Sunday, 31 May 2009

Happy Christmas, love Vole

On the abortive but fun Map Twats walk yesterday was the author of Days of Enlightenment - which is a brilliant read, nothing like mine. He told me that his father was reading the copy of David Peace's GB84 that I'd given Mr Enlightenment for his birthday. I was pleased that somebody I don't know was enjoying it, and it made me wonder about the afterlives of all the presents we give.

I usually give books, sometimes music, sometimes other things, but I always think carefully and try to suit the gift to the person - sometimes with a private joke shared only by us or me. This may not always be successful. So what happens to all these gifts? Is a book read, re-read and treasured? Is it read once and kept only because it was a present? Or is the gift considered to be the experience of receiving and the object and unimportant symptom? Perhaps the book is lent on, passed around on reccommendation, given away or lost, the inscriptions fading and becoming more puzzling the further it gets from the original giver and recipient.

I have several thousand books, many presents or second-hand, and many of these are dedicated to unknown people with names found only in the past: Mabel, Flo, Edwin and Gladys, all presumably dead, all of whom recieved books as tokens of love, respect, passion, commiseration, achievement, perhaps even spite or rejection - puzzles to be considered in conjunction with the texts. Why give someone a work of critical theory for their birthday? Why is a guide to the gravestones of famous people a cheery Christmas present? Why did Clinton give Walt Whitman, the rampantly homosexual poet of America, to Monica Lewinsky? (There's a PhD in that). Then there's the question of disposal. Have I acquired all the books that speak of passion between people of bygone generations because, symbolic exchange complete, the texts are mere husks to be discarded? Perhaps some illiterate or ashamed children threw them out, or the love dimmed and the books could no longer be tolerated.

In each of these short declarations, there's a story. I assume that you write in all the books you give away - I do. If I really don't like them, I buy them a whodunnit and copy the last line with the murderer's name onto the flyleaf: it's even more annoying than tip-exing the killer's identity on the last page. Another piece of one-upmanship is to give them a book in a language they don't know and affect surprise: 'Really? Of course my pronunciation's a little rusty these days, but I thought everybody had a smattering of Basque. I still have the receipt…'

Get your headstone, 2 for a dozen

One of the odd things about my delightful afternoon in Bridgnorth was the market. It's got it's hoity-toity olives-rolled-on-the-thighs-of-organic-peasants aspect, but it's a brilliant generalist market - tomatoes to mop heads.

And grave stones.

You did read that right. On a household good stall, there was a range of headstones with examples of engraving. Now it's possible that Bridgnorth isn't big enough to support a monumental mason (or even a thin one), but I can't every imagine waking up and popping out to the market for some spuds and a memorial, for me or anyone else. Other considerations aside, you just know that the apostrophe's are going to be in the wrong place (mine is there as a joke, by the way).

My favourite grave is Ludwig Boltzmann's, a physicist who was so certain of his Constant (the equation S = k \cdot \log W describes entropy) despite the mockery of his fellow scientists that it's carved on his grave. Though he did kill himself. What will be on my grave? Perhaps an extract from a marking feedback sheet, such as 'Your meaning is unclear' or 'AFRICA IS A MASSIVE CONTINENT NOT A SMALL UNPOPULAR COUNTRY'.

Beer My Dear

I've just been to see Mark Steel, the comedian. I didn't just pop round to his house, of course. He was doing a gig in the back bar of the Civic Hall (which didn't impress him much, nor me, in the harsh light of sobriety). He was, though, very funny, once he'd got past the opening 'is Walsall the local rivals?' spiel. I did learn from him, after nearly ten years, the difference between Brummie and Black Country accents, and he explained Marx's theory of alienation by using the phrase 'here come the little fuckers' about apple pies. I will be incorporating this into my lectures at every opportunity.

It cost £12 to see Mark Steel make me laugh and think for two solid hours. In the bar, I bought 3 bottles of Corona, each one containing exactly half a pint. This cost me £10.20. So according to the Civic Hall, about one hour and forty minutes of well-known, witty and talented Mark Steel is worth one and three quarters of a pint of average lager. It is certainly the most expensive beer I have ever drunk. I've signed petitions about all sorts of terrible events and worthy causes, but I'm furious about this one - it's just so eye-gougingly expensive. To the barricades!

(Sorry about the Marvin Gaye reference in the post's title. He won't mind. Because his dad shot him dead).

Of Cheese and Indie

I won't go on about politics today - it's too hot, which is something I don't deal with very well. I will just mention that the Daily Mail, of all rightwing racist papers, is going after David Cameron for his mortgage dealings - and a good thing too. I presume that they've decided that they need to keep their bitter, jealous Poujadist readers even if that means turning against their natural leaders.

I've had an action-packed weekend. Well, not exactly active, but varied. For Dan's birthday, we planned a walk along the Severn around Bridgnorth, and then to Birmingham for some fine lo-fi. So we all met at 11.45 to get the bus, except for Phil, who turned up an hour early, then wandered the streets of Wolverhampton in his disreputable shorts and beer-logo t-shirt. We sort of missed that bus - Dan's train was delayed, but it was filled to capacity anyway. So we wandered, and some of us decided to buy tickets for Mark Steel tonight. (Dan seemed to like his presents: I gave him a bottle of excellent Islay single malt and 7 CDs themed around birds and walking, Neal made him a bee nesting box which impressed us all mightily, and we presented him with a vintage mixing desk acquired perfectly legally).

Off to lovely Bridgnorth, where I had hopes of storming Bill Cash's mansion in Upton Cressett, but instead, Christine and her bloke bravely invited us for 'bread and cheese', even though Christine only knew Mark and I, and her husband had never heard of us. 'Bread and cheese' turned out to be Stinking Bishop, brilliant stilton, salads and jugs of Pimms, served in their beautiful English cottage garden overlooking the Severn valley. Needless to say, we couldn't tear ourselves away from fine company and gourmet food: the walk was cancelled. I'll stick some photographs up when I get into the office on Tuesday (no, I'm not having Monday off - I'm going to a conference on how to turn my job into a career. It's the New Deal for academics).

Later on, we took advantage of subsidised fares to get 4 train tickets to Brum for £4 and hit the coolest bars - we may not have enhanced this coolness. The Sunflower Lounge loses points for having one screen showing Celebrity Mr and Mrs Starring Morten Harket (is that right?), and wins some back for presenting Repo Man - in French. From there, off to the Victoria, where some of our party unsubtly admired the human form, chatted to Mark's ex's brother, drank fine ales, met another Bangor graduate, Mary, who has the required robust humour to cope with us, and then headed off to The Island, which was most stylish. I temporarily switched to margaritas because I don't think that it demeans my undoubted masculinity at all. No doubt the student I met there and in the next place we went will post the photo in Facebook to my enduring shame… Should have worn my Melt Banana shirt.

From there, we went to Snobs, the legendary Birmingham indie club. I went about 9 years ago and had a wonderful time. This time, it's fair to say, we didn't. Despite dosing ourselves regularly with gin and tonic, we couldn't help noticing that the music was rubbish - an incredibly uninventive dependence on mainstream sixties soul worn out by over-repetition. It was, frankly, reminiscent of 'Sound of Summer' CDs given out by middle market tabloids, leavened only by the most obvious Smiths or Stone Roses track: no inventiveness, no innovation, just deeply conservative choices.

I love a lot of 60s music - Velvet Underground, Ligeti, Reich, Northern Soul - but dancing for hours to music by dead people is a form of cultural suicide. It betrays a total lack of confidence in one's own generation, whether it's the musicians or the revellers you insult with assumptions about their unadventurousness. Dropping the occasional Curtis Mayfield track into a finely crafted set is one thing: serving up constant Stones songs with sporadic chunks of Paul Weller and (ugh) Ocean Colour Scene is the equivalent of going to a UKIP rally, the pop version of Classic FM (exclusively playing Classical Music From The Adverts).

What would I play? Northern Soul, Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Sons and Daughters, Magnetic Fields, G0-Betweens, Hydroplane, The Paradise Motel, Stereolab, Super Furries, Kraftwerk, Beulah, Tindersticks, Gil Scott Heron - lots of upbeat, interesting, danceable stuff which surprises and delights. Music for the brain and music for the groin. Music for the indie kids who carry library cards and make their own style.

So that was Saturday night. We returned by taxi, taking in every godforsaken urban sprawl between the Bullring and Beatties, arguing about whether dawn was breaking or just light pollution - both, I suspect. I got to sleep on my floor, thanks to my kind nature, and woke too early, feeling less than human. Lunch at the Newhampton Inn, reading newspapers under the fruit trees, then an ice cream in West Park restored my balance and here I am. Marking done, comedy to attend later, ironing not calling me for a change. I like ironing. There's a Zen-like calm which comes with achieving the perfect crease.

(Looking at the Bridgnorth tourism pages, reminds me to plug the Much Wenlock Olympian Games (10th-13th July) - I help run the fencing event, and compete too, and the Shropshire Biggest Liar Competition. Neal suggests that Bill Cash be given a clear run at this year's event).

So - you may not hear from me tomorrow - I'll be 'networking' (even typing the word makes me nauseous). Have a good day or so.


Friday, 29 May 2009

Living the high life

I've often teased Emma for being a typical Man U fan: foreign, lives a long way from Manchester etc. Now I know it's true because I've just received this text:

Just boarded. Drinking champagne. It's a hard life.

She's not flying with Ryanair, that's for sure.

What are you all doing this weekend? I'm going for a walk around Bridgnorth tomorrow, in the company of the Map Twats. Then we're going to find Birmingham's finest indie clubs to celebrate Dan's birthday. On Sunday, I'm going to finish all the marking. Then on Monday I'm off to Aston Uni for a conference on how to get an academic career. I always thought 'career' was what happened when your brakes failed…

Then on Tuesday it's off to Walsall to explain to the PGCE external examiner what a brilliant teacher I am (ho ho ho).

Sralan

My wonderful brother sent me a link to Cassette Boy's (that's his main site) take on The Apprentice (which I hate with a passion). I didn't know that the great man put stuff on YouTube as well as release albums (I love The Meat Section). I should be marking but I'll have to watch CassetteBoy versus Jeremy Clarkson. The Gordon Brown one is genius too. Do not play the Harry Potter ones in polite society.

This Friday's conundrum

A nice one this week.

Who are your fictional heroes? With whom do you identify or admire? I'm opting for Arthur Dent ('I seem to be having trouble with my lifestyle'), who fruitlessly and accidentally travelled the universe in search of a decent cup of tea, which is disastrous. He also sported a fine dressing gown, as I have been known to, loved cricket and was pretty decent.



I've been accused of resembling Mark Corrigan too. It's true that he (and David Mitchell) is right about most things, worries about ordinary human decency, comes from Shropshire, wears a good dressing gown and the actor shares a birthday with me, but I'm ignoring all that. (Some people say Mark's conservative - they're wrong. He's just not a liberal). My university ID card has a photo of Mark on it. Nobody has ever challenged me.


(Today's xkcd cartoon is a lovely typography one - don't miss the mouse-over. Did you know I went to watch a film about Helvetica and own several books on fonts?).

Recipe time

Neal and I wondered about cheese and chocolate last week. So we tried it. We put really dark, chilli chocolate with Welsh cheddar flavoured with ginger. It's delicious. It also reminded me of an occasional treat from my student days in the mid-90s. Boil up some well-salted spaghetti. Then put a bar of Dairy Milk on top, and microwave it. I like to think that it inspired Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls.

Feel free to suggest your own recipes.

All my Christmases come at once

Today's greedy porker is Bill Cash MP. I punned about him last week and you all ignored me ('Did Bill Cash in?').


I particularly hate and despise him because he's my parents' MP, and was mine when I lived on the lovely Shropshire/Staffordshire border. He should have been turfed out in 97, but the Tories hurriedly removed the only urban area in the constituency, leaving only subsidy-sucking farmers and feudal barons. When the locals hang shot magpies on trees rather than Christmas lights (yes, they do), you know that they're going to vote Tory even if Fred West stood.

Anyway, Cash is one of the absolute, raving loons who made poor John Major's life a misery. I saw Black Beauty the other day. It's a terrible film, and in it, a bigoted old general shouts 'God, I'd love another crack at the wog'. Bill Cash would consider him a lily-livered liberal. Cash (who made millions from inheriting 'Cash's Name Tapes') wears those horrible, loudly striped blazers and thinks that foreigners think in English really, and pretend not to just to annoy. Though as a Catholic of a particularly rancid variety, I suspect he thinks in Latin. His delightful son William is a dubious 'journalist' famous for anti-semitic articles about 'culturally nihilist' Jews running Hollywood: he's married to one of the revolting rich currently trying to overthrow Chavez's government in Venezuela.

Anyway, the Daily Telegraph has caught him subsidising his delightful daughter.


Despite owning a posh London flat and claiming to live in his 'gentlemen's club', he charged the taxpayer £15,000 per year to rent her London flat - which she subsequently sold for a massive profit - which seems rather odd. Laetitia (I know, we should have some sympathy) is clearly a lovely human being too. Despite being a Conservative councillor for Bridgnorth (about as challenging as standing as a racist in 1980s South Africa), she seems to need a London base, and she's simultaneously standing against Hazel Blears in Salford (the setting for Coronation Street, only it's less pleasant in real life). She has a Facebook page, seemingly packed with Hooray Henrys and the idle rich.

Now, there's a race you wish both of them could lose. I actually didn't think there was anyone less working-class than Blears, especially in Salford - but I do have a mental image of lovely Laetitia turning up dressed in her hunting pinks, shouting 'Hallooo' and treating everybody much as Melchett treats Baldrick. What's her slogan? 'Hello Paupers! How would you like some Cash?' (Though according to Labour Mancunians, she spends a lot of time in posh London nightclubs and rather little in the northern city) and even the Daily Wail thinks she's a waster.

I'm loving this. Lots of rightwing Labour MPs are proving that they're corrupt and greedy - but far more Tories are proving that they haven't changed since the 18th Century: servants, stately homes, assuming that they'll be elected forever whatever they do (as this analysis proves), even hereditary politics. This is why PR or AV is needed: they abolish safe seats, thus making the candidates and sitting MPs work hard and keep their noses clean.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Validated!

Got an A for my observed teaching and reflection on my own teaching practice! My mentor sat in on my first 'sex in poetry' workshop, a lecture which tried to explain the credit crunch, and some one-to-one tutorials. Thanks for resisting the opportunity to trip me up and for laughing at my jokes, those of you who were there!

It's also a good day in other ways: I received Grizzly Bear's 'Veckatimest' and Sufjan Stevens' 'Illinois', and the latest in the Library of Wales series, Brenda Chamberlain's A Rope of Vines and Stuart Evans's The Caves of Alienation.

Roast pork

Hooray! Moran and Kirkbride are standing down at the next election. Next up is Blears: we should have a pyre burning outside her house and constant, threatening chanting. Piggy must die! (That's a literary allusion, not incitement to violence).

Update: Kirkbride is innocent. Well, no she isn't, but her heart's clearly in the right place: she's been

It's Christmas!

Despite my habitual whinging, this institution can be the source of great bounty: Neal and I have just acquired professional quality tripods (sadly, not Tripods), and a great extra birthday gift for Dan.

Now I'm off to 'discuss' with Registry where the missing essays are…

Marking: the ongoing saga

Just out of curiosity, what are you doing with your time? I know a few of you have actual jobs, and some of you are students, so what are you up to today? I'm on what feels like day 937 of the marking marathon and the joy is starting to wear off…

Still, books should be appearing in the post today, and I'm listening solely to bird-themed songs.

A minute's silence for the death of attacking football

Now is not the time for gloating.


OK, now IS the time for gloating. I had the pleasure of meeting one of this happy band of bloggers in the Hogshead, and exercised the utmost restraint. Emma, unfortunately, was watching the match at a friend's house, hiding behind a wall of alcohol. Now she's running away to America for a week, presumably to take up an interest in baseball.

Seriously though, whom to support was such a no-brainer. In one corner, a corporate entity sponsored by an insurance giant so bankrupt that it's now owned by the US Government. In the other corner, a regional giant which is owned by the community, opposed Franco, and carried the Unicef name where most teams have corporate logos.

It was quite a dull match though - MUFC just had no attack after the first ten minutes. The most exciting bit was Ferguson's 'tetchy' post-match interview…

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Buenos Tardes

We're off to revel in Spanish victory. Before that though, as I'm a cradle Catholic, I'll take the Which Pope Are You? test, as featured on Pharyngula.

My result is fairly boring. Anyone do better?

Pull your socks up!

You are an amalgamation of those pesky anti-Popes Clement VII and Benedict XIII

Student-staff lurve

Natural Blues reminded me of the only Little Britain sketch that's actually vaguely funny - and probably quite accurate:

Happy Birthday, Deep Pan Dan

It's Dan's birthday, so everybody wish him well. Thanks to breaking a window with his football, Dan's spending his birthday cutting Mr Radford Sallow's lawn with nail scissors. Boys like candy!

Meanwhile, don't forget to participate in Cynical Ben's 'first line challenge'. I got 8.

Desert Island Ducks

Dorothy and Gordon have told me horrific tales of greed and sexual violence in the duck world. Here's the only picture they sent which is suitable for a family blog… Wonder if they've got a Tory-quality duck island? Props to Neal, by the way, who predicted in the comments section that Sir Peter's ducks wouldn't like it.



Place your bets

Emma reads this blog during her lunch break.
So, by how many goals will Barcelona humiliate Manchester United today?

Hasta la victoria siempre! (Wish I had some Catalan).

May to December

Last night, Newsnight featured a discussion between horrible Martin Amis and an American academic based at UEA, on the subject of the Walcott/Padel scrap (that's poetry, not the Arsenal player dumped on his backside by Stoke at every opportunity in the home leg). One of the things they discussed was quite serious: staff-student relationships. Amis pointed out that his famous father Kingsley had at least one affair with a student, and there are plenty of people from previous generations who married their students.

So is it acceptable? I thought there'd be a rule against it, given the obvious inequalities of power and the opportunities for corruption, exploitation, blackmail and nastiness. Even a mature student would exist within a hierarchy of authority which would make a relationship dubious. However, although these relationships are banned in most US colleges and frowned upon in this country, it's not specifically forbidden.

Quite frankly, I like a lot of my students, and would join you for a chat if we met in the pub, but there's no way I'd date one of you. I'm too old and too boring, and you're too young. What would we have to talk about?

Most importantly, there's the matter of professional standards. Dating someone you're meant to help educate seems exploitative, and the teaching situation is highly charged as it is. A teacehr asking a student out seems abusive to me: behind the individual request is the authority of an institution, the power inherent in the teacher's role, and a degree of droit de seigneur - all of which would potentially intimidate a student of any age. Last semester I spent several weeks discussing love, sex and gender in poetry, to an all-female class (some males were meant to attend but rarely did), one session of which was observed by my teaching mentor. If I'd been having a relationship with a student in that class, all pretence of professional objectivity, fairness and equality would have gone. These subjects need talking about, but all parties need to know that they're being treated seriously and fairly: this couldn't have happened if I'd had an exclusive relationship with one person in that room.


What happens when you get a low mark from a lecturer you're dating (or a too-high one)? Relationships need emotional and experiential equality, not an extension of the learning process. Are there positive outcomes from such relationships? I can't think of one.

What do you think? No personal comments, however (I was surprised by some personal comments on Module Evaluation forms this year). Let's keep it conceptual.

Time team travesty

In my semi-comatose state, I watched a few minutes of Time Team, featuring Tony Robinson excavating a World War 1 British command bunker in Belgium. I had to stop when he said 'nobody knows what life in the bunkers was like'.
1. Yes they do. There are thousands of diaries, accounts etc.
2. Tony Robinson does. He lived in the trenches for a whole series as Baldrick in Blackadder Goes Fourth (or was it Forth?). Yet for Time Team, he didn't make a single reference to this funny and heartbreaking series. It was the elephant in the room and I couldn't bear it any longer.

In case you've missed the reality of life in the trenches, and like poetry, here's Robinson's earlier take:

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Nighty-night

That's enough for today. England have won another boring and pointless one-day match, and I've marked a lot of essays. See you all tomorrow for more of the same?

I'll leave you with a key moment from history:

Helpful hints for students

1. Suggesting that the McDonaldization of education is good because fewer lecturers are needed will not gain you high marks or indeed warm feelings of regard from the person marking your essay.
2. The US Government does not own 'Skype, Microsoft etc.'.
3. Africa is not a small country. It's a massive continent of 47 countries.

Also: this gem from Zoot Horn:
If you get an email from the NHS warning you that you can catch swine flu from canned pork products ignore it. It's just spam.

Chutzpah!

How I wish I could quote the e-mail currently doing the rounds: 4 academics have been consulted so far - by an A-level student who has had the cheek (or should this be 'bravery'/'initiative'?) to ask the university for help with an upcoming exam - 'any information' on 'chick-flick' films would be appreciated!

An Elegy on the Death of a Promising Professorial Career

With apologies to E. J. Thribb, 17 1/2 lines.

So. Farewell then, Ruth Padel.
You were
Darwin's great-great-grandaughter
And also a poet
Like me.

But
You tried to cheat
your way in
to Oxford University

And now
Is this
Poetic Justice?
Perhaps it is.


Zoot Horn's guest entry

Zoot's an astronomer, as befits a Renaissance polymath such as he is. He provides this:

Here's what our Milky Way might look like from the outside - which is pretty much what it looks like from the inside too. It's the Andromeda galaxy, which is, I believe, the most distant object visible to the naked eye (on a moonless night, with no towns around, with averted vision, it's a tiny hint of light but pretty easy to spot). Part of our local group of galaxies (with 2 elliptical 'satellite' galaxies in the same field of view) it is, I think, despite the big bang, one of the few extra-galactic cosmic objects that is actually moving towards us. It's 2.5 million light years away. Which in miles is probably:
I86,000 x 60 x 24 x 365 x 2,500,000. Or something.
There aren't any buses.


I get readers!

What is it with politicians and civil servants? I've had one from gov.ie and one from gov.au searching for 'caviar woman brazil' and 'caviar woman adriano'. Meanwhile, an Ottawan searched for 'rat poison snorted'. My advice is: don't.

Watching the Detectives

I seem to be in the mood for quoting, so here's a little bit that reminds me of the up side of teaching (those of you who've endured my lectures, or William's on Baudrillard, will appreciate it):

The great Doctor Potter, who was for a brief time Bishop of London, had been at cambridge with him in the 'nineties, and had once heard him deliver a scintillating sermon on an abstruse heresy which but twelve men in England could possibly have appreciated to a congregation of four shopkeepers and their families, five small boys, and a deaf old lady. When he had remonstrated that nobody could possibly have followed him, Avril had clasped his arm and chuckled contentedly, "Of course not, my dear fellow. But how wonderful for him if by chance one of them did!"

In ordinary life he was, quite frankly, hardly safe out.

It's from Margery Allingham's The Tiger In The Smoke, a late (1952) addition to her Albert Campion detective series. I'm not really a fan of such things, but this one's fascinating. Albert's a minor aristocrat, whose heyday was the interwar period when the aristocracy was merely dying. By this point, the misery, poverty, greyness and desolation of the postwar period hangs over every person like the London smog which chokes the characters. It's like Sherlock Holmes has been forced into Wire in the Blood or some equally bloody modern drama. The plot centres on an innocent war-widow who suddenly gets sent pictures of her supposedly-dead, but loved husband on the eve of her second wedding five years later, presumably for blackmail purposes.

Advertising - even The Inferno's too good for them

Finding a screwed up piece of newspaper on my desk, I realise that it's because I wanted to post an extract from a witty column, in the Irish Times Saturday magazine. I often pull book reviews out - and only buy a tenth of those I save (thankfully).

Anyway, this is John Butler ranting about the hair dye advert featuring two bossy little girls:

Looking at that strange smile, it's hard not to think that a small part of the melancholy stems from the fact that this man will never again be able to read the newspaper in its entirety on a Sunday. He seems to convey great regret at having fathered these two girls, along with grief for his weekend and for his wife - because frankly, his children are out of control. The five-year-old has been possessed by a much older, image-obsessed harridan, who believes that Daddy will never again have sexual intercourse unless he dyes his hair, and a second daughter who agrees that this is somehow both their business and their responsibility.

And so it goes on in a similarly droll vein… Girls: mummy's dead, and her replacement will be cruel to you. You'll deserve every second of it. And when the advertising genius who came up with this dies, I hope there's a hell consisting of little girls who rub hair dye in his eyes and smash up his iPhone over and over again for ever.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Stars in your eyes

Just because it's astonishing: time-lapse video of the Milky Way over Texas. It gets good around 23 seconds, and the full-screen view is accessed by clicking the icon next to 'Vimeo' on the horizontal tool bar.


This is what little girls are made of

This is what a few little girls did for their homework - invented ways to kill a classmate. 'Sugar and spice and all things nice'. The soundtrack (Hannah Montana) is probably the worst feature of the affair. Still, their artistic skills are remarkable - or South Park's makers are working for about 20 minutes a week.

Mind you, I'm imagining inventive ways to despatch the students who've tortured to death the English language, in the essays I'm marking.

Konichiwa

Cool! Someone in Kawasaki, Japan translated my page (looking for one of my diatribes about the iniquities of the science journal business). It looks excellent in Japanese, though Google doesn't take a stab at 'Plashing'. If you're on my bloglist, you can see your names in Japanese (hover over the links for the English text).

UKIP's poor relations also caught cheating

Merciless Public picks up on the story that the BNP's latest leaflet turns out to feature lots of happy smiling white people who aren't, well, British - or even British resident. 'Why we're all voting BNP' headlines some headshots of, amongst others, an Italian photographer's parents - and they aren't fascists. The images were from a stock photography site. Presumably the BNP couldn't find any supporters proud enough to pose - or any without a swastika tattoo on their foreheads. Two Americans feature, as well as an unfortunate British soldier who told the press that the BNP are 'scumbags' and 'I wouldn't vote for them in a million years'.

A few weeks ago, I objected to UKIP using Churchill to oppose the EU, despite Winston's keen support for a United States of Europe. Now, a BNP campaign seems similarly deceitful. It claims, much to the fury of religious leaders, that Jesus would vote BNP and quotes this legendary figure: 'If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you' (John 15:20). Presumably they couldn't find a biblical reference for 'wogs out'.

Are they really claiming that a Jewish asylum seeker (his parents fled to Egypt as soon as he was born, if you believe all this stuff) would identify with the BNP, who seem to me to be the likely persecutors? Clearly this Jesus bloke didn't have a problem with Arabs (unlike Israel now) and would no doubt be defending Muslim families from the BNP in Stoke, Blackburn, Gaza and elsewhere. I seem to remember that Jesus's people didn't exactly thrive in various countries in which the BNP's friends came to power.

I note that they've chosen a horrible sentimental Caucasian-style image of Jesus, of the kind that abounded in my Catholic schools. Perhaps they don't know where he was allegedly from.

Private school hippies - grab your bongs

Full Glastonbury lineup has been announced - it's a humdinger. Of particular interest to Black Country post-punks is The Nightingales: Saturday on the Peel Stage.

People are weird

I went back to the pool today, for the first time in a week and a half - the carcass was complaining and I was a full two minutes slower than usual. There was a certain pleasure in being the first person to disturb the limpid waters, though my habitual impersonation of a drowning rhinoceros was perhaps not the most elegant of entries.

I had quite a strange experience afterwards though. Here's an image you'll find difficult to shift. While I was hosing myself down, a guy I vaguely know from the university stopped to tell me he'd dreamed about me last night. This is the second time a relative stranger has said this to me recently. He did make it clear that my nakedness wasn't part of his dream, which consisted of seeing me crash my skateboard outside Wolverhampton's central library. I've never been on a skateboard, don't frequent that particular institution, and certainly don't feature in this guy's life enough to impinge on his subconscious!

I'm largely uninterested in dreams - random fragments of the subconscious. I only ever dream about being shouted at, during times of stress like the marking period. What's your interpretation of this one though?

Sunday, 24 May 2009

To rhyme is not a crime

A while back, I mentioned that I really rated Fflur Dafydd's Twenty Thousand Saints, a radical novel set on Ynys Enlli, a prime site of Welsh religious and historical interest. I'm not the only one - she's just won the Oxfam Hay Prize. There's a little old colonialism bound up in the award though - she's an established novelist rather than a newcomer, but there's just a hint in this article that it's writing in English that matters. Even more patronisingly, the BBC story is headlined 'Singer-songwriter wins book prize'. I'm sure Dr. Dafydd will love that faintly dismissive tone…

Anyway, mention of her specialism (R. S. Thomas) reminded me that a comment on another post asked me to list and justify my favourite poets. So here we are:

R. S. Thomas. I met him a couple of times, and very unpleasant he was too. I don't agree with some of his attitudes, but I think that he's up there with the greatest poets of the twentieth century - hounded by his position as an anglicised Welsh nationalist, an agnostic vicar, a cold man with deep feelings, a radical conservative in many ways, everything is poured into poetry which is simultaneously calm and heartfelt. I have a CD of him reading many of the poems, and it's spine-chilling.

MacSpAunDay - I'm a 1930s specialist, the time when poets and artists were forced to take sides by history - often damaging their work in the process, but sometimes liberating them from the parlour games of older English literature. MacSpAunday was a sneering nickname for the leftwing, often homosexual, Oxford educated poets of the 30s: MacNeice, Spender, Auden and C. Day-Lewis.

Malory - I'm a sucker for medieval literature (and further back), especially the Arthurian romances that twist and embellish Celtic myths to deal with pressing current concerns.

Edna St. Vincent Millay: burst in on an all-male preserve, demonstrated that she could do all the strict-metre formal stuff, and turned the tables on all the poetry that objectified women as passive, sexless commodities. She's funny too.

Which leads me to Sappho - fragments of whose poetry survived because a parchment was wrapped round a mummified crocodile, 3000 years ago. Passionate, heartfelt, sometimes angry and sometimes loving and technically gifted, she really is out on her own.

She was paraphrased by Catullus - who could go from writing funny filth to passionate love in a heartbeat. I also rate Whitman, Donne, Duffy, Muldoon, and Simon Armitage, who always surprises me by conveying depths of emotion in the most ordinary of phrases, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg for their exuberance and surprising seriousness. Larkin I find interesting but can't warm to, if you see what I mean. Then there are lots of others I'm getting into slowly, like the Brownings (Robert and Elizabeth). I could go on for much longer but I have marking to do…

Euro-pudding or mean Little England

Amidst all this disgust about political sleaze, there's an election going on, for the European parliament. I'm a hardline socialist, but unlike most on the proper left, I'm in favour of a United States of Europe - as long as it's a United Socialist States of Europe.

Despite its structural weaknesses, corruption, inefficiency and inevitable political fudging, the EU is currently a better state to be a part of than Britain. In some ways, the EU is a capitalist plot, as my comrades on the left say - but Britain under the Tories and New Labour is a capitalist concentration camp, in which de-unionised workers labour for longer hours, lower pay, less protection and fewer rights than our European cousins. So I'm happy to trade a little bit of British state power for egalitarianism and a better deal for the worker.

Will Hutton, a centrist whom I respect greatly, says that only a shock will remind us of how brilliant EU membership is:

Along with the BNP, the opinion polls suggest that more than 50% of the vote will go to anti-EU parties. I'm not sure the British know the consequence of their vote, but a dynamic is in train that will lead to our exit from the EU.

As a pro-European, I don't want this to happen, but I've begun to wonder whether it wouldn't be better for Europe. Only living outside the EU as the sceptics want - creating a politically diminished Britain fit for hedge funds, tax-avoiders and asset-strippers - is likely to convince the British majority that the option is a disaster.

Meanwhile, the Europeans can deepen the EU, along the way empowering the European Parliament. When a Tory government leads an impoverished, embittered Britain back into the EU in 25 years' time, reality will have imposed political maturity.

His point is that Europeans are beginning to question the benefit of being the targets of constant, bitter carping from Britain - yes, the UK is a net donor to the EU, but its diplomatic and political efforts are so selfish (and sometimes so slavishly pro-American), its financial policies so wholly devoted to beggar-thy-neighbour quick-buck capitalism, that the continental Europeans are starting to wonder whether an amicabledivorce might be better for them too.
Sorry about the margins and italics - this bloody interface won't let me put them back and it's driving me crazy.

Print(er) of a hare's foot

Anyone want a free Epson Stylus C42 Plus printer? I might even have a couple of spare refills for it too. It's just taking up valuable book space and I haven't used it since 2006.

(Reference is to a classic, evasive autobiography by Rhys Davies, now available again from Seren Books).

Short, fair review of ATP in The Observer today - though how it could avoid mentioning Shellac, I can't fathom.

we're football crazy, football mad…

Needing a break from a T S Eliot dissertation, I'm following the (very boring) England-West Indies cricket match ball-by-ball here, and every soccer game here. I think Hull and Middlesborough will go down, despite Ferguson's choice of the Manchester United No-Stars and my own desire to see Newcastle drop. Blue-nosed Rangers have won the Scottish Premiership, unfortunately. Oh well, decades of Celtic supremacy was making the world's least competitive league boring. Stoke to sneak a 1-0 victory over Arsenal from a set-piece.

Update: so much for my predictive skills. We're 2-0 down after 16 minutes, thanks to an own-goal and a penalty.

Update: a goal for them and a penalty for us makes it 3-1. Only 60 minutes of this left…

Update: oh dear. 4-1 down at half-time.

Update: Middlesbrough and Newcastle relegated - Stoke flying high (except for today's result). Good season, chaps and chapesses (another one for Deer Friend there - we've been discussing terms for acquaintances)!

Such bloody awful poetry

Those of you who've ever been involved in student politics will know that the smaller the stakes, the bitterer the poison. So you won't be surprised (or perhaps interested) by the race for the Oxford Poetry Professor post - a non-job which involves giving a small number of lectures over a few years. But because Oxford and Cambridge are the jealously guarded property of the élite, the race attracts a good deal of backbiting, all stirred up by a press which loves tales of shenanigans in high places.

This year, the competition was between a Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and average poet Ruth Padel, who has been all over the papers this year because she wrote a lot of poems about her ancestor, Charles Darwin. I've used her book, 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem for teaching purposes.

The race has been convulsed by 'friends' of Padel anonymously mailing out pages of a book which claims (convincingly) that Walcott sexually harrassed students 25 years ago. Walcott withdrew from the race, Padel won, and now it turns out that she mailed journalists saying things like 'I don't want you to pay any attention to the following claims made in this book which you might not have seen…'. Never mind the scansion - that's good shenanigans.

The depressing thing is that this pointless and sordid affair will fill entire chapters of various boring autobiographies, dutifully to be reviewed in the serious newspapers as though poetry and poets were central to our cultural lives. If only poetry were that important. I'm sure it's the hot gossip at this week's Hay Literary Festival, but nobody else will notice. I wish I were there though - my friend Aimee Lloyd goes for a week of intellectual replenishment every year, but instead I'm googling students' sentences and trawling through footnotes… not that there's anything wrong with marking! Oh well - Hay is a beautiful Welsh town with 80 bookshops, and the last thing I need is that kind of temptation.

(Post title is a Morrissey quote, by the way)

MPs expenses: a Eurosceptic conspiracy?

Nadine Dorries is one of the louder and only semi-corrupted Tory MPs, but she's not taking it lying down - she told Radio 4 that she fears MPs are on the edge of suicides, and that it's a 'McCarthyite' witch-hunt (for which Cameron told her publicly to shut up).

So far, so boring. But now she's gone after the Telegraph - and her blog has been removed at the request of that paper's lawyers. What could she have said? Well, nothing ever truly disappears on the web, so here we are, and here's an extract.

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph.
Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.


She seems to think that newspaper owners try to manipulate public concern, and rule without every facing the troublesome matter of getting elected - a charge that's been true since the 18th century. It was certainly interesting that the DT didn't give Labour members any warning of what they were going to publish, but gave Cameron et al. a full day for preparation - very objective.

Sunday Sunday

Today is another marathon marking session, while I cower inside from the relentless searing heat. I don't have the words to describe how much I abhor hot weather. Give me driving rain and blustery storms any day. The only upside of today's weather is that I can dry my clothes on the line, which is much more civilised and environmentally friendly than using a tumble dryer.

The other excitement of the day is that clash of the titans, Stoke City versus Arsenal. We beat them 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium, their goal coming in the 93rd minute, so I've high hopes. Whatever happens, we've been vindicated and we're here to stay.

I did some marking yesterday, and feel quite optimistic based on those results - some good projects, some convincing arguments. Or had I had too much to drink at the sophisticated Euro-barbecue I attended yesterday? Fine wines, cooked (rather than burned) lamb and chicken, excellent taboulleh. Mmmm. Must go swimming tomorrow!

Neal and I were thinking about chocolate and cheese today: a dark, bitter chocolate and an acidic Cheshire would make a fantastic soufflé. Your thoughts?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Yet another birthday

I'm off now. To sunny Stafford for Dan's partner's 40th. Then my Germanic chum (like that, Deer Friend) Felix is coming for the weekend to drink while I mark essays. What are you lot doing for the bank holiday? Wish I was going walking…

Oh yes - to drown out the New Labour screaming, I just received Tristram Hunt's new biography of Engels, and a new edition of Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England (short answer - less than idyllic). Plus ça change

The rest of the world laughs at Parliament

I'm not usually a fan of The Daily Show's gurning and heavy-handed satire, but it's an interesting take on the scandal. Apparently Zimbabwe's Daily Herald is suggesting that their MPs get pay rises in case they're tempted by British-style corruption - things are really bad when Mugabe's having a pop.


The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Scamalot
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

MPs: what a bargain

Over on his blog, Paul Flynn MP, who's bright and scrupulously honest, has published his monthly expenses - as all MPs should have been doing for a long time. Amidst all the hysteria - justified in many cases - we should note that actually, most MPs do an arduous job, very cheaply. In the US, Congress and Senate representatives have huge staff, cost millions of dollars, and spend a lot of their time collecting money from special interest groups, repaid massively by blocking legislation (e.g. on smoking cessation, or environmental improvement). As the Texas saying goes, 'you have to dance with them what brung you', as Bush certainly did with the oil companies.

Sure, lots of our MPs, ministers - and civil servants - apparently see their positions as opportunities to demonstrate how useful they can be too big business afterwards - but they are mostly honest and hardworking.

I say mostly - let me introduce you to Anthony Steen, knight of the realm and Tory MP for Totnes:

After pondering the question of exactly why people were so angry over his claim for the treatment of 500 trees in the grounds of his house, he offered a succinct explanation today:
"Jealousy". "I've done nothing criminal, that's the most awful thing, and do you know what it's about? Jealousy," Steen said. "I've got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral." Steen spoke out after announcing on Wednesday he would stand down as an MP at the next election. He denied his hand had been forced by Cameron. "The pressure came from the constituents. For the last week I've been taking soundings and they are absolutely beside themselves with anger."
Steen later issued an apology after he was upbraided by the leadership for distorting his talks with Cameron. Cameron also forced the former Tory minister Sir Peter Viggers to announce his retirement after Viggers claimed £1,645 for a floating duck island.


(Report and picture from The Guardian)

We're talking telephone numbers

I did get a reply from the university governors, directing me to the Annual Report, which is available here. The V-C's salary went from £141,000 in 2006, to £189,000 in 2007, and £206,000 in 2008 - which means a £65,000 pay rise in 3 years - and they have the cheek to say that our 5%, which took us to just above a secondary school teacher's wage - was greedy.

Bopping with the scenesters

Last night I saw the finest minds of a generation…

Well, not really, but I did get a glimpse of Birmingham's cool subculture. It was like being back at ATP, surrounded by bright young things all rocking the 'sexy librarian' look (as if librarians could ever not be sexy). We went to the Victoria (?) next to the Alexandra theatre to wish Marie a happy birthday, then to The Island for this gig. It was packed, stylish and served expensive continental and American beers, hence my slightly fuzzy head and empty pockets this morning.

As to the music: Kristy was pleasant. We skipped the next lot, but heard Neil Young covers drifting from the window as I shivered next to the smokers. Mr Bones etc. had something going on. I'm not convinced that a small room really required 4 guitars, keyboard and a violin as well as a singer, but perhaps that's because the sound wasn't very good for some of the set. The singer's serious yodel (with added reverb) is a little bit over-clever, but I was really impressed with the whole thing - to me it sounded like a mix between Pentangle and Editors, which is a great combination. The violinist was particularly good, though I do have one bone to pick. Why use an electric violin? Did Michelangelo carve concrete? Get a proper violin and amplify it - and turn down the rest of the band rather than using an electric violin simply to fight for volume.

I've no idea what the last band were like - we provincials had to skedaddle for the last train to Stumville. I liked The Island - bohemia on the ring road. They're doing a 'lo-fi girl band' disco next weekend called Attagirl. Sounds like just my thing, but I'm away on another fencing team managers' orientation course. Woo, and indeed, Hoo.

Friday's conundrum (again)

Today's Friday Conundrum is quite simple: who really needs a slap?

My list is obviously endless, with Hazel Blears at the top, but taking in people with hairstyles, Tories, entire categories such as advertising and PR workers, 4x4 drivers, litterbugs, UKIP, anyone who uses their mobile telephone as a music player, Steve Quitterill…

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Giggetty-giggetty



I'm tired and hungry - so I've allowed Mark to persuade me to go to a gig tonight. Mr Bones and the Dreamers (what an awful name) includes one of our ex-students. Hope they're good…

Happy Birthday to Marie too!


Mouth stuffed with gold

According to a colleague's analysis of the institutional financial reports, my Vice-Chancellor was paid £206,000 in 2007-2008. That's £12,000 more than Gordon Brown and twice that of a top-ranking surgeon.

I make that an 8.5% pay rise (or £16,000) - despite her statement to us that our 5% rise has caused financial problems. I'm assuming that she declined to take a rise this year then… but I can't say because she hasn't even acknowledged my polite enquiry.

Twitter will save you from Zombies

Boston Police will get word of an attack out by Twitter! People like me will have to fend for ourselves.

Soothing the savage breast

I was listening to Tosca earlier. Despite its passion, I decided it was the wrong material for marking - wild, bloody and furious as it is in places. Now I'm listening to the Tortelier recording on Bach's Cello Suites and I'm feeling much more generous. Up next - probably Flos Campi (my favourite Vaughan Williams) or some plainchant.

The moral is: if you want better marks, buy me the right kind of music.

Caption competition


'I need a new host body. His will do'.

Any more?

A little sunshine

OK, The Deer Friend left a comment asking for some sweetness and light on educational matters. Luckily, I've spent the morning in a meeting with our Dean. Although what she said doesn't entirely fit what the Vice-Chancellor said, she was upbeat and positive, and it's clear that staff research is going to be supported. So you students may hear new and exciting discoveries made by staff in the time we're going to be given. That's proper good news!

Also, I have found my niche. I am a B-grade PGCE student and therefore a B-grade teacher. Despite my 1st class degree with prizes, MA with prizes and PhD, my technology-supported learning PGCE was deemed worthy of a B. Perhaps because I was 'creative', though the feedback objected to a lack of theory (there isn't any on blogging and pedagogy) and my use of the MHRA referencing system - which I used because Harvard's rubbish and I'm damned if I'm going to learn yet another one for a one-year course after struggling for years to get MHRA right for the MA and PhD theses.

Perhaps I'll sink even lower for the other assessments.

What a Burke

If you bright young things can wade through Edmund Burke's prose, this is his advice on how our elected representatives should relate to us - as cited over at Slugger O'Toole:

it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living

Happy birthday Owen

Happy birthday to my brother for yesterday - that's 3 of my siblings, my dad and an uncle in one month!

Some dreadful political puns

I haven't moaned about politicians for a few days. Why is Hazel Blears still employed, even though non-Ministers have been suspended from the Party for doing the same thing? Perhaps because he'd have to sack several other ministers too, and perhaps because she's vindictive enough to devote the rest of her career to undermining the Labour Party.

Have you noticed that the more rightwing the MPs are, the more corrupt they are? Rob Marris (though by my standards he's quite rightwing): innocent. Paul Flynn: innocent. Dennis Skinner: innocent. Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon, Tories who charged us for 'duck islands' and moat cleaning: GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY.

There's a simple ideological reason for this. Being rightwing means privileging individualism. The appeal of the Tories and of New Labour is this: do whatever you can to get ahead, and we'll reward you. Everybody else is a loser. So naturally, corner-cutting and fraud is admirable under this system.

Socialism said: there's plenty to go round, so if we work together and look after each other, all our lives will improve.

So socialists don't steal from the citizens and capitalists do.

Pun time. The full details of MPs expenses aren't out yet. Did Bill Cash in? What did Ken Purchase? Did David Borrow? Did Liam Fox his constituents? Is Joan Humble? Were Greg Hands in the till? Does Sir Michael Lord it over us? Is Paddy Tipping a racist sport? When it came to negotiating with the fees office, did Jon Trickett? If so, did Derek Twigg? Was there a Steve Webb of deceit? Finally, was Tony Wright? Feel free to add more…

Heeeeeeeeeeeeere's Voley!

Back in the office where I belong, faced with a massive pile of marking.

Yesterday's meeting in Cardiff was to inspect their halls of residence ready for the School Games. The journey down was beautiful. Deer, rabbits, buzzards and other fauna played in the spring sunshine, and the rolling hills of Gloucestershire and South Wales blazed with blackthorn blossom and wild flowers. Disembarking at Cardiff Central, the Welsh language fell on me like the softest of spring rain.

It was amazing to see their student body. Clearly more middle-class (did you know that Wolves has the most working-class intake of any UK university) and almost all white. They were all working hard - Cardiff seems to run more exams than us. The main university buildings are stunning: massive, gleaming white Edwardian architecture from the days when the cheapest bid didn't always win the tender.

If you haven't been, the city is well worth visiting. On the way back from the visit, I took the circular bus round the city. It went through Splott and all the dock areas, grey houses hunched against the environment. I saw Ninian Park (now abandoned for a new stadium across the road), and suddenly glimpsed the Welsh Assembly Building down at the front. It really is astonishing, a brown and grey hulk of bronze, stone and slate which both fits in and looks like a spaceship from that great Welsh TV show, Dr Who. Then of course there's the castle (I didn't get a chance to go in), Spillers Records - the oldest in Britain, and some bookshops.

On that subject, thanks very much to Anita. In recommending The Plan café, she neglected to mention that it's right next door to Capital Bookshop. I went in for a minute, looked through just one case, and came out with £50-worth of Welsh books. Most won't excite you much: a bibliography of Anglo-Welsh literature published between 1900-1965, a first English-language edition of Kate Roberts's A Summer Day in hardback with its dustjacket, an early edition of Alun Lewis's Raider's Dawn and Other Poems, biographies of Katherine Philips (Orinda) and Emyr Humphreys, a collection of conversations and essays by Humphreys, and Glyn Jones's wonderful The Island of Apples, a classic mid-century Welsh Bildungsroman.

I marked essays on the train. It appears that some of my students believe McDonaldization is a good thing because it means more leisure time for students, and lower staff numbers. As you can guess, that gave me a nice warm glow. Thanks to one of my commenters for linking to this, which sets out McDonald's' plan to offer academic qualifications. So while we're being McDonaldized, they're being Universitized. Or something. Shamefully, one of my American cousins 'teaches' at Hamburger University.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Au revoir

That's enough marking for one day. I've a 7.15 a.m. train to Cardiff, and I'll take a pile of MZ3001 with me, you lucky people. See you on Thursday.

Insult to injury

Apparently, while universities offer us a 0.3% pay rise, Vice-Chancellors have averaged a 9% increase this year, to £194,000 (the same as the prime minister). Meanwhile, our (generous) pay rise of 5% last year is listed as a 'problem' by our own V-C in her presentation. I've written to ask what salary and pay rise she got. Think I'll get a reply?

Update: in 2007-08, she was paid £180,000: an increase of 24.8% on the 2006-7 salary of the previous incumbent (figures available here). How many students' fees is that?

Brief notes

Doonesbury has another go at the terrible diversion that is Twitter. His line is that it's appallingly narcissistic.

Got some proper twee in the post today: God Help The Girl's 'Come Monday Night' 7" single. They're a Belle and Sebastian side project.

I've also discovered pitchfork.com, for all your indie needs (farewell, Word and other magazines for aging losers), and Jim Carroll's On The Record blog at the Irish Times, which Anita assures me is highly reliable for hot indie tips.

Here's some Th' Faith Healers - there's not a lot out there, probably because they split in 94.

Why why why, Delilah?

Just to make you happy, congratulations to Manchester United for their league success. I've lost a filling getting that out through gritted teeth.

Good weekend for the revived giants of Stoke though. A clear victory. We're closing on Man City and ahead of all my friends' teams other than MU. I'd like to finish the season by doling out a damn good thrashing to Woolwich Arsenal. All that remains for me to say is I TOLD YOU SO.

Tony Pulis for England?

The lonely suicide of education

I've just been to an open staff meeting with our esteemed Vice-Chancellor.

We are all going to be efficient. Centralisation will also be a feature of our institution. Efficiency will be centralised, and centralisation will be efficient. We will centralise efficiently, and we will be efficient because we will be centralised.

In the middle of all this rather retro management gobbledygook (it was like listening to an NHS manager appearing on Just A Minute), she sneaked in the death of the university. Obviously, she didn't phrase it like that. What she said was 'We are past the age, and past the ability, for staff to design small modules. What we will do is buy in course material from providers such as the OU or Pearson'.

So there you have it. We won't need PhDs or experts to teach courses. We'll just need people to switch on the computers, hand out the books and press play on the DVD machine. Obviously having people who've written books, revolutionised their field or conducted in-depth research is a drag on resources. Knowing stuff costs money. Employing monkeys to hand over shrink-wrapped courses designed somewhere else for profit is much easier. And of course, all students are the same and have exactly the same needs so we won't need to design courses by getting to know people, reading their work and adapting to their needs. (Meanwhile, they're telling us that we'll have more time for research. What the fuck for? Nobody will ever hear it).

It's also the end of critical thinking (educational values weren't mentioned once). We'll end up with Law, Business and apprenticeships, when what we need are humanities graduates and other critical thinkers who'll challenge this narrow, employer-fixated, managerial, imagination-free vision of education and life in general as a process of ramming individuals into complacent work-unit boxes. What's happening is exactly what Ritzer said would happen: courses like English, Cultural Studies, languages, history etc. will be taught at élite universities to élite kids who'll continue to run the world and never, ever, have to meet an oik from Wolverhampton in the corridors of power again. Our lot will learn to hold meetings, operate Powerpoint and do what they're told without question. Do we improve society by churning out obedient drones? No. We reify existing inequalities.

Do I sound angry? I know that underneath this mild exterior is a Stalinist waiting for his chance, but this is insanity. Educationalists (the Institute for Learning Enhancement, or the V-C's Gestapo, as nicknamed by a much more senior figure at my university) are actually, gleefully, joyfully, seriously doing their very best to remove the few remaining vestiges of humanist, Enlightenment values. They're like the Khmer Rouge, who were nominally communist but actually did all they could to destroy communist values. They're entryists, wreckers, anti-intellectuals, managers and technocrats hellbent on deifying 'efficiency', rationality and all the qualities Bauman said lead to Auschwitz. This is perhaps what makes me angriest of all. The people who are meant to be on our side are the destroyers. They have no faith in the power and purpose of education because they're rightwing loons obsessed with the appearance of authority. They despise the experts, those scruffy readers who spend their time thinking about stuff rather than buying Armani and finding ways to 'maximise income streams'.

They're cowards and they are traitors, and so are we for not standing up for the educational values we believe in. Students: do you want me to spend my time mechanically reading out a lecture prepared by some under-paid graduate in a Slough office and faxed to me that afternoon, or do you want me to spend years reading books, thinking about them, writing about them, then talking to you and listening to what you think? I know what I'd rather have.

I didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge. I went to a small, kindly, serious institution (Bangor University). It wasn't perfect, but there was no fudging about what constituted education. It wasn't the delivery of preconceived ideas. Education was a matter of thinking, arguing with, talking to and listening to academics who knew what they were on about, but who were also interested in how we saw the world. That's my bottom line, and it's how my colleagues here feel. I don't want to end up parrotting somebody else's line, then marking your work according to what a distant company thinks is a 'right' answer - we may as well deliver a degree by online surveys and e-mail.

Mind you, facsimile / fax-machine education is damn cheap.

Set reading for today: Ritzer's 'The Mcdonaldized University'.

ATP, by the sea


I took a few photos at ATP - they're here. Here are a few samples, including Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses) and Teenage Fanclub.