It’s been a little while since the last one. Business (and busy-ness) shouldn’t prohibit me from following the example of Esther-in-the-past and feverishly churning out blog posts in every spare minute (on the commuter bus, mostly), but I suspect that sort of steam comes in waves, to use a gorssly mixed metaphor. Nevertheless, I am BACK.
If you’re a regular commuter of some kind, whether daily or every so often, you’ll have strange, synchronistic experiences that involve seeing the same person on both your journeys in one day — even if you took the bus at a completely irregular time. This happened to me yesterday. After lunch, heading into London, I noticed that the two men behind me were both in white shirts and dark suits, with lapel pins, but they were too old to be Mormon missionaries (one was probably mid-forties and one was at least 70), so I went back to my reading, with only mild eavesdropping. Their conversation indicated that they didn’t know each other well, and the younger man said he hadn’t been into central London for five years, to which the older one expressed polite disbelief. It wasn’t desperately interesting, and after the first few pleasantries they suddenly lowered their voices, so I gave up.
And then there they were again as I got on the bus at Baker Street late last night, in precisely the same pair of seats. Mine from earlier was empty, so I sat back in it, giving them a big smile first to indicate that I’d recognized them. They didn’t react, so I forced the issue, since otherwise I worried they’d think that I’d turned around to grin at them because I was some kind of weirdo. Although, in retrospect, I probably compounded that effect. Oh well.
“Hello! Didn’t you sit behind me on the journey into London as well? This afternoon?” I said, peering through the gab between the headrests. They both looked up with considerable alarm.
“Oh no, I don’t think so,” said the older one.
“It was the 1.20 bus,” I said, undeterred.
“That was our bus…” began the younger one.
“Maybe,” said the older one, and gave me a polite smile that said, “Please turn around, young lady.”
I finished reading my article just as their conversation got really interesting. They were gently tipsy, and though I could tell that they were still trying to keep their voices low, the volume would rise gradually until, every few minutes, they remembered, and started the slow crescendo again. They were talking about the words used in rituals and how nowadays more people are sadly dependent on “the book”, but that at this particular event it was pleasing to note that “hardly anyone needed it… not that there’s anything wrong with using it, of course…” There was mention of “lodges” and “chapters”. I kept careful track of pronouns.
Now I was intrigued. Masons! How thrilling! Visions of secret societies and bizarre candlelit rituals in underground vaults danced in my head. Unfortunately, at this point, they started talking about Oxford, and its nominee for Vice-Chancellor, who is (gasp) a woman.
As my cousin Pat would say, “Priority interrupt!” Before I tell you what they said about the new/forthcoming Vice-Chancellor, I want to ask you (all three of you, dear readers): why are masons so exciting to non-masons? They’re just a male networking organisation whose members really, really like to dress up. (Although a quick google search has revealed this: there are lady-masons too!) It’s got to be about the secrecy. Make something secret and people will struggle and pry and strain to find out just a little about it, even if it isn’t fundamentally interesting.
Anyway, the prospective Vice-Chancellor. What I heard went like this.
“…she’s Irish. Born in Ireland, educated in America, I believe.”
“So practically American.”
“Oh yes. Name escapes me… She’s up at St Andrew’s at the moment. Goodness knows how she’ll cope at Oxford. It takes a very specific skill set. Oxford’s never had a female V-C before.”
“Well, we all make mistakes.” Quiet snorts of laughter.
“Mmm, quite. I hope her Latin’s up to it.” Chuckling, with general noises of agreement.
This gave me pause. Professor Louise Richardson, currently Vice-Chancellor at St Andrew’s, has been hailed in almost all circles as a Very Good Thing, and I’d never heard her openly criticised like this just for being a woman. The news of her nomination has been welcomed in most quarters, and the University as a whole seems to be looking forward to her socially-inclusive, progressive influence. But maybe I move in more female-friendly circles these days.
The Cherwell published an opinion piece on the 6th of June that brought up concerns that as a former Harvard administrator, Richardson might encourage the corporatisation of Oxford, raising salaries for faculty in tandem with escalating tuition fees. It was a very good point, but the article itself was sadly sophomoric in style and content. The writer hysterically proclaimed that Oxford is “a university that ought to be run by and for students, workers and the wider community”, which makes me wonder where teaching and administrative staff are supposed to fit in. Not to mention the allegation that “these vice-chancellors prefer that the tuition fee cap be lifted than for the government to raise taxes on millionaires like themselves”. (Take a deep breath, James Elliott!) This is the only negative press I’ve been able to find on Richardson’s nomination, though. I’d love to get a more nuanced view – please reply in comments if you have any thoughts on her, from any perspective. I’m thrilled that Oxford will soonhave a woman at the helm, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be a great V-C. Discuss.
In lighter news, A BOOK HAUL. All from Treadwell’s, an esoteric second-hand-books-and-more shop whose titles range from English history to books on Judaism, shamanism, and folklore. I should have gone there a year ago for resources, given the nature of the novel-in-progress. One reaction in rehearsal last night to the dragons book was, “Isn’t your book about witches?” Why, yes. But one of them has a dragon problem…
Here’s the dragon book:
And here are some samples. This “reference” book is deliciously tongue-in-cheek, which suits the tone of the novel nicely. I have no illusions that I’m writing anything more sophisticated than commercial fiction.
I got two others. “Maypoles” is reportedly a long-time standard text for This Sort Of Thing (folklore, magic, country customs, saints’ days, etc.), and “Auguries and Omens” has already proved enormously useful on the subject of magpies. Apologies that their very similar blue covers make it look like that’s one book, not two.
A sample for the 9th of June, St Columba’s Day:
“As men of peace go, St Columba was abnormally violent and competitive.” And: “If you wear the flower St John’s Wort in your armpit, like St Columba did, it will ward off evil. Independently of this, June 9th is very lucky, especially when it falls on a Thursday.” See? £5.95 well spent.
Last thing: I stumbled on the Paperchase mothership opposite Goodge Street station yesterday, entirely by accident. Three whole floors of Paperchase. The mind boggles. Actually, the mind boggles more at the fact that I only bought one thing. Now nobody will write their to-do lists at the bottom of my grocery lists any more, and harmony will prevail.
Until next time, dragon-spotters.