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Thursday, June 27, 2013

There's always something





Light-hearted jocularity and facility with language do not adequately cover long distance misery.

Yesterday had its moments of delight but the overarching ache of sympathy for unhappy friends tainted any transitory pleasure.  And the not knowing precisely what is going on and how they are coping is another source of worry.

When the palpably real takes on the appearance of a tawdry soap you have to keep reminding yourself that the people involved are not characters bending to the whim of some omniscient author, but flesh and blood whose lives you know and with whom you have history stretching back decades.

I am blessed (or cursed) with a vivid imagination and last night was spent reviewing possible scenarios which might play out and indeed are being played out as I say the words.  And none of them was good.  I obviously want both of my friends to be happy.  But that seems something of a remote possibility at the moment. 

At times like this we teachers have the accumulated wisdom of past Morning Assemblies on which to draw.  And as someone who listened with attention to each of them (uniquely in my professional experience) I have an extensive range to go back over.  The one which seems most apposite at the moment concerns the king/emperor/sultan/caliph (I have heard this in many versions) who ordered his Jeweller/chancellor/advisor/etc. to make his something which would make him happy when he was sad and make him thoughtful when he was happy.  A ring was produced which had the inscription, “This too will pass” - which happily fitted both the conflicting demands.  “This too will pass” helps superficially with the present situation but what happens before it passes is what is concerning me at the moment.

I shall do what I always do in such situations, and indeed in life generally and escape into digressions.

One of the astonishing things about yesterday was my trip to the Employment Office.  Not in itself something of note, but as my contract is now over and I have shaken the dust from my shoes in the School on the Hill I now have to register as someone without work.  This is usually a soul-searing experience mixing as it usually does equal amounts of pointless frustration with institutional enforced ignominy.  Not yesterday.  A short wait (including recognition by the white haired security guard – what a memory for faces he must have) and a polite and efficient official and we were done.

Until the next meeting which is today.  For this one I have a “timed” slot and I am almost certain that I have all the requisite papers to expedite things with the least possible fuss.  Bureaucracy here is a powerful and esoteric beast and no matter how prepared to meet him you are, armed with the shield of patience, the sword of photocopies and the helmet of proof of identity there is always some part of the armour that you have forgotten such as the breastplate of Form ALP/39945-A3911 which is only issued on the second Thursday in alternate months in a small office in St Boi between the hours of 8.14 am and 9.37 am (ask for Juan) and without which all your efforts are as nothing.

And this is not a meaningless formality this morning.  It is an essential part of my strategy to live reasonably in this country.  I await the outcome with trepidation and a certain amount of lively expectation – which is my usual way of existence.

My scepticism was fully justified as, it turns out, I am officially On Holiday and until my On Holiday time runs out I can do nothing.  So, it’s back to the office on the 6th of July for another visit and hopefully my status will be recognized by the Powers That Be.  At least we had a cup of coffee and a croissant to give some substance to a futile visit.

Now that my Greek Vase essay has been returned I feel liberated to continue my studies.  Overshadowing the placid acquisition of knowledge is the Fear of the Wiki.  This is basically an exercise in collective writing where eight of us strewn around Europe collaborate to produce a connected piece of writing which is given a single collective mark.  The reflection on this work is marked separately and individually, but the Wiki counts for more than the individual piece.  In the last course the Wiki give me my worst mark, but armed with experience I hope to do better this time round – collaborators willing!

Every aspect of this course so far has been interesting mainly because it caters to my fairly indiscriminate appetite for snippets of historical and artistic trivia and weaves them all together into a seemingly coherent narrative of academic exploration.  The OU is famous for taking the student on a journey which opens up discussions that force the individual to reassess previously held assumptions – and sometimes using the most surprising artefacts to prompt the questioning.  Who would have suspected that C19th Kimberly points (flaked glass spear points made by Australian Aborigines) and a Greek kalex-crater in the BM would combine to make me question the function of museums and the historical process they have gone through in the presentation of artefacts and the societal historical valuation of things that have gone through vast changes in their perception if one studies the object biography.  [I think it is better if you try saying the last sentence all in one breath; it may not make a great deal more sense but you will feel a sense of achievement in saying it.]  And indeed the whole concept of “object centred” and “object driven” assessments of artefacts.

Not forgetting, of course, the wonderful word skeuomorph which refers to an object or to a design which has features which reflect a different form of material used it its previous construction.  For example the digital representation of a notepad on a computer screen making the pad look as though it was made of paper.  You can also see it on some cheap articles which have moulded screw heads to make it look as thought the article had been assembled in a traditional way rather than as a piece of moulded plastic. 

How did I live without this word? 

As soon as you know its definition you see examples everywhere.  Look around you; you are probably surrounded by examples!

More phone calls and I feel a little better.  The situation is bad, but both sides seem to have accepted the situation and are working towards their new reality.  In the circumstances it is the best that could have been expected.

Tomorrow work to be done: the history or printing and bookmaking!  If that is not pushing at an academically open door I do not know what is!

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