The Games themselves are always fun: 12 sports in an environment designed to replicate the Olympics or World Championships. Many of the current fencing senior squad have competed at the Games, so it's a great place to spot talent and see some top quality action, and it's very photographer friendly, so I'll see what I can do.
Last year we were in the Olympic Park as a test event before the real thing. This time we're in Sheffield for the second time. I visited that city once in the late 90s for a PhD interview and thought the place looked derelict. Now I really look forward to it - the city is beautiful and exciting. Whether I think that as I patrol the halls of residence at 2 a.m. clad from head to toe in mustard yellow (or whatever this year's colour is) is a different matter. I end the week drained but happy. And it can't be any worse than the Cardiff year, which saw me finding alternative accommodation for 100 netball players who'd evacuated their building - long past midnight - due to an infestation of silverfish, while their coach offered to punch the site manager.
So in between doing lots of administration (such as synchronising the Module Guides and the Learning and Teaching Guides), what have I been up to? Well, partly perusing today's book post. In particular, I've had Gissing's Demos, in which he identifies Democracy, Socialism and Lesbianism as the evils currently threatening humanity ( he was a little odd, and it was published in 1886), and best of all, this racy little number:
In my defence, I would say that it's all the fault of Yankee Clipper Books of the United States. What I actually ordered was The Mind and Body Shop, a satirical novel set in a university facing a corporate takeover. Those of you who follow my tales of woe from The Hegemon will understand what led to this choice of reading matter.
However, A Match For Celia has its charms, and I may recommend it to my colleagues teaching the Policing, Uniformed Studies (yes, it's a degree) and War Studies courses. 'Men In Uniform' is a sub-section of the Harlequin Silhouette romance series: other options include 'Desire' (more boffage apparently), Super-Romance (more words), Intrigue (suspense-romance), American ('he didn't just drop bombs…he also dropped his pants') and plain Romance ('Cosmopolitan international settings'). Sadly the range of uniformed gentlemen is limited to 'heroes': traffic wardens, lollipop-ladies and environmental health inspectors are denied their chance to sweep a woman off her feet. Although the cover doesn't really depict a man in uniform, more a man wearing an ID card. Either there's a Derridean 'play' ripe for deconstruction here or the jacket designer was not feeling particularly inspired.
These novels are strictly heterosexual and deeply conservative. Men in uniforms are heroes. Women fall in love with them for their strength. The men have to be caring and considerate, but understand that all the woman wants to do is place herself in his power, to be sheltered by him, safe in the knowledge that he means well. These macho men have to be slightly tamed because they feel desire strongly, but the love of a good woman is all they need to socialise them - sometimes against the woman's wishes. It's a neat trick: the women are independent to some extent, but utterly conventional and non-feminist, reinforcing hegemonic sexual and social roles.
Here's a taste of the novel:
He pulled her effortlessly back into his arms. And then he kissed her until she went limp against him, until she wouldn't have been surprised if smoke had come out of her ears.
'Don't even suggest', he said in a low growl, 'that I don't want you. I want you so much it's eating me alive. I've wanted you from the first minute I saw you, damn it. So much that I almost…almost lost my head,' he finished, sounding as though he'd started to say something else and had changed his mind at the last minute.
'Would it really be so bad to lose your head just once?' she asked wistfully, her cheek against his pounding heart.
That said, A Match for Celia suggests that there are surprising ways to a woman's heart. Letting the book fall open naturally (a sure-fire way to find the saucy bits without wasting time on exposition, plot, characterisation etc) leads to the discovery that virginal Celia isn't only enthralled by FBI man (disguised as a tax accountant) Reed's 'unexpectedly sexy growl', but the mean way he plays golf:
He'd slaughtered her at the game, even though it had been his first time.Oh, sorry. Not golf. Miniature golf. Or as we say in Europe, pitch-and-putt or crazy golf. That's a tip, gents. Write it down and your love-life will be smoother than the final green at St. Andrews. Don't listen to mockery of The Simpsons:
If I recall correctly, Homer and Marge end up having sex in one of the obstacles. So maybe A Match for Celia gets something right. Perhaps the 'match' in the title is a subtle play on words, meaning both 'marriage' and a miniature golf rivalry after which they all live happily ever after. I'll never know. Though for all my mockery (and this is a terrible book, as hackneyed as any cheap porn or war thriller), work like this is important in some ways. Through it, we glimpse a readership using such material in specific ways: to project their hopes and dreams, to escape from a mundane reality, to enunciate sexual, economic and social ambitions. The uniformed aspect of it suggests that there's a deeply conservative political economy underpinning the social structures of these fantasies - which makes it fascinating, albeit unreadable.