Postgraduate study Random musings

All that glistens…

A photo of my feet on a beach next to an incoming wave. I am wearing a black dress and leggings, and some claret coloured saltwater sandals. It is a stony beach not sandy.

During the last two weeks, I have been fortunate enough to go on some short UK breaks. Last year we did not manage to go away on holiday, and I really missed seeing the sea. So this year, we found some holiday locations that we hoped would allow us the opportunity to relax, to see the sea, and to avoid being in crowded places.

Throughout the stays, I posted selected photos on my social media accounts. The responses were typically positive, with people commenting about how lovely the holidays looked etc etc. This made me reflect on what was missing in my account of my holiday. I had chosen only to show the positives, the highlights.

We stayed in this beautiful caravan on one of our stays (a House of Hackney pop up hotel initiative):

A vintage caravan covered in House of Hackney artemis print. This is a dark green background with a large bold floral design on it.

I posted pictures of us relaxing by the stunning pool:

An indian pool at Castle Trematon in Cornwall which is part of the House of Hackney pop up hotel initiative. The sun is shining. I am lying on a lounger which is covered in a pale green floral House of Hackney print. I have a black and pink floral dress on, black leggings and the same saltwater sandals as before. There are giant plants surrounding the pool in terracotta pots.

It looks idyllic. It was idyllic. I would jump at the chance to return. However, what my photos did not show was the steep path between the car park and the caravan. The path which we had to carry all of our things down from the car – mainly me doing the carrying I hasten to add as my daughter was not able to help much. Nor my face when I was told the next day that there is a parking space I could use, right next to the caravan, meaning I did not have to have that struggle after all. This holiday was just me and my daughter. These photos do not show her tiring due to hypermobility, nor struggling in the heat, due to difficulties regulating her body temperature. They do not show how her short attention span and difficulty in reading meant she was bored within minutes of being at the pool and she was not happy to sit poolside reading all day. (Though to be fair, most 16yr old girls would probably prefer to be chatting to their friends rather than sitting with their mum reading a book!)

The following week, my husband joined us on holiday and we went to a stunning Oast House in a different part of the country. It was beautiful. It also had bats! Now we love bats, but not when they keep us awake all night, nor when they make the bedroom we are staying in very smelly. Again, the photos made it look idyllic. And it would have been perfect, if we could have slept at night. Our final trip (yes, three short breaks in two weeks, I know how lucky I have been!) was to a beach apartment. Again, stunning location, as you can see from the photos. But these photos of the beach were taken early in the morning before the beach became incredibly busy. They also do not show the busy road the other side of the apartment, which motorbikes liked to use at night, nor the dirty towel we found from the previous occupants of the apartment (ugh, not great during Covid!). We ended up leaving after one night, needing sleep more than we needed a sea view.

view of beach, and in the distance the apartment building we were staying in

Please do not get me wrong, this is not a post where I want to moan about my holidays. I have really enjoyed the breaks and I feel incredibly relaxed on my return. The breaks away certainly did the trick. Instead, this post is intended to be about my reflections as the comments poured in on social media, where I recognised how the images I presented only really showed one part of the story, the glossy happy shiny one. They do not fully reflect the experience we had, nor how happy we were to return to our own beds and reliable Wi-Fi.

This experience and my holiday reflections, have also led me me to also reflect on my research – and the research of others – and what gets left out of the picture when we present or talk about our research, or indeed in the PhD thesis itself. I am keen to ensure that when I talk about my research I talk about the difficulties, the tensions, the messiness of the process. I am drawn once again to this wonderful blog post by Francesca Ribenfors, where she discusses the benefits of approaching research as an assemblage rather than a linear process, describing how ‘Mess is to be expected as the thesis, one element of the research assemblage, is a becoming. We cannot predict where it will end up or what we will end up with due to the shifting nature of the assemblage and the elements within it’.

This week alone, my plans have changed. I had intended to make a long distance journey to meet two parents who have kindly agreed to take part in my research study. But whilst I was away on my recent travels, it became obvious to me that my car needed to go into the garage before I attempt any more long distance journeys (the air-con seems to be broken, the back windscreen wiper has stopped working and the control dial stops working in the rain). When it is sunny and hot, the control dial will work and I do not need the wipers, but it is too uncomfortable to drive due to lack of air-con. When it is wet, I do not need the air-con but I cannot see out of the back window and I cannot see how much fuel I have left. (I also should note that part of me was also massively relieved, as – if I am being totally honest – I am still also worried about catching or passing on Covid, despite being vaccinated.) So I will now be undertaking one of the meetings via Zoom, and am waiting to hear whether the other parent would like to do this, or to postpone the meeting until later in the year.

My car having issues would not normally come into my thesis – surely? Yet, the issues with my car will undoubtedly have an impact on the research. By meeting on Zoom, it will change the interaction between us. Additionally, if the second parent decides to postpone their meeting, both they and I will have had additional experiences, thoughts, and interactions that will impact on how we engage. Already since I last spoke to the participants on the phone, my own situation has changed and I am finding myself back in potential conflict with the Local Authority about my daughter’s post16 placement for September, which will potentially impact on how I enter into the engagement.

The car-weather-researcher-parent entanglement has a definite impact here, but how and where do I discuss this without it looking like a linear description of ‘what happened’? I am still trying to get my head around this. For a long time, I have been wondering how to use this blog. What purpose does it have. For now, I think it offers me a space to think out loud, and to have a record of some of that thinking. I would welcome others reading this to join the conversation (though recognise that at the time of writing, I am probably the only person accessing this blog). This research journey is not something I can or want to do on my own… I would love to hear from you!

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