Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Balm to soothe me

It's been a weird day of extremes - frustrating, evasive meetings (or meetings with frustrating, evasive people) to heartfelt, sad but also joyful farewells to one of the best colleagues anyone could ever have. I'm tired, crabby and beset by minor admin… so here's one of my favourite songs, Starmoonsun by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

The Sun scuttles back to the Tories - good

As the other media outlets have trumpeted today, The Sun has, after 12 years, returned to the Conservative Party fold, with a front page declaration festooned with a Union Flag (are they suggesting that Labour isn't British?).

All this is very self-important. The Sun likes to think and say that it wins elections for whichever party it supports - it's an equally convincing argument that The Sun supports whoever it thinks its readers support. Lots of data here

The Sun recommended that its readers vote Labour for the past three elections, but it never supported Labour. Its reasons were always hedged and reluctant, and often negative - based on the disarray in which the Conservative Party found itself. Essentially, The Sun supported Tony Blair and his clique, rather than Labour values. The Sun was and is racist, selfish, consumerist, nationalist, anti-green, homophobic, militaristic and misogynistic. For a few years, New Labour captured the Labour Party and catered, shamefully, for these positions. The Sun didn't change - Labour did, and deserves opprobrium for its shameful capitulation to the worst aspects of British culture.

Will readers of The Sun be better off under the Tories? I wouldn't think so. They're working class individualists - not natural supporters of the Etonian land-and-inherited-wealth toffs who really, really don't give a fuck about the poor. Sure, they'll toss some selfish, racist red meat to white van man, but they don't have the interests of the working class at heart. Sun readers like the NHS for instance - the Tories hate and fear it.

But that's irrelevant - The Sun and all the News International papers don't care about their readers either: their writers care about the opinions and commercial interests of Rupert Murdoch, who wants to run the world and wants to run it as a capitalist oligarchy free from competition by boring old state-funded, objective BBC - exactly what the Tories will give him. That's why the declaration was today, and not during the election campaign, as usually happens. It came out the day after Brown and Mandelson made good, fighting speeches. Rather than reporting news, The Sun decided to ruin the Labour conference and help the Tories by intervening in the political process. Mmm…ethical.

Fuck The Sun (sorry, I'm quite angry). It's too stupid to be as evil as the Daily Mail, but it's still a cancer on the public sphere.

To the barricades!

It's all go on the institutional front: my union has issued a press release and the university is distinctly rattled. They've also objected to us contacting the Governors as 'unconstitutional', which is utter nonsense given that they're meant to be the public's oversight body…

UCU Press statement 25 September 2009

University academics demand Vice-Chancellor takes public accountability for financial mistake

Angry academics at the University of Wolverhampton have called for the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline Gipps, to take public responsibility for a serious mistake that will lose the University money and threaten up to 250 jobs. The University over-reported the number of students who had completed their studies for the year and now the Higher Education Funding Council is expected to seek a repayment that could run into millions of pounds. The losses to the university’s finances from this mistake, on top of the restrictions on higher education funding that affect all universities, could lead to 10 per cent of jobs being slashed across the university’s sites in Wolverhampton, Walsall and Telford.
At packed meetings of the University and College Union, academics called for the widest possible campaign to oppose redundancies. With youth unemployment rising in the Black Country to the highest levels for a generation, they argued that it was irresponsible to reduce opportunities because of mistakes made by the University Executive. Furious speakers pointed to the way that Executive pay in the university had increased and performance bonuses been paid, even as those in charge seemed to be losing a grip on where the university is going.
UCU, the lecturers’ union, and UNISON, representing administrative, professional, technical and manual staff, are meeting with local MPs to discuss the issue and to make representations to the government about the university’s plight.

Meanwhile, the V-C of Birmingham, David Eastwood, is warning against the macho competition between v-c's about how much they can cut:

I overhear, in the margins of events, one savant saying "We're modelling 5% cuts". Another intervenes: "5%, oh, we used to dream of 5%, we're modelling 10%"; and then another, "10% – luxury! We're modelling 15%". And so it goes on, until someone says, without apparent irony, that they are modelling 25%.
Of course, all this might be going on, but is it real and is it helpful to parade it? The cuts to the system in the 1980s were 15%, from a higher baseline of funding, and the consequences were devastating.
Indeed, last week's report from the CBI's higher education taskforce was unequivocal: "Heavy cuts in the public funding of teaching and research would damage the long-term competitiveness of the UK."

Moreover, there is a world of difference between "modelling" 15% cuts, or any other number, and delivering them. This modelling inhabits the most ideal of ideally typical worlds. A world in which the modellers' wish is everyone's command. At a stroke, and without cost, under-performing staff, over-costly subjects, inefficient parts of the estate disappear. A new university is created with no transactional cost and little trauma.
In reality, we all know that the costs of restructuring are considerable, and the cash reserves of many institutions are modest. Achieving such a restructuring would deplete those reserves, and may require further borrowing.

The sector has argued, rightly, that teaching remains underfunded. Investment in HE as a proportion of GDP in the UK hovers between 1.3% and 1.4% below the OECD average, and cripplingly below that of the US (at 2.9%). Moreover, our competitors are increasing their relative investment in HE as we slip back.
When ministers and their shadows criticise the sector for deficiencies in the student learning environment, or too few contact hours, they are, like it or not, making the case for increased investment or higher fees.

We should be clear that further reductions in funding will affect quality and capacity. Reducing funding for teaching, eroding the unit of resource, will ineluctably erode quality.

So we plan and we model locally, because we must. But that should not obscure our real message. This is not the time to cut funding to higher education. To do so would have baleful and swift consequences.

I hope this place takes note.

Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too…

Moin moin! (As they say in Schleswig-Holstein). I'm starting to wonder about the wisdom of moving in to a flat within 100 yards of four nightclubs… though I must say that I thought the weekend started on Friday, not Tuesday!

The flat proceeds apace. Last night Emma came round and we put together two sets of drawers, some CD storage and a bookcase, which towers above us. It was stunningly easy, and the two shelves put in backwards may be ascribed to the bottle of fine Chianti with which we wetted our whistles. Still unsure about where everything's going…

Busy day today - 3 meetings, a party, my mum might come down with furniture, rugs and some plates. No more eating off a copy of Grigson's English Food… Then it's off to the Civic Hall for some posh lefty Radio 4 ranting tonight, courtesy of Marcus Brigstocke.

Went swimming today… with a full escort from Sea Shepherd (give them your money) and ploughed through the necessary lengths with very little enjoyment.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Unthanks - thanks very much

Lots of visitors are arriving here after searching for The Unthanks new album, Here's The Tender Coming, so I thought I'd share my opinions with you.

I heard of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, as they were formerly known, via a cheap CD of up and coming folk acts a couple of years ago. I listened to their first album, Cruel Sister, and marvelled at the sound, the songwriting, the lyrical insight gained from singing about everyday life, then I put it away, because the bleakness of it all was too much even for a hard-bitten rodent such as myself.

However, snatches of lyrics kept coming to me as I performed the tasks featured in the songs - work, commuting, lonely evenings, and I gave in, only to discover that there's a warmth in the songs' appreciation of our shared experiences which I hadn't previously noted.

So that was their early music. Here's the Tender Coming is one for those of you with a sunnier disposition. Obviously this is relative: they're still a Northern folk troupe, but the mood is more melancholic than downright harsh than the second album, The Bairns, and the instrumentation is much more lush.

So yes, double thumbs up for the Unthanks. Give them something to smile about…

Vacuous, intellectually bankrupt government: a case study

A silly rumour has swept the world of conservative tabloids and local newspapers that the coloured bracelets currently being worn by children signify the achievement of particular sexual activities, according to the colour. Or, as The Sun puts it, 'BRACELET which means YOUR KIDS are HAVING SEX!', which in this jurisdiction, is admissible evidence in a court of law.

Now a moment's thought should demonstrate the stupidity of such a claim. Is there a company marketing Blowjob Bands? A club? A Fellatio Federation solemnly awarding these things? Ridiculous. Even if there was once a link, it's surely broken once the bracelets are being worn on a mass scale: all cultural items are appropriated and hollowed out. The bracelets are signifiers without a signified.

Now, normally, I'd just sigh at the desperation and stupidity of the press, but now a minor government whip has got involved, calling on the government to ban the bracelets. What an utter, utter moron Mary Creagh is. Seriously, the only way to associate these bracelets with forbidden activity is to demand they be banned. They're just bits of plastic - and meaning can be transferred to any other item. Should the kids start wearing odd shoelaces to denote what they've been up to, will she demand they be banned?

This country has the highest teen pregnancy and teen STD rate in the world. Not coincidentally, we have the worst sex education (it wasn't mentioned at my schools) and most prurient media. Perhaps Creagh, a minister in the department of health, should ask herself why these facts are so, and why her government, despite trying hard, hasn't done much to improve these things.

She's out of a job in a year or so, and in any case, New Labour is obsessed with a) bashing the poor, b) grovelling to the rich, even now and c) pleasing the Daily Mail, so I'm afraid we're not likely to have a serious, considered, enlightened policy any time soon. Instead, we'll have silly, petty, headlines like this, dreamed up by a policy adviser to please an MP hooked on hits of publicity without regard for logic, rationality or simple humanity.

We expect this rubbish from the rightwing and local newspapers: they abandoned news in favour or scaremongering and conspiracy theories long ago (cheaper, more profitable): regrettably, we expect it from MPs. But ministers, even at the fag end of a failing government (and I'm a member of the Labour Party, by the way), have a higher duty, which this idiot has utterly failed to uphold. She's actually proud of her idiocy - her website features links to radio shows on which she's demonstrated her vacuity.

Her record is appalling: only moderately for open parliament, strongly in favour of new, improved, more-millions-of-child-deaths-per-warhead-nuclear-onslaught-from-above, very strongly in favour of government legislation to imprison anyone not smiling while wearing shalwar kameez (i.e.the terrorist until proven innocent bill), very strongly against an inquiry into how our Messianic leader managed to get the UK into an illegal war on faked evidence, and swings back and forth on climate change - great Zarquon, I'm stunned this puppet has the synapse coordination to blink regularly, let alone consider the great issues of the day. Poor, poor Wakefield. Still, at least she's on the case with Shag Bands. We can all rest easy.

Taxi for Mary Creagh.

Sly Gordon

Gordon Brown, knowing he's going to lose the election even if Jesus appears for the Second Coming and will only speak to the Prime Minister, gave a rousing speech which appeared to a) go for the Tories (excellent) and b) row back on some of his favourite reactionary policies.

Only, as usual with the Dear Leader, the small print is highly informative. He said that there won't be a vote in the next parliament on making ID cards compulsory. Well, that's very reassuring, were it not for a couple of minor points:

If you apply for a passport or driving licence, you'll go on the national identity register.
A parliamentary vote isn't required to make ID cards compulsory. Secondary legislation is enough.

As the chief executive of the passport agency says in this article: the 80% of the population who have a passport can leave the country without being on the ID register - they just won't get back in.

So thanks Gordon, very generous. Luckily for me, I have an Irish passport and no driving licence. The weird situation is that non-EU citizens already have to have ID cards, British citizens basically won't be able to avoid having one in the next few years, so EU citizens are actually better off than both other groups, better even than British people in Britain!


Click on it for a bigger one - it's Trudeau's Doonesbury strip, to which I'm addicted.

Welcome to the Blogosphere: you'll never leave

My former PhD supervisor is an expert on e-learning, and will be blogging regularly on the Higher Education Academy's site about the joys of e-learning in an English literature context: catch it here.

How blogging works, part 328.

You may have seen Andrew Marr ask the Prime Minister about his health (eyesight, depression) on the BBC this weekend. It was very strange: the story is the first one I know of which was entirely generated by bloggers.

Most of the time, bloggers claim that they generate news. They're wrong. They might hype stories up, but their sources are usually the standard media, especially with big sources. How do I know this? Because I co-wrote an academic paper on the subject. Read it here.

This story's different. It's untrue, as far as we can tell. As this Guardian story explains it, a blogger heard from a civil servant that Brown isn't allowed to eat cheese, salami, various other foods and red wine. He decided that this was stuff he was banned from consuming when he was on anti-depressants in the 1980s. Cue 'Brown depressed story'. Then a bigger site picked it up, as did all the conservative sites out to get Brown. Once enough sites were howling about it, it leaked into the mainstream media.

This is obviously a failure of journalistic standards, but also a beautiful demonstration of the shortcomings of blogging: a weird opinion is amplified by partisan interests during a period in which an individual is already fair game. Instead of ascertaining facts, opinion and speculation are accepted and even encouraged because it's arresting - it's the Fox News approach.

My two cents: if Brown is banned from eating these things, it's because he's in his late 50s and prone to getting a bit porky. I shouldn't be eating these things either.

Sous les livres, l'appartement

It's been worth moving in already: I've discovered that it's entirely feasible to wake up at 8.46 a.m. (that's 1 hour and forty six minutes after my usual time) and be opening a lecture at 9 a.m. Admittedly, I wasn't at my most fragrant or collected, but it's an important discovery.

I had a go at an IKEA chest yesterday, but stopped at the hammering stage as it was midnight. Construction was conducted to the sounds of Radio 3's weird jazz stuff, which really didn't work - it was so manic and frankly unpleasant that concentration was hard, but Radio 4 was doing something boring and I've not bothered setting up the TV. Oh for my beloved Late Junction.
The Donnie Darko condiment set

Still Life With Violin and Soviet Spaceman

Some of the books and records

Records A-D

Eventually, the kitchen.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Shelfish git

Do you like Lucy Mangan? I do. OK, she's the guardian of middlebrow children's fiction in one weekly column, Building a Library, but she's often convinced me to buy things. She also married a Tory, which is outreach therapy a step too far for me, but she gets good material out of it. Her wedding anniversary article this week was particularly entertaining. In it, she explains how they celebrate their anniversary by reorganising her books.

I'm about to build bookcases and reshelve everything. At the moment, everything's alphabetical, except for biographies: if the subject is more famous than the author, it's filed under the subject's name.

We work for a while in silence. Eventually the room is mazed with books. "It looks like postwar Europe," he says as we unpack the final box. "Borders mean nothing any more, and everyone is looking to a higher authority to help them out. So… what kind of system are you planning on? Simple alphabetical order? Chronological within alphabetical? Maybe a moderated form of Dewey Decimal? I do most of mine by publisher, but then the colophon was my only childhood friend."

"None of the above," I say. "It goes 'Fiction', 'Non-fiction'. Read and unread within each of those. Within each 'unread' there will be 'Really want to read', 'Quite want to read', 'Not quite sure why I bought this' and 'Accidentally bought this twice – this is the spare.' Then a shelf for 'Lovely books' – that's my Folio Societies and my Persephones and occasional other volumes whose beauty trumps their read/unread status. And here, maybe on a special shelf all of its own, I'm going to put Bridget. And call it social history. OK?"

He turns puce, purple and finally white. A strangulated noise of acquiescence emerges and he sets to work in silence. I think I might have broken his spirit. This may be the best anniversary present ever.

I'm toying with shelving by date of publication - which would give me a visual guide to literary history. Your thoughts, people?

The Liberal Gentleman's Dilemma

Click here for the large version

Ignorance Is Strength*

You may, if you peruse this electronic ranting regularly, be aware that my institution, having 'mislead' the government on the small matter of how many students completed modules, on which basis funding is provided, faces paying back several million pounds (or, to quote directly, 'misunderstanding of the arcane HEFCE definition' - obviously it's HEFCE's fault for using big words). To pay for this, 250 staff are being sacked, modules are being cut and class sizes increased. There's no sign, of course, of firings, performance-related-pay cuts or apologies from the management.

There is, however, a missive from the rotting head of the fish, an overview of the current state of play. The following words occur frequently:
'colleagues' - ho, ho, ho.
'excellent' x 2
'highest possible level of commendation'
'good practice'
'good standing'
'extremely good'
'highest' x 3
'very good'
'solid base'
'future development'
'special mention'
'strong role'
'appeal in the market place'
'capture student intent'
'cost savings'
'strategic investments'

So there we have it. Very little to indicate that this is a university and not a double-glazing sales force. No sackings. Everything's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And if you don't think so, it's Room 101 for you.

In reality, this place is brilliant at some things. We specialise in mature students without qualifications, in people who've struggled at previous educational establishments, in local, working-class students. We also produce high quality research, despite a teaching workload 3 or, in my case 4, times that of other institutions. BUT: massive classes, less assessment, fewer staff and less contact time with teachers is guaranteed to a) reduce recruitment and b) fail the students who need a lot of guidance and support.

Never mind though - modules students don't like are being abolished, whether they're educationally necessary or not, and everything's coming up rosy. Yes it is. Oh yes. Definitely. Yessiree. Absolutely. No shadow of a doubt. Anyone claiming otherwise is a bitter, twisted naysayer. OK?

*From Orwell's 1984.

Our house, in the middle of our street

Welcome to another week in the fun factory.

It's been a momentous and hugely expensive weekend for me. £3000 later, I've moved house for the first time in 9 years and 10 months, from the cramped room in which I wrote my PhD (occasionally) to a city-centre apartment. It's now piled high with boxes of books and my beloved vinyl records - I'll post some photos tomorrow, but I've cleared a space on the bed at least.

I'm now persuaded that going to the pub, then to a nightclub and dancing until three a.m. is not the ideal way to prepare for a weekend of heavy manual labour. Still, it was fun.

Taking down the old room was weird. Mostly joyful, but very hard work, and I kept finding things which touched off odd memories. My madeleine moment was finding photographs, and a load of band t-shirts from the mid-nineties, when I was rake thin: they were mostly skinny-fit and cool: Velocette, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Silver Sun, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, the Belle and Sebastian 'Study at Stow' shirt from 1995, my 1970s Adidas v-neck shirt, a C+W embroidered shirt, alongside my old biker jacket, which will definitely appear in public again. The t-shirts, despite forming a significant role in my cultural development, will be awarded to the girls I know who can squeeze into them. Despite all the swimming, I won't be seeing a 28" waist again unless I develop some horrendous disease. Anyone know of a good one?

Anyway, I need to say a massive public thankyou to: James (who used the excuse of driving the big white van to air his most reactionary views: the Daily Star on the dashboard was the piéce de resistance); Gerry, Mark, Dan, Neal, Anita and Howard. They all overcame their various disabilities to shift massive, heavy things for almost 12 hours. Nothing was broken nor lost, and nobody complained, despite the intense provocation afforded by my half-arsed organisation. I'm not, it's fair to say, going to have a second career in logistics.

I also saw Cynical Ben on Friday. Having explored the delights of Walsall and Willenhall for the day (he's a local lad) he texted to cancel going out for a drink with the words 'Fuck the Midlands, I'm off. The idea of spending another 3 hours here is giving me the fear. Sorry'.

He relented, and sat in my first-year poetry lecture, and had the good grace to not openly mock or heckle, so thanks to him too! He even met Zoot Horn, which was all a bit postmodern.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Cashier number four, please

Obviously I'm in a grouchy mood today, but it's all justified. I've been to the Post Office. It's like the university - a once proud institution which proclaimed a state's and nation's commitment to public service, reduced to an ugly corpse to be picked at by corporations, 'external service providers', outsourcers and all the other parasites who've taken over our civilisation.

The main city Post Office in Wolverhampton is in a very ugly 70s concrete block. You'll find it next to the abandoned, elegant, spacious Edwardian building engraved with the words 'Post Office'. Inside, the current building looked as though it was ashamed of its use. A mean newsagent's business huddles at the front, while a bare concrete block stretches to the back of the building, the gloom livened only by advertisements designed to hold the attention of the captive audience. Of the 15 cashiers' stations, a magnificent ONE was open, to serve the 30+ people in the queue. Convenience was not a consideration: I was there to pick up a widely-used form, but even for that I had to queue: has there been a rash of redirection-form thefts requiring secure storage?

Still, I enjoyed the grumpy solidarity of the queue… we all had a good moan. Just like being at work… Why are we so ashamed of public services?

Roboprof is on the case

I probably shouldn't draw attention to this, as my superiors will think it's a great idea, but one of the PGCE people lauded the introduction of automatic marking systems, currently in use in the US.

The idea is that a computer program loaded with a sample essay can compare student work to the sample and grade it… so much for knowledge, expertise, skill and the human touch. I thought we were being McDonaldized, but clearly education's going to be a lot worse than that.

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

Well, less Mole than Vole, but I've handed over a fistful of dollars, got my keys and inspected my kingdom. It's OK. A few faults, and I still don't know where the books and records will go, but it's mine, and moving commences tomorrow, with help from James, Gerry, Mark, Dan and Anita.

I'm exhausted, dusty from head to foot and the heavy work hasn't started. Before that though - another poetry lecture…

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Things are getting seriously grown-up

I went to the bank today and took out £1000 to cover my new flat's deposit and a month's rent. Instead of fleeing in terror from cheap-suited snake-oil sellers, I was trapped and stayed to listen, before gravely moving some of my book money from an ISA to a fixed-term deposit. It means I'll get enough interest to buy a second-hand Wordsworth Classic rather than actually owe the bank money somehow… all very scary.

Another tree falls for my addiction

Having packed 40 boxes of books with more to come, you'd think that I'd have learned a lesson about my habit.

You'd be wrong. Two excellent books in the post today: Francis Wheen's history of the 1970s and its weirdness (Strange Days) and Iain Banks's Transition, which looks interesting because it looks like a mix of his literary material (always published as Iain Banks) and his science fiction (published as Iain M Banks). I also received the latest The Unthanks album, Here's the Tender Coming: hard-edged, often unsettling North-East folk music.

Meanwhile, I've been to a very stimulating Shakespeare lecture, and occasionally put my oar in. At least, I thought it was stimulating. Some of my readers were present, so I'll leave the critical judgement to them.

The clocks struck thirteen

The governors have just had a letter from the V-C about how the university's getting on. Apparently, everything's brilliant. They may have 'read in the press' about… problems with accessing Student Loans.

In real life, of course, they may have read about 250 sackings, but that's not mentioned at all. What a fantastic approach to communications…

Terence Kealey - dirty old man

Kate and Demented beat me to the punch in the comments section of my previous post - but it's still worth mentioning the story that so horrified them.

In this article from the Times Higher Education Supplement, Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, opines that lecturers lusting after youthful female knowledge-seekers is 'a perk of the job', and indeed should give a fillip to said lecturer's uxorial sex life.

Amongst the oh so hilariously provocative pearls of wisdom are a couple of assumptions which reveal Kealey's utter conservatism. To him, lecturers are male, and students are female. All, of course, are heterosexual. Female students are recipients, passive vessels, moths gathering around the flame of masculine enlightenment. Worse than this, 'normal girls' (not women, you may notice), are dim, shallow creatures

Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays.
These abnormal freaks (in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, they were disparagingly called 'bluestockings') are essentially meat for the enjoyment of the lecturer in Kealey's slimy weltanschauang - heaven forfend that they might actually want to talk about their essays. To Kealey, young women are incapable of intellectual curiosity.

What to do?

"Enjoy her! She's a perk."

"She doesn't yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife."

"As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch."

Kealey, who has been vice-chancellor at Buckingham, the country's only independent university, for eight years, said it was a myth that an affair between student and lecturer was an abuse of power, saying accountability has meant that "the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades".

But he added that some female students still fantasised about their lecturers.

Clearly Kealey thinks he's a bit of a card, and his literary references are meant to show that he's more than just a lad - Demented thinks that he's traduced old Casaubon, but Kealey's sort of got him right: in Middlemarch Dorothea marries Casaubon out of misplaced respect for a great man's intellectual labour. However, the marriage is cold and the 'great work' is tedious and will never be finished - Dorothea's the rounded human being. Howard Kirk is the swinging 60s lecturer who dabbles in revolution, drugs, rock and roll and students, a fake guru in an age of fake gurus. Felicity is the student who becomes entangled with her.

I've moaned about staff-student relationships before - I think Kealey's wrong. There is an inevitable power imbalance in these relationships. I doubt that anything so crude as 'marks for sex' goes on any more, but it's surely an uncomfortable situation - for the lecturer, the student and everybody's colleagues. Perhaps there are some students who might flirt for a bit more attention, and who could blame them in a place where classes are so big and staffing numbers so low that you're lucky to learn the names of a third of your students. That said, it's never happened to me. There was a rumour, several years ago, that a student found me attractive, and was so horrified that she promptly took herself off for psychiatric counselling, which speaks volumes for her good sense… I can't help feeling that Kealey's claim that female students fantasise about lecturers is the product of too much time on outré websites, or a personal fantasy of his own.

In any case, such freakish opinions are to be expected of Buckingham University's v-c: it's the only private university in the country: essentially a none-too-challenging extension of a minor public (i.e. fee-paying - sorry Americans, the English usage is bizarre) school, populated by drawling rich kids wearing Jack Wills from top to toe… hell on earth.

For a rather grubbier version of staff/student sex, read the opening chapter of Howard Jacobson's Coming from Behind. It's a bitter novel set in thinly-disguised Wolverhampton Polytechnic, and starts with a mature student on graduation day 'thanking' her lecturer in a particularly physical fashion: all sound effects delivered in full Wolverhampton dialect. Jacobson had worked at Wolverhampton for a year or two after a glittering student career at Oxford (or Cambridge), and clearly thought he was too good for the place, taking his revenge by caricaturing his colleagues most cruelly.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Definition of a meeting

An event which starts gloomily and ends in misery. Every time I sit round a table at the moment, I get up even more despairing. I get the sense now that the university management is making things up as it goes along. The latest joy is the announcement that the new degree programme should be proposed by next Friday…

Now you see me

Hi. First week going OK? You won't hear much from me this week: I'm appearing for teaching and a meeting, then disappearing to pack. If anyone's got boxes, please drop them off in MC217. And if you know of any reputable van hire companies, let me know.

Meanwhile, feel free to abuse the comments section with your flights of fancy.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hurrah! Marathon managed

Finally. Today I've lectured on What is PR?, Theories and Contexts of Communication Studies, How To Be A Spin Doctor and the Consequences for the Public Sphere, and What is Poetry?However, rather than going home to die, I'm off to do more packing. And to eat casseroled venison with Toulouse sausages. Mmmmmmm

Only an English department meeting tomorrow, for some light relief!

Money matters

Cynical Ben encourages us to buy art, and to list the five best things on which you've lavished money, as he's done. Being Ben, his list is erudite, varied and heartfelt.

Being me, mine isn't. I'm not very good with money. I either spend it like water, or hoard it. I've saved recently, but am now about to blow it on rent for a rather expensive flat, and enough bookcases to hold my extensive library and record (yes, records) collection - a product of my unthrifty ways. I'm so bad with money (and avoided gainful employment for so long) that I once had to sell 400 of my rarest 7" records merely to eat one summer. How I regret doing so.

However: good buys, excluding my books and records.

My Berghaus walking boots. I'm not very practical and had never owned any hiking gear before, so assumed that I'd automatically make the wrong choice, then spend a year acquiring painful blisters while dragging along half a mile behind the other Map Twats. Amazingly enough, they're warm, watertight, close-fitting and comfortable, much more so than my beloved DMs.

My Mac. It just works.

The Mont Blanc pen I bought to celebrate getting my PhD. I never use it though.

I have a couple of beautiful suits, which hide my hideous flabby carcass on special occasions.

The wrecked Moulton bicycle I have in the shed. It's almost 50 years old, revolutionary in design, and new ones are £6000-10000: I'll get mine restored one day.

Bamboo rice/veg steamers. £2.50, work perfectly and efficiently, and are environmentally friendly.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?

Hello carbon-based lifeforms. Out of bed yet? I've done one lecture this morning, and I've another in twenty minutes. Then a short break until 2, followed by another lecture at 3… tired already.

I watched Robocop 2 last night: what a very leftwing film it is, depicting as it does the dystopia which is the inevitable consequence of unrestrained capitalism. Public service is abandoned, individualism and profit dictate everybody's actions and the social fabric is undermined. Let this be a lesson to you all.

Meanwhile, Christine sent me this charming mail this morning. Perhaps you could deconstruct it for me?

Good morning Aidan. I hope the teaching is going well and that you still have a job.

This morning I read the following notice In the payment booth at Broad St car park:

Attendants at this booth will not accept coins that have been in your mouth.

I genuinely don't know why, but it made me think of you.


Monday, 21 September 2009

Ben Goldacre - secular saint

Ben Goldacre, as those of you who read Bad Science know, is a genius and he's on our side.

He's feeling a little grumpy, this time about politics. Now I'm a little more optimistic: British politics is a mess of petty-minded careerists, but there are selfless types out there. Ben puts his case better than I could, however:

I view politics as a tedious and impenetrable world of soul-destroying compromise populated by individuals too ambitious to speak clearly on issues of any importance, while generally defending the interests of the new wealthy friends they make while in power.

It's been a long, weird trip…

I'm now exhausted - written several lectures (another one to write tonight), attended a stressful departmental meeting, gone to some introductory lectures and went for a swim. For a peaceful moment, I have to retreat to the loo - currently with Stephen Greenblatt's Learning to Curse, which I really should have read years ago.

I also got my Shazam t-shirt, in honour of the mighty Spaced.

Speak, or forever hold your peace

Did you (do you) speak in seminars? I didn't, out of nerves and feeling stupid. I now realise that when my students are silent as statues it's a mark of respect. Shakespeare leads the way, as so often.

I like your silence; it the more shows off
your wonder. But yet speak…

(The Winter's Tale, 5.3.31-32).

Zoot Horn offers this, from Romeo and Juliet:

Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o'er a gossip's bowl,
For here we need it not.

(There's no pun in this post title, hopefully, as it's from the wedding service of the Book of Common Prayer).

One more wafer? No. I'm f*&@ing stuffed

I spent Friday night with my brother, his wife and his in-laws near Abergavenny, and Saturday at the Food Festival there, with all the other Guardian readers, second-home owners, Carluccio and Matthew Fort (Matthew: the jersey tied loosely over your shoulders is a terrible affectation. Stop it). It was wonderful. That area of Wales is stunningly beautiful, and I heartily recommend the train journey along the border from Aber to Shrewsbury. My hosts stuffed me with Welsh cakes, I had a room of which, on a clear day, the far end could be glimpsed, and a mountain view. Most satisfyingly, I took £5 from the master of the house, having wagered that Leinster would beat his beloved Ospreys… ho ho ho. Quite impressively, he phoned up the two former rugby stars interviewed during the game to share his views on Ospreys' shortcomings!

And thence to town for the festival. What could one say? I bought venison, boudin noir, toulouse sausages, fine Welsh ales, aromatic cheeses, laverbread (not bread but tangy seaweed) and a beautiful Welsh blanket. We tasted ciders, perries, sausages, cheeses, Welsh whisky liqueur and much, much more.

Abergavenny is a stunningly beautiful town, with a classic ruined castle, three mountains (Skirrid Fawr, the Blorenge and the Sugar Loaf) towering over it, and a range of independent shops - walking weekends beckon. Now I'm off to pay for my gluttony with a swim. Ugh

(Pictures not by me - this idiot forgot his camera)

Let the onslaught begin

Morning comrades! And welcome to a horrendous week: teaching begins today, and I'm covering for two distinguished colleagues who are off to sunny Bucharest for a conference. The first week is always manic: people don't know where they should be, which course they're on, and why they're here at all. Introductory lectures are a mix of erudition, reassurance and, of course, chilled-out entertainment: not easy for someone with all the comic timing and organisation of a whelk on smack.

Added to this - I'm moving house on Saturday. I've filled 16 boxes with unread books, and 7 with A-Burgess in the 'read' books, so I'm really struggling. Must find more boxes, pack, pay massive amount of money to agent, hire a van, change address, buy bookcases (many thereof) and teach this week…

Friday, 18 September 2009

You've got Mail

If you read Metro or one of the other rightwing papers (which ones aren't, these days?), all you'll have seen about the upcoming potential postal strike is that posties are lazy bastards who constantly skive and con their managers.

Anita the Lurker has kindly sent me this article from the London Review of Books (very good - subscribe today) which explains in some detail how the Mail is being made to look inefficient and obsolete, and how managerial culture is destroying this iconic lifeline. Funnily enough, posties are being treated in the same way we academics are - as blockages to some imaginary 'income stream' or 'repositioning' or whatever buzzword's current.

This is not a reusable learning object

I've just been to my union's negotiating committee (and landed yet another job…). We're facing bad practice, management incompetence and a refusal to accept responsibility. Instead, 250 jobs are being cut, courses are being culled, modules withdrawn and class sizes increasing.

Thankfully, the proles are stirring. We're going to campaign hard, and campaign cleverly. It's an obvious case. Just like the banking crisis has led to public services suffering to pay for saving capitalism (Naomi Klein predicted all this in The Shock Doctrine, which Cameron et al. seem to have taken as a user's guide to economics), the university is going to punish the workers for its own failures and we're not going to take it. Redundancy will overload those who stay, it will lead to even bigger classes, more marking, less contact time for students, less time for the intellectual exchanges that constitute education (management think it's all about marks) and ultimately, less enlightenment. How will I be able to argue the toss with a student on the interpretation of a line of poetry, or the implications for the public sphere of BBC cuts, for instance, if there are 45 other people in seminar group all wanting their say? How will I learn names, find time to chat, sort out problems, plan classes, do research and get to know individual students?

I know that these concerns are embarrassingly old-fashioned, non-customer-oriented, not business-focussed, but they are the kind of things about which real teachers actually give a damn. We're not automatons delivering packaged material - that's not education. Having meaningful relationships with individual, contrary, contradictory, demanding students constitutes real education and folks, it's messy, untidy, expensive, sometimes not measurable and brilliant. Grab it while it lasts… the suits and their anti-pedagogical pets are on the warpath.

(Reusable learning objects are apparently things like online presentations, much beloved of our employers because then they can divorce teaching from the scruffy contrarians who actually know about stuff. Y'know, experts. Instead, some poor kid can be paid minimum wage to turn on the projector and leave the students to it, or students can sit at home and be fooled into thinking that education is just memorising bullet points).

Friday conundrum!

Not so much a conundrum, and perhaps a little morbid: write your own epitaph or obituary! For what would you like to be remembered? Boltzmann's grave features his Constant, which is pretty cool. Shakespeare's warns people not to chuck his bones into the charnel house next door. I saw a Welsh one which read (translated) as 'not to be opened without the permission of the inhabitant'.

Plashing Vole - turned his final page.
Too flippant? I'd like to be thought of as quiet, consistent, helpful and kind - not that I am, it's just that's what I'd like people to think. I care about books, people, education, the environment, politics and the public sphere - though I'm ashamed to say that I don't do much about them. I'd like to get my book written, and some papers, but fame doesn't concern me one little bit. Maybe it's a bit negative, but the first line of the Hippocratic Oath commends itself to me: 'First, do no harm'. We can be such destructive creatures, emotionally, physically, intellectually, that a conscious decision to refrain from harm is essential.

I'd also like to be remembered for my agility with a pun. Speaking of which, I'm thinking of opening a strip-joint featuring characters from literature. The star turn will be Jane Eyre in a G-String. Boom-tish.

Thankyewverymuch. Bookings for weddings and barmitzvahs have not been rolling in.

Carriage crazy

I'm still captivated by the ads in this 1858 edition of The Times. In many ways, we haven't changed much - just as there's a cool car culture now (hopefully dying), there was a cool carriage culture, with varieties such as the Clarence, Phaeton, Sociable, Landau, Brougham and Barouche. Some of the existing lines (one lady owner) are clearly older than I thought:

CLARENCE to be DISPOSED OF, the property of a lady, who from ill-health is incapable of using it again. It will consequently be sold a bargain. May be seen at 71, Great Queen-street, Lincoln's-inn fields.

SOCIABLE, 75 Guineas ; Brougham, 75 Guineas. To prevent trouble and loss of time, particulars are given. Sociable–head removes. Brougham–circular front. Cost £140 each. Elegant and scarcely soiled. A lady breaking up her establishment. 29, Davies-street, Berkeley-square.

UNDER the PATRONAGE of Her Most Gracious MAJESTY, and the Kings of SARDINIA and PORTUGAL.– Messrs. Lenny and Co., coachbuilders and harnessmakers, 20, 21, 22, and 23, North-end, Croydon, beg to call attention to their NEW REGISTERED HOLFORD, forming a complete close carriage, with wicker or plain panels, and weighing only 5 1/2cwt., suitable for a 14 hands horse. They are building for full-sized horses, single and double seated, lighter by hundreds of pounds than any other close carriage built. N.B. Carriages of all kinds built to order, or on hire, with liberty to purchase, and for exportation ; also their cheap, light, and elegant Croydon basket carriages, in every shape and size.
Let's not forget the children:

STUDY your CHILDREN'S HEALTH, and buy one of HILL'S PATENT SAFETY PERAMBULATORS, at the wholesale price. Invalid carriages in variety. Illustrated price list for one stamp.–Hill's manufactory, 212, Piccadilly: established as coachmakers 30 years.

Then you need to take your carriage out for a slap-up feed amidst the Great Stink, or perhaps on holiday:

THE BEST DINNERS in London are at the ROYAL WINE SHADES, 5, Leicester-square, consisting of six soups, six sorts of fish, and eight joints, cheeses and celery, all for 1s. 6d. per head, from 2 o'clock until half-past 8.

STATE OF THE THAMES.–J. D. ROBERTS begs to announce that the bad state of the Thames has never been perceptible at the ARTICHOKE, but that the pure air for which Blackwall has always been celebrated is still equally delightful and refreshing–Artichoke Tavern, Blackwall, July, 1858.

The Artichoke was an ancient pub, soon demolished for the Blackwall Tunnel. Its air may not have been as pure as advertised: a guano processing plant was located nearby…

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Shopping, 1858 style!

A gentleman can be kitted out most handsomely through the good offices of The Times:

HORSE and DOG CART for SALE–a fast trotting little horse and good light dog cart, harness and stable gear. Price £80. The property of S. J. Auld, Esq., the Grove, Hanwell. Particulars to be had at Rymer's stables, Cambridge-Street, Edgeware-road.

Oddly enough, my wallet is from this next company (a present from my father), and they also make this, which I really, really want:

SWAINE and ADENY, whip manufacturers to Her Majesty and H. R. H. the Prince Consort, and Royal Family, inform the public that they have no other establishment than at 185, Piccadilly, opposite Burlington House, W. A handsome assortment of all kinds of whips, including prize whips and whips for presents parasol and fan whips, patent seamless handle whips, chowries for the East Indies, Rhinoceros horn whips and other novelties always on hand ; also stock whips for Australia and New Zealand. N.B. merchants and shippers liberally dealt with.

(A chowry was a fly whisk, often made with the bushy end of a yak's tail).

If you think a dog cart (not, I hasten to add, a cart pulled by dogs, unfortunately), then hearken to this politely hectoring address - car salesmen haven't changed much:

WHY DO YOU DRIVE A RATTLETRAP?–See opinions of scientific gentlemen and others on M. DAVIS'S PATENT CAOUTCHOUC CARRIAGE WHEELS:–"Like walking a velvet-carpet without shoes" "They impart a delightful exhilirating, exciting and thrilling buoyancy to the spirits." "It is surprising that from time immemorial carriagemakers, although they perceive wheels fail at the weak points, pursue no steps to a remedy. By the simple contrivance you have patented, you have completely mastered this defect ; but it is infinitely more surprising that our carriagebuilders should raise their superstructure on a crumbling corner stone." "Applied to omnibuses and cabs, it would convert them into real saloons, and not a name without the qualification the name implies." "Your Patent Caoutchouc Wheels is an undertaking deserving public support. It would save the country above a million per annum in road-making, and the streets of London would be the finest and leanest in the world." "I know from actual experiment that there is not perceptible wear in caoutchouc or a proper preparation of Indiarubber." "I consider iron-tired wheels dangerous to drive compared with your patent caoutchouc. The difference consists in a continuous and an intermittent noise. You cannot judge the distance of the rolling, deafening, massive bars of iron, but the intermittent intonation from the horses feet strike the ear in time to avoid danger." "The hind seat of a dog-cart is something fearful to many persons–with patent caoutchouc wheels it is as comfortable as 'my old arm chair'."–Caoutchouc Wheel Works, 5, Lyon's-inn, Strand : M. Davis, patentee and manager.

Caoutchouc is rubber. Tomorrow: servants and household furnishings.

No accusations, just friendly crustaceans, under the sea…

(Sorry. I love that Simpsons song).

Imaginary Friend has kindly sent me the latest Austen mashup, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. If it's as good as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it will be a blast.

You're my fact-checking cuz…

Pavement may be getting back together! Good for a much-missed band or a retrograde step for a bunch of blokes who ended their time together very miserably indeed?

Ladies and gentlemen, this civilisation is now closed. Please make your way to the exits

Coming home at midnight after a hard evening's fencing, I slumped in front of the TV while I ate delicious home-made soup.

I was confronted by an advert which made me so furious that I hardly slept last night, so beset was I with plans to raze to the ground the headquarters of Skinny Water.

Oh yes. We all know that bottled water is an affront to economics and the environment, but these cynical monsters are peddling their water as 'low calorie' - as opposed to their rivals and tap water. I now realise that I'm a fat git not because of my prodigious intake of pork products and beer. I'm a fat git because I've been drinking highly calorific tap H20, or 'Fatty Water' as they no doubt term it.

They've added a load of crap with pseudo-scientific compound names and dubious claims ('Crave', 'Shape Control', 'Detox') and even claim that different times of day require different waters. Most egregiously of all, they used the term 'bio synergy' in the TV advert, which means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in relation to water, but does sound healthy and energetic.

Do yourself a favour - drink from the tap and don't ever, EVER give houseroom to people who make up this quack, charlatan nonsense. Ooh, I'm so angry.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Yeah, 9/11 victims' families, shut up!

Glen Beck, racist, neofascist Fox 'News' demagogue on the World Trade Center victims' families, as quoted in this piece about the broadcasting charmer:

"It took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims' families . . . When I see a 9/11 victim family on television or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh, shut up!' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining."
Gotta love the Murdochs, their wacky idea of quality journalism and their hatred of the BBC!

Forties, Cromarty, rising.

Radio 4, despite sometimes being self-absorbed and bourgeois, is one of the glories of Britain: informed, intelligent and varied. A particular jewel in the crown is the Shipping Forecast, in which a beautifully calm voice (Charlotte Green, Peter Jefferson) reads the special weather for boats, just before the (ugh) national anthem at 12.59 a.m. Fishermen don't listen to it and change course - they've got satellite feeds for that kind of thing. It's for insomniacs and night-owls.

Now one Jefferson is being sacked, allegedly not because he said 'fuck' under his breath after fluffing a link a few weeks ago, but because the BBC wants 'new' people to fill this five minute late-night slot. I'll miss him and don't think he should go. If they come for Charlotte, I'll be firebombing Broadcasting House.

Poetry please

In case I haven't previously plugged it, run free in the Poetry Archive: huge numbers of poets reading their own work, going back as far as Tennyson and taking in Ginsberg and Langston Hughes along the way!

Where's the humanity?

"The Schools of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences and Legal Studies are now combined as the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications - LSSC"

Anyone suddenly feeling unloved?

Cash back!

Neal has passed on this TED lecture on why bonuses don't work.
Executive here get Performance Related Pay (£11 million, in the last year for which figures are available). I wonder how a multimillion pound shortfall, 250 redundancies, reduced courses and bigger classes are calculated… they'll probably get a bonus for their genius (ahem) solutions to the problems they've caused.

News from Norway

Not the most thrilling story for most of you, I admit, but they had a general election in the Nordic Paradise on Monday. The ruling (in coalition) Labour Party gained a few seats, the Socialist Left party lost a few. The Communists and Greens have no seats, unfortunately, nor do the Republicans. The Conservatives gained a few and the rightwing Progress Party quite a lot, but the Labour/Socialist Left/Centre Party coalition will maintain power. Hooray!

How did Labour and their allies do it? By promising to spend MORE on the already wonderful Norwegian Welfare State! Meanwhile in Britain, we're going to respond to being bankrupted by naked capitalist bankers by electing the naked capitalist Conservative Party, on a ticket of slashing public services and punishing the blameless poor, to pay for bailing out the bankers. Well done, people of Britain.

Of cardboard and paper

I'm definitely moving house to a decent enough flat in the town centre, getting the keys a week on Friday. Now I'm overwhelmed with thoughts of the packing, the shelving required (70-80 metres for the books and records) and the cold hard cash… frightening. Next week will be spent alternately teaching and packing! Obviously I should cut down on things which need moving, but I called into the bookshop to order the poetry course textbook and ended up buying four more books: Andrew Brown's examination of Sweden, Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future that Disappeared, a new translation of Y Mabinogion (my fourth), Michel Faber's satirical The Fire Gospel, and some bracing polemic, Slavoj Zizek's Violence.

Neal, Emma and I went to the Hogs last night - watched Manchester United grind out a dull win and lost in the pool competition - me in the first game, Neal in the second.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A long, long day.

What a tiring day it's been. Two induction sessions for students, who looked as shellshocked as I felt, and the biggest union meeting I've ever seen - basically everybody was there. Funny how the prospect of unemployment or doing somebody else's job on top of your own produces a sense of militancy and solidarity.

It was quite uplifting - we're not going to take this rubbish lying down. It really infuriates me that higher management have dumped us £8 million in the hole by misreporting our student numbers, yet not a single one of them has apologised, resigned or suggested any way to recoup this money in any other way than to sack teachers, reduce course choices and increase class sizes - all the things guaranteed to help students drop out… into a vicious circle.

Moving out is starting to become a reality too - Gerry and Mark have delivered a great pile of boxes to my house. Now I need to work out how I can get, afford and squeeze 70-80 metres of shelving into a one-bedroom flat.

So - home to pack, eat delicious home-made soup, read up on poetry and Shakespeare, then it's swimming and fencing tomorrow.

I have reached the nerdcore

At long last, I have had a visitor from CERN, in Switzerland. Why is that important? For so many reasons. CERN is where Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web (on a NeXT machine, and now he's a Mac user, as NeXT became Mac OS), in response to his inability to access a computer locked in a colleague's office. It's where the Large Hadron Collider is. All sorts of very cool science is conducted there.

I am going to assume that Berners-Lee himself is now a reader of Plashing Vole.

What was he looking for? I must admit that he wasn't seeking political or cultural enlightenment. He googled 'Floyd Swayze death'.

PS. A quick tip to new students. Don't book a holiday for the very first two weeks of your university career.

Let's all move to Sweden…

(or the Netherlands): Sweden offers FREE higher education for home and international students, and in a few years' time, most Swedish degrees will be in English. The down side is the loss of cultural autonomy - it's important that smaller languages keep going in all spheres.

The up side is that they'll be needing suave, outgoing lecturers keen to move to sophisticated societies. Time to polish the CV, methinks.

By the way, students: we have links with many European universities and funding to send you there for a year - it's a brilliant experience, and an extra year in university might be a good option at the moment - talk to your tutor or subject leader.

Never mind Swayze: Keith Floyd's dead

Every time I see a celebrity chef on TV, I mourn the absence of Keith Floyd from our screens, and now his comeback is indefinitely postponed due to death. He was a drunken, rude, bossy curmudgeon, on-screen and off. He didn't care about anything other than food and drink, and particularly rejected the tired old conventions of TV cuisine. He had a massive ego and a love of violently arguing with pretty much anyone involved in his career, but none of this matters, because his show consisted of demonstrating that fine food involves love, fun, wine, decent ingredients and passion.

Guten Morgen, ich bin deine Lehrer

I met the new students of English today. They are, of course, a delight, though I have to ask: what is it with Nazis, guys? Favourite book, The Diary of Anne Frank, favourite film, Schindler's List etc. etc. etc. Clearly the A-level curriculum is run by somebody very weird indeed…

Monday, 14 September 2009

More old news

From the Times, August 7th 1858

BIRMINGHAM TRIENNIAL MUSICAL FESTIVAL, August 31, Sept. 1, 2, and 3, 1858–Detailed PROGRAMMES are now ready, and may be had on application to the Secretary, Mr. Henry Howell, 34, Bennett's-hill, Birmingham.
BURFORD'S LUCKNOW and DELHI PANORAMAS.–Now OPEN, these splendid VIEWS showing all the interesting features of the recent terrific conflicts. The Right Kulm and a portion of Switzerland at Sunrise are also open. Admission 1s. to each view. Daily from 10 till dusk.–Leicester-square.

We could, however, think about emigration - there are well over a hundred adverts for passage to Australia, India, the United States and further.

ELLEN STUART for MELBOURNE.–Black Ball Line of packets.–The magnificent Liverpool-built clipper ship ELLEN STUART, 1,388 tons register, 4,000 tons burtdn, Capt. ROBERT BROWN, will sail from Liverpool on Sept. 5. This splendid ship was built in Liverpool for the owners of the Black Ball Line, under their immediate supervision, and having been designed expressly for their Australian packet service, and no expense spared in her construction, she is allowed to be the most perfect passenger ship in port. She has a full poop, and the chief cabin is a beautiful apartment, with an after saloon for ladies. The state rooms are furnished with bedding, towels &c. The second cabin, intermediate, and steerage are thoroughly lighted and ventilated. Apply to James Baines and Co., Tower-buildings, Liverpool ; or to T. M. Mackay and Co., 2, Moorgate-street, London, E.C.
STEAM (under 60 days) to AUSTRALIA.–Passage £14 and upwards.–The Liverpool and Australian Navigation Company's celebrated auxiliary steam clippers, in conjunction with the Eagle Line of packets, are despatched on the 15th of each month to the consignment of Bright, Brothers and Co., Melbourne, forwarding passengers to all parts of Australia. RESOLUTE, WALLACE, 3,000 tons, 15th August. These clipper ships are guaranteed to sail to the day, and are famed for the superiority of the provisioning and passenger accommodation. Packet of 15th August, the new A 1 clipper ship Resolute, 1, 112 tons register, 3, 000 tons burden. The saloon accommodation is unsurpassed by any ship afloat ; she is fitted with baths, closets &c., and everything necessary for comfort during the voyage. The fore cabin and 'tween deck arrangements are most excellent. Apply to Gibbs, Bright, and Co., 1, North John-street, Liverpool ; or to Roberts and Irving, 9, Cornhill, London.

Though you may want to stay closer to home:

YARMOUTH and BACK, 8s.––The General Steam Navigation Company's STEAM-SHIPS leave London-bridge-wharf for YARMOUTH every Wednesday and Saturday, at 4 afternoon. Saloon, 8s., ; fore, 5s. ; return tickets 12s., or 8s.

Join the caravan of love

Christine and James have won a 'pimped' vintage caravan, despite having only one car-parking space on their hill. I'm highly impressed, but we need details! Like WHY? And what happens to this wallpaper when it rains?

To win, they needed to write and perform a caravan rap. Hear it here. If you dare. More details of this folly here.

Writing Tips

This is wise, and true:

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

From a longer piece by screenwriter Josh Olson. The last sentence is the most important.

Paul Flynn MP, hero

This is Classic Labour MP Paul Flynn on one of the worst New Labour ministers (now departed to fat directorships), John Hutton:
On many occasions I have criticised former Minister John Hutton. I have never seen the point of him. Personality free, he is a blank page who always bears the imprint of the last lobbyist who sat on him. The answers he has given to all the questions I have asked him prove that he is stupid. Now there are allegations that he is greedy. Of course. That's in fashion now.

Read more here.


What do you call an Argentinian narrowboat enthusiast?

Argentinian-Indian fusion cooking?

Meanwhile, the anagram generator keeps on giving: William Shakespeare comes out most accurately as 'I Am A Weakish Speller' (he spelled his name in several ways), and Margaret Thatcher ironically provides 'That Great Charmer'.

What a long, strange weekend it's been

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty action-packed.

On Friday, Mark, Neal Emma and I tucked into the Mussaman curry which was this month's Culture, Cheese and Pineapple experience. It was vegetarian (squashes instead of meat) in deference to Emma and Mark, and Neal did all the cooking. It was a revelation - coconut, tamarind, lime leaves and all sorts of other goodnesses combined to produce food heaven, so thanks Neal. We washed it all down with an excellent array of real ales, and Emma provided horrendously chocolaty puddings.

Then Saturday saw the British Fencing Annual General Meeting in Telford. Most impressively, a sport of 10,000 participants managed to see 23 people turn up at the AGM, most of whom were directors or bigwigs of some sort. I managed to ask a couple of awkward questions, a rule change was pushed through enabling the board to change any bye-laws without consultation, and we sat through presentations about the future of fencing: basically, let's grab as much cash as is going, professionalise the structures and produce recreational and medal-winning fencers. I know this doesn't sound too revolutionary, but the buffers don't like it, perhaps put off by the inevitably management-speak it was all dressed up in. I'm quite keen though: it's time my sports wasn't solely associated with posh schools and the aristocracy - it isn't in other countries.

Finally, Neal, Emma and I went to Birmingham for the Arts Festival. We enjoyed Brawd (blokes with guitars), the Music Maze (participatory sessions) run by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (Emma declined to bang things, but Neal and I had a ball) and foaming pints of real ale. We played on the BBC's science toys (Bang Goes The Theory) and mooched around the art stuff in the Town Hall. The only down side was the absence of the hot girls with books Neal had spotted the day before.

Sit back and relax, with the sounds of the seventies

Well, Monday again and I'm back in my otherwise deserted office, listening to the oddest song I've heard in a long time. Mark has an obsession with The Odd Couple, the 70s sitcom. Now he's discovered Tony Randall and Jack Klugman's cover of 'You're So Vain'. It uncomfortably reminds me of life with Neal!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Until Monday, Farewell!

Further to The Culture, Cheese and Pineapple, Neal's cooking a Mussaman curry for Emma, Mark and I tonight. Then tomorrow it's Ho! for the British Fencing AGM. I couldn't face dinner with the buffers, but I'll turn up for the business and the mini-conference, hand over my UKSG welfare report and go home, hopefully unentangled by the politics. Ho ho ho.

Have a good weekend.

Friday conundrum time!

It's Friday afternoon, so the staff here are obsessed with this Name Anagram Generator. If you're good at Scrabble, you can work out my actual name from Brainy Dean. The vice-chancellor, ironically enough, comes out as 'Principal Egos', and Zoot Horn is Calendar Girl. Poor Mark comes out as Jerk Moans.

Anyway, how about a conundrum. A practical one this time. Do I spend my spare money (e.g. what I don't spend on rent and books) on:
a) driving lessons. I'm 34 and haven't hitherto bothered.
b) more violin lessons. I wasn't much good. I'd practice now. Really.
c) smack. It's the only response to living in Wolverhampton.

What skill would you really like to acquire?