Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Omnibus return-to-work blog

Hello all. I've been back from my holidays for a week now, and I would like to tell you that it's great to be back. But that would be a big fat lie because I'm back to a stream of mealy-mouthed emails from management announcing the redundancies of good colleagues and the continued takeover of academic leadership by people who have literally never taught a student or done any research.

I have had a good holiday. I went to a conference on the way: the North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History in Bangor. It covered philosophy, language, music, literature, art, economics and human geography and much else besides. I tried to go to sessions outside my immediate field, and to postgrads' papers on the basis that a) the young are there to be intellectually preyed upon by fading has-beens like me) and b) they might like the support and appreciation of a decent turnout. I went to a lot of presentations, missed lots I wanted to hear I especially enjoyed Jessica George on Mary-Ann Constantine's wonderful novel Star-Shot, David Lloyd on New Directions (the American periodical which supported lots of Welsh poets), Catriona Coutts on Germans in post-war Welsh literature (essentially viewed as nicer than the English), Emyr Glyn Williams's freewheeling exploration of Y Naid, a philosophical perspective informed by the primacy of the Welsh language in Welsh culture (Emyr also founded and owns Ankst records, which received all of my pocket money in the 1990s and beyond), Katie Gramich's keynote on camouflage, Dorothy Edwards and Rhys Davies – I can't laud Edward's novel and short story collection enough – Daryl Perrins' analysis of Welsh TV comedy, which started the usual arguments around language and included the claim that there aren't any urban working-class Welsh-speakers, Andy Webb and Seth Twigg's superb analyses of RS Thomas's poetry (the early days for Seth, the influence of Edward Thomas for Andy), Diana Wallace's discussion of how Chris Meredith writes about work, Poznan University's Marta Listewnik doing an amazing analysis of phrasal verbs in Welsh literature and speech, and a virtuoso reading by Ceri James-Evans (an MA student) of Gwyn Thomas's slippery use of deixis - particularly 'that' in Oscar.

My own paper was on Celts and Celticism in video games - something that hasn't been looked at in detail before. I think it went quite well - there was a lively discussion, some people had played the games I talked about, and a magazine has invited me to write a piece based on it, which is very nice.

After that I dashed over to Ireland for a family gathering: a ferry journey, five hours in a hotel then the 7 a.m. train to Co. Kerry for mass and a glorious 50th wedding anniversary celebration (no, not mine) which lasted long and loud. There followed a couple of weeks of reading, crosswords, the occasional day trip (including to the Burren, an otherworldly geography I'd always wanted to see, culminating in the famous Puck Fair and an encounter with some very relaxed hares. I did almost run out of books but eked them out sparingly. If you're interested, I read Nick Harkaway's Gnomon (bold, some lyrical passages, thought-provoking at a sixth-form philosophy level but unjustifiably overlong), Emma Donoghue's Frog Music (enjoyable and very moving Sarah Waters-esque neoVictorianism with a couple of superb characters), Antonia White's The Sugar House (beautifully written and heart-breaking, but perhaps too retro-Catholic for contemporary, secular readers), Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling (Wodehousian giggles plus some sharper observation of human psychology than PGW assayed, highly-recommended), Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City which I had to buy again and have delivered mid-holiday because I lost it somewhere along the way (always like the characters particularly Mrs Madrigal, and the advent of the 1980s is done beautifully, but the Jack Jones plot didn't work) and finally Schlink and Popp's Self's Punishment which I didn't like very much. Decent plot, and the aged detective's frank admission of his Nazi past was good, but he felt like an old man's fantasy: cocktail-drinking lecher keeps attracting younger women to his bed. Since I got back I read Tracey Matthias's Night of the Party which wears its good politics on its sleeve but doesn't do much else, and Paul McAuley's eco-SF Austral, which worked very well and neatly incorporates a retelling of Tristan and Isolde. Next up is Melissa Harrison's All Among The Barley, of which I've heard good things.

Anyway - here are some of my favourite snaps from my holidays. You can see more here.

Inch from Cromane

I do like taking pictures of selfie-snappers

The Sceiligs
My lovely horse
Like father, like son
At the fireworks
Poll na Brón, the Burren

Hot-dog seller, Puck Fair

Roof, Kenilworth Castle

I'm not a dog person but these two caught my eye.

Stairs, Kenilworth Castle

Grafitti, Kenilworth Castle

More stairs, Kenilworth Castle

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