Day 48

The Student’s Essai

[Due to the continued absence of the Content Provider, the blog has decided to copy what Have I Got News For You did following to the non-availability of Angus Deayton, but, Legal points out, with no implication that Content Provider was up to the same sort of high jinks. His girlfriend is no longer pregnant, anyway. Darzán’s turn today. – Ed.]

Firstly, and very much before I go on, following a thorough review of the relevant literature, I find it incumbent on me to ponder whether there is in fact, or in practice, any limit, restriction or advice on the number, and complexity, of subordinate clauses I should use in this, or any subsequent, sentence. As a semi-trained, undifferentiated research student, it is imperative, nay indispensable, that terms are defined definitively at the outset, or before. As it is not clear to me whether (or not) this dissertation is to be peer-reviewed, I will dispense forthwith with the intricate and over-complicated format of referencing references in academic writing and leave someone else to jump through those particular hoops. This is, therefore, an academic exercise in both meanings of the phrase, and, I trust, the readership will treat it as such.

“Just write about what living on the hacienda is like for you and the rest of the Headscratchers,” was the full extent of the pre-essay preparatory instructions given me by The Editor, before he hauled me up from the cellar in the mutility room and forcibly sat me down in front of this keyboard. No reference books, no links to on-line lectures on the subject, not even an outline essay plan. I mean, I ask you, is that any way to treat a third level student faced with a writing task? [Get on with it – Ed.]

While I and the rest of the herd of PhD students currently housed in the cellar of the hacienda are, obviously, eternally grateful to Content Provider for taking us in off the street after our universities – pre-emptively and with malice aforethought, I would hazard – threw us out of our ivory towers and locked the ornate, iron gates behind us, life in the cellar is, for want of a better phrase, no picnic. While the food itself is of sufficiently high quality for our delicate, third-level constitutions, the manner of its serving leaves a little to be desired. Not to put too fine a point on it, he basically just opens the trapdoor and tips the leftovers from the family repast down the steps with no warning. At first, it was every man and woman for himself and herself, and we just commandeered one of the granite steps and licked our dinner off it. The American student insisted on licking his dinner off of it, but that’s Americans for you. However, under that system, a few of our fellow students who were not too quick off the mark, always ended up with a step that was, to all intents and purposes, devoid of food. After a few weeks of this, it became clear that this was not the optimum system for them to get the nutrients they required as they died from starvation. After the rest of us ate them (after they were dead and after they were cooked, of course: we are not savages), we decided a more democratic food-distribution system was required. We set up a working committee to establish an action group to discuss possible solutions, and, after protracted discussions and the resignations of the first two chairs, the committee is expected to produce its report on what its terms of reference should be within the next fortnight or so. In the meantime, one of the engineering research students has fashioned what she calls a ‘chute’ from old pieces of slate she found on the cellar floor, and said chute now sits on the third step down and ‘funnels’ (technical engineering terms, according to her) most of the scraps of food poured intermittently through the aperture into an empty French oak cognac barrel that we found empty down here after we emptied it. So now feeding time is a much more civilised affair, and we all gather around the cognac barrel at set times and dip our ‘plates’ (pieces of bark purloined from trees in the First Wood) into the contents and discuss Renaissance Art and the deficiencies of The Enlightenment.

As for drink, we have no complaints. The cellar was not actually designed as a research hub: it houses the impressive wine collection of the Content Provider, which we are manfully and womanfully working our way through. I have a particular fondness for his vintage 1921 Château d’Yquem, but I am nothing if not catholic in my tastes and have sampled many of his other fine wines. The cellar is temperature-controlled at 55°F, obviously, to protect the wines, which can get a bit chilly at nights, and we lost another of the herd when he fell asleep drunk in the sealed section where the champagnes are kept at the appropriate temperature. Again, his life was not given in vain, and we found a nice Chianti as accompaniment.

However, since I successfully negotiated a once-weekly bout of exercise with Content Provider, me and the rest of the Headscratchers have gone a tad feral. The First Wood is absolutely stinking with wild garlic at the moment, in both senses of the phrase, and we use it to season the odd squirrel that we manage to bore to death with talk of our theses and then cook on the fire pit in the centre of the wood. We have also been able to fashion rudimentary coats from bits and bobs we found in the wood, and they take the chill off at night. The Second Wood and the Scary Wood are off limits to our peregrinations, obviously, but, really, and in many ways actually, the First Wood is enough of a taste of Walking on the Wild Side for most of us. I need to keep my eye on Humphrey, though: he has started painting horizontal lines of ash from the fire pit under his eyes the odd time – I think he thinks he is in Lord of the Flies, and, as an English research student, he probably virtually is.

As for actual work, Content Provider used to throw us the odd tit-bit to research. But, what with the subdued lighting in the cellar and the lack of internet access, I’m afraid to say we have not made much actual progress on any of the topics. We are going to hold a vote soon about the possibility of exploring the feasibility of attempting to think about setting up a project team to investigate the advisability of asking for more light down here, but that is very much on the long finger at the moment.

In summary then (and now), and very much in what will be an inconclusive conclusion as is advised for any stay-on-the-fence academic tracts in case someone comes up with facts that contradict your conclusion and thus makes you look like a numbskull or a social scientist {same thing – Ed.] in the Common Room, it is not really a bad life here on the hacienda in comparison to our previous lives on various campi throughout these islands. While we have not been supervised in more than two months, that can have its own advantages, and what with the free food and drink, this new experience called ‘exercise’ and the absence of dread at having to meet real people who are not academics, we could be in worse places. Long live lockdown, is our new slogan, and we chant it in unison round the fire in the woods while waiting for the squirrel to cook. But Humphrey overdoes the native dancing on occasion, I fear. I really must keep a closer eye on him.

Is that enough?



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