During this week at the London Rare Books School I have felt privileged to be taught by Professor Michelle Brown, second from the left here. What an awesome fund of knowledge she has, seemingly knowing absolutely everything that happened to everyone before about 1500 AD. Like being taught physics by Richard Fenynman, and the sort of experience that you just ain’t gonna get through Zoom, sorry.
We don’t normally do spring graduations. These are replacements for the ceremonies that were going to take place in December and then were cancelled at two day’s notice because everyone in ‘Authority’ had another outbreak of paranoia that — let’s look back and be honest about this — turned out to have very little basis in sensible judgments of risk. Anyway, I’m glad they finally made it. It offers a, hopefully singular, opportunity to picture the daffodil/graduation conjunction. And yes, the litter is there but let’s try to work it into the composition somehow.
The last taught class of the first semester, and of 2021. The students show off the ideas they’ve been working on in groups over the last few weeks — including, here, 3-D printing being used to create replicas of famous artworks that people can then touch and interact with, which seems a reasonable idea to me. It was an engaging, interesting class, and one that if I had listened to my paranoid employer, I should have hoiked online at 12 hours’ notice. But I didn’t listen, and the life of everyone involved was all the better for it.
I regret the fact that they all still feel the need to wear a mask. I regret that so many of them have not yet been able to arrive, thanks largely to airlines ripping them off and governments (worldwide) still using Covid as an excuse to be mean to foreigners. But I’m still glad they’re here. This is only the second day in more than 18 months — the first being 4th December 2020 — in which I’ve been able to hold a face-to-face class. There seemed to be some work going on at this point.
In some years the return of the students to campus is not always exactly a welcome event — it marks the end of summer, it presages a lot of work for the weeks ahead, etc. But in 2021 it would be impossible not to celebrate it. And anyone who thinks that some kind of future lockdown is an inevitability, please leave the room now, I will have nothing to do with that viewpoint. The only way I will be incarcerated in the future is by being arrested.
In recent years I have adapted my walk into campus so I don’t go down Oxford Road, but today was an exception, for trivial reasons. It’s the main thoroughfare between the two universities and the city centre, and walking along it today at least allowed an appreciation of the fact that there are people back in view, doing things, enriching the local environment. The big influx of students hasn’t happened yet — but next week this should be heaving. And it’s all the better for it. I heard from an academic colleague today about the research showing how lockdown, spending 100% of our time in one place, is devastating for our ability to actually form new knowledge and long-term memories. Why are there those who love it and crave it?
Anyway, no more pandemic politics for now. I merely regret, slightly, that the angles are not quite right on this one.
One year ago today, 30th June 2020, I was ‘allowed’ back on to campus for the first time since all the shit started, and took the picture linked here, of a student sat among the lush June foliage, alone, wondering where his future had gone.
One year on, this photo is taken from more-or-less the same point, and little has changed, has it? The huge Manchester campus still just sits there, mostly unused. Maybe my managers, our ‘leaders’, would like to ask, what am I complaining about? These people are still going to get their degrees are they not? They’ve got what they paid for? Yeah, well, if you reduce the experience of getting an education to a pure cash transaction then yes, they have indeed. But what a wasted year it has been, and I mean that also in the sense of wasting away, eroding, no longer vital and healthy. This is not because of some virus, but because of fear and paranoia, a desperate urge not to do anything that could see fingers pointed.
But I say this again, sorry to be repetitive but it deserves repeating. There were more than 40,000 people in Wembley stadium yesterday afternoon. This proves that if the will is there, this ridiculous fear can end. Is it so impossible to accept that once you are vaccinated, and the guy next to you is vaccinated, and the people who can’t get vaccinated (like those under 18) brush off this thing as if it were water in the vast majority of cases — then there is no longer any need to live life in this state? The most worrying thing for me is that such views now seem to be considered subversive. There are groups out there who are quite happy for most people to be frightened of shadows, and they’ve won.
A trip away to Indonesia might seem to offer a wealth of photo opportunities, but it’s a work trip — and the more that I do this kind of thing the more I realise that universities look much the same the world over. A Monday morning class, a decent turnout — but no one ever breaks the golden rule: Thou Shalt Not Sit In The Front Row.
When I started work in Manchester in 2005, Oxford Road, which runs down the centre of the main campus, was still a carbon monoxide-choked arterial road. Gradually, over the years, there’s been some decent (and much-needed) traffic management, and last year, Brunswick Street was finally closed off and turned into this walkway, “Brunswick Park”. It’s not a very green park, admittedly — but still, it’s a definite improvement. This was the one little burst of sunshine of the day.
When graduation ceremonies have appeared on here in the past they have either been those at Manchester or a couple in Moscow, back a few years ago. But this one, today, is at the University of Leeds — and I was not present through professional duty but personal connection, seeing as it was Clare who was celebrating the award of her (second) MA in Psychotherapy and Counselling. Well done to her and to everyone else there today — our C was at the front, far away from the camera, but these graduates nearer where I was sat capture the mood of the day just as well.