Blog posts

Of blobs and difficulty 16 May 2019

Writing a sample Listening exam (see the page Listening exam #1 ) has made me think about the ways ‘difficulty’ is structured and assessed in exams. For seven years, I had the job of writing Texthandling... more

Fashion & trend 13 March 2019

The OUP Word of the Year award has been announced - and it's 'toxic'. It's a curious procedure, this 'Best of the Year' idea: why do we think it's worthwhile to nominate a Film of the Year, or a Van of... more

Nowt s'queer as folk 7 December 2018

When I was growing up in Yorkshire, the phrase above (Eng.trans: 'There is nothing so strange as people') was a commonplace, used as a coda to any tale of bizarre human behaviour. This bit of pithy wisdom... more

Howards End revisited 6 September 2018

I have just re-read E.M. Forster’s Howards End. I first read it at university, as part of the Cambridge LitCrit production line of 2/3 novels per week + critical background + essay + tutorial, and it... more

The wit of Bojo 12 July 2018

I find Boris Johnson fascinating ... well, make that ‘appallingly fascinating’, to be more precise. As an example of great intelligence and great charm, combined with an enormous ego and ruthless... more

Life & Works 20 June 2018

What can we learn about works of literature by studying the author’s life? This issue has been raised for me by a discussion of a student’s proposed Extended Essay, dealing with the relation between... more

Rigid versus flexible 2 May 2018

The words ‘rigid versus flexible’ have been scrawled in my untidy list of blog ideas for quite a while. Suddenly, to my huge surprise, I find that objective psychological research seems to provide... more

On stupidity 22 March 2018

There seems to have been an awful lot of Stupidity around lately. I try to keep calm, intoning mantras ("DoooooooooooH"), and doing my best to avoid the dangerous pages of the newspaper ... which unfortunately... more

The Shape of Water 9 March 2018

To Sant Pere, the little town next door, to see the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro. That such a small town should have a cinema with good films is due to the brave project of a... more

Word of the Year 27 December 2017

Both the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries have recently published their Word of the Year choices. Oxford Dictionaries has gone for youthquake – which it defines as “a significant cultural, political,... more