Summa: diary (April 22-25, 2023)

April 22 (Saturday). 7.45 am: The day lifted up my spirit as soon as I crossed the threshold of the front door to embark upon a nearly two-hour-long walk towards and across the Promenade, returning via the harbour and town centre. The sea was still and the light, brittle. I paused at the Old College, looked up at the upper floors, and remembered those I’d taught there over the years and the windows that blew out in fierce storms. There’d been a queue growing outside Andy’s Records since before I began my ambulation. It was even longer on the homeward leg. It’s national Record Store Day.

8.15-8.50 am.

April 23 (Sunday) (London). 9.15 am: I met Paul Croft at the railway station. He too was en route to London, in order to hang and open his magnificent exhibition, entitled Collaboration in Practice: British Lithography 1800 – 2022, at the Bankside Gallery. Me, I was off to strut my stuff as an external examiner.

Arrived in the capital ten minutes late. Runners from today’s London Marathon were milling around the Euston Station concourse wrapped in plastic foil, like newly-landed refugees. The hotel nearby wouldn’t permit guests to check-in until 3.00 pm. It used to be 2.00 pm. However, during the pandemic the additional hour was justified by the requirement to deep-cleanse rooms after each resident. Now, there’s no reason why this hotel chain shouldn’t return to pre-COVID-19 arrangements. Not least because its guests are robbed of an hour’s stay, for which they’ve paid an unconscionable price. (Today, this doesn’t bother me because the cost of the accommodation has covered by the university.)

6.30 pm: My elder son took me to a Taiwanese restaurant situated in the remarkable new development that’s growing behind Kings Cross Station. The area elicits something of the shock of the new that I’d experienced on seeing Canary Wharf for the first time in the early 1990s. ‘It’s London, Jim!; but not as we know it’. While a newly fabricated environment, the area includes a sizeable proportion of sensitive adaptations of existing, historical buildings. The offices, shops, and residential apartments already suggest a vibrant, defined, and self-contained community, albeit with a well-heeled constituency.

April 24 (Monday). The day of The Big One climate change protests at Westminster. (Not that the BBC News had noticed.) 7.00 am: I arose to the chimes of St Pancras New Church, opposite the hotel. 10.30 am: After the worst medium, decaf, black Americano I’d ever drunk, and a wander around some old haunts in Fitzrovia, I headed for the Elephant and Castle to begin my day as External Examiner. Prior to the meeting, I enjoyed a very decent cup of coffee at the Black Cowboy, which is situated close to the college, where I read over and made notes on my comments and prepared for confrontation. Long may these quirky independent vendors survive the onslaught of global outlets.

I was picked up from the reception waiting room and escorted passed security down a long corridor, off which were capacious printmaking rooms filled with earnest looking art students. ‘Ah! The smell of screen wash’.

It was good to get back into the fray of academic debate and negotiation. The process and outcome of the viva voce were good for all concerned. This practice-based PhD was particularly close to my heart. This had been an enjoyable gig.

The new generation of higher-education scholars have a tough calling. The concept of academic freedom is an old ideal that they find difficult to grasp. I witnessed its erosion during my own career. Today, they accept their identity as units of production and utility within an increasingly bureaucratic and impersonal employment environment with a heavy equanimity. For some, the cost of living in London on their salary has become untenable. They face either moving out of the city or else trying to secure an entirely different and more lucrative job. I returned under pouring rain, through ancient tunnels, to the hotel.

7.00 pm: My elder son had secured tickets at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Soho. I’ve wanted to attend for some time. ‘Food for the body and the soul’, he remarked. So true. To my mind, there’s no more potent expression of life lived in the modern world than jazz. The angular, fractured, twisting, ascending, soaring, and knotted melodic ideas were like lines drawn extravagantly in space. It was an enriching end to a fascinating day.

April 25 (Tuesday). The cool, sharp, and shimmering day promoted elevated thoughts and, at times, an almost overwhelming sense of wellbeing.

9.30 am: I checked out and took the road alongside St Pancras International — passed the Francis Crick Institute, antique shops, and a fine example of Art Deco public housing — to St Pancras Old Church.

Proof of presence. (‘You ought to be in the window of an antique shop, John!’, I hear a detractor shout.)

A Christian place of worship has been on the site of the church since the 4th century. The graveyard includes a tomb designed by John Soane for himself and his wife, and another in which the remains of Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband were placed, before they up-sticks and moved to Bournemouth to be reinterred. (No doubt the sea air did them a world of good.) Admirers had left votive offerings on top of the stele.

There’re other, visually imposing, edifices on which the inscriptions are no longer visible. Money cannot buy you perpetuity. Out and around the base of the so-called Hardy Tree, gravetones seem to grow like a tightly packed crop of mushrooms. They once stood in that part of the graveyard that was surrendered to permit the construction of the Midlands Railway terminus during the mid 1860s. Thomas Hardy was in charge of the excavation. Alas, the tree has now been felled.

10.30 pm: Back into town — via one of the station’s watering holes — to conclude shopping and take lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Lisle Street, before boarding the train home.

See also: Intersections (archive);  Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021)Diary (July 16, 2014 – September 4, 2018); John Harvey (main site); Instagram.

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