Summa: diary (July 1-12, 2022)

July 30, 1987

July 1. 12.45 am: I heard the whirr of a helicopter, sweeping along the coastline. The sound is never welcome in this part of the world. A search implies a loss. Someone hasn’t returned. Someone is missed. Rarely are they discovered intact, in my experience. Stephen Chilton was found by police divers at the base of the Little Orme in November 2014. For several years, the School of Art has wanted to hold an exhibition in honour of his memory and work. The pandemic and succession of lockdowns had scuppered the dates slated for an in situ show of his paintings. By the time our operations had returned to some semblance of normality, the gallery programme (which included a backlog of four PhD Fine Art shows) was nearly two years behind schedule. It was decided that an online presentation would be a serviceable compromise. The digital photographs can’t convey either the scale of the works or the chromatic subtly of the painterly stains. Nevertheless the exhibition, for all its conspicuous limitations, will be available in perpetuity.

The final proofs for the Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures CD were signed-off. A streamable version of the album will be available by the end of July; hopefully, the discs will be delivered by the close of the month too. Thus I enter into that liminal state between employment and retirement — I’m presently ‘on holiday’, using up some of my unspent annual leave — with the satisfaction that all my eggs have hatched on time. Furthermore, my remaining teaching, supervisory, administrative duties have been passed-on, and are in good hands. The umbilical cord has finally been severed. Nevertheless, I’ll not feel truly free until my university email account is locked on 1 August.

July 2. 8.30 am: On my Saturday morning constitutionals along the Promenade towards the harbour, I usually take-in a regular hot chocolate at ‘The Hut’. It’s the only establishment for which I have a loyalty card. Today was set apart for decommissioning an ailing and old iMac, continuing to delete (with glee) work files that are either sensitive in their nature or ‘not required on voyage’, and establishing a new workstation in the study. Knowing quite what files to preserve requires judiciousness and foresight. Certainly, I’ll hang on to my teaching materials along with a representative range of work emails (for old times’ sake). With respect to computers (as in life), I err on the side of casting off. I’m neither a collector nor a clutterer.

July 4. I’d planned (in broadest terms) this month three years ago; I knew exactly what I’d do, and that it would take some time to accomplish. Folders and files needed to be rationalised (and some, archived); personal emails, transferred from my university account to a private one; and everything on my employment cloud drive, downloaded. Once the digital administration is complete, the process of analogue sifting and sorting will begin — for which a sturdy paper-shredder will be requisitioned. Thereafter, I’ll commence constructing a weekly timetable of activities. Ideally, every day of ‘the life to come’ should offer a distinct set of challenges.

July 6. Day 2 of the Johnsonian debacle. The unfolding events have been more interesting (and distracting) than a General Election. The roll-call of resignees gets steadily longer — like the cast list of Spartacus — by the hour. While the Government resignations are welcome, I find it extraordinary that it’s taken so long for a sense of ethical imperative to kick-in. There’re occasions (and this is one) when either staying-in or leaving a post are but two manifestations of the same instinct for self-preservation. Neither response is honourable, per se. Nor is the determination to press-on (in the face of what appears to be eminently sensible advice to the contrary), regardless of the consequences for his party, the Government, and the good of the country. Johnson’s delusional narcissism, addiction to power, and reckless ambition have taken on frightening proportions.

June 7. Day 3. After what seemed like a re-run of Trump’s refusal to accept both reality and the inevitable, Johnson resigned finally. In my reply to a post on the topic by my former fine art tutor Roy Ascott, I wrote:

Those that enabled him and, until recently, turned a blind-eye to his misdeeds, deserve to share the shame and the blame.

My days are still spent rummaging through computer folders, deleting files, checking passwords, setting-up redirections to new email accounts, and overhauling hardware. Rather than cast-off my limping iMac, I stripped down the software and reinstalled the iOS from the ground up. (Huge improvement!) The device is eight years old and has experienced a great deal of wear and tear. So my expectations regarding its future performance are tempered by practical realism. My oldest MacBook is thirteen years old, and still operational. However, all of my MacBooks have been (along with the iMac, now) pared-down to perform an exclusive function: that of sound recording and playing. Thus, the strain on their respective RAM and processor is minimised. Perhaps, as I get older and increasingly worn, my own activities will be similarly reduced to a singularity.

June 9. As they say in theatreland: ‘Due to Professor Robert Meyrick’s indisposition, the part of the Head of School will be played by Professor John Harvey in this afternoon’s performance’. Bob had been taken ill suddenly, so I (as second in command, still) substituted in his absence. When I was Head of School, the Dean of Faculty undertook the role as master of ceremonies. I always commiserated with Bob for having (as a monoglot, like me) to read Welsh in public while ensuring that all the graduands were accounted for and proceeding in the correct order. And there was I, expecting to bow-out of my university responsibilities quietly and without further embarrassment.

It was nothing short of pure joy (and not a little strange) to see again — after so many years — the still familiar faces of students who’d been denied their graduation due to the pandemic. Boy! The afternoon was hot. Not a time to be semi-dressed like Batman.

During the ceremony, I had the privilege of reading my eulogy for Phoebe Williams (below), as well as Bob’s appreciation of Elizabeth Harrison.

On the façade of an otherwise undistinguished terraced house close to the School of Art hangs a plaque. It reads: ‘In this building the first talking newspaper for the blind in the United Kingdom was produced’. Phoebe and I talked about it at our initial pre-degree consultation. ‘I’m going to help people too’, she said (without a hint of hubris). Through art, Phoebe wanted to alleviate a type of sight-impairment that most people don’t even know they have: the inability to perceive the world vividly and wonderfully. Phoebe believed that artists could see what others can’t, because they’re looking where others aren’t.

But before she could do so, Phoebe had first to learn how to see for herself. During her all too brief time at the School, she worked like one possessed by a divine call.  Phoebe drew so intently and intensely that I feared her own eyesight might be compromised.

She shared her joy of vision through art-historical writing too. Phoebe believed in the power of words to remove the scales from our eyes, so that we might know of a truth. She was one of those infuriating individuals who possess a surfeit of talents, including languages, music, and much else besides in her case. But it was art that stole her heart.  While we – her family, friends, colleagues, and teachers – have lost her, Phoebe had, at the last, found deep fulfilment. And, in so doing, she succeeded in helping us see-through to what really matters.

Aberystwyth University, Graduation: Ceremony 4, The Great Hall, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 1.30 pm, July 9, 2022.

July 11. 8.00 am. I walked the Promenade before the heat of the day became too intense for my hypothalamus to process. It was a time to reflect upon the weekend’s events and the days that lay ahead. There was still much to do with respect to tying-up loose ends at the university and establishing a permanent and viable basecamp for operations exclusively at home.

July 12. When I require a perspective on the present, I re-read sections from my online diaries. My reflection began on March 17, 2020, when the pandemic first began to take on serious proportions and the university finalised plans to ‘close-shop’ and move online. A great many of us, I imagine, are still grieving over that period. The Graduation ceremony, last Saturday, reminded me of what our students had sacrificed in terms of a normative educational experience. They’d coped magnificently. As an academic, the demands and adjustments that I had to make back then proved invigorating and challenging in very positive ways. Along with every other member of the School’s staff, I was projected beyond my known competences and grew in stature as a result. As students and staff we, for the first time, confronted a common threat and shared the same vulnerabilities. In the relative aftermath of the ‘existential crisis’, I’ve experienced moments of occasional and spontaneous low-level anxiety about nothing in particular. Perhaps this is inevitable when the threat that we faced was invisible. Many of us remain in a constant state of alert about what may or may not to be out there waiting to bring us down next.

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