Dot writes: so, we’re not doing NaBloPoMo. In fact I seem to be having something of a blogging slump. It’s not so much that there’s nothing to say as that I don’t seem able to say it; I’m too tired after getting through both work and the children’s bedtime, and even if I can remember what I was mentally ranting/chuckling/musing over earlier it seems to have blended into a kind of vague mental mush, quite unsuitable for transfer to the screen. I’ve been feeling anxious about certain specific aspects of my job and also about the general prospects of academia in the light of the Browne report in Britain and the constant expansion of the fiscal black hole here, but I don’t especially want to blog about that. Some of it’s too sensitive (involves other people etc) and some of it’s just too depressing (and I have no original spin on the basic reaction of aaaargh. I gather there is a good article on the Browne report in this month’s LRB, which we haven’t got yet). Other aspects of my job I am enjoying immensely, specifically teaching a course on Arthurian Literature and getting to read Layamon and Malory and all sorts of other jolly stuff. But on the whole it’s a treadmill at the moment. An entertaining and varied treadmill with something classy on the gym TVs, but it keeps on going round, rather fast.
Moan done, here is some news, chucked at the blog any old how. Frank has learnt to climb on the dining chairs. This is rather frightening. Hugh will be three on Monday. This is also rather frightening. I was singing ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ with Hugh the other night and he proposed the following animals for the farm, in this order: a) pigs; b) horses; c) dragons; d) chickens. Spot the odd one out. Contemplate the problems Old MacDonald may encounter with feeding arrangements.
Yesterday evening I stayed late in college for the inaugural lecture of a new adjunct professor of my department: Terry Pratchett. It was rather a coup for the college and very well managed, I thought, with ticketed entry to the Public Theatre (which is one of the college’s more obviously historic spaces) and the whole thing being recorded for podcast. As is well known, Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer’s, so after some introductory remarks he handed over to his PA, who read his speech for him. It was an account of his education and early career as a journalist, very funny, not desperately profound but moderately thought-provoking (especially with respect to how often intelligent and curious people don’t do that well in formal education). In some ways what struck me most was the obvious affection between him and the PA: it’s a strong indication of his niceness as a person that he has such a good relationship with someone who works for him. After the speech the author took over again to answer questions and give concluding remarks. Pretty much the last thing he said was “I’m basically just a clown. But clowns can be scary.” I think there’s an element of self-flattery here. While his books are ideas-books to a surprising degree and often address political themes, they are in the end pretty safe and comforting, a cosy read; one enjoys recognising the references he makes to literature and film and feeling part of an intellectual club. Mind you, I definitely came away thinking I’d like to go away and read some more of them.
As I said, it was a well-staged event, and not just because of the podcast. The Dean succeeded in giving an introductory speech that was genuinely funny, and not just an annoying delay before the main act. He also presented the great man with a hat specially commissioned from John Rocha. It was a mortar board with an elaborate flourish of glossy black feathers on top. It was rather striking, and very silly, and unfortunately slightly too big. I hope Sir Terry liked it. The one thing that made me a bit uncomfortable was that the text of the speech was auctioned off to the highest bidder at the end, for charity. I don’t think this had been planned beforehand (or not with the college, anyway), and everyone was a bit nonplussed. There were only two bids, but the second was for E500 so the desired result was, I suppose, achieved. It still seemed a little tacky. This aside, I think the event sent people away with a happy feeling and reminded people of some kinds of creativity that we need and value besides the kinds that think of cost-cutting strategies.