the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.

Top Ten British Comedy series

6 08 2011

Having just had a trip down memory lane at Digitized Graffiti, I felt an urge to reminisce about British comedy series.

Comedy has been a strong theme for British television series, and thank goodness they have moved on from painfully predictable sexual innuendo (Benny Hill Show, Carry On Movies, St Trinian’s) and racism (Love They Neighbour) as the sources of humour.

Here are some of my favourites.

1. The Good Life

I loved the alternative lifestyle of Tom and Barbara, who set up a sustainable farm in their backyard in the middle of a high-class London neighbourhood, much to the distress of their neighbours and friends, the posh Jerry and Margo. Good natured humour in the clash of lifestyles.

2. The Goodies

Originally targeted at adults, this is a great bizarre show for children with lots of slapstick humour. Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor were the Goodies, an unemployed troupe hiring themselves out for any jobs. They travelled on a three-seater bicycle. A giant kitten, a Yorkshire-based martial arts group “Ecky-Thump” taking over the world, the British Olympic team in the Arctic Circle Olympics (they melted the arctic ice sheet with spotlights – before their time), the Bun-fight at the OK Tea Rooms. Physical gags abound. This link is to the theme song, there are lots of episodes on Youtube.

3. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

You either like Monty Python or you don’t. Either way, it was a ground-breaking series in many ways – the use of animation, the comments on society, the musical humour and the very abstract humour (the fish-slapping dance). Launched a number of movies and a number of careers.

4. Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy

Not as good as the books but so much better than the movie. It would be hard to translate Douglas Adams’ witty prose onto a screen but this is cleverly done with graphics and voice-overs so that the essential parts of the plot are not lost. Except that Trillian is blond on the TV series and brunette in the books.

5. Blackadder

All five series and the specials, but particularly the second. If you haven’t seen Blackadder, you are missing out. I can’t speak highly enough about it.

6. The Young Ones

Four poverty-stricken students sharing a house-sit : Rik Mayall as Cliff Richard fan and would-be anarchist Rick, Adrian Admondson as medical student and violent punk Vyvyan, Nigel Planer as mild hippie Neil, and Christopher Ryan as Italian lothario Mike. Cameo appearances by Alexei Sayle as the landlord Jerzei Balowski. Guest appearances by some of Britain’s most prominent comedians, and musical interludes by bands from the 1980s.

7. Absolutely Fabulous

Absolutely fabulous! I loved this show so much I can almost quote most of the scenes. Patsy was glamorous, but Edina had so much more fun. And Saffy was the perfect “straight-woman”. If only there were more.

8. Red Dwarf

Dave Lister, the last human known alive, Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of his former room-mate and so-cool Cat, a hip humanoid that evolved from Lister’s former cat’s kittens, are trapped on the Red Dwarf spaceship, roaming the universe with the aid and abetting of the ship-board computer, Holly. (Holly becomes Kryten in series three). What the smeg?

9. Keeping Up Appearances

With the inimitable and determinedly upwardly-mobile Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!) and her long-suffering husband, neighbours and various lower-class relatives. I once travelled down the Nile on a boat with a woman exactly like Hyacinth. Hysterical on television, nightmare in real life.

10. The IT Crowd

Two nerds, one goth and a failed corporate executive live in the bowels of the corporate headquarters, the IT section, at the beck and call of the sleazy erratic boss and other more important sections of the corporation.

11. Black Books

Three misfits (always misfits!) trying to make a go of a book shop and its neighbouring bric-a-brac shop. Alcoholic and and belligerent bookshop owner Bernard Black (Dylan Moran), his much-abused assistant Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey) and neighbouring shop owner Fran Katzenjammer (Tamsin Greig).

12. The Vicar of Dibley

Dawn French is the first female vicar assigned to a parish in a remote town of bizarre and somewhat interbred characters. She keeps her sanity and woos passing men.

13. Mr Bean.

Beloved of small children, this mime-based comedy offering from Rowan Atkinson translated to the Big Screen and an international audience. My children insisted I had to put this one in the list. I vastly prefer the series over the cartoon.

14. Fawlty Towers

Starring John Cleese of Monty Python fame, Connie Booth, Prumnella Scales and Andrew Sachs. Socially inept and acciednt-prone Basil Fawlty and his long suffering wife run a bed and breakfast hotel where victims – sorry guests – are subjected the Basil’s strange personality and misunderstandings. If you love Monty Python you will already know this one!


Notable Absence: Yes, The Goon Show. I am too young to know this one!!! But I am told it was a classic and completely changed comedy.

OK – there’s my list. I don’t claim it is exhaustive, I’m sure there are many more I have left out. And yes, I did notice that my “top ten list” blew out to fourteen and a notable mention.

Which ones are your favourites?

In defence of the 1980s…

24 07 2011

Dynasty - the big hair, the shoulder pads, the painted-on makeup. How the super-rich lived and squabbled.

I grew up in the 1980s. I turned 13 in 1980, so this was pretty much my decade. And like every other generation, I have a fondness for the music and dare I say it – fashion – of the era that I went through my teenage years and became an adult. It has become fashionable to laugh about the 1980s but it wasn’t all bad!

So here are some of the best things about the 1980s.

• Big hair. All it took was hair spray / gel (it wasn’t called product then), a hair dryer and a bit of time. Anyone could do it.

• Shoulder pads. Yes, OK, we overdid it. But clothes that looked good on the coat-hanger also looked good on a person because of the shoulder pads.

• Power dressing. The thing about power dressing for women wasn’t the clothes, it was the public declaration that women could be highly successful in their careers and have – yes, wait for it – power. The fashion industry declared that women could have power and we believed them.

• Australian music – Models, Crowded House, Midnight Oils, Men at Work, Hoodoo Gurus, Divinyls, Hunters and Collectors, Mondo Rock, Icehouse, Nick Cave, Paul Kelly. I could go on, but then it would just be a list of 1980s music.

• But the best of them all, INXS – and Michael. Gorgeous, sexy, wild Michael.

• Stadium Rock. It was big. Big sound, outrageous costumes, wild hair and make-up, and massive lyrics. Yes it was commercial.

• Yacht rock. What would the easy listening stations play if yacht rock hadn’t been invented?

• But there were some good indi bands – B52s, UB40, Boomtown Rats, The Cure, The The, Joy Division.

• Pop rock – Madonna, Human League, Cyndi Lauper, Sade, Wham, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant, Billy Idol. And lots of others with the sugary texture of bubblegum.

• And of course, MTV. Music clips had evolved from just showing the band playing the song, to mini-movies with budgets to match.

• Aerobics gear. Yes, we got into gyms in a big way, but the best part was being able to get around in dance gear. Lycra does wonderful things for the figure! You couldn’t quite do the tutu unless you were Madonna.

• Mad Max. OK, so Mel Gibson might have fallen from grace, but in the 1980s he was young, gorgeous, and we claimed him as Australian.

• Entrepreneurs – we celebrated entrepreneurs. Big money, big egos, big yachts, young sexy wives with plastic surgery. They seemed to have it all. And it seemed achievable for us as well. The big court cases came later.

• For most of the 1980s we were in a major bull market. The stock market just rose and rose. Unfortunately I was too young for most of the 1980s and missed out, but that feeling of optimism that lasted until the 1987 crash – that’s still there somewhere!

• Video-games. This is where they began. Before this, they were pin-ball machines. Remember the iconic Pac-man and Space Invaders?

• Great British comedies that didn’t rely on unfunny sexual innuendo. Blackadder. The Young Ones. And the comedians they brought to our attention: Rik Mayall, Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Hugh Laurie (better known now as Dr House)

• Acid colours. I vaguely recall owning a fluorescent orange suit. I must have looked like a traffic cone.

• St Elmo’s Fire. An amazing coming of age movie that launched the careers of Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Andy MacDowell.

• Top Gun when we liked Tom Cruise (the volleyball scene with Val Kilmer). Flashdance (see dance gear above).

• I was really never into Dynasty and Dallas and their various spin-offs, but these were really big. They showed us how the super-rich live (apparently it involved a lot of cat-fighting and scheming) and how they spent their money (sequined dresses and private jets). Whole generations of Krystal and Alexis’ were named after characters in this show.

• Computers. OK, so computers were not invented in the 1980s. But the concept of the desk-top computer and a computer in every home and office was. And Microsoft Windows, for better or worse, made it all quite usable for the average Joe or Josephine. Prices came down and it was all quite affordable.

• Cheap plastic jewellery and sunglasses. Yeah they were cheap and they looked it. They were meant to be fun and they did mean everyone could get the look. Very democratic. And disposable.

• Bling. It wasn’t called bling then. But big flashy jewellery preferably teamed with a sequined dress that swept the ground behind you, but plunged to expose as much cleavage as possible. Yeah, that was style!

• Ken Done, Jenny Kee. Probably less said the better, but they did put Australian fashion and the Australian way of life on the world stage. And their designs are instantly recognisable even today.

• We took the Me generation to a new level – Greed is Good! The idea that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything (the flip side being if you haven’t got what you want or need, then its your fault. Not so nice.) On the other hand, we had Band Aid.

• Trivial Pursuit. Probably the best new board game since Monopoly or Scrabble.

• The end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall came down. It seemed like such a good start for the 1990s.

So what have I forgotten? What else did you like about the 1980s? Leave a message in the comment section and I’ll add them in.