Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Must. Transcribe. Faster!

That's really all I have to say, other than my observation that I almost can keep up on everything that I absolutely need to--email, blogs, etc.--in the one hour's worth of internet access a day that I'm willing to pay for. (This makes me concerned about the amount of time I spend on the internet when I'm not paying for it, but that's a worry I'll push to the back of my mind for now.)

I was rather expecting my time in the U.K. to be low-key: four or five hours of work a day, and then good times at night with the various friends and acquaintances who happen either to live here or to be overlapping with my visit. But lemme tell you: yesterday I got to the relevant archive late, and then spent the next five hours straight transcribing the longer and more important of the two MSS that I came here to copy. And when I say five hours straight, I mean five hours straight: did not use restroom. Did not take lunch break. Did not get up from chair. Today I did take a long, leisurely lunch with a friend-mentor who teaches nearby, but the three hours on either side of that lunch I spent similarly rooted to my chair.

On the positive side? I'm getting really fucking good at reading Secretary hand even in this tiny, cramped (and for the last few pages, increasingly lazy/sloppy) form. There are few words that I truly can't make out, although some do require my testing out different letter combinations on my computer screen to see what might produce something comprehensible. On the negative side? I'm transcribing at a steady rate of barely over two pages per hour. And this MS is more than 70 pages long.

Guess what? Ain't getting done on this trip.


Unrelated observations: every time I come here, I'm reminded of all the ways in which London isn't New York. Today I got stuck behind a crowd of freshly disembarked train passengers at Paddington, and despite the fact that it was EIGHT A.M. and everyone was in a suit and clearly had someplace to be, they all just shuffled slowly along like cattle, no one taking advantage of any openings in the crowd to slip ahead. Similarly, the staff in the coffee shops at Paddington apparently do not understand that their customers have trains to catch. I think I hissed 'Jesus CHRIST' under my breath about fifteen times this morning.

So far there are just two areas in which London emerges as the clear winner:

1. The men here love their suits, and I've seen some very handsome ones (suits, not men) in pinstripes and dark grey flannel. About women's fashions. . . well, I've admired several pairs of shoes, and the totally awesome brown-purple haircolor that one woman was rocking. That's about it.

2. Supermarkets. I especially love the small neighborhood versions of Sainsbury's and Tesco, where they have rows upon rows of appealing sandwiches and other prepared foods. Oh, and those mini bottles of wine with the screwoff caps.


Susan said...

I think of it as the Archive trance, which is more intense the shorter your time is. And I love the way that you quickly come to see a hand as normal.
I once met a woman at a conference who said her archive lunch was peanut m&ms... protein and sugar together. Not exactly balanced, but it does provide some energy, and you can eat it in a five minute break from the trance.

Anonymous said...

you're not allowed to take digital images of the pages?

Ancarett said...

Oh, I feel your pain on the slow rate of transcription. I think I was up to six or seven pages/day by the end of my visits to the BL or PRO on the best days. It really helped to identify the problem areas in the text and transcribe those in isolation after getting my speed up -- that way I could do the rest at home from microfilms or other reproductions.

medieval woman said...

Hope you can get as much done as possible! And that's a good question - do you have any moola in a research acct. to buy a microfilm of the ms?

I envy you for being in London!!!

Anonymous said...

Can I hijack the blog for a moment to ask -- who is paying for this trip? Your college? A grant? Or is it out of your own pocket? Good luck and have a pint for us.

Flavia said...

Susan: I love peanut M&Ms! I'm totally buying some at the station tomorrow.

C & MW: this is a small library/archive, that doesn't have the on-site facilities to microfilm the MS, but they've allowed that they 'could look into' reproducing it for me, probably digitally (they're affiliated with a larger institution that def. has the equipment). I doubt they'd look kindly on my photographing pages, even if it weren't banned as it is at the BL.

And Prof: I'll be reimbursed out of the start-up funds (mid four-figures) that I got upon being hired. Said funds are to cover the first 3 years--not clear if there's anything guaranteed after that point!

Betsy Willard said...

dude. if you ever have time to waste in paddington station, check out the cafe ritazza there in the mid-morning. they have a crazy-hilarious group of ill-trained people working there. At least they used to--I hope they're not improving their training process, because then it would be less hilarious to watch them try to work together.

Anonymous said...

my take on london: the men are prettier than the women, have sharp suits and interesting colored shirts and ties, but have bad teeth. people are tied down in the whole class thing, and when you go out, everyone sticks to their social classes until people get drunk enough to dance. then all bets are off. people there drink. a lot.

Pamphilia said...

Oh Flavia, didn't you know there's a weird time warp thingy in the BL? You enter and do your work and because you have to pay a crazy high amount for e-mail you do just your work, thinking you'll spend 2 hours there. Suddenly you've spent 7 and the sandwich you picked up at Cafe des Amis is rotting in your locker on the bottom floor. It happens to all of us.

Pamphilia said...

PS be sure to check out the new Waitrose in Russel Sq. I stocked up on tea, Frank Cooper's Marmalade and French pates there to smuggle back to the states on my last day.

Also- e-mail me if you want a tip on the best curry in East London. It's not on brick lane.

The History Enthusiast said...

When I was studying abroad in Oxford, I usually shopped at our little Sainsbury's. Tres cute. But, Marks and Spencer was so pretty and clean that I would go into it just to window shop. I'm glad you had a great trip!