Friday, 4 March 2011

The Legend of Zelda

People do have the most surprising secret sides. For example, I've just discovered today that one of my staff has been learning to do plumbing in her spare time. Well, why not? It pays a hell of a lot better than anything we can offer. Though, it turns out, she has been studying the Way of Lead just so she can rearrange her bathroom. There is a philosophical term for this level of methodological overkill, but I can't remember what it is just now.

Now, this is very much a "no names, no packdrill" blog. I think it makes everyone feel better if they know their anonymity will be respected, if that's the way they like it (your secret is safe with me, Your Majesty). I wouldn't, for example, use the actual name of my plumbing colleague, though I might use that traditional reportage formula: "Let's call her Zelda".

But, let's not call her Zelda, let's call this person Zelda:

Professor Zelda Legend, OBE MA PhD AcSS, Head of Department, Professor of Kidology and Fellow of Weatherwax College, Cambridge

Professor Legend has researched and published widely on environmental governance and policy processes, and on interpretations of sustainable development in theory and practice, particularly in the context of land use and environmental planning. She has supervised many PhD students on a range of environmental topics. Her work has also made a substantial contribution to public policy. She was a member of the standing Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 1998-2008 and has served on a number of other public bodies. She is currently a
member of the Strategic Research Board of the Economic and Social Research Council and served on sub-panel H31 (Town and Country Planning) for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. Professor Legend was awarded an OBE for services to sustainable development in 1998 and in 2000 received the Royal Geographical Society's 'Back' Award for contributions to research and policy formulation in this field. She was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute in 2006 and an Honorary Professor of the University of Copenhagen in 2008. For the academic year 2008-09 she holds the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professorship of Environmental Science, hosted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

Impressive, eh? That is the description of an academic mover and shaker. I have changed the names in the top line to protect her from idle curiosity, but the rest of that description is accurate, and it's not hard to put a name to such a distinguished CV. After all, there's no secret side there -- this is a public person in the full sense of the term. The title Professor Dame Zelda Legend can surely only be a move or two down the line.

Why am I telling you about this person? Well, for one thing, I/we have been banging on about grammar schools, the decline in opportunities, and state educational change'n'decay all around. But, evidence has been rather lacking. OK, I and my fellow ancients may not have become bank robbers with a crack habit but, let's be honest, neither do most of today's school leavers.

So, if I say that Prof. Legend is 57 (the same age as me) and went to a grammar school in a New Town 30 miles north of London (the very same one my sister and my first two girlfriends went to) then you may guess where this is going. You see, I know Professor Legend, but had no idea that I did until I chanced on her picture yesterday, and realised that the last time I had seen her was in 1972 on the campus of the University of East Anglia. She had a different surname, then, and was waving goodbye to the young man sitting next to me in the car as we drove off, her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, my good friend Dave.

Now there's some evidence.

But, actually, to me this says something even more salutary about the passing of time, and the way our imagining of old friends and acquaintances gets frozen in the past. Zelda, as far as I was concerned, was and always would be a rather small, intense, hippy-ish 17-year old girl, with very long, very brushed straight hair and a fondness for maxi-skirts and velvet, eternally stranded in 1972 with the label "friend's girlfriend", like an evolutionary path that led nowhere.

But -- what do you know? -- all that time she had been evolving, independently of anyone else's memory or imagination (gasp), and creating an astonishingly successful public life that has propelled her into a stratosphere where the things we have in common are as tiny and as far away as, well, 1972.

I find that an extremely cheering thought, and have nothing but admiration for Zelda's achievement. We can all bask a little in the reflected warmth of such success. Do I envy her? Not at all -- I'm very aware of what has to be sacrificed on that particular altar. But I do feel that she's scored a solid row of gold medals for Team Third-Rate Second-Rate Grammar School (not to mention Team New Town and Team Underrated University). Does she herself feel she plays for those teams, these days? It hardly matters: she did and therefore does. To that extent, no-one escapes the gravitational pull of their past. But, you go, girl!


Kent Wiley said...

Nice windows. When's the book coming out?

Oh, and interesting post about "Zelda."

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Kent. Still editing and sequencing -- this could take some time. Hoping to get an 8x10 Blurb book ready in a month or two...


Dave Leeke said...

Yes off you go . . . I won't, like you, name her. As you are a few years older than me, you knew more ladies from the Girl's Grammar - it took at least 5 minutes to find out who you were talking about via Google. I didn't know her. My interests tended to revolve around my sister's friends - another two years on you. When I say "interests" . . .

Anyway, it's interesting that with the advent of the internet, it isn't exactly difficult to work out who is being discussed.

I honestly thought you were talking about another young lady from the Girl's School who I know entered politics. Now SHE was gorgeous. I believe she was the sister of a friend of yours so I won't dwell on her here.

Still, it is amazing how easy it is to keep tabs on some people via the internet - there is little secrecy these days.

Mike C. said...


Yes, it's all a little creepy, really. Mind you, you'd have to do some serious research to find out who she *really* is, if you don't recognise the picture. It was the other way round for me -- I saw the picture, and the pieces fell into place.

Ah, the Girls' School ...

Now: this is DEFINITELY the last bit of Stevenage nostalgia, at least for a while. The subject is banned.


Dave Leeke said...

Yes, as I am now so far away from it and find that I've lived in my present house for some 23 years - much longer than I ever lived in the "auld town" - I don't really see it as nostalgia. Most of us don't escape our pasts but nowadays I see myself as a vaguely interested bystander. Our old school almost seems about as realistic as Gormenghast, to be honest.

However, on the matter at hand, it really only took a minute or two to check a few details.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the work of William Gibson. But he did state that in the future (our present, I guess) those with information - or how to access it - were the ones with power. It isn't about money for him.

Welcome to the future.

Mike C. said...


Don't forget that (many) women change their surname when they marry. That's what I mean by "really" i.e. what she was called when at school. Unless you get lucky, that's tough to do online in the absence of certain crucial facts and without spending a few quid.

Not that it matters. William Gibson is an idiot, btw (seen anyone with a socket behind their ear yet?). Fun, but way off beam on the futurology.


Martyn Cornell said...

Strangely, she's the only person listed under "alumni" in the Wikipedia entry for her old school …

Burning Chrome is one of my favourite SF short stories: a quick Google informs me that Kathryn Bigelow was going to turn it into a film, but nothing happened. Shame. However, it HAS apparently been turned into a play.

Mike C. said...


Yes, but, again, under her married name.


Dave Leeke said...

What I like about William Gibson is the fact that he wrote his best stuff on an old typewriter! I do like "Neuromancer". His script for "Alien 3" was far superior to what eventually was released.

But, as for the "socket behind the ears" - Ed Regis claims in "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhumasn Condition" that IBM seem to have spent an awful lot of money researching such sci-fi wonders. Meanwhile, back in 1956 whilst I was busy being born, evidently Arthur C Clarke envisioned the downloading of people's brains in "The City and The Stars".

Mike C. said...

Oddly enough, "Idoru" is in my Kindle stack awaiting reading, so I may revise my opinion up or down.

If PCs are anything to go by, you'd need major surgery every five years (a serial port, what's that?).

I watched "2001" the other night with my daughter and, although the zero-gravity lavatory list of instructions still raise a laugh, I was appalled at what a waste of, um, space it has become. Utter tosh. I don't dare watch "Alien" or "Bladerunner" now...


Dave Leeke said...

"Idoru" is okay but I still only really like the early stuff.

I watch "Alien" every year with Y12 Film Studies - it still works as a vision of the future because it was so well realised. Unlike the "Star Wars" fiasco (never a favourite of mine) where the newer films that take place BEFORE the originals look more modern!

"Blade Runner" still looks (and is) amazing - we're so much closer to it now. The biggest problem is last week's news about the film and tv rights being bought up - look out for a lot of BR crap over the coming years.

Why can't they just leave good films alone? We don't need prequels (ugh!) or sequels etc. Mind you, as Rick and Louis wander off to Brazaville at the end of "Casablanca" they were walking into the future - one of the first attempted sequels.

Thank god good sense prevailed - or was it just a war?