Sunday, 13 May 2012

Look out for my ghost

The Mass Observation Archive invited me to give a lecture at the University of Sussex last week. It's the first time I've been back since I was a postgrad there years ago, but you can't go home again. When I left, the library computers had fat-screen monitors and the librarians all had pictures of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy on their desks. The library is now unrecognisable, with 'quiet zones', 'silent zones' and social hubs. I wandered invisibly among the frantically texting students thinking of these lines by Patrick Kavanagh:

On Pembroke Road look out for my ghost,
Dishevelled with shoes untied,
Playing through the railings with little children,
Whose children have long since died.

On Saturday I did a talk at the British Design Conference at the V&A. One of the other speakers was Maurice Howard, a professor of art history at Sussex who has curated the current exhibition on Basil Spence (the campus architect) at the University of Sussex, celebrating its 50th anniversary. One colour photograph he showed of Falmer House, the student union building, pulled me up short. It looked like it had been taken last week, but it was actually 50 years old. I thought of the hundreds of thousands of students, most of them now ghosts, who have walked through its quad over the last half century. The bright, unfaded colours of the photograph made it seem like what Thomas Hardy called 'an eyelid's soundless blink'.

Actually, I think I did see the ghost of my 25-year-old self in the library, hurrying off to the stacks to check a reference for a thesis that will be read by precisely two people, one of whom is now dead. I tried to catch up with him, but I no longer know my way round the bookshelves, and when I turned a corner he was gone.

No comments:

Post a comment