Friday, 21 November 2014

Not drowning but waving.

What a week. I am quite literally bruised, but also exhilarated. Some great things have happened. I did my usual load of teaching, and the classes went really well – lots of talkative people. I particularly liked the Chinese student who said the most annoying thing about moving to the UK was discovering that the Chinese President has a Twitter feed and Facebook page, while banning those services in China. She also said that Chinese TV is all cooking and 'talent' shows too, so nobody should feel superior.

On Tuesday I visited Newham College's University Centre, which is accredited by the Open University. I'm the external examiner there - EE's are the method by which universities know their standards are kept high. We all offer different things, but the idea is that we're equally testing. Our own English Lit external told us that the students who get First class degrees would achieve the same at her own Russell Group establishment – any other league tables, reviews, newspaper pieces and marketing claims are meaningless besides EE reports. NUC, I can tell you, is a gem. It's tiny and relatively new, so the students luxuriate in small classes. The modules are innovative, rigorous and fascinating, and the staff are intellectual, uproariously amusing, opinionated, caring and very progressive (so are their children, I discovered). The recent graduates I met are also lovely – sparky, clever and questioning. The first one I met told me all about her dissertation on food culture and Baudrillard: she's a fan of my colleague William's book on the philosopher. If that was a set-up, it was a damn good one. Weirdest of all, I met the management and the staff and they all said very complimentary things about each other. Those people are actually happy! I never knew management and academics could peacefully co-exist. Perhaps it'll catch on!

If I lived down there, I'd happily take a course at NUC. They also don't stint on the cake.

After a happy morning, I wandered off to meet my sister, my latest niece and her toddler brother. I hadn't met the baby yet. True to form, she cried from the moment she was placed in my arms, and stopped as soon as I handed her back. I have the same effect on students come to think of it. My nephew and I bonded over shared addictions to posh cheese and haggis (not in the same course) and the family's cat was even more pleased to see me than anyone else because it gets ignored amongst the chaos of small children.

I did something really touristy on the way back. Instead of taking the tube back into central London, I walked down to the Cutty Sark and took a boat back to London Bridge. Night was falling and the city looked magical from Canary Wharf (which I think of as one big financial crime scene), under Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London into the heart of the city in just half an hour, for £6. I'd love to do the full cruise down the river, and I'm never going to get the underground on that route again. Then it was on to a train home, during which I finished a piece for the Times Higher on politicians' novels ('why do politicians kill?')

The next day was moving day. I spent the morning with my rather underpowered but nice movers carrying 60 massive boxes of books and records down three flights of stairs to the lorry - I'm still covered in cuts and bruises. By the time I left to go to a meeting, I was shattered. We founded an MA course in the afternoon and I took my Media Ethics class later on, while I tried not to think about how they were throwing the vinyl around. Then the evening descended into farce: I expected to let myself into the house and find the flat keys and new house keys there. At this point I discovered that the 'spare' keys weren't anything of the sort. Even with the help of a neighbour who helped me over a couple of locked gates, none of the keys got me in. The movers' phones weren't ringing. I had to call a locksmith, who got the front door open in 5 seconds with a piece of plastic (£85). No keys can be found. More to the point, no furniture either. I start to wonder whether the movers have crashed their lorry when along they came - they'd had to dismantle all 15 bookcases to get them out of the flat, which took ages, and their phone batteries had died. Naturally I felt like an impoverished idiot, but hugely relieved. They took the last lorry load home with them and I went off to sleep in my bare, echoing flat…the sleep of the truly wrecked. My belongings are going to remain packed until the house is painted top to bottom over the next couple of months.

But not for long - the next day I had to meet a decorator who turned out to be a former Cultural Studies lecturer, so we chose paints according to the semiotic method. My missing furniture turned up, then I hared back to the university to record an interview with Jon Gower who came up from Cardiff to talk about Caradoc Evans: it's the 100th anniversary of My People, Evans's scandalous short story collection. The programme is going out on Radio Wales in early January. I'm not sure why Jon asked me, given the eminence of the other contributors, but it was fantastically enjoyable. The panel will talk about Evans's Welsh reputation: My People attacked (in English!) what he saw as the dead hand of nonconformist liberalism and rural Wales's Gothic darkness, so my job was to talk about him in the context of anglophone literature, his reputation outside Wales, and the literary nature of his work. I suggested that he was part of the post-Victorian Angry Young Men movement, alongside Lytton Strachey and Edmund Gosse, similar to Joyce, Brinsley MacNamara and Lawrence, influenced by Hardy and Zola, an influence on Gwyn Thomas and akin to Steinbeck and Faulkner in that all three loved but were compelled to attack the societies which spawned their work. No doubt this will all sound appallingly pretentious in the broadcast, and it doesn't help that my voice sounds like the quacking of a bronchitic duck.

Jon's one of the world's renaissance characters. I made the mistake of asking him what he has on after the radio piece. The answer? 7 fiction and non-fiction books in two languages, a couple of TV documentaries, and he's running a very good publishing firm. He gave me a tip about another (unpublished) politician-thriller writer and a personal introduction, and a list of Welsh-language science fiction titles I'd missed for another thing I have in mind. The man is a whirlwind of activity, but one given solidity by sheer intellect. I'm never going to claim to be busy again.

So that's the end of the week. All I have to do this weekend is attend The White Devil with some students and colleagues, and clean my flat to such levels of perfection that even this landlord – a lying cheating devil of such wickedness that Beelzebub would be compelled to say 'steady on old chap' – can't retain my deposit. What are the chances of that?


Arron Hook said...

You have my sympathies over moving house. I've had to move twice in the last six months. The most recent time I had to get a three piece suite and two double beds up two flights of stairs in the course of an hour.

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