

Anyway, if Vinnie goes nicely tomorrow (if we go, that is), there’s a Hunter Trial at Bissell Wood a week Sunday that looks nice. If he doesn’t go nicely tomorrow I don’t have anything else lined up for next weekend. Saturday 13th there’s an unaffiliated dressage competition at Hartpury in Gloucestershire – that looks interesting.

The following day The Lovely S is off gliding again.

The Sunday after – 21st – there’s another dressage competition at Allenshill, on 28th there’s a Combined Training back at Allenshill and on 3rd there’s another dressage competition at Hartpury.

Around these weekend events I have to fit reading, writing, OU-work, The Lovely S and whatever else we decide to do (which may well include a small amount of time working on 9-5 stuff at home too).

It’s busy.

And my guest blogger (yes, I’m looking at you!) after submitting her very interesting view on life has now emailed to tell me she’s too busy to contribute any more right now.

She’s too busy?!

Ha! 🙂