Spent all day at the Newspaper Library in Colindale, a thirty minute trek from Charing Cross. Been reading all day an American magazine from the 1880s called House and Home which amid all the recipes, Household hints and adverts, pictures of nice middle class people in the drawing room, gallery and park, promotes red republicanism and communism, threatening, amongst other things, to string up a few English people if they don’t leave the Irish alone (a comment heard occasionally in the Leharne household in days gone by). The Editor of this unusual magazine was one John De Morgan, the hero (or villain) of Plumstead in the 1870s who saved the common there so that Julia and Alex could set up the Plumstead Common Environmental Group 120 years later. De Morgan left for the US broke, tired and fed up, but you couldn’t keep him down and this was his first step on the way to becoming a tax inspector on Staten Island and a writer of penny dreadfuls/dime novels. They obviously didn’t have careers advisers in those days..
Yesterday was mainly spent at Greenwich. Steve and I went to the memorial service for an ex-colleague, the one time Deputy Vice Chancellor at Greenwich – John McWilliam. I nearly didn’t get there because I was unable to get dressed but that’s a different story and, in case you’re getting excited, to do with laundry and the concierge. The service was held in the Royal Chapel at Greenwich, very fitting in the sense that John was almost single handedly responsible for acquiring the Royal Naval College as a campus for the University. He was always full of extravagant, great, ambitious and sometimes just plain daft ideas and plans. The University archives are full of restaurants, student villages, hotels, lakes and other schemes that never quite came off, But when he did get it right it was often spectacular. When he turned up at an Executive Management Team meeting saying I’ve got this great idea (cunning plan?) for us to take over Greenwich, there was a collective Yeah Right! But yesterday proved him right. There was a lot of the great and the good there; some nice speeches and memories; lots of hymns and prayers and blessings. Quite formidable in one of the world’s most famous chapels. John was always full of energy and mischief and some sort of secular beano might have been a better meorial in some ways but this was impressive. After there was a reception and I had a deluge of ex-colleagues and friends of both Ann and myself to meet. A bit overwhelming trying to catch up with 30 different people, particularly as I was as interested in getting news and gossip as they were.
Most people are envious of those of us who live in New Zealand, thugh there was the odd (very oddd) one or two who look on in pity. It’s hard to explain everything to people, particularly when the main question is ‘When are you coming back?’ Originally I had intended just to see a small number of very close people and eventually I was able to separate them off and I spent an hour or so with my first VC and another hour or so with someone else who I particularly remember.
Interesting to hear what was going on but three years is a long time; many of my colleagues have moved on; and it seems best to let the University, with its grand and gorgeous campus, get on with its business. Maybe in twenty years time I’ll totter past there on my zimmer frame and work out how I felt about my time there.
So, just a few days now. Some more Library work tomorrow, a meeting with the world’s expert on the Tichborne Claimant, and some shopping at High and Mighty [a better title than Tall and Fat!]. And it’s still like a pleasant Auckland August day. Where the hell is that global warming!