Sunday, 8 November 2009

Saturday afternoon in Oxford

I greatly appreciated getting from my fellow student RFCG an introduction to Mary Beard's blog, A Don's Life. Extracts from it have just been published in book form: here is another example of a blog metamorphosing into a book. I latched onto a point raised in a review on it in The Guardian, since it discusses a difficulty I face. Dinah Birch writes "Beard speaks of 'the husband' or 'the daughter' – turns of phrase that suggest both intimacy and distance. Blogs create a disarming illusion of personal communication, while depending on the artful construction of a voice and a point of view. … [This] resolute breeziness of her stream of opinions, calculated to produce an air of demotic informality, sometimes jars."

Indeed, indeed. I am guilty of this in the title of one of my posts, Number Two Daughter, but at least I go on immediately to name her. But I can see one very good reason why a blogger is tempted to do this: it provides immediate identification. On a blog the latest post or entry is displayed first, and is therefore the first piece that new visitors to the site will read: how will they know who Reggie (or whatever Mr Beard's first name) is, without explanation that is unnecessary to regulars? Well, actually, I think there is a way, and I'm using it now. If you really want to know my relationship to the lady named in the next sentence, just click on her name and go to the post which describes what it is.

On Saturday afternoon Julia and I went to see my old chum and new neighbour Paul in the ENT ward of the John Radcliffe in Oxford. He was in good order and looked good, if lop-sided. No wonder: they've removed a number of bits from the side of his throat leaving a long scar and a drain. Only a steel bolt was missing to complete the Frankenstein effect. The tale of the Black Pudding is, however, one like that of the Giant Rat of Sumatra for which the world is not yet prepared.

We went on to the cinema to see An Education, based on the book by Lynn Barber which is on our reading list for week eight's topic, Liberated Women. We had plenty of time before it started so we went to the bookshop next to the White Horse, the pub in which I won the university shove ha'penny championship in 1956 and about which I must one day write the droll story concerning the pub sign and Stubbs' Constitutional Charters (written, incidentally, by the bishop next door in Kettel Hall, where I had rooms when I first went up to Trinity).

Just inside the door was a pile of a new biography about Alan Clarke, whose Diaries I am reading for next week's topic, Political Autobiography. I picked a copy from the pile and resumed an ancient habit of sitting on a step-up to look through a book I had no intention of buying. I started reading the chapter on his Oxford days and, behold, a flash of gold in the stream met the prospector's eyes!

Briggs shared a flat – one of the few with telephones – in the Woodstock Road with Nicholas Ridley (later a Tory MP and Minister in Thatcher's government). Alan used to come in from time to time on the pretence of looking for Briggs, but really just so he could ring a girlfriend in New York. This did not go down well, particularly with Ridley, who bided his time, but finally got his revenge, it is said, when he was Environment Minister in the late 1980s. Legend has it that Ridley, having to decide the route of the new Channel Tunnel, instructed his officials to make sure it surfaced as close as possible to Southwood [Clarke's country seat].

Nicholas Ridley's daughter Jane runs this course. Bringing this snippet to her attention in a roundabout way is a bit like a little boy giving Teacher an apple, don't you think?

1 comment:

  1. How to refer to the family is a big problem which Dinah B didnt get right, in my view...

    if you use their first names, you exclude people who dont know that (say) Zoe is your daughter..

    "my husband" ( ie the possessive) reeks of the Queen.. it's my husband and I speak

    in fact I have used the definite article in conversation for years and year with friends... as in "how's the paramour?' ... so for me it feels -- well -- conversational..