I've seen two of my dissertation students who are sorted, thoughtful, interesting and organised. One is doing a Tolkien thesis, which would normally send me running to the loos for a spot of retching (I write as a teenage Tolkien fan and – the shame – member of the Tolkien Society) but her plan is to examine the nature and cultural origins of the various models of heroism in Lord of the Rings. We talked about narrative strategies and commentary, sex, race, theories of degeneration and a host of other things. I've sent her away to read The Decline of the West (with asbestos gloves) to give her a sense of the conservative intellectual climate of the time. I just hope she doesn't turn up for our next consultation planning to liquidate me as an untermensch!
The other dissertation consultation was about a project based on the nostalgic revival of music formats, particularly the recent cult of the cassette tape. Like me, he collects vinyl, and plans to talk to record label owners about the motivation of producers and consumers of obsolete formats.
Neither of us think vinyl is obsolete, but cassettes definitely are: they were poor-quality back in the day and have no redeeming characteristics other than wilful obscurantism. We're thinking that he can start with a Frankfurt School take, then look at theories of subcultures and material objects in popular culture.
If the pair of them write as well as they talk, it's going to be a fascinating few months.
I remember tapes - they were how I first encountered recorded music. They were rubbish. My parents owned a Best of Vaughan Williams together, and Dad had a Best of U2 and Best of The Dubliners. As you can see, 'Best Of…' was a theme, and one which to me meant 'these people don't really like music', which was only partially fair. Completists they were not. They also possessed hundreds of C120 tapes, previously used to dictate letters and medical notes for transcription. If you think C60s were rubbish, C120s are a revelation. The sound quality is utterly appalling and the tape is really, really thin, so any music sounds like it was recorded in a gale, you could often hear the tracks on the other side as well, and they'd snap or foul frequently. Oh, and each play wore out the tape: permanent, they were not. Much time was spent gently coaxing fragile magnetic ribbon out of my £12.99 white Woolworths dual-tape player with a pencil, soon replaced by a £15 Sanyo one.
I've just finished writing my union branch report on the REF process (wailing and gnashing of teeth) and now I'm off to a colleague's house to watch loads of old Dr Who. For the purposes of research, I'll have you know: we've a couple of papers cooking but I can't tell you what they're about because you'll all just nick our ideas. Or laugh at them anyway.
Soundtrack to the day has been Oliver Knussen. Have a cantata: