Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Have Left the Building

One of the more enduring memories from my twenties in Brisbane was an incident regarding a friend of ours. He rang us up once, out of the blue, to let us know that there was a play that some mates of his were putting on called Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. He was going to go next week, and wanted to know if we wanted to come with him and ‘a few mates’.

As I’m sure you’re already aware, the aforementioned play takes up two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and makes a story out of their quest for existential meaning et al while the events of Shakespeare’s play unfold around them.

We agreed to come and turned up on the night. Our friend was there.

So were around thirty people, all invited at the last minute like we were.

Brisbane, unless something big has changed, is generally not considered to be one of the great theatre going centres of the world.

As one of our other friends commented (also, like us, part of the group of thirty plus), “Imagine you or I phoned up people we knew at random and asked them to come, at the last minute, to an obscure amateur production of a play about two minor characters in a Shakespearian play that you were going to see with your mates.”

The observation didn’t really need to be finished. It was fairly obvious that were I to do that, the end result would not be thirty plus people turning up to the first live play of their lives.

I’ve never really met anyone quite like that since.

But I had a very minor echo of the Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead experience on Monday.

I was standing at the back of another packed McCulloch lecture on the Reformation in England during Elizabeth’s reign. Extra seats have been put in the theatre, ten people are sitting on the ground in aisle. I and another woman are standing at the back. The lecture is packed in a way I have never seen before.

I am holding the last outline for the lecture. Yet another person turns up for the lecture. Because I’m not sitting the exam for this lecture, and because I can see that Michael Jensen is sitting in his normal seat, and I know he’ll have an outline, I hand my copy over. The guy is quite shocked (so far my experience of the English is that they are polite, but not really nice—giving away one’s lecture outline is not, I suspect The Done Thing). I explain that I can get a copy off my friend and photocopy it.

He says, “Is that Michael?”

Not, is that any other of the legion of people packed into this room. Not even is that one of the following five names of which Michael is one. Not even “Is that Michael Jensen.”

“Is that Michael?”

Well, yes, obviously it’s Michael I’m referring to. Who else would it be?

I’ve learned not to give my name when speaking to English people. If I don’t get it right it can make them uncomfortable. So now I wait for them to offer me their name (which they rarely do) and then return the favour.

But I’m beginning to wonder if maybe, at least among theological students and the like at Oxford, I could offer Michael’s name and mention that I know him.

Then I could try inviting them to a play about two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet…MDB

Monday, October 29, 2007

Settling at St Ebbe's

Last week we formally joined St Ebbe's church at Oxford by signing an attractive purple brochure.
We had thought we'd try lots of other churches and eventually settle on one (which we thought would probably be St Ebbe's as we'd heard many good things about it). But we didn't. We pretty much started attending the evening service and that's where we are going now regularly.

Thankfully St Ebbe's has lived up to its reputation as being a friendly, welcoming place where it is enjoyable to be every Sunday. It is astounding to see people being counter-cultural and leaving their proper English reserve to one side to talk to us, and even tell us their names! This has not been the case in any other social context here, but is a marked characteristic of the Christians at St Ebbe's (and must be quite difficult to pull off - reserve is as much an English trait as directness is an Australian trait: it is hard to even know that you are doing something like that when it is so much a part of your culture and thinking).

We've also joined a Bible study on Wednesday nights, where we get together with a whole bunch of people (about 80?) and have dinner, and then split up into smaller groups and discuss a section of the Bible. This is impressively managed and fun, and is a great way to get to know people in such a large church. And it is particularly enjoyable because we get to talk about something substantial, rather than the customary, "Where are you from?" patter, which stops being entertaining after a while.

We'll no doubt have to change congregations and Bible studies when our baby is born (there are no children in the evening service), but for now we are enjoying our new church.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Black is the new... Black

Here are some photos from matriculation. Our camera is still somewhere on its way over to us, so these photos were taken by a friend. We tried to take some on a disposable camera, but we haven't developed that yet and in any case our scanner is in a box on a ship somewhere. So these will have to do. The long line of students is just the Wycliffe College group - the Matriculation ceremony was done several times over with about 9000 students at each 'sitting' apparently. (I didn't hear that from a proctor so I'm not prepared to swear to it). The building cloaked in attractive green scaffolding in the background is the Sheldonian, a famous theatre in Oxford, which is where the Matriculation ceremony was held.

You'll notice that at no time is Mark wearing his hat. You will also notice that we are both wearing black. At least on this score we are totally in agreement with a thousand years of Oxford custom. You can't beat black.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Belligerence and Buses

Many people ride bikes in Oxford. Among these are a group of elderly women who regularly ride their bikes around the place. I have no objection to this phenomenon and merely observe that it is not usually the case to have many women in this age group ride bikes.

What does disturb me, however is that they rarely wear helmets.

I've encountered a few of these women as I've been at the shops and in other contexts, and frequently they appear to be unimpressed by the world around them. Often they are heard to complain loudly as to why something or other Should Not Be Done. I have heard that they have mostly lived here their whole lives and I expect the changes of the last 20 or so years are difficult to countenance, so I can't say it particularly bothers me. Besides, the English are not comfortable with casual conversation, and as many of these women probably live alone (being widows of Oxford dons apparently), it gives them some kind of social interaction.

But this kind of belligerence just doesn't work with bike riding. These very frail looking women simply can't protect themselves from other cars and buses through sheer belligerence. They need something hardier, like a good solid helmet. Yet, it would not surprise me slightly to discover that they refuse to wear said helmet out of this stubborn desire not to follow these new fangled modern customs. And besides, it's their town; why should they be obliged to wear something as undignified as a helmet?

Still, I wish they would. They look so vulnerable. JMB

Monday, October 22, 2007

In Praise of Squirrels

We like squirrels.

They hurtle themselves about, in fluid movements of fur. They scamper from branch to branch, stopping to do curious things with their little paws. They bounce across the grass as they look for nuts! They are cute and watchable.

Possibly it comes from growing up in a country where there are a lot of cane toads, bush turkeys and a variety of eerie looking lizards, all of which are really irredeemably ugly. Not to mention a large collection of other animals which will attempt to kill you or cause structural damage if accidentally upset. Squirrels are neither ugly nor particularly aggressive (though we did hear of someone who was attacked by one, but when we heard the circumstances, our sympathies lay with the squirrel). Nor are they as noisy and tiresome as say possums, whom most of us meet in the middle of the night with a broom, trying to stop an unholy racket so we can get some sleep.

It may be that squirrels have an odious personal habit which will change our good opinion, but for now, we would like to express our appreciation of this lithe, bounding, interesting creature. JMB

Friday, October 19, 2007

Praying for us...

Some of you might be praying for us and wondering what we'd like prayer for (and we figured at least some people are reading this blog in the hope of gleaning something to help them pray intelligently for us). So, we thought we'd put down a couple of ideas.

Please thank God for the fairly seamless move over here. The move was hard, as all moves are, but didn't completely undo us and settling in over here has been relatively painless. We were expecting a lot more to go wrong and many (important) things have been reasonably worry-free.

We are particularly grateful that our baby seems to be growing happily and there are no complications with the pregnancy at this stage. This has been the answer to many prayers (as a number of people have told us that they joined with us in praying for the pregnancy to happen)and so please thank God with us for it. Please join us in praying that this will continue and that the delivery will be timely and safe, and that our baby will come to know and love the Lord Jesus.

Please pray for us as we continue to settle in at Church (St Ebbe's), and at Wycliffe. Pray that we will be able to form good relationships with various people and that we will be an encouragement to others.

Please pray for Mark as he studies. Pray that what he learns will enrich his knowledge and love of God and enable him to be able to engage with others to their benefit and the benefit of God's people. Pray that he will be wise in his use of time and what he chooses to study.

Please pray for Jennie as she finishes writing studies on I, II, III John for KYB and focuses on Revelation for her next MTh project, as well as doing some thinking for her MTh thesis on John's Gospel. Pray that what she produces might be clear and useful, and of benefit to others. Pray also that she will grow in her walk with Christ as a result of her work.

These probably cover the distinctive issues at the moment, feel free to pray for us for the normal issues of life too. We are grateful for your prayers.

We might try and update these prayer points monthly, but these should certainly cover things for the next four weeks or so. JMB & MDB

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Genuine Hat Trick

Mark matriculated on Saturday. It seemed to me that the entire point of the ceremony to was to see just what you could get people to do if you told them they had to do it. And to see what a clean undergraduate looked like. Of course, I could just be a bit cynical.

But the truly disturbing thing was realising that we had been grossly misinformed regarding Mark's hat. (see
He can wear it. And may not in fact be given a different one when he graduates.

Clearly we have fallen victim to either the ignorance of our fellow students, or the Oxford equivalent of the well known Australian 'drop-bear'. Indeed if it is the latter it may provide a window into the relative psychology of the two countries. Australians play practical jokes about lethal bears which drop down from trees; the English play practical jokes about the protocol of wearing hats.

We are resolved to trust other students no longer, but to obtain all our information from the Proctors, who above all things take themselves, their (bowler) hats and university protocol with great seriousness. They are bred to be incapable of any other reaction. (They are rumoured to have never smiled). The same cannot be said for students! JMB

Monday, October 15, 2007


I am sitting here trying to finish the essay for this week (on Irenaeus’ understanding of the plan of salvation) before tomorrow’s tutorial session. This prompts a bit of self-reflection. I have a tendency to bite off a bit more than I can chew, and it looks like my original plans for lecture attendance is going to need to be pared back a little bit.

The German that is on for Wednesday mornings is a reading group—which depends on a better grasp of German than I have at the moment. It looks like what I’m going to need to do is book myself into a language lab and get my German up a bit higher before joining the group either next term or next year.

I’ve also found last week that this weekly essay is a bit larger task than I originally anticipated. It probably involves reading and taking notes on around 200 pages most weeks and then producing a word-efficient 2000 word essay. While I can probably do it and attend all the lectures I originally wanted to, it’s not going to leave much room for error. I had two bad work days last week and found that I had to skip the lectures today to get the essay written—that’s not a good sign about the margin of error that I have under the current scheme.

Accordingly, I think I shall drop Aquinas’ philosophy from Monday 2pm. I missed the first lecture for this last week as I underestimated how long it would take to return to Wycliffe Hall, eat lunch, and return to the relevant College for the lecture. Having now missed the first two lectures out of a sum total of eight, makes this one seem like an obvious one to be dropped and picked up in a later year.

I think I will also drop Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I think this work is far more important than is often realised by theologians, because most Christian ethics draw on elements of Aristotle’s account for building blocks at points and yet Luther in places seems to see Aristotle’s approach as lethal for a biblical understanding of salvation. Nonetheless, of the subjects that are left, it is the one that has the least connection to work I’ve already done. Eliminating it has the further advantage of freeing up Tuesday morning, which would mean that (with Aquinas gone at 2pm Mondays) I have two whole blocks of time freed up to get work done.

Last week felt like Monday and Tuesday were little more than lecture days (that left me quite drained), so I didn’t even begin to start work until Wednesday (and even then and I didn’t start until mid-morning due to German). This should significantly change the make-up of the first part of the week.

It is a perennial issue, my appetite for knowledge is usually requires a greater investment of time than I can manage. Hopefully I can choose some of these things up in the years ahead, but for now, less is more. MDB

Friday, October 12, 2007


This is our word for Oxford. We had a day off last Sunday and wandered around Oxford, not doing anything in particular. We ended up in the ‘city’ (although it must be noted that this is a concession to Oxford custom; there is no sense in which Oxford can be called a city. Even in more ancient times when a city consisted of a much lower population, Oxford would still not qualify as a city.) Precisely because it isn’t a city, it has a completely different feel to the frenetic energy of Sydney. People don’t shove or bustle. They might be blank-eyed tourists, congregating around scary intense looking tour guides. Or students: walking in clusters, running, riding, busy in their own worlds. Or important looking creatures, with an aloof, other-worldly air, disdaining the mere mortals with whom they are required to share their humanity.
But they are mostly unhurried, not harassed or jaded. Mellow, in fact. Though of course, some of these lives will be full of despair, frustration and have their own share of misery, this is not immediately evident in the tone of the ‘city’. Here, one could believe, for however brief a time, that life is good and beautiful and the madding crowd is a thing of fiction. An exquisite illusion. JMB

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Baddelim Triumphant!

The fat lady has sung! We have a phone at last. And it even works.

The nice engineer came out and climbed into the roof and spent about an hour and a half fixing everything so it worked. I have no idea whether we'll be charged A$300 for it or whether (given there was a phone line there) we'll only be charged for his fixing the 'fault'. But at least if we are charged I'll have the (limited) satisfaction of knowing he climbed a ladder and meandered through a manhole for our money.

Of course, the blissful silence we've enjoyed, broken only by the chittering of squirrels and the hum of traffic on Banbury road will now be gone forever. But at least we should have internet access next week, which is something we both enjoy.

And the satisfaction of having proven victorious over a bureaucratic company, despite their best efforts to keep us phone-less must not be underestimated. The taste of triumph is sweet. JMB

Monday, October 8, 2007


Some things here are just hard to fathom. England has a different sized 2l soft drink bottle than that in Australia. It is longer and narrower, like a slightly oversized 1.25l bottle. Ideally, it’s a great shape—the narrower shape means that there is a smaller surface area on the face of the liquid in contact with the air which should mean that it goes flat just slightly more slowly than the Australian version.


The English seem to prefer small fridges. We were very pleased (and somewhat relieved) to discover when we got here that the fridge in our unit was not the bar fridge that we had been expecting. But it is still quite small. So far every fridge I’ve seen would be considered smallish by Australian standards.

This makes a certain degree of sense. English fruit and veges don’t seem to have much of a shelf life—due no doubt to the fact that a lot of it is imported. And the quality of the fruit and veges is, with rare exception (like potatoes, which are the nicest roast potatoe variety I’ve tasted), of a quality slightly lower than that in a substandard Woolworths or Coles (and costing more of course). So you don’t buy a week’s worth of groceries. One buys groceries for a couple of days (unless you do what a number of the English seem to have done, and just despaired of cooking with these dubiously fresh ingredients and buy ready made meals, of which there are a lot). Hence, a smaller fridge makes good sense.


Why have a long soft drink bottle when you only have small fridges? You cannot stand it upright, it has to be laid down flat. (Believe me, I’ve tried, there is no way to have 2l coke in the fridge standing upright.) This means that as soon as any coke is taken out of the bottle, the entire length of the bottle becomes the surface area exposed to air, speeding up the process whereby the soft drink becomes flat quite considerably.

I like to drink coke. Yet, I can’t drink it fast enough to prevent the last 1/3 of the bottle being about as flat as the landscape around here.

So why have a bottle that cannot fit in the average fridge door or the average top shelf? MDB

Friday, October 5, 2007

Lecture Addendum

The course co-ordinator for Aquinas' theology has gotten back to me, and it's a no go. That reduces the hours to only seven. Only two of those are in theology (maybe three if you count German, as it is being offered by the theology department). Still, there's an awful lot there that God has given me through Oxford's offering. MDB

The Original English Hat Trick

I have been engaged this week in preparing Mark for Matriculation. This is a ceremony so ancient that it makes no sense to anyone, and just in case anyone should attempt to decipher it’s meaning, it is conducted entirely in Latin. Basically it seems to consist of Mark wearing a particular outfit, parading with his fellows from his college to somewhere, certain Latin words being spoken which acknowledge previous study done by the participants as in some measure legitimate (I believe, but don’t really know), and then presumably there is cake and tea on a lawn somewhere. (Though I don’t hold out much hope of the cake and tea).

The basic skill set involved is getting the costume right. Thankfully there are several well equipped shops in Oxford which will help with just that issue for a sum. They tell us we need a graduate’s gown and mortar board. And under this Mark has to wear ‘sub fusc’: a dark suit, white shirt and white bow tie, dark socks and shoes. Thankfully we had some idea of this piece of local tradition while we were in Australia and some friends had kindly loaned us their white bow tie and mortar board (because strangely they won’t be using this equipment for the next four years – Australia is sadly deprived of these curious official occasions).

However, I discovered in the course of this preparation that this regalia needs to be worn during examinations also. This caused some concern. The mortar board (the hat) doesn’t actually fit Mark, so I set about trying to find out whether this would be a serious issue. (Would he have to wear the hat while sitting an exam or just while walking into the exam? Would we need to glue it onto his head to stop it falling off during exams? Could this be slightly annoying?) In the process of asking these questions, I discovered something truly amazing. Mark will never wear this hat. He has to carry it during matriculation. He has to have it on his person during examinations. Presumably he will need to carry it during his viva at the end of the academic year. But he never has to wear it.

In fact, if a proctor finds him wearing his hat, he will be fined. He is not allowed to wear his hat.

It gets better. The reason for this prohibition against him wearing his mortar board is that he hasn’t graduated. Fair enough. We never really thought that this hat was going to keep his head warm. It was only ever ceremonial. If he hasn’t graduated, then he can carry it round with him to show he intends to graduate, I suppose, or in case there were a sudden graduation in his immediate vicinity in which he were included, he’d be prepared. But what is truly beautiful about this is that when he does graduate, he can’t wear this mortar board. He has to wear a different hat. DPhil graduates have their own hat—nothing so lowly as a mere mortar board. He will never ever legally wear this hat. Yet he will be breaking university protocol in a fairly serious way if he doesn’t carry this hat around with him to official university functions for the next four years.

The dependence of British comedy on irony is becoming clearer. JMB

Lectures and Other Profitable Time Investments

At the moment I’m going to try and go to about eight hours of lectures this term:

MacCulloch on English Religion 1558-1600
Aquinas’ philosophy
Kant’s philosophy

Heidegger’s Being and Time (hopefully it’ll give me the boost to profitably finish reading that book that I have been fitfully reading for almost two years now)
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

German for Theologians (try and cement what Kay Avery began)

Pre-Nicaea theology (Dr Edwards my supervisor, and one of the exams at the end of the year - so a lecture series I'm particularly looking forward to),
Aquinas’ theology

The possible snag is that the lectures on Aquinas’s theology are for undergraduates only—I’m going to have to get special permission to attend. If that isn’t given I’ll both miss out on a possibly great overview, and will have only seven hours of lectures in this term. (Although my supervisor seems to think that eight hours is "a heavy lecture load").

Looking over the ‘menu’ that I selected these from produces mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m (very) appreciative of the chance to delve into historical theology and philosophy in a more focused and substantial way than we did at Moore.

However, looking over the lectures on offer makes me even more grateful and committed to Moore’s commitment to a (very full) ‘one size fits all’ BDiv program that focuses on Biblical studies primarily and a workmanlike doctrine and ethics program as the complement. This stuff is great for a postgrad (even if it is going to be at undergrad level – a whole term on a theologian by an expert, or a whole term by MacCulloch on Reformation studies is Time Well Spent) but I suspect it’d be pretty bitsy and dis-integrated if you were relying on it for your ‘bread and butter’ BDiv as preparation for a ministry of the Word. (If nothing else, the small amount of theological topics reflects my view of the limited range there that really grabs me).

To these lectures I think I’ll be adding the following:

Attending Wycliffe’s chapel a couple of times a week. This will be a sacrifice, as it starts a bit after 8am, which is not my idea of a civilised start to the day.

Reading and writing essays for the exams with my supervisor’s guidance.

Working on the 15 000 word dissertation

Working on my Greek and German. ‘nuff said.

Writing a series of studies on Gen 12-50 for Matthias Media. This was discussed about seven(!) years ago after I wrote the Judges studies and has been in desuetude most of that time. I haven’t had enough control over my time to carve out the space to pursue such a project. But life as a postgrad may well give me that kind of lifestyle. As it looks that I will be spending most of my time over the next four years engaging directly in everything other than the Bible, a project like writing some Interactive Studies seems like it could make efficient use of a single piece of rock in the termination of multiple fowl.

Other miscellaneous activities: writing overdue reviews for RTR, reading some books I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and the like.

Together that should be the kind of package that has enough diversity to keep me fresh, is sufficiently focused to drive the assessments at the end of the year, has enough in it to keep me stretched and yet hopefully won’t burden me with a sense of having too much to do. I’ll try it, and modify as needed. MDB

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bureaucratic Torture

Today has been a nightmare of incompetence, which mercifully we have rarely experienced in our combined 70 years on this planet.

Last week, while it was still September, we rang the company which are shipping over our boxes and paid the customs levy using a credit card that would expire at the end of September. We explained that it would expire at the end of September and we were sending it through early so that they could charge it during September as we particularly wanted it charged to that account. They agreed to do this and said it would go through that day.
On Monday I rang them to get the receipt number to include in the paperwork we need to send back to them. They told me that they knew we had paid and not to worry about the receipt number as it was already firmly in their records that we had paid.

So, it was surprising to get a phone call from them this morning to complain that the credit card we had given them was expired.

Thankfully my ever gracious husband took the call.

But what really destroyed our day today was the incompetence of a certain telephone company which must remain nameless but has been dubbed ‘Bureaucratic Torture’ by ourselves as descriptive of the kind of service it offers.

We contacted them on 20th September to get our phone connected. On 18th September, we believe, the previous tenants of our flat disconnected their line with this company. On the 20th September I was informed that there had never been a line to our unit and we would need to pay a cool $A300 to have one installed.

I was slightly prepared for this. The Land Agents had warned us this would happen. The Jensen’s had heard that is had happened to multiple people in our building. So, I was assertive and suggested that this was not in fact the case and I could see a phone line in our wall, but they maintained that there was not a phone line in our flat and that I would need to have an engineer to come out and install one. Eventually I reluctantly agreed and they said they’d ring me back to organise this. (We have been told by others that if there is a phone line in place then Bureaucratic Torture won’t charge us, but said company hasn’t been prepared to admit such a possibility).

On the following Monday, not having had a call back, I rang again. I was told not to ring on Mondays as they are particularly busy on Mondays. I held on despite this discouragement, hoping to talk to someone, only to be cut off after being on hold for 45 minutes.

I rang again the following day after 1pm, as instructed by the ‘customer service message’ and spoke to a real person, after only 20 minutes on hold. She informed me that if they were to connect the phone we would need to have a 12 month contract with them. However, with her I made progresss and arranged a date and time for the engineer to come and install our phone line (which she also maintained had never been installed). He or she was to arrive from 8am to 1pm today.

Today between the hours of 8am to 1pm we waited (in shifts) for the engineer. Given our experience with this company, we weren’t shocked and horrified when he or she did not arrive. However, undaunted, we went down to Carphone Warehouse (who are really quite competent it seems), and discussed whether we need to have a physical phone line at all. The sad news is that we do, and in our case the only company in England who can activate our phone line are our friends, the Bureaucratic Torturers. We are in that unfortunate 30% of the country for whom Bureaucratic Torturers have a monopoly—Virgin, which would do it much faster and cheaply can’t service us.

So, we went down to the public phone to call them and explain that as much as we’d love to go elsewhere we were stuck with them, and would they mind very much getting their act together. We were on hold this time for 50 minutes. A harassed sounding Indian man took my call and apologised profusely when I explained what had happened. When I didn’t get mad at him (I confess I was more broken spirited than godly at this point), and accepted his apology, he then thanked me profusely for accepting his apology, which made me feel very sorry for the guy. I can’t imagine how disheartening it would be to work for this company – I feel ashamed just being their customer.

However, he then apologised to me again for all the inconvenience in such a way as to let me know that the inconvenience wasn’t actually over yet. He told me that he was not going to put a call through to the engineers because that would take 10 working days. Instead he told me he would put a priority call through to them. This would mean that they would call me back within 3 days. I checked that they did in fact have our mobile number (a Virgin mobile – it took me less than 15 minutes to arrange our mobile phone). So, this company which hadn’t kept its appointment had no mechanism with which to correct the fault in any sense and say, make another appointment. No, they couldn’t do that. They would ring me back. I must confess I didn’t believe them, but as there no other option I asked for a reference number (which are useless, but make me feel better), and finished the call.

On the way home, less than half an hour later, we received a call from this company. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting this at all and the phone was buried deep in my bag, so we only had a message left on our voicemail. This, it turned out was a Good Thing because the engineer informed us that no-one had attended our appointment from 8am to 1pm that day because no-one had been scheduled to do so. He seemed remarkably relaxed about this. However he had managed to schedule another appointment for us this coming Monday from 8am to 1pm and had organised for the engineer to call us closer to the time to confirm more precisely the time of the appointment. He didn’t mention whether anyone was actually scheduled to attend this appointment.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from this company confirming our direct debit details and informing us that they would be charging us whatever we owed them directly from our bank account unless we contacted them. Frankly, it disturbs me more than I can express that these people have our bank account details. And it also disturbs me that there is any discussion that we owe them anything, monetary or otherwise, for their spectacular lack of service.

So our phone saga continues. Mercifully it is the only real saga. All other bureaucratic issues are going well, and the one I was most concerned about – the medical/hospital issues – are all sorted. However, we cannot have internet in our flat until this comedy of errors coughs up its final laugh. I can’t wait to hear the fat lady sing. I’m sure she’ll be singing ‘Rule Britannia’. JMB

Disappointment and Opportunity

Well, it seems official. We are here for four years. Oxford has taken the research MSt off the books and now in its prospectus speaks of the MSt as ‘the normal entry to the DPhil’. This means one year of course work and a 15 000 word dissertation before work on the thesis can begin. So the offer of entry straight into the DPhil last year was possibly one of the last gasps of the old system as Oxford takes on one (very small) element of the American doctoral program.

I am disappointed. This will bring the number of years of full time tertiary study up to twelve, meaning I have spent more of my adult life as a student than a worker. I am also still (five years on) a bit jaded with exams after the fairly intense experience from Moore’s BDiv. Sitting down for a few years to write an original lengthy piece of research is one thing, going through another set of exams quite another.

The ‘bright side’ in all this is that it is an Oxford coursework/research Masters.

Thus I have to sit three papers and hand in a long essay (the dissertation) at the end of the year. How I get through those hoops is up to me and my supervisor. This means that there aren’t lectures I have to go to as part of my requirements – and, perversely, this frees me up to look at all the (mainly undergraduate) lectures on offer and pick out the ones I would like to do. Precisely because they aren’t tied to the assessment, I feel free to enjoy them.

I am also going to experience the Oxford tutorial system. My supervisor and I will meet weekly this term and I will produce a 2000 word essay each week on a question given by him from a bibliography provided by him. We’ll then take an hour to talk over the issue. We’ll work through the areas that will be examined in one of the three papers I have to sit in June next year (the development of doctrine up to Nicaea). I’m looking forward to this part of things, as I have always felt that this was a method of learning that I was particularly suited to. It’ll be interesting to finally test that thesis.

Finally, the long essay can be something that can be integrated into my doctoral thesis – so I can also have the feeling that I’m doing something towards my medium-term goal and am not just treading water this year.

It’s not the lean three year thesis machine that my older colleagues are used to in an era (just) gone by, but it is going to give me the chance to broaden out my education a bit, and pick up some things that I haven’t had the chance to investigate yet. If I’m here for an extra year, I’m going to make sure I get something more from it, which will be the subject of my next post. And if these four pieces of assessment are the gatekeepers to the DPhil, I’m going to make sure I hit them pretty hard. MDB

Monday, October 1, 2007

Watching the English

When Jennie and I moved from Brisbane to Sydney to study at Moore I experienced culture shock. It was a bit of a surprise for me, as I had thought that an Australian was an Australian, was an Australian. But Sydney people were different, and it took me months (arguably years) to begin to come to terms with the very different outlook, norms, conventions, and the like from those I grew up with in Brisbane. The process of adjustment was not enjoyable, less ‘viva the difference’, and more ‘all of you need to have your collective heads examined.’

This time around I was braced for the shift of gears. Hence, I haven’t been caught by surprise. However, it still doesn’t mean that it has been all that fun. The English relate very, very differently, and until I work out the method behind the madness it can be very offputting, despite the fact that I know it is going to happen. (Why do the English flinch when I say ‘hello’, smile, have eye contact, shake their hand and offer my name? That is just basic good manners back home, but here causes the reaction that I have traditionally associated with singing; loud, nasal, off-key singing.)

Michael Jensen to the rescue. Just at the point where I was beginning to hunker down into a defensive (and sullenly angry) detachment from these bizarre behaviours, he offers us his copy of Watching the English.

It is a book by an English sociologist on Englishness, examining aspects of English behaviour by looking at parts of life that are common to various societies (such as work, play, eating) and some that are quite specific to the English (talking about the weather, pubs), all with an eye to the distinctively English way of doing these things.

It is everything I need, and written in a clear, engaging and humorous prose. I think it should be mandatory reading for any Australian intending to spend time in England or with the English. I’d even recommend it for armchair travellers who like the idea of seeing the world from another culture’s perspective. By the end of the book, I had a fair feel for the kind of traits that made up the English as a group, and it was ringing true with my limited experience.

I still can’t honestly say that I appreciate any of the things the book identifies, at the moment what is most significant about the book is what it has confirmed about my own initial impressions: the author is quite up front that if 'the English' were an individual, they would be considered passive aggressive and adolescent in their approach to social interactions. That's not great news. Passive aggression is one of those things that I don't tolerate easily, and I didn't get teenagers even when I was one.

Nonetheless, my appreciation will probably grow (it did in Sydney). Some kind of understanding is (at least in my case) a prerequisite for engagement. And this book offers a kind of understanding that I would be unlikely to obtain on my own. It is simply fantastic, a beacon of light in a land of benign insanity. MDB

Lewis Plugged

Computers are a law unto themselves. We went to play the first of the Lewis movies last night. Rather than enjoying the opening bars of the Lewis theme music (which we were looking forward to, given it was the same composer as the one who wrote the moving Morse theme music) we were asked if we wanted to change the zone for our computer to the UK. We were also informed that we could only make four zone changes until the computer would be permanently frozen at that zone.

Why this is imposed upon Windows (even Windows Vista) in a day when multi-zone dvd players are the norm is beyond me. Now, we're going to have to try and find out if we can get around this stricture by buying a cheap dvd player and connecting it to the laptop (and whether that is even possible). If that can't work, we're going to have to do a more serious revision of our plans with regards watching shows and movies.