Tuesday, 8 November 2011


I'm living a bit of a double life at the moment, but for once in a good way.  I got a bundle of offprints the other day and sent them out to the usual people.  As a result I've been in touch with quite a few people to whom I only talk intermittently but of whom I am fond, and I have lots of nice postcards from professors on my corkboard.

In my other life as a computing student I am working very hard and enjoying myself though feeling tired.  We are now in week six of eleven.  I'm not used to such a long term, because Cambridge has an eight-week term that goes at a mad gallop.  We're galloping too, and going very fast, but I do think that as a Cambridge undergraduate I had to produce rather more work for submission.  For one thing then I did three languages from the off (Latin, Old English, and Middle Welsh) and here we've only just started our second (Prolog, in addition to C++), plus we've only handed in two sets of coursework so far, neither of which we've yet had back marked.

There are two big contrasts for me.  The first is with being someone on the teaching end of the lectern.  For example, the fact that we're only six weeks into an eleven-week term makes me feel really good about the time I've got left to learn things before the Christmas break, whereas for so long the end of term has felt like something to be desired with mythical intensity. And there's also a big contrast in the sort of hard work we're doing.  For someone who is teaching and all that stuff, term-time is a big slog, but hard work without necessarily being of itself testingly difficult.  I'm not working as hard as someone who's teaching, but the work I'm doing is right on the outside fringes of my brain and needs a lot of reaching as far as I can into concepts I hardly grasp.  It's exhausting in a different way.  I could work harder than this but I'm more or less at full capacity in my ability to think.

The second constrast is with being a humanities student.  The great thing about trying to write a computer program is that you get instant feedback on what's wrong with it when it fails to compile or, having compiled, run properly.  If you mistranslate some Latin or misunderstand something in a history essay you don't get an immediate error message.  It's a very useful thing for learning to be told that something is wrong and only get a slight hint about what it is, so that you have to go back, work out what it is, and fix it for yourself.  I don't know how you could reproduce that in humanities teaching.

I think the one thing I would change about my classmates is the quality of our conversations.  I'm sure it's quite a lot my fault, and it's partly because so many of my fellow students are young -- the other day I was talking to someone about exams, and when I mentioned that I last did a non-humanities exam in 1994 he told me that he was four years old then.  And it's partly because I think people who choose this sort of subject have a tendency to be quite straightforward, which is mostly a good thing.  It's not that I want to spend lots of time bitching about things as such, but I miss the feeling that if bitching were to be going on it would be done amusingly and without being too predictable.  Luckily I have interesting real friends to talk to about actual things and I can continue to relate to the young course people in a largely auntly manner.  Go aunt Rebecca!  I'm trying hard to stay on the right side of patronising...

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