Month: May 2018

May 30, 2018

The past is a safe place. It cannot be changed or violated (‘Diary of Departures’, May 22, 2018).

6.30 am: A disrupted night’s sleep; late start. My mind churned and chewed over the issues of the day that’d been. Some decisions, if right and proper, bring peace and reconciliation in their wake. Others of the same persuasion, don’t; the problem or dilemma seems to leak into one’s life still. And the ramifications of a decision may rumble on for a long time after. Life is untidy. Moreover, how the heart and the mind respond to a decision may not be in accord, either to begin or ever. Those faculties have a very different approach to solving the same problem. They shouldn’t be confused. I’d ruminated on this recently:

One ought not to think with the heart any more than one should try and feel with the head. They are apt to come to wrong conclusions when operating outside their respective fields of competence. My head always wakes in advance of my heart in the morning. Usually, it presents me with a sensible, pragmatic, and clearly reasoned opinion of a situation … Meanwhile, the heart sits docile, like a scalded child before its parent. When the heart (like a sluggish teenager) finally wakes up, it rails against the mind’s cold calculations (‘Letter to Myself’, February 14–15, 2018).

7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: Further submissions had landed overnight. On with marking. Steadily, the last submissions began to arrive. I suspected, though, that I’d be marking into the wee hours tonight. (The deadline is 11.59 pm). All the submissions must be marked today and the mark sheet prepared for tomorrow morning’s Final Exam Board for Fine Art. I sent an email to chivvy those on the module who like to sail very close to the wind. Meg’s report notes (with kind permission):

11.45 am: A moment that caught me off-guard. As I was about to add a new telephone contact and delete others from my phone, David Adamson’s profile opened. David, a member of Holy Trinity Church, died last week and long before his time. I hope that School business will be concluded early enough for me to attend his funeral tomorrow:

In the background: Scott Walker’s, Scott 4 (1969). (You can guess what his first three solo albums were called.) It flopped when it was released, but had a major influence on the song writing of, for example, David Bowie and Radiohead, subsequently. Popularity and significance aren’t the same thing. There are many types of success.  12.40 pm: Working my way backwards – onto Scott 3 (1969), which includes Walker’s superlative rendering of Jacques Brel’s If you Go Away. The 60s was a decade of psychologically insightful love songs.

1.00 pm: Lunchtime. A disastrous vegetarian omelette. Cooking isn’t my strongest suit. The weakness, on this occasion, was due to an imbalance in the egg-to-milk ratio. As meals go, it deserves a low 2.2:

1.45 pm: Back to marking (and onto Scott 2 (1968)). In between reports, I collected together information related to my coming voyage home. Perhaps the weather will not be so inclement on this occasion, and permit me to surmount the Arael Mountain (my Mount Sinai):

7.30 pm: More arrivals. (And I’d arrived at Scott [1] (1967).)  One more was due. I wasn’t hopeful. While I waited, I made some remedial changes to my Module Evaluation Questionnaire. The Action Plan to the original submission hadn’t taken. One of academic life’s trials.

But, I need more than this

May 29, 2018

6.45 am: Late night; late start. I’m a creature of routine; departures from it unsettle me. 7.30 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to the School to return papers and deliver the mark sheets completed thus far. ‘BUNNIES!’ More bunnies on the School lawn than previously:

I have this vision of the Edward Davies Building disappearing into the ground, having been undermined by a vast network of warrens. 9.45 am: Back at home, I pressed on with Vocational Practice marking.

The Guardian League Tables 2019 have been published. This is one of a number of such tables. They don’t share all the same metrics, so the results aren’t comparable, strictly speaking. The aim is to be as near to the top of one’s sector as possible across all of them. Quite how the attainment converts into applications is anyone’s guess. Intending applicants look to not only the department but also the university and its locale. Those, too, have to be in division one:

11.15 am: I returned to the Nomine Numine masters. Tracks two and four each required a minor tweak. I wanted to complete the masters before close of Friday. 12.58 pm: An accident; a determination was executed that had been planned for the close of Friday. A letter was dispatched before time. I couldn’t retrieve it, and was aghast. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The tent was suddenly lowered, and the pegs pulled up. ‘Trust the timing, John! “God’s time is the best time”.’ In that moment, a new chapter had begun.

‘Continue … ‘. 2.00 pm: It was getting warm. The heat rises to the top of the house, where I am. A descent into the cellar to dig out the cooling towers was written down on my ‘to do’ list. In the background, The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Dream, from the Between Nothingness and Eternity (1973) album. To my mind, the final few minutes are among the most emotionally charged in the history of music. It’s the soul’s cry, and the heart’s outpouring, the will’s submission, to their maker. On with Vocational Practice marking, and down the hatch with an iced lime cordial:

No doubt further submissions would arrive this evening and tomorrow (the day of the deadline).

7.30 pm: And one did. Get to! I’ve been impressed by the standard of submission for this module. The students have worked very hard, maturely, and with a determination to behave professionally. They’ve provided a very helpful sidelight on the tutorial assessments in particular. The submissions plopped into my inbox without ceremony.

And, to close:

May 28, 2018

Bank Holiday

(Fat chance!) 6.00 am: Up with the wood pigeon and down to work. To begin: administrations and letters, and arrangements for my voyage home and for a new off-shoot website (which will contain this Diary, in a new incarnation, plus my other Blog). 9.00 am: Off to the School to pick up scripts for double marking. It’s a bit sunny:

Today would be bitty. Few things would be entirely resolved until staff made all their submissions to me. That’s the way it has to be. Everyone is very busy, and no one is shirking. As lunch approached, I made a move in the direction of the History of Photography examine scripts, which I’ll be second marking:

After lunch, I continued second marking. The neighbourhood lawnmowers have struck up. Not even the wood pigeon can compete. 3.00 pm: I took a cool drink, and a few chocolate windmills from Amsterdam, courtesy of one of my PhD Fine Art tutees. It was very thoughtful of them:

I’d made time to grapple with those emails and tasks that I’d be putting off for too long. You have the bite the bullet in the end. I bit another bullet of greater significance too. By the close of the afternoon, all the elements had arrived and the mark sheets were compiled.

7.30 pm: An evening of tidying the day’s business.

May 26, 2018

One door, closing;
one attitude, hardening:
a cultivated coldness.

Distance and camouflage;
resistance and cover:
a ‘calculated cruelty’.*

6.00 am: I needed to eke out the day as much worktime as it offered. There was admin to complete, letters to read, the remainder of the reports to be written, marks to be assembled, and some thoughts to be ‘penned’ in my private diary, for ‘Amy’. But I was getting there:

The wood pigeons cooed in the trees beyond my study window. The ordinariness of life is something to be treasured. 9.00 am: When either or both my sons return home, we enjoy a full breakfast at a local purveyor on their last day:

I’m a man of simple tastes. This was delicious. We wandered around town before coming home for a cup of PG Tips and re-engaging with our respective routines for the day.

10.45 am: PDF-ing reports (pardoning the language). Into my inbox over the past few weeks have poured forlorn letters from online companies, arising the latest data protection legislation, either enticing me keep up my mail-shot membership or else saying a sad farewell to me when I’ve not responded to their entreaties. Frustrating as it is to delete them on arrival, at least I won’t be bothered by so much spam in the future. It’s been a season of goodbyes (present and prospective), departures, removals, and partings of the way in both my professional and personal life:

a time to pluck up that which is planted … a time to break down … a time to weep … a time to mourn … a time to cast away stones … a time to refrain from embracing … a time to lose … a time to cast away … a time to rend … a time to keep silence (Eccles. 3.1–8). 

There’ll be students who will never again be under my tutelage, family members whom I’ll probably never see again, and friends and acquaintances who have either journeyed beyond this world or else have been, of necessity, placed outside my sphere of contact.

12.20 pm: A ‘Goodbye!’ to my son, for now:

Losses need to be compensated by gains, otherwise one’s life is progressively diminished. No one who has genuinely meant something to you can be replaced or substituted. But new friendships and relationships can be established; new habits of mind and routines, forged; and old, unproductive, and destructive connections discarded.

12.30 pm: A trés light lunch before returning to my study. The wall is built by the accumulation of little bricks. On to the Vocational Practice mark sheet. This is finicky and complicated work, requiring an effective equation and a sturdy calculator. As always, Mr Iliff (the project tutor) had encouraged solid thinking about website design, and written encouraging and insightful reports on the same:

From mid afternoon to the end of the working day, I continued marking those Vocational Practice reports on Assessment Observations, which had been submitted early. In between, I read through my Diary for late August 2017: the period before ‘first contact’ and to which I need, now, return, in order to pick up some of the threads of my prior life.

5.10 pm: ‘Press Esc!’

Relic: Sarah’s ‘Trust God’, green plastic

*For Amy Seed

May 25, 2018

6.00 am: Post-ablutions, my first task every morning is drying and putting away the kitchen things. This, for me, is life at its most blissfully mundane:

6.30 am: Breakfast. Defrosted raspberries feel like fat squishy caterpillars. 7.15 am: A communion. 7.45 am: On with the remainder of the MA exhibition assessment report write ups.  I’m not yet written-out, but not far from it. My aim is to be concise and economic – to distil the essence of the discussion. 9.30 pm: Once these were completed and posted to Dr Forster for her review, I greeted the affairs of the day.

10.00 am: Off to work, along the Promenade. I looked across the sea (one last time) before moving on:

10.40 am: Dr Forster and I began a long day of MA Portfolio assessments, beginning at the studios in the Old College. The greater part of the examination period was behind us, now. Nevertheless, we were consciously doubling our reserves to see us through this final lap.

Echoing footprints of supports:

12.40 pm: One hearty and well-pace walk from the Old College later, we were back at the mothership to meet with our final tutees.

2.30 pm: The annual ‘walkabout’. The purpose of this collective amble is two fold: 1. To allow the pairs of assessors to review the marks given to students in their medium; and 2. To ensure that there’s an equitable and defensible distribution of marks across the mediums. It took two and a half hours to complete. Nevertheless, at the close, each staff member was confident of the marks that they’d given:

7.30 pm: The pace has to be kept up. The External Examiner arrives next week. A full set of marks and reports must be completed in order for them to undertake their responsibilities.

May 24, 2018

Ah, but I was so much older then; / I’m younger than that now (Bob Dylan, ‘My Back Pages’ (1964)).

7.15 am: A communion. 7.45 am: Email catch-up. In the background: The Nice’s, Country Pie/Brandenburg Concerto No.6 (1970), which combines Bob Dylan and J S Bach, and folk, rock, jazz, and classical music. A joyous reconciliation of unlikely bedfellows. 8.30 am: Off to School, via the ‘sarnie’ shop on Terrace Road (for my weekly gluten intake), to prepare for a long day’s assessment regime.

9.25 am: ‘Take off!’, with Dr Forster as co-pilot again. The first part of the day was set aside for the remainder of the undergraduate exhibiters. Every student and every engagement is different, requiring a bespoke approach and response:

12.00 pm: At the double gallery, we commenced with the MA exhibiters’ assessments. Proceedings moved up a gear. At this level, we were talking professionalism as well as studentship, and the works’ deeper significance as well as its technicalities. There’s also a greater expectation regarding the students’ self-cognisance and ability to articulate such:

A detail from Rachel’s painting:

4.00 pm: A final review of all undergraduate and postgraduate marks with Dr Forster. It’s helpful to examine one day’s marks in the light of another, and the first marks on the first day with last marks on the last day. The students are marked in relation to criteria appropriate to the module and the educational level. That enables the assessor to arrive at a class (first, upper-second, etc.), and the students’ attainment in relation to that particular class band (either low, mid, or upper). Finally, there’s a small measure of ‘norm’ referencing (establishing a pecking order), in order to position each student in relation to others in the same class band.

4.30 pm: The beginning of report write-ups for the day. My elder son has returned home for a few days. Wonderful! We mused about visiting Ronnie’s again. (This is becoming something of a father/son vice.)

7.30 pm: Back to report writing. In the background, I listened to the late Keith Emerson’s work with The Nice. His alarming intervention with the electronics of his Hammond organ L100 enabled him to produce a range of gritty, rasping, howling, and unearthly sounds that anticipated the sonic palette of the early Moog synthesisers:

Keith Emerson and The Nice (1970) (Courtesy of WikiCommins)

Observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • Maturity is evident in an awareness of sufficiency and a rejection of excess.
  • ‘A sensibility for subtly’.
  • ‘What’s weak about your work?’ This question tests not their competence but, rather, their critical judgement.
  • The assessment may drift into tutorial mode and out again.
  • How a person responds to difficulties is a mark of their character.
  • The best students never make excuses for themselves, or apportion blame to others, or resent the success of others.
  • On occasion, it’s only after the work is set up on the exhibition walls that the weaknesses fully disclose themselves.
  • The weakness of a work is not obviated by screwing it to a wall.
  • Art traps ideas.
  • The merits and demerits of a work can be the like the head and tail on a spinning coin: they can merge in such a way that ‘faults’ become idiosyncratic virtues.
  • A coherent exhibition of work should be internally interpretative.
  • The tyranny of the best work you’ve done (yet again).
  • No one can produce work of a consistently high quality. If you think that you can, then, smell at rat. Both the peaks and the troughs of production are necessary conditions for creative progress.
  • ‘In August, the birds stop singing.’
  • You can’t put to sea without first finishing the boat. Therefore, be prepared before launching yourself into the professional art world. Otherwise, you’ll sink.

May 23, 2018

7.00 am: A communion. Life is short, how ever many years we’re given. I think about those of my own age who have cast off from this world too soon. This day is at hand. I’m not promised another. Therefore, I’ll live it as though it could be my last. 7.30 am: Admin was completed in advance of the next three days’ assessments. 8.30 am: Off to School and into what promised to be a sunny and warm day for West Wales. I picked up my usual yoghurt, granola, and fruit lunch en route:

On arrival at my office, I sniffed the air. It had been cleaned and polished. Wonderful! Today, Dr Forster and I began assessing the undergraduate exhibition modules, in situ. While the show represents an end-stop to the students’ experience, in the broader scheme of things it’ll be, for some, only a staging-point upon a much longer journey through postgraduate study and beyond. Nevertheless, for all, it’s a sober moment. The end of an era:

The assessment is not an inquisition; rather, it’s a discussion and a collective evaluation. If the student feels wrong-footed, then they’ll not give of their best. The aim is to arrive at an understanding (and a potential mark) that’s fair, persuasive, and defensible. The timetable for assessments extended into the afternoon.

3.00 pm: Professor Meyrick and I assessed a presentation by Professor Batt (in her new manifestation as an MA fine artist) about an artist whose work she has been helping to catalogue. 3.30 pm: Afterwards, I returned to report writing:

In between tasks, I sloped off to see the Sea Change exhibition in the single gallery: ‘Sea Change is a student-curated exhibition of prints, paintings, photographs and ceramics from the School of Art collection.  The exhibition borrows for its title a phrase from Shakespeare’s Tempest to explore its metaphorical potential’.

7.30 pm: Back to assessment write ups and mark compilation. Due to my professional commitments, I wasn’t able to attend Mary Read’s funeral at Holy Trinity Church this afternoon. She’d spent the last few years of her life in a home. When I first met her, in 2004, we didn’t hit it off at all. However, as soon as we realised that each could bear the most acerbic jibes and insults that the other could offer, we were, and remained, great pals. She was a formidable woman on the outside, but like a marshmallow inside:

Some observations and principles derived from today’s engagements and reflections:

  • It’s not always helpful to have considerable facility over a broad range of mediums and technical processes. Students of limited means have a tendency to do more with them.
  • If you’re not making art first and foremost for yourself, out of a need to discern the shape of your own soul and to feed a hunger that nothing else will satisfy, then you’re likely to give it up in the future.
  • Making art may be the only thing that can keep you sane and grounded.
  • And above all else … integrity.
  • Intuition and natural ability will only get you so far. In order to grow, you must acquire craft, a capacity for consistent hard work, a reasoned grasp of your intent, and a criteria by which to assess the quality of the work.
  • The world is filled with good all-rounders. Therefore, if  you wish to stand out from the crowd, aim to excel in a few things only.
  • You’re never to old to reinvent yourself and try something new. (You might discover that you’re very good at it.)

Why does the sound of a motorbike drawling into the distance always fill me with a momentary melancholy, followed by a paralysing feeling of aloneness. At some time in my life, long ago, a powerful association has been forged between the phenomenon and the feeling.

May 22, 2018

(May 22, 2018)*

7.15 am: A communion. 8.00 am: I turned to the final (possibly) Art in Wales essay. As always, the last one proves to be the most demanding to mark. This is a principle built into the universe. As I write, the passing of another member of the congregation at Holy Trinity Church was announced. Either a death or a funeral has become a weekly occurrence of late. When a church is already small in number, every loss leaves a yawning gap. The image that I had in my head is of a mouth from which teeth are being extracted one at a time.

9.00 am: Back to Vocational Practice and on with the art historians’ seminar observation submissions. 9.30 am: Another trip to the surgery, for some intervention this time — ear-washing. This would be one of life’s rich new experiences. It was rather like having an in-ear sauna (not that I’ve ever had a sauna):

I came out feeling like a character from a biblical miracle: ‘Once I was deaf in one ear, now I can hear stereophonically!’

On the way homeward, I picked up the third-year fine art Research, Process, and Practice dissertations from the School. They’d be my world for the remainder of the day. Joni Mitchell’s Hejira (1976) played in the background. She writes as a woman, a lover, and an observer of others. The Vocational Practice submissions were fascinating. I was very impressed by the art historians’ maturity, common sense, and deductive skills. Their task was to observe (as a fly in the wall) an undergraduate seminar in progress. Among my feedback comments, I wrote: ‘Sadly, too often, the tutor has to deal with the issues of student participation more than those of the scholarly content under discussion’. No amount of study-skill training can compensate for a student’s either lack of preparation or disinclination to engage. What’s needed is a change of attitude on their part: a determination to exercise the responsibilities of studentship, and a willingness to put their foot in their mouth and joyfully abandon themselves to the subject.

12.00 pm: On to the dissertations and blogs until lunchtime. After lunch, I continued where I left off, while listening to Pete Sinfield’s The Song of the Sea Goat (1973). The arrangement of the song, based on Vivaldi’s D Major Lute Concerto, is reminiscent of King Crimson’s Lizard, from three years earlier. Keith Tippett and Mel Collins played on both albums. 3.00 pm: Refreshments. My ‘fav’ ginger cordial:

I find the Research, Process, and Practice dissertations both rewarding and telling. It’s heartening to see the students realise their ambitions; the writing, in turn, reveals the measure of the self-comprehension. Quite apart from its academic function, the dissertation commits the students to the full implications of their intent. It can be a revelation to themselves. 7.30 pm: I continued assessing the dissertations, with the first two Roxy Music albums in the background. What an extraordinary band. They took pop music somewhere else. The songs are risky and boundary pushing. Who’d have thought that a rock group could accommodate an oboe. One must live dangerously on occasion.

*For Amy Seed

May 21, 2018

7.00 am: A communion. There’re times when it takes all one’s reserves to frame prayers, even before the task of uttering them has begun. It’s like talking into a gale; you can barely hear your own voice. But this circumstance was bespoke; made for me and this time. From many such experiences in the past, I’ve learned to weather the storm in the hope that brighter skies may lie just below the horizon. Augustus of Hippo, in his exposition of Psalm 41, writes about the psalmist undergoing God’s chastening. It was, for the psalmist, as formative an experience as any blessing. Suffering is necessary on occasion. Sometimes, it’s the only way a lesson can be learned. Always it’s salutary:

All your breakers and waves have washed over me. The waves wash over me in the sufferings I undergo now, but your threats are judgements poised above me. All my present hardships are your waves, but all your menaces hang over me, ready to break on my head. 

9.00 am: A trip to my surgery to discuss blood and treadmill tests, prescriptions, and my recent ear-block problem. A good outcome and a sensible way forward on all fronts. All my vitals are in order. It’s the peripherals that dog me at the moment:

10.00: Back at homebase, I pushed on with what would be a gruelling week of marking, assessments, and write-ups. I snacked on strawberries and hibiscus. 11.20 pm: With the Vocational Practice one-to-one assessment forms completed, I moved in on the Art in Wales essays:

After lunch, I pressed on with essays. Could I get all these done by the end of the day? Occasionally, I considered my present right-ear’s monophonic audition of the world. It’s experience of the sonic world is markedly different today to what it was on Saturday. The brain is adjusting, although my hearing deficit remains the same. My right-side perception seems far less constrained to that location. Now, I hear sound from the right to the centre of the auditory field. I’ve be told that people who’re blind in one eye experience something similar: the brain creates a compensatory illusion of stereoscopy. It cannot compensate for other lacks and losses in life, alas. 3.00 pm: Tea time:

My backside ached. Stretch! On with essay number four:

5.15 pm: Pause. I prepared the vegetables and rice for dinner. Ever since the children were babies, the meal has been taken in the early evening. Neither boys could go without food beyond 6.00 pm. But this meant that they could, thereafter, be bathed, read to, prayed with, and put to bed, leaving me a long stretch of work-time before I hit the pillow myself. Why change the habit of their lifetime:

7.30 pm: Back to marking, with Joni Mitchel’s Court and Spark (1973) in the background. After all the assessing and the board meetings are over, I’d like to get away from it all for a few days. I suspect that my destination will be, again, ‘the centre of known universe’ and my spiritual soil. There, I’ve made some of the most important decisions of my life, confirmed resolutions, repaired my heart, begun to feel again, and walked in the darkness, confidently. In those mountains, I’ve wandered, camped, bathed in icy streams and then stretched in the sun, picked over the bones of fallen sheep, kissed and been abandoned, and touched heaven:

Courtesy of Google Maps

By 9.40 pm, I was one essay short of completion. That’s one for early tomorrow morning.

May 19, 2018

7.30 am: A resplendent day!:

Admin catch-up. Ahead was marking, a swimming lesson, more marking, and the opening of the undergraduate and postgraduate degree shows. 9.15 am: Lesson No. 1: Pool orientation and breaststroke. I was about to confront ‘demons’ that I’d left behind in secondary school. I’ve no natural competence for, or interest in, sport. But swimming has always struck me as a rather beautiful thing – like dance. And its an excellent full-body mode of exercise. One can also, as a teacher, gain insight not only from observing another teacher in action but also from becoming a learner. I get it: developing muscle memory through repetition is the key. My mind knows what my body should do, but by body doesn’t obey. After three quarters of an hour, I was done-in: my eyes burned, my limbs ached, my ears were waterlogged, and I looked rough. I won’t be defeated, though. We Harveys persevere against all the odds; walking away from a challenge is never an option:

10.30 am: Homebase. I returned to marking. My waterlogged  left ear was almost deaf. A odd sensation. It helped me appreciate how isolating profound hearing loss could me. After lunch, I popped over to A&E for a consultation and examination. There was congestion in the ear canal. If the olive-oil drop treatment doesn’t work over the next few days, I’ll have to have the ear syringed. I can hear only in mono at the moment. I’ve also appreciated how important stereo audition is to not only breadth of perception but also to forming the deep tonalities. It’s like when one earbud drops out; the signal in the remaining ear is far less than half the original auditory experience. The doctor thought I sounded Scottish. (And they we’re from Scotland.) I’ve been told this before:

3.10 pm: Off to the School for the afternoon to attend the opening. Large numbers in attendance; much praise in evidence. It’s a time for family celebration, thanksgiving for one another, and happy farewells: