Thursday, 22 March 2012

Graduation - The Aftermath

Graduation, I am glad to say, is now well and truly over.  That makes it sound like it was bad in some way - far from it.  In fact, we even coped with the physical damage of the trip better than we expected.  Even so, the day went by in a black poly-cotton cloud of pain and movement.  Now, however, looking back and feeling less poorly, I'm able to enjoy the day more and more.

I do not, and never will, like London.  However, there was something of the adventure about getting into the capital, settling into a cheap hotel room and watching the best of a limited number of television channels.  We cobbled together a rather lovely meal from a collection of tubs from an M&S and, aside from some noisy characters disturbing our beauty sleep in the early morning, we had a relatively good night.  I got my first experience of a wet room and, had I bought my tools with me, I'd have pinched the bathroom tap (it was one of those bubbly water-saving jobs).

Arriving at the Barbican was trickier than expected thanks to some road closures, but we got to our reserved parking space (just a little way from the suspiciously heavy looking Range-Rover/Bentley Royal convoy - I'm sure the Citroen would have fitted in nicely) and very soon were in and rendezvous-ing with my sister.

My sister's ten year's older than I, and our relationship's developed in interesting ways in recent years.  I think really we have more mutual respect than most siblings without being necessarily 'close' in the ways most people would understand the term.  I was really pleased to have her there, and she certainly leant a strength to our little quartet.

A wheelchair always tends to throw people into a panic, and the graduation was no different even after a few emails confirming the situation before-hand.  The Barbican staff were great, though, and getting on and off the stage was a painless freight lift affair.  Although my 'I always said I'd go up in the world if I went to university' joke mid-lift fell somewhat flat...

Sitting on stage throughout proceedings was something I'd rather have done without.  My father sat with me and I was very glad for that.  I was half afraid if he sat in the audience he'd risk falling asleep and missing the cue to push me across the stage!  And he'd not be blamed for falling asleep - there were a huge number of people collecting degrees.

And I think that's one of the things I like the most about being a member of the International arm of London University, even if I am not actually International.  The sheer range of cultures, subjects, ages and styles were wonderful.  It was a real reminder of what a broad and special world we live in.  Even, as Deb pointed out, watching the different ways people walked across the stage - striding confidently, hurrying self-consciously or, as in my case, wheeling whilst looking like my hamster had just died.  One of the things I value about my degree is its all encompassing nature - art, architecture, literature, history, sociology...the whole shebang.  And it felt appropriate, sitting there, the only student in the afternoon session receiving a degree in Classics, surrounded by fellow students from the four corners who had studied science, law, english, history, computing etc.  The world doesn't change.  It is eternally varied.

We got home in surprisingly good time, and Deb and I thoroughly crashed.  But we're now over a week on and recovering well.  The memory of the pain fades and leaves a pride in being part of such a huge thing.  It's not something we're likely to replicate in the future.  It's something we'll always remember and treasure.

Monday, 12 March 2012


Tomorrow I graduate.

And given how abstract the whole thing is at the moment, I almost feel like I'm suddenly going to fade off beautifully from head to toe rather than take part in any kind of ceremony.

Honestly, the whole thing's rather intimidating.  To get to this do (in the middle of London) we need to travel today and stay overnight.  Deb managed to find us an appropaite hotel (appropriate means relatively cheap in these circumstances) and then tomorrow morning we're off so that I can be wheeled in front of someone to recieve a bit of paper.

And yet there is a part of me which thinks these kind of dos are important and something I've not really had much of in the past.

It's a bit like birthday parties (likewise something I've not much experience of) - people gather to celebrate what you've achieved.  Because birthdays are less about a passage of time and more about what you've become or are becoming.

My degree is a funny thing.  Given my inability to work, there's a part of me which thinks of any formal education as a waste of money.  But this is obviously rubbish.  The extreme result of thinking like that is that any poorly kid should be excluded from school for money reasons (something which looks more and more likely given the way that the disabled as being treated in this country).

And yet the degree is one of the very best things I've ever done.  I worked very hard at it, felt that massive rush and excitement as I understood and even expanded upon the ideas of countless academics before me.

And the great thing is that with a classics degree, you're left with knowledge that can lead you through almost any situation.  Even a graduation.

The only problem is, I can't think of anyone at the moment other than Petronius who, when ordered to commit suicide by Nero did so by cutting his wrists.  But then promptly bound them up so that he could spend the evening partying and writing out a list of all Nero's perversions before letting the bandages loose.

So rather than anything quite so drastic, here's my way of getting through graduation.  Photographic proof that I have a brain.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Dan Simmons - Flashback (review)

Although it's sometimes a tricky process, I'll never say that writing a Christmas list is a hardship.  I feel there's something positive about listing dreams, and although there are times when I'm scared to name the big-picture, long-term, life-changing desires, I'm definitely at home to Mr Capitalist-Consumer.

So this year's Christmas list was an interesting mix of toys - from a kit to build your own camera right the way through to Ponyo on dvd(and just in case you're feeling generous - no one got them for me...).  It was a masterpiece of an Amazon wishlist...and being Amazon based (and being mine) it featured a fair number of books.  I ended up with several choice volumes - a work on Disaster Movies as a genre, Terry Pratchett's 'Snuff' and 'Flashback', a novel by Dan Simmons, author of the superb Ilium and Olympos, as well as the Hyperion and Endymion books.  This novel, however, sounded a bit different - still SF, but less far-reaching and potentially less strange.  I looked forward to any book brave enough to name its hero Nick Bottom.  A book about a drug allowing you to relive your past and how that might work in a Private Investigator-type story.  I pictured repeated investigations of memories and the subtleties of experience.  The questioning of reality.  And, this being a Dan Simmons novel, plenty of literary allusions.  And maybe a few literary illusions too.

I am utterly stunned having read it.  And not in a good way.  I almost feel bad writing this, but then having read 550 pages of hate-filled ranting and raving, I need to exorcise the experience by doing a bit of my own!

I had no idea about Dan Simmons' political ideology prior to reading this novel.  I think it's fair to say that none of his ponderings on modern life are a mystery to me now.  Whether it's national health care, Islam or modern architecture, no narrative was brave enough to get in the way of page after page of drivel describing how mad, bad and dangerous they all are.  Honestly at times it felt like sitting alone with an elderly relative, rendered aggressive by poorly chosen medication, listening to their spittle-barbed tirades against the world as they see it.

This was a detective story!  First and foremost it should be about interesting plot twists and a story that keeps you guessing.  And yet I would think that at least half of the book was taken up with unimportant discussions of politics which just left me shaking my head in horror.  In fact, the few errors I found in the story were so glaringly obvious in part because they stood out by not being a political message about Muslims or Socialism.  The 'I'm an evil madman mwahahaha!' speech at the end of the book is followed by the (and I use the word loosely) 'hero' saying that he couldn't help but agree with the gist of the rant.  That just doesn't work!  I know that good villains should be sympathetic.  But there's sympathy and there's...well...there's a scene when a self-proclaimed pacifist fantasises about hanging people from lamp-posts and nuking Muslims!

What's worse, while I've been getting more and more wound up by this book, so it's been eroding much of what I've enjoyed in his previous books.  I can now look back and rather than picking out the good, I end up thinking 'Oh yes, yet another 'nice' woman who is dead, an aggressively strong woman who is alive but not to be messed with, and...well...not many other women at all'.

This is my blog.  I'm allowed to witter on about whatever I like.  Because it's a blog.  If this were a novel, it'd be a pretty poor one.  But not as poor as Flashback.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Gay Marriage - an ex-choirboy's perspective

As an ex-choirboy I know everything there is to know about marriage.

Honestly, there's nothing that's a mystery to me.  From my point in the pews near the ceiling of the local church, I could look down upon the whole thing in much the same way one may look down on a football match from a (much more comfortable) box seat.  But while the bouncy ball of football fate may be fickle, the game of Wedding is much more easy to read.

Once, I and my be-cassocked brethren sang The Locomotion from our lofty position.  Complete with actions.  That marriage was going to do well.

Once, the bride collapsed into hysterics when asked 'Do you take this man...'.  That marriage...well...what do you think was going to happen?

But the most important thing, by far, was the way the bride and groom looked at one another.  If they looked with true love you knew that the marriage would be successful and joyful (for the most part) no matter how much Australian pop or inappropriate laughter was involved in their lives together.

So as an ex-choirboy who knows everything about marriage, it surprises me that some people think that gay marriage is wrong.  How can any marriage be wrong if it's about love?

But no, says Lord Carey, marriage is actually about these things;

Children and Tradition

OK, call me silly, but surely that means that any couples wanting to get married should first have a fertility test, right?  Only those capable of squeezing out at least five infants in the first ten years of life together should be allowed to marry, right?

Forgive my Classicist-Choirboy thought processes, but Musonius Rufus worked this out many many many many many years ago.  Marriage, he says, is not chiefly about the begetting of brats, because, you know, animals produce offspring without a ceremony and we're perfectly capable of it.  Marriage is about;

"...complete companionship and concern for each other..."

and it is destroyed when one party sets their mind entirely on what is outside of the marriage, rather than the wellbeing of their other half.

Even if it were about children, though, why should we stop infertile couples from marrying?  They could always adopt, right?  And if an infertile heterosexual couple can adopt, surely so can a gay couple?  And arguments against the ability of gay couples of raise children sort of went out of the window when this chap spoke.

So there's tradition.  Cool, I like tradition.  So which tradition do we follow?  Ancient Spartans staged a mock kidnap and shaved a woman's hair before dressing her in military attire.  I can see that going down well in the UK.  Just imagine all the enraged hair-dressers who'd be losing out on income?

Tradition's a funny argument.  For many many years in the UK there was no religious or ceremonial element to marriage and all people had to do was live together and consider themselves to belong to one another.  Traditions change.  And as any ex-choirboy knows, love trumps tradition.

And anyway, how was Kylie traditional, eh?

Then there's the argument that gay people can already become civil partners and that's as good as marriage.  OK, so if we define Lord Carey to no longer by human but just a bipedal life-form, that'll be ok then, right?  I mean it's just the same thing by another name.  He doesn't want to be human.  It's just a word.

Honestly, how anyone can make that argument without rolling their own eyes at themselves is beyond me.  Of course everyone wants to be married.  And of course using a separate terminology is going to make it second class.

Finally there's the argument that this is another of a long line of attacks on Christian values.  As a Christian I guess I should be very worried by gay marriage.  But I'm not.  I'll tell you why.

One of the examples given of previous attacks was the hotel argument.  Now, as a vaguely liberal sort, I should be appalled that someone should want to exclude certain people from their guesthouse.  I'm not, though.  I think that's fine.  What I do believe, though, is that there should be some consistency.

So you think being gay is wrong because it's "written in the bible".  Fine.  Firstly, make it plain and clear that that's what you believe.  After that point, you have a few more obligations.

There are seven deadly sins.  And this is how they relate to B&Bs.

1 - Wrath - No action films must be available on television lest the guest be allowed to get too worked up.  Likewise bills must be extremely reasonable.

2 - Greed - So no excessive luxury in the room, nothing aspirational or impressive.  We're talking monk-cell levels of accomodation.

3 - Sloth - Check-out times must be 4am or earlier and beds of nails must be rusty and barbed.

4 - Pride - The removal of mirrors, those free packets of shampoo and the little books of matches that you can pull out to say 'Oh, what these?  Oh yes, we just went away for a few days in was such a lovely little place...'

5 - Lust - So you must make sure that any guests (of whatever sex) bring with them appropriate night-time attire to discourage lustful thoughts (I suggest one of these*).

6 - Envy - All rooms must be exactly equal.

7 - Gluttony - No full-english-breakfasts can be served.

Anyone not complying to all these points should be prosecuted for hypocrasy.  Which in my Britain is a capital offence.

Really it comes down to 'He who is without sin' coupled with a bit of 'love thy neighbour' and topped off with a liberal sprinkle of 'judge not lest ye be judged'.  And I feel that applies equally well to the marriage debate.

But most importantly, God is Love.  That's the strongest message in the bible and one that should be kept at the forefront of the mind.  If people love one another, then that union has of itself something of the divine.  That means that whenever a couple fall in love, Christianity is strengthened as there's more of a divine presence on earth.  To exclude certain couples on the merits of their sexuality is to exclude God.

So sayeth the choirboy.

*although in my case, I'd be left in a likely position to break sin no.1