Saturday, 9 August 2008


1. I went to a conference. I always find conferences hard work and not for creditable reasons. I'm not so good at chatting to people whom I know a little bit -- I find myself going awkward and probably coming across as very standoffish, and worrying about that just makes me more and more awkward. But on balance I enjoyed myself. I caught up with some very old friends whom I haven't seen for years; one of them said that the last time he'd seen me I had explained to him who Harry Potter and Britney Spears are, so it must have been a substantial time back. I like the idea of myself as someone who helps bring popular culture to the intellectuals. This gives me a role I would otherwise be lacking among the intellectuals.

2. The conference was specifically designed to be a small enough group that we could sit around a table with primary sources, manuscripts and documents, out in front of us. For the middle of the three days we were joined by a large society, so had to change our style, but it actually worked rather well. Luckily someone reminded me that I've promised to speak at the next meeting of that society; I had completely forgotten.

3. I am developing a reprehensible habit of putting jokes into my lectures that I don't expect anyone to get. I should probably try to stop this, it must be annoying for anyone who suspects.

4. The Prof. who taught me as an undergraduate was there. He opened the proceedings with an utterly formidable paper, one of the best I have heard in ages, delivered in his usual clear manner; one of those works of scholarship which is beautifully obvious once presented, and in no need of any elaboration. I have been very fortunate in my education.

5. The Prof. happens also to be the general editor of the series in which my new book has just been published. Hurray! My free copies have arrived but I think it's not quite out yet. It's very handsome, bound in black with the Henry Bradshaw Society arms stamped on the front. It's a subscription volume so will be sent out to all the members of the society.

6. Now I'm back in Devon. We have a new baby alpaca, Hermione. She's premature and weak, and after the bad experience with Hereward earlier this year and Gracie last year I'm not holding my breath for her chances.

7. My godmother has come to visit. It's odd to hear her reminiscing with my parents about their university days, because I usually think of her as pertaining to me. She has brought with her my usual birthday present, a copy of Nemo's Almanac. (Here described by the Independent as "A year-long trivial pursuit for the over-educated".) It's the 117th year, apparently. Basically it involves identifying obscure quotations and usually I can get one or two out of 73 (six per month and one on the cover). I'm betting the internet has changed this a lot but not entirely -- some of it still requires following hunches about recognising styles. That Independent article claims that it drove Helen Gardner mad. I don't really think I could take it so seriously; I ought to use it as a resource for reading suggestions but I've always lost it by the time the next year's comes out with the answers. Still, it reminds me that when I think of myself as well-read I am woefully exaggerating.

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