Do not adjust your sets

Well, after six whole days of having no access to email or to any of my various websites—thanks to a server meltdown—I’m glad to say that I’m now back in action. Apologies for the long, wintery blankness here on, but other than sending exasperated queries to tech support for the entire week, and lots of anxious pacing to and fro, there has been little that I have been able to do.

I’m currently reviewing how I host my sites behind the scenes; but I’m very glad that the site is back in action. Hopefully is not far behind. If you’ve sent me any email over the past week, then please do re-send if you haven’t heard back, as your email has probably merged with the ether. And the ether, as everyone knows, doesn’t exist…

Document Mountains, Meeting Oceans

Somewhat to my sadness, the teaching year is over; but because bureaucracy abhors a vacuum, rushing in to fill the void left by the departing students is a coming tide of endless meetings, a long summer of juggling paperwork. It’s always a relief when the autumn rolls around, and I head in to my first lecture of the new academic year to see the ranks of faces from the years before, and I have a chance to remind myself that this is why I am doing the job.

They are strange, these summer months in the academic world. Everybody imagines that we are retiring to our quiet hillside villas to write in our libraries, when we are, in fact, lost in a blizzard of spreadsheets and documents and meetings known only by their acronyms. So the following passage struck something of a chord. It comes from the wonderful [amazon_link id=”0385339356″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]A Dictionary of Maqiao[/amazon_link], which I’m picking my way through in Chinese, with the English translation to one side. The novel, written by Han Shaogong (韩少功) and translated beautifully by Julia Lovell, is a dictionary of the rural village of Maqiao during the Cultural Revolution. It is savage, funny, wonderfully digressive, and deeply strange—my kind of novel. I’m about half way through, as I’m making my way through the Chinese slowly; but the following, from the dictionary entry on “Speech Rights”, particularly struck me.

Documents and meetings are both the key to safeguarding power and the best way of reinforcing speech rights. Mountains of paperwork and oceans of meetings are a fundamental or integral part of, and genuine source of excitement within, the bureaucratic way of life. Even if meetings are river upon river of empty talk, even if they haven’t the slightest real use, most bureaucrats still derive a basic level of enjoyment from them. The reason is very simple: it’s only at these moments that the chairman’s podium and the mats of the listening masses will be placed in position, that hierarchies will be clearly demarcated, giving people a clear consciousness of the existence (or lack thereof) and degree (large or small) of their own speech rights… Only in this kind of an environment do those with power and influence, immersed in the language with which they themselves are familiar, become aware that their power is receiving the warm, moist, nurturing, nourishing, safeguarding protection of language… and this is often far more important than the actual aims of the meeting.

“Mountains of Paperwork and Oceans of Meetings”; or, in Chinese, 文山会海 (wen shan hui hai , literally “document mountains, meeting oceans”) — I love this expression. Of course, meetings are not only empty talk: glimmering somewhere amongst those spreadsheets there are, I have to remind myself, useful and valuable purposes. But nevertheless, earlier today whilst we were mid-meeting, with five of us looking frowningly at one version of a spreadsheet whilst a sixth was talking about an entirely different spreadsheet, I thought of Han Shaogong’s book, and I thought that if I am to get through the coming months of paperwork, I’ll probably need crampons, ropes, and plenty of Kendal Mint Cake, whilst if I am to survive the next barrage of meetings, I should probably make sure that, at the very least, I am wearing a rubber ring around my waist…

Wrestling the Goat: Article in Reconstruction 13.1


I’m very pleased to have an article in Reconstruction’s volume 13, issue 1, which is a special issue called “How Did I Write That? Reflections on Singularity in the Creative Process.” It’s another of my Yijing-based pieces, mixing reflection and storytelling. This one I’m particularly fond of, because of the strange overlap between the story, and the process by means of which I arrived at the story. The link is here, if you would like to have a read: Wrestling the Goat. Or click on the goats—they’ll like that.

Do have a read through some of the other excellent articles whilst you are at it!

Stockport Schools Book Award

The Snorgh and the Sailor

I am delighted to be able to announce that [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link] has been shortlisted for the Stockport Schools Book Award. See the link here. It’s up against some strong competition, including Helen Stephens’s lovely [amazon_link id=”1407121618″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]How to Hide a Lion[/amazon_link], which is also published by Alison Green.


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