Monday, 1 July 2013

Oh happy day!

You might be surprised, given the Eeyore-ish tone of Plashing Vole (and the dystopian nature of the world at the moment), that I'm in a thoroughly good mood. 

'Why so happy?', I hear you ask?

Well, the weekend was good. I went to hear the CBSO and CBSO Chorus under Andris Nelsons perform Beethoven's 8th and 9th Symphonies. The 8th is pretty, the 9th is the one you can all hum and perhaps even sing. Because it was the CBSO and Chorus, it was beyond magnificent: they really are amongst the very best in the world. I don't think this was their greatest performance, but that's only because I saw them perform the Britten War Requiem recently and came away thinking that I'll never see a more consummate performance of that or any other piece. 

After that, I had the pleasure of ignoring the Rolling Stones and Mumford and Sons at Glastonbury, tuning in instead to Public Enemy, who really haven't aged gracefully, for which they deserve our admiration. While the Stones churn out songs written before I was born, like a particularly charmless jukebox, PE are still righteous. 

Mumford and Sons depressed me beyond words: imagine giving your band a corporate name and then churning out music which is – at best  – unobjectionable. I remember a few years ago the NME dubbing a bunch of bands 'The New Boring': Turin Brakes and Co. And they were: pretty tunes, competent musicians, sensitive lyrics, but absolutely nothing to get the hormones racing. 

Compared to Mumford and Sons, The New Boring band were death metallers. Compared to Mumford and Sons, The Weavers sound like Slayer. I found myself wondering how the line-up was constructed. In the end, I decided that the schedulers channelled the spirit of David Cameron or Michael Gove and asked themselves who their PR advisors would tell them to pick on Desert Island Discs: nothing offensive, but a nod to 'classic' rock, someone female and a young cool band. Remember Gordon Brown claiming to like Arctic Monkeys? 

I'm 37 and yet I can now claim quite seriously that I'm too young for Glastonbury. It's only to be expected: only the Stones' generation can afford Glasto tickets now. It's not for the likes of us.

But I digress: I avoided them all and stayed happy. And then Sunday saw the start of the real summer: the Tour de France. I like cricket. A five day match with no firm conclusion is fine by me. So a three week orgy of tactical battles, backstabbing, team orders, injuries, duels and maddened spectators is basically my idea of heaven. Oh yes, and amazing bikes for me to drool over. The opening stages in Corsica this weekend were brilliant: organisational chaos and strategic errors led to unheralded riders winning, the unlovely Sky juggernaut getting badly caught out, and lots of doomed-but-noble breakaways. Sporting perfection, even if lots of them are still on drugs. 

The last element contributing to my good mood is today's event: our school's Staff Research Conference. It's one of the best days of the year: lots of my colleagues getting together to share what we've been getting up to (or not) over the course of the year. It's relaxed, friendly and intellectually searching. I've been to papers today on the Seren Books series retelling the Mabinogion medieval Welsh myths (which I've taught with some success to students here); a Foucauldian critique of my own university's pedagogic unit's critical approach; a presentation of doctoral research into HE academics' resistance to 'technopedagogy' (very weird seeing quotes from my own interview on screen under an assumed name). Then I presented with my colleague a chapter we wrote on the presentation of jazz and masculinity in some contemporary novels: Jackie Kay's Trumpet, Jim Crace's All That Follows and Alan Plater's the Beiderbecke Trilogy

I've never done a joint paper before, and really enjoyed it. Very good questions too, mostly jazz fans denying that their particular sub-genres count as jazz in the ways we mean. After us, Polly gave a fully illustrated talk on 'Naked Masculinity: Fear, Freedom and Eroticism' which was, well, eye-opening. Now I'm in the politics section: one colleague gave a fascinating philosophical analysis on theories of loyalty in politics, and Eamonn's finishing with an archive-driven examination of the secret back-channels between the IRA and the UK Government between the 1970s and the late 1990s. It's fascinating: naming names and showing us historic documents such as the famous hand-written note to the UK state announcing that the conflict was over and the IRA needed help ending the war. It was used by UKG as the 'start' of the peace process (until forced to admit that negotiations had been going on for two years). McGuinness says it's a fake and he never sent it, but it seems that the note was a summary by Dennis Bradley of more general discussions, with the plea for help added. Are there multiple notes? The note has a '4' at the top: was this Draft 4 or part 4: if so, what were parts 1-3? Additionally, the Link personalities seem to have been adding things to what the Republican movement said, much to the displeasure of the Republicans when they find out what the Link people are up to. Murky, fascinating stuff. 

And to top it all off: wine reception next!

Result: a Vole in a sunny disposition. It won't last…

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