Friday, 23 March 2012

Corded Bales

We had a distinguished visitor on campus today, and right outside my office window, as it happens.  It was the Queen's second spare heir, Edward (that's Prince Edward to you) a.k.a. the Earl of Wessex.  I can reveal that, disappointingly, he is not quite the mighty Anglo-Saxon atheling, clad in clinking warrior bling, that his resonant title might bring to mind.  Though I expect you've already seen the pictures; yes, that Earl of Wessex.

Apparently, "we have been awarded special permission to name the area outside the Life Sciences Building the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Plaza".  Nice one, Your Majesty, break out the vintage Tizer!  Edward was here to open it (the Plaza, not the Tizer), insofar as it is possible to "open" a paved architectural non-space.  You see, it's our 60th anniversary, too.  I must say it's strange to think that this University has been in existence for 60 years, and that for nearly 30 of them I have been working here.

Oddly, especially given Edward's ambivalent relationship
 to things military, the uni lined up a dozen officer cadets,
 rather than a dozen profs or theatrically-inclined students.

All over the campus these weird vertical banners have appeared, proclaiming "Our people are changing the world for the better".  I think we must have employed the same agency that came up with the "Glasgow's miles better" campaign.  As one of my colleagues pointed out, there is a curiously Maoist ring to this slogan.  Perhaps such self-consciously bushy-tailed corporate "branding" does have an affinity with totalitarian social engineering? It's certainly not very British. And "Our people" rather than "we"?  It seems some of us have not been pulling our weight, world-changing-wise, and a period of what Maoists call "self criticism" (but managerialists call "appraisal" and "performance-related pay") may be in order.

Way back in November 2008, when this old blog was new, the University closed one of my favourite lunch-time photographic haunts for a programme of "improvements".  I wrote about it in this post.  This week, finally, nearly three and a half years later, the Valley Gardens re-opened.  As I feared, all its previous character has been landscaped out of existence, and it has become a tidy, unimaginative municipal park.  A nice place for "our people" to eat their sandwiches.

I feel more like Matthew Arnold's Scholar Gipsy every year... It's a poem I first studied 40 years ago, but only really now come to understand, as I begin to find my ancient places invaded by those "young light-hearted masters of the waves".  Resistance is futile!  Shake out more sail!

Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
  —As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
    Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
  Lifting the cool-haired creepers stealthily,
    The fringes of a southward-facing brow
      Among the Ægean isles;
  And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
    Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
    Green, bursting figs, and tunnies steeped in brine --
  And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted masters of the waves --
  And snatched his rudder, and shook out more sail;
    And day and night held on indignantly
  O'er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
    Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
      To where the Atlantic raves
  Outside the western straits, and unbent sails
    There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
    Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
  And on the beach undid his corded bales.


Poetry24 said...

I don't frighten easily, Mike. However, there were moments, during an 18 month secondment to CAMS, that sent a shiver down my spine. This was, of course, their 'City with a Capital Sea' era.

D.Morris said...

It's the middle image that really takes my eye. Is the irony heightened by "Coins and cards" being the only tinge of red visible? I love the verdigris of the theatre roof - glad it's not being stripped by fiends heading off to scrap dealers.

Mike C. said...


I don't remember that slogan -- not bad, actually, provided you don't ask yourself what a "capital sea" is...


Actually, that photo was intended simply as "informational" content -- I had no aesthetic intentions at all, but I guess I can't help myself... The "aesthetic" problem I always have with the Nuffield roof is that the slant on it *looks* like "converging verticals" (something I really dislike in a photo) unless you give it some context. Probably doesn't bother anyone but me...


Gavin McL said...

You should hear some of the slogans we get: Inspired by American management speak, written in Italian and then poorly translated into English. It makes you wince sometimes.
Though sticking with the Anglo-Saxon theme they did manage to organise some offsite "leadership" training in a meeting room named the "Æthelred Room"
Kept me amused all day

Mike C. said...


Ironically for a meeting room, "unready" is a mistranslation of "unraed" ("poorly advised"), which is a pun on his name, "nobly advised" (geddit?).