I had a very odd day, yesterday, a fish out of water day. A day when I didn’t feel quite connected to anything. The child bride put it down to my pills, a strong gout remedy. I put it down to being exposed to new and strange circumstances. Circumstances in which I felt foreign and without the skills to manage, particularly language. I probably did all right, but I’m left going over events, ruminating unhealthily as to what went wrong.
It started badly the night before with excruciating pain in my right foot. I couldn’t get to sleep and I overdosed, marginally, on medication which spaces me out in normal amounts. But I did finish the preparation on a presentation for work on depression and anxiety. One success at least.
I then went to Sheffield in the car, a trip I do on the train. I’m parked by 3.30 and wait half an hour for my university session ‘What is contemporary?’. Its a module within the creative writing degree. Two men are down to take it. One is a clean shaven fresh faced ginger haired lad who is on his first day, by the look of him his first day anywhere. He says he’s just completed thirteen years at Salford University and he’s not a writer but a critic. Oh dear. He is the new pathway leader. We’ve gone beyond the postmodern he tells us. Its globalisation now. Shit. He gives us his reasons for choosing certain books and films. They all have something to say about what is contemporary. I lose him.
The other tutor is a bearded Friar Tuck, a poet and part-time tutor who reassures us that we will learn to love the sessions. He then tells us what we have to hand in and when. His choice of poetry for the module comes from ‘a writer in residence’ in a boatyard. This is not going well. He is a man for the bon mot, pithy literate phrases that brook no reply, they are final answers. The tutors seem an amiable pair, but I struggle to understand what they are talking about.
Do my fellow students feel the same? They are all women, from a new undergraduate to mature ladies with attitude, who read a lot I suspect and can drop names regularly enough to impress. Marina is an exception since I have met her before and she is neither new nor strange. She is writing a terrific piece about her father. The women ask a lot about the assignments, as women do.
We then break. Marina wants to press on with her novel, but will need extra supervision. Will I? I go and see the course administrator, a young man with a six o’clock shadow who sits behind a computor. He has a history of misinforming me, but there is no one else. Last term, he sent me on a wild goose chase around the campus seeking my union card. Today he implies that when Livi was picked out as my supervisor I may have got the short straw. Nice one.
Its about our presentation after the break. Marina is well organised and I haven’t a clue. As a rule I’m against it, the tweny first century I mean. I’m against cars and traffic jams, fast food, pub meals, expensive glasses of wine and bottled beer, words I need a dictionary for, long and confusing sentences, toffee nosed serious literary nerds, Alan Milburn, telephones calls that put you on hold to music, and a whole lot more. So I’m not well disposed to the topic and the two smart arses at the head of the class don’t help.
Lily is Lily, a London based journalist with a plum in her mouth who rolls her own. Golden Virginia in a tin. Rizzla cigarette papers in a green pack. You can’t get your hair off with her, but for a journalist she does struggle with her ideas. I used to think it was so cool to use liquorice papers, remote and mysterious brown wrapping. Tasted like shit.
One of the mature ladies talks about nudity in the media, and suddenly I’m interested. She thinks its the thin end of the wedge, the total exposure now in things like the reality TV programmes. Its another of the things I hate so I’m with her, yes have a go I think. Salford critic rightly suggests the pictures and stories are voluntarily donated. Where are the stories about making out with no money, the million and one people that don’t appear on TV or in the papers?
Someone else talks about the image of social workers and their representation in print or film. Bad usually. Friar Tuck remembers a programme called ‘Probation Officer’. Are they society’s conscience? Do they absorb all our sins? Are teachers in the same catagory?
Then it was me. I stumble on about globalisation in sport, the modern dilution of identity that playing games habitually confers. At one time you played for your team, school, youth club, certainly a locality, and it defined who you were. That and the skills and characteristics you displayed on the field of play. What you wore even, uniforms and strips. At the top level now its a business played by international mercenaries at any time of the year, and any day of the week. Another twenty first century moment. My dad in his cap gave it all up when they started playing on a Sunday.
Salford critic thinks about Nick Hornby and the literisation of football, jees is nothing sacred? Just the word makes me feel nauseous. It sits in the context of new stadia and flash bastards with brass turning up in the pound seats so its modern and global. Does it have relevance to cricket and rugby, corporate interests, serious money, bottomless cash pits for owners, rocketing wages, lower teams in crisis, a stock market on the slide, war with Iraq looming. The historic and cultural setting is terrific. Where are the examples in books and films? It highlights my weakness in that I’m no longer a voracious reader and film goer. The idea is still sound.
Friar Tuck is a Hull FC man who forgot to follow the results when they started playing on Sundays. He recalls David Storey’s ‘This Sporting Life’ which does exemplify the fifties and rugby league. What about a little earlier and Newbould? Compare with Simon Hughes maybe?
Then talking with the child bride this morning, what about the literature of subsistence, both back in the seventeenth century and now in the third world, compared with our modern stuff with its globalisation, economic success and so on. What about King Lear and his sense of failure, ostensibly a success. And the way in which he discovers his frailty. Cantorion is another example. The identity, worries and concerns of the human remains the same, it just happens in a different context – the angry young men of the sixties, use Stampfer as a reference. Contrast of the internal wealth and happiness, quotes from Epicurus, and the external trappings of success which are intäended to impress others. A boy called it , The rabbit fence, African writers, Toni Harrison. The ordinary person’s story as opposed to the celebrity or the superhero or the secret agent, the king, the warrior.
Last night, no longer looming large in my mind now, was another new and strange event, where I chaired a group of doctors, discussing concerns and issues about the future of rheumatology and allied interests particularly in community. Two gp’s who had nowhere else to go, me who was paid to be there and Phillip who is a genuine trooper who wants to make a difference and who likes a meal out. Its not me any more but it pays well.