From Larkin to The Stones

Here come the Girls! Or, more accurately, the Girl; after 170 years, the Royal Society of Chemistry has finally appointed a female President, Professor Lesley Yellowlees. Does the role of RSC President involve carrying lots of heavy boxes around? Arm-wrestling with Cabinet Ministers in order to secure research funding? Playing five-a-side footie against members of the BMA?

Since the answer to each of these questions is ‘no’, it seems odd that the Presidential post has until now been regarded as suitable only for blokes. (One hesitates to suggest that the more senior members of the RSC mistakenly thought that the candidate was ‘Leslie’ Yellowlees and that they were voting for a male President…)

Yesterday was the centenary of John Enoch Powell, historian, intellectual and maverick British politician, whose carer imploded in the sixties when he delivered a speech about immigration in Smethwick. This occasion put both man and town firmly on the cultural map for many thousands of people. However, I was slightly puzzled when I reported to start work in Cornwall in January 2010; as requested, I had taken with me a copy of my birth certificate and my passport. While we were filling out the various bits of admin, the manager glanced at my photograph with a hollow laugh…but then, noticing my place of birth, he asked ‘Where’s Smethwick?’
I wondered whether this was some kind of joke, and if I was being invited to make some politically incorrect remark about the residents of that place; after all, everybody knows about Smethwick, and everybody knows about that speech.
So, to be on the safe side, I said only that it was a small industrial town on the outskirts of Birmingham. He continued to examine my paperwork in silence with a worried expression.

I realised afterwards that when I had attended the interviews for this job, I was staying with a relative in Cornwall, and the company may have been under the impression that I was a native; the English are widely viewed as imperialist aggressors, and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, several department stores in Cornwall were criticised for selling the St George’s Cross flag to football supporters. Perhaps they should emulate the Scots, who eagerly support any team playing against England….

Journal Entry, 26 Jan 09:
Back to work today after 4 days in Woolwich. They had already held one consultation meeting, and Jemma had taken notes as our rep: someone asked Steve whether we would be getting a pay rise as part of our deal for transferring down south, and he said something like –
“You should welcome the challenge of a new workplace and the job satisfaction of being among your colleagues should provide motivation. Pay rates at EC are v competitive and the cost of living is no more down in London than here…” which, I think, means ‘no’.

Journal Entry, 08 Apr 09:
Well, it’s a good job I’m not planning on going anywhere today – they (crew of council navvies) have just finished laying hot tarmac across the pavement outside the house.
This morning applied for four jobs – lubricant tech, polymer chemist, manufacturing technician and tech service chemist.
Still reading Ted Simon – he’s now in Oz, and it’s hilarious. One of those books you want never to end. If Ted Simon set out in October ’73, then he would have been unaware of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which is why he refers to it as being performed by ‘The Queen’ and misquotes the lyric.
But it’s fascinating that he should recognise the New Eltham architecture and be able to put it in context (time-warp thirties decor).
Just had a moment of exquisite spookiness: I was reading the New Casebook on Philip Larkin and came across the discussion of ‘Sympathy in White Major’ – derived from Gautier’s Symphonie en Blanc Majeure – so I Googled the poem’s title and ended up at the homepage of St Ambrose College, Trafford, which has the entire text of this poem – but with no indication of the author (Larkin) on the screen.
So I looked up the original French poem, and then I thought; why not look up the play Art by Yasmina Reza which is also a flurry of obsessed whiteness.
So I Googled ‘Art…Play’ and found a list of websites, one of which was the play itself. However, another site carried an advert for a wall-mounted frame in which to display your LP covers as art.
The picture showed someone loading the frame with ‘Let it Bleed’ and on Radio 2 at that moment Zoe Ball was playing ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Journal entry, 20 Jul 09:
In the papers: the skool year is almost over, and parents are agonising about what is the right gift for their little cherubs to present the teacher with – dozens of websites offering advice – chocolates, glass paperweights, scented candles, champagne.
Meanwhile, British soldiers in Afghanistan are desperately lonely and ask for tiny reminders of home – sweets, letters, photos.
Puts it all into perspective, really…..




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