Fast Track to Nowhere

The Foam Fight in St. Salvators Quad, University of St. Andrews.

The Foam Fight in St. Salvators Quad, University of St. Andrews.

This week I saw an article from the Guardian on proposals for a new fast-track style of degree, and it hit me right in the guts.

This is the article. Go read it. tldr; the proposal is to offer the option of squishing a three year UG degree into two years, for the same cost and with significantly less break time.


There are a variety of reasons why this is a horrible, terrible, very bad, no good idea.

1. Flexibility

The supporters of this idea are couching it in terms of flexibility. And yes, flexibility is and will continue to be key in the development of HE for the foreseeable future. But flexibility can be achieved in many many alternative ways: distance learning, blended learning, digitality, modular payment and build your own degree models. And these can all be absorbed within the existing system, they can modify and augment it, help it to be supple and agile. That’s flexibility.

Accelerated degrees are not about flexibility. Accelerated degrees are based upon the principle that quicker is better, and that cramming for an exam is an improvement on long-term, reinforced, deep and rich learning.

I call bullshit.

2. Cost

The fact that the fee cap was raised in the first place makes me f***ing furious. I was among the first students who were given a loan, rather than a grant, and that made me sad, but I could deal with it. But the fact that students are now so restricted as to where they can go, because of the literal mortgage now hanging over their head just cements my opinion that the Tories only want other rich white privilegers to gain any kind of tertiary education.

And now this fast track degree, designed, remember to increase flexibility, is going to cost the same as a degree taken over three or four years? You won’t get a holiday to earn the money to pay for your degree or, shock horror, have a break from the intensity of the experience. Oh no. You might…MIGHT…save on living costs (yeah, like I believe that’ll actually be a thing), but you’ll pay for it in your social and personal lives and the quality of your overall experience, as well as with an increased price tag per year.

Again, I call B-S.

3. Staff Workload

Can we just stop for a minute, and think about what academic and administrative staff at universities actually do? They work out timetables (based on staff and room availability, and, in the case of undergrad courses in particular, other courses and commitments), write courses (DL and Campus Based), produce the explanatory media, build reading lists, design and mark assessments, dissertations and theses, act as pastoral and academic tutors for tens of undergrad and MA students, and as thesis supervisors for doctoral candidates, work out appropriate credit weightings, organize field trips, run research projects, publish, and try to get their REF ratings for their department. In the summer, they get to keep themselves up to date on their field of expertise, and for many, it’s the only time a holiday is possible. I should note, that the summer is also one of the best times for PhD candidates to get some work done in a quieter department, when they themselves (often working as GTAs) have less administrative commitments.

Layering an accelerated course on top of what is already there has the potential to cause so much social and administrative havoc and teaching confusion that I can’t even bear to extrapolate.

4. Ethos

Why do we educate? Why do students keep coming to university?

Yeah, OK. I’m not naive enough to imagine that it’s nothing at all to do with getting a job and earning good money. But we’ve started to come around to the point at which certain industries are starting to drop degree requirements due, quite reasonably, to the desire to increase diversity within their ranks. To a point at which a graduate earning freeze is becoming more apparent and there are more graduates working jobs which don’t require a degree (impacting on non-graduates) or draw upon their knowledge or skills.

If we’re not teaching students for the purpose of their career, what are we teaching them for?

Call me a hopeless Romantic if you like, but I was always of the impression that a degree wasn’t all, if at all, about what job you got at the end of it. I thought that the purpose of a degree was to show you methods of critical thinking, to open your eyes to the accumulated knowledge of humankind, to cement, celebrate and perpetuate the work of thousands of years which has taken us from the first fires to the Philae Lander, to help you become a human with a historical, scientific and social consciousness. I thought a degree was an opportunity to pursue a subject you loved, if you loved it enough, to play with it for the hell of it and without thought for any financial recompense. You can call me privileged, if you like, for feeling secure enough to not worry about money when I was a student, and to pursue a subject I loved even though I knew it was highly likely to have bugger all to do with any job I might want to pursue.* But when it looks like a degree won’t actually be helping you that much anyway, at least I can say I loved what I did. And when those for whom finances matter are already being priced out of the university marketplace, it seems disingenuous to argue that the financial reward at the end is all that matters. If you can’t get in in the first place, any reward that might come is only ever going to be a pipe dream.

I cannot restate how furious I am that, once more, people are being barred from tertiary education not because of their skill or desire, but because of the lottery of financial circumstances. And that they’re made to feel less as a consequence makes my stomach turn.


I’m not saying that the standard three year undergrad is a perfect model. It’s not, by any means. There’s no perfect model of education, and there’s no pattern that’s going to suit everyone.

But when more and more of the sector is being forced into a business model, as students become clients rather than young colleagues, and as the value placed upon education becomes more about how much you can contribute to the market than it is about your growth as an intellectual and socially conscious human being, I can’t help but feel that Fast Track degrees like this are one more step to a scroll-down-world in which the only thing that matters is the insta-glamor of profit.


*My UG degree was in Medieval History. Seriously, the jobs most related to that degree are teaching Medieval History to more Historians, or working for the Secret Service. Go figure.

7 Scents of Bonfire Night

I am so sorry about how long it has taken me to write this post. Partly it is because I have been busy and exhausted since Halloween. But partly, it is because the scents I got from the Weenies collection are all very complicated and hard to explain. And they are all, without exception, lovely. Though there are a few I regret not buying, I lucked out, I really did.

I haven’t decided if I have a favourite yet. They are all very different, and I love them for different reasons, so it seems unfair and illogical to compare them directly. So the order below is meaningless, really, though I have kept categories of scents together. I will start with the Single Notes, then the All Souls, then the Halloweenies themselves.

Hag Musk

This is as other people have noted, a bedtime scent. There’s a sweet lavender quality to this. It’s feminine, appealing, and delicate in tone, but with a huge amount of throw and power. It’s a lilac kind of smell, the good, purple kind of florals.

And boy does it last, and in lasting develops into something really gorgeous. What remains on my wrist twelve hours after I put it on has turned into something baked and beautiful. Buttery shortbread infused with lavender buds and Earl Grey tea. Sweet, thick, carby and chewable. This is beautiful.

Tomb Moss

This starts off very green and vegetal, and that remains but lessens in its strength. I’ve found before with certain scents of a vegetal nature, they end up smelling like flaccid courgette. But this, this comes into its own in a musky, yet cold way. It’s almost watery, though not an oceanic scent. It’s a very gender neutral scent; clean, in a good way.

I’m thrust back to forests in Finland, washing my hands with moss in a cool clear stream. But there’s something darker there – something of stone. You know when stone freezes, and you can almost taste it in the air – taste the metallic ores and elements which make the stone up – there’s that in here too, just in the background.

It lasts, too, and by the end of it’s life is giving off something like a good, aged green tea.

Now That They Rise and Walk in the Cold

This is both sweet and cold. It smells violet, to me; not a rich purple, but something faded and sorrowful. When I was deciding which to buy, this kept going in and out of my basket, because whilst I adore violet fragrances (rare for me to like florals), I am terrified of”bathroom” scents like eucalyptus. I amp them to heck, usually, and the last thing I like is to smell soapy-clean. It feels like hospitals.

But that doesn’t happen with this. In fact, I cannot smell the eucalyptus at all. To me this is pure Parma Violets, perhaps with just an undertow of something less friable which I imagine is the tar. Somehow, the tar makes it even colder and less sugary – this is not a sweetmeat you would give to a child.

A Kneeling Child Watching a Ghost, Devil and Puppet Making Mayhem in a Room

This is a strange and complex scent. The licorice is strong in this, but it develops into something with a bitter, almost smokey edge, and it’s so, so sexy on. The licorice is dominant at first, with that sweet, tarry blackness which you either love or hate. The teak comes in later – that I think is the smokey edge.

This is not a feminine scent. Nor is it masculine, though. I don’t know who would wear it…it doesn’t have a typical appeal. Personally, I adore it. It’s dark and it’s weird and it throws like the blue blazes. I’d wear this on a night out to a club or a gig, when I wanted to be both alluring and off-putting. It’s armoury perfume. Aggressive. Sweet. Bitter. And so, so sexy.

Her Strong Enchantments Failing

This scent worried me at first. On initial application it gave off a distinct odour of cat pee. No clue why. Fortunately, that departs in seconds, leaving behind it a smell which is sinisterly and smokily purple. This is not the same form of purple that I smell in Isidore’s Phoenix – that is a warm and winey aroma and this…this is cold. This is the first scent I have tried from BPAL which isn’t refreshed on the skin through warmth. I wore it on a frosty November night, and in the heated pub it stayed still. But when I walked out, I was haloed in a cloud of incense. It dries down to something slightly, but not unpleasantly, powdery

I should note that the following two were the hardest to write about. I think perhaps it is because they are the most complex to my nose. Whilst not as clashing as Kneeling Child, there’s a serious quantity of stuff going on here. They’re clearly sister scents but there are distinct differences. 


This scent changes so markedly depending on the state of your skin and other environmental/personal conditions. Changes in your skin chemistry really affect it. The first time I wore this, its sweetness was instant, pie and red apple. I thought I couldn’t wear apple scents – they turn to dishwasher tablets on me – but the red apple in this, when it comes out, is gorgeous. It is comforting, calming and beautiful.

At the moment, though, it’s preceded by a heavy and slightly bitter musk. There’s an acrid quality I am not sure I like; quite a lot of ash, here. But eventually that dies away and we are left with some apple-pie-custard-crust goodness. I wouldn’t call this a foodie scent, really: despite the apple and nutmeg, the damp forest and pine is ever present, and balances out any excessive sweetness.


This, too begins with something acrid. But it rapidly turns to firesmoke, and is softened by something sweet behind it. I can smell soul-cakes, briefly. The geranium, oakmoss and leaves dominate the middle drying phase, and when dry this is sweet sweet vetiver and patchouli.

This is a storyteller scent. It tells of an autumn night, a blazing fire, and dancing in a clearing surrounded by trees. Overhead, stars swirl, and there is in this scent a memory of that coldness you feel, looking up at the sky and realising how tiny you are, in the grand scheme of things.

Scent is one of our most primal senses, and so sadly underused as a learning and interpretative tool. What I love about BPAL is that, even in it’s more bizarre scents, it tells. It interprets the world, reflects it back on itself through the nose, and so through the mind. Through scent, you apprehend the world in an entirely new way.

And, of course, you smell bloody gorgeous.

What I think about when I think about metal

I’m in here.

Here. Shhhh.

Inside the sound.

Where there’s nothing. No thought. No body. Nothing but a thrumming reverberation.

Inside this cocoon of noise there is nothing but the cotton wool fluff of vibration and rhythm. And everything else is beaten out by the loudness of it all. I am still and I am quiet.

And from this cocoon I can watch you. I can see you all. When I open my eyes to look beyond the swaddle of sound, you are all so visible. I cannot hear your voices and without that babble you become more yourselves than you ever have before. All I see is your movement, your physical performance. That part of yourself which is so fundamental and yet which is covered up by your practiced, measured, words.

And you are here in all your great variety. I notice that there are so many different styles of jeans. For some absurd reason, this makes me happy. And the noises which you are moving too and listening to and with like me…these noises are the product of thousands upon thousands of years of global human musicality, and yet they are still as incomprehensibly noisy and messy and unexpected and improbable and glorious as they ever were. Here are popular songs, folk tales, dance, myth, ballads, jazz and blues.

I never want to be so old that I stop delighting in the strangeness of sound, and the strangeness of it all.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #31: BPAL, Quintessence of Dust

Quintessence of Dust

Quintessence of DustWhat a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so. Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

I’ve saved the best til last.

There is no way that I can adequately explain how much I adore this scent. It is peculiar and unusual, and I have never found another like it. As strange as this sounds, it is literally what it says on the tin – the closest perfection, in scent, to dust.

It’s part of the Only Lovers Left Alive collection, and it is one which is one which most perfectly captures the scene on which it is based. It is the dusty scent of books which comes out most strongly on my skin, but they are tinged with something sweeter, and it is probably the beeswax. There’s also a cold note here – the knife blade – and what is used to create that strange coldness I have no idea.

This scent warms and lasts and changes wonderfully. I put it on at 06.00 – its now 21.49, and it’s still here, following me around in a parchmenty vapour. The throw and staying power of this scent are incredible – I don’t own another like it, and almost always when I wear it someone asks what smells so good. This is sexy and cold and ancient and full of knowledge and wisdom and it is beautiful.

Well, this has been my last 31 Scents post. I’ve enjoyed doing them, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. I’ll be doing one more blog in the near future, doing a mahoussive Halloweenies haul which I hope will come out around Bonfire Night. It seems…apposite.

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #30: BPAL, Mare Vaporum

Mare Vaporum

Mare VaporumThis is a very odd and ambiguous scent. There is something both cold and warm about it; the pale white sandlewood contrasts so beautifully with the oudh and golden amber, and it offers a scent which is both smoky and sweet.

This scent is part of the Lunacy line, which contains scent focused on the moon and its topographic features. This scent is about Mare Vaporum – the Sea of Vapours – which is an extremely ancient feature on the surface of the moon, and which was named by the Jesuit thinker Giovanni Battista Riccioli in 1651.

And it is a vaporous scent indeed. There is something so familiar about this, but I cannot explain what it is…something weirdly primitive – musky and comforting, a childhood nursery, baby powder, laundered sheets, a mother’s milk. And yet there’s a fireside quality hidden behind it too, aged and yet not, interminable and transient.

A spooky scent for the night before Halloween…

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #29: BPAL, Jezebel


Image is the cover of Biosphere's 'Departed Glories' album, which is glorious.

Image is the cover of Biosphere’s ‘Departed Glories’ album, which is glorious.

This is very feminine and sexy. On the first application, the rose comes out strongly – and I think rose is one of the florals which I can wear, which doesn’t turn to dishwasher soap. So it’s a pleasant scent, within which there’s a barest hint of Turkish delight; just a touch. Perhaps that’s the honey.

This dries down to something which is still sweet, but which has a harsher edge (appropriate, I suppose). It’s the sandalwood coming out, I think, lending it’s arboreal acridity to this fragrance. It makes it sinister, something more than a rose oudh. As my skin warms it, the sweetness of the honey returns, and with it comes the orange blossom; not a bright, disinfectant citrus, but something more powdery and soft.

It’s lovely, this, for when one wants to be womanly. But it doesn’t last on me, sadly. There’s still a vague memory of it about six hours into the wear, but I think it mostly dissipated after about two. That’s a shame, and it’s probably my skin rather than the fault of the perfume.

The clocks go back tonight, perfume lovelies. I’ll be enjoying my extra hour in bed, and might be taking Hag Musk with me so I can see whether the rumors that it’s a good sleeping scent are true. Also so I can start work on my big Halloweenies review!

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #28: BPAL, Haunted


HauntedIf a scent could be sad, it would smell like this. It wails when you first put it on; there are echoes of Hand of Glory here, the decaying musk, almost sickly sweetness, of a human corpse. And they come out strongly on the first application; crying out for life.

This is not a cold scent – it is not deathly. It is a desperate clinging to life, warm evaporating from a body. It softens down beautifully, into a warm, soft amber scent – it glows golden, and lasts for hours. The more warmth you apply, the more it regenerates, and I can still smell my one application ten hours later. It doesn’t change a great deal, but in this case, it is so gentle that it doesn’t really matter.

My bottle is an old one, gifted from a friend, and I do not know how old it is. I would like to smell a new bottle to compare, because I feel like this is a smell which ages beautifully. It reminds me of old storage areas in the back of museums, where there are objects made of skin, and sweetly aged, incensed relics.

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #27: BPAL, Caliban


CalibanBe not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not….

This is indeed a scent which is full of noises – albeit briefly. It begins very aquatically – astringent and sickly to me, and though not disgusting, there’s a memory here of lobster pots. And it is strong at the start – almost overwhelming, like being bowled into the sea by and swallowing a nose-and-mouthful of brine.

But within 20 minutes, it has become something completely other, a soft musk, a pleasant seaweed brackishness dusted in icing sugar. And it continues to change, heading from this gentleness into something with a much more acrid quality – I wonder if there is sandalwood here, for there is a definite wooden note. And a sense of burning; the bitterness of a wick in tallow.

Two hours into the wear, there is something even stranger going on. This scent has developed a herbal quality, and I am reminded of wormwood; a green and hardy herbal scent, such as one would find in a hedgewitch’s drying-house.

This is part of the Illyria line, which is based on the plays of Shakespeare (or Marlowe ;)), and in fact there are so many characters that I wish were here. I am glad of Iago, of Robin Goodfellow,but I would love for there to be a scent for Ariel, for Mercutio, who are perhaps my favourite characters. And Ophelia and Hamlet (a much better romantic duo than Romeo and Juliet, imho).

I wish this lasted longer on me, for Curiosity’s sake, because although it is not my favourite scent to wear, it is a volatile and protean scent; animalistic, then mineral, and never either of these things.

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #26: BPAL, Sea of Glass

Sea of Glass

Sea of GlassThis scent, when first applied, is epic. In quite a genuine sense – it is unknowable, strange, almost inhuman. Cold. Aquatic. There’s something pure about it. If were pushed to give it a descriptor, I would say it was a logical smell, with a clarity of purpose. It smells of water, and of blowing glass under a high heat. Exactly what the notes claim, and I do not have the nose to distinguish individual fragrances. I wish I could.

But it fades. It fades so much, and so fast. I could not smell this on my skin within an hour. I would love for this scent to waft and change; I like the morphers, the complex scents. And I find that that doesn’t happen with aquatics – they remain one thing for most of their scent-life – on me at least.

This had potential to be something grandiose and wonderful. There is no heat here, nothing mammalian. It is alluringly alien. If it smells like this at the feet of God, then he is a cold and terrifying creature indeed.

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.

31 Scents of Octoberween, #25: BPAL, Masquerade


MasqueradeThere’s something very smoky about this – and it wafts, like ashes. But there’s a sweetness behind it – like a dessert canapé. It is a beautiful scent, and on the initial application there is something very heady about it – the smoke has an almost tallow-like quality, as if you were burning lights made from animal grease. Behind it, there’s a candlelit ballroom – packed with sweetmeats and unknown, disguised guests.

A couple of hours after application, the orange blossom comes out really strongly, and it’s gorgeous. I have said before that I am not a florals or a citrus person, but the citrus hint here is beautiful, tempering and tempered by the underlying white bloom. Later, it fades to a gentle scent – the aroma of opening Gran’s toiletries box, the one where she keeps the talc. Not overly floral, sweet, gentle – powder and candy. It lasts, too – it’s still here, 13 hours and more after I applied it. And it’s having something of a Renaissance – stronger and muskier, as if the ball has danced itself out, the candles extinguished, and all that remains is to return home to a wine-sweetened slumber.

Disclaimer: I am not a perfume expert, nor am I sponsored by BPAL or, indeed, anyone.

To find the notes for these scents, click the link in the name.