January 22, 2020

‘It’s damp, cold, and misty here! How’re things with you?’

8.00 am: A communion. Last night, before bed, I’d begun re-reading Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life (2014). The book comprises accounts of the author’s psychoanalytical sessions with his patients. In essence (and unsurprisingly): past traumas condition our present responses. We are what we were. If you can understand why things had unravelled, then there’s some hope of mitigating their pernicious impact. 9.00 am: On with further module approval forms, student references, postgraduate applications, and marking admin. ‘Just keep your head down, John. This too will pass’, the voice encouraged. (In the background: a mix of Russian Orthodox chants. The sonority of the singing sounded so much like that of the Welsh male-voice choirs I’d heard as a child.) ‘More tea, please!’

10.30 am: Whatever light that I’d received from the disappearance of two tasks off my desk, yesterday, was extinguished by two new and unexpected ones, which were deposited in my inbox this morning. Don’t count your blessings before they hatch, as it were. ‘Work faster and more efficiently, then!’, the voice goaded. (In the background: BBC Radio 3’s archive of Choral Evensong. It was this programme that, in part, encouraged me to move from Nonconformity to Anglicanism. ‘O Lord, open thou our lips …’. ) There were buttons on the form for ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but none for ‘dunno’.

1.00 pm: A pre-semester lunch with Paul Croft at a local watering hole. As staff, we have too few occasions amid the busyness of it all to meet for an informal chin-wag about our life, work, passions, ambitions, and take on the world-at-large. Paul is, in effect, our university’s Ambassador to China (Printmaking Province). He has worked tirelessly to further East-West cultural exchanges between the School of Art and academic institutions in China. I was briefed on his latest project to set up an exchange exhibition with Xi’an Academy of Fine Art (which has a student population equal to that of a medium-sized university in the UK):

2.15 pm: Domestics. 2.50 pm: On with endless joyless form filling. (I hope my successor(s) will appreciate this.) I wasn’t hungry at my customary dinner time (which is astonishingly early by most people’s patterns of behaviour), and so worked into the early evening. My objective was to bring closure to this task before bedtime. 6.00 pm: One more module to go before I began a global review of the whole batch. In the far distance, in the east of the town, someone still hadn’t taken down their Christmas lights. There ought to be a law against it:

The spirit pushed against the instincts of the flesh. (In the background: Eric Satie’s La Mort De Socrate (1919).) ‘More tea, please!’

I once saw (not met) Terry Jones (whose death was announced today) at the side of the Curzon Soho cinema on Shaftsbury Avenue, London, some years ago. He appeared to be in a bit of a tizz, frowning and pacing while looking at his watch, waiting at the side of the road for a taxi that clearly wasn’t arriving quickly enough. I walked on; you don’t deserve to be stared at, however famous or Welsh you are. His work with Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967–9) and Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–73) helped sustain me through the trauma and mediocrity of my secondary-school education. For all his lunacy he was for me, back then, an oasis of sanity:

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