Summa: Diary (February 1, 2022)

On the weekend, my wife dug out a slide transparency that she’d taken on a bristlingly cold Sunday afternoon on the fourteenth day of December 1986. It shows the lower part of Abertillery (my home town), looking north. The mist, combined with the emission of those households that were still not burning smokeless fuel, lingered in the valley’s base and caught the parting light. In my diary for that day, I’d written:

It was a clear and crisp day, so we walked along Rhiw Park, through Penrhiw Garrig, to Six Bells in the afternoon. When we returned home, in the evening, we helped Mam decorate the Christmas tree.

Diary, December 14, 1986.

This would be my mother’s last Christmas. She died on the last day of June the following year.

The examination board that decided the result of my first degree was held in June 1981 and the Head of Faculty’s office, behind closed door. We, the graduands, stood outside at the top of the stairs, waiting for the notification of degree classes to be posted on the communal noticeboard — for everyone and anyone to see. (Considerations about privacy and sensitivity didn’t prevail in Higher Education in those days.) It was rather like waiting to see white smoke go up the chimney at the Vatican when the new Pope is proclaimed. However, what we did observe throughout the proceedings were crates of wine being delivered to the board room. I wrote an impromptu letter, commissioned by my peers, to the examiners expressing our alarm at the amount of alcohol that was being consumed as our careers were being determined. At the close of the meeting, the staff staggered-out looking red-eyed and sheepish. Heavy drinking has no place in the work environment.

8.00 am: I began to record myself reading the whole King James Version of the Bible, page by page, in preparation for the current Penallta Colliery sound suite. (See: ‘The Road to Penallta Colliery 2: Mining and Religion‘.) For two days of last week I’d put one toe in the water of an eighteen-hour fasting regime, in order to alleviate a digestive complaint. It worked. This week, I’ll maintain the fast (from 6.00 pm on one day to 1.00 pm on the following day) until Friday. Thus, breakfast will be a weekend-only pursuit for the time being. Disciplining one area of your life often strengthens discipline in others. This is my pre-Lent workout.

2.00 pm: At the School of Art Gallery, Eileen Harrisson (one of my PhD Fine Art tutees) had begun preparing her doctoral work for show. In many ways, the decision-making regarding the hang will be the same for a regular exhibition. What distinguishes a PhD exhibition is the requirement to present such work, and in such a way, that demonstrably solves a definable problem. That’s a tall order. There was time on my hands, so I wandered upstairs to the painting and life-study studios. Pete Monaghan was preparing the afternoon’s life-drawing class. The model had brought-in her beautiful warm-grey whippet (below). This breed of dog stays still and has a an outline that makes you want to pick up a pencil and draw. The studios were once my domain. I miss them. Slowly, life is returning to something like the normality that I recall prior to March 2020. Staff and students move more slowly and deliberately than they did back then. Sobriety has replaced exuberance. But the latter will return, as we pick ourselves up from the ruins of the bombsite and press forward with hope and courage — which are apposite ambitions in the year of the tiger.

Throughout the day, I’ve been reviewing PhD thesis material in readiness for one-to-one tutorials shortly. This has been and will remain the bulk of my teaching until the curtain falls. We ate a celebratory Chinese New Year takeaway for dinner.

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