Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Daily Mail archive

I’ve been browsing the Daily Mail Historical Archive, a new digital database for which my university currently has a trial subscription. It’s a fascinating resource for the social and cultural historian, although if I were being picky, I’d have to say that some of the stories can get a bit samey (see below).

‘The number of foreigners who cross the Channel and make England their home is increasing in alarming proportion … This sea-girt island of ours also seems to be a happy “half-way house” for the foreigner leaving his own country for other lands …’ (‘Immigrants on the increase’, Daily Mail, 16 January 1901.)

‘Hygiene standards among West Indians, Nigerians, and other coloured immigrants are so low that new problems are being created for London’s health authorities, says a health officer …’ (‘Immigrants “cause new health problems”’, Daily Mail, 7 September 1961.)

‘Private security men working at London’s Heathrow Airport have uncovered an audacious immigrant smuggling racket … The illegal travellers are hidden behind trays of food and bins of catering debris and driven through the security gates to the “safety” of the catering firm’s headquarters in Middlesex …’ (‘Smuggled Asians: Jet Set Style’, Daily Mail, 13 August 1973.)

‘Today Western Europe is haunted by the spectre of mass illegal immigration from the Third World and Eastern Europe, where the aftermath of Marxism leaves a devastated landscape …’ (‘Swamped … by the new underclass’, Daily Mail, 8 October 1991.)

‘The tide of immigrants lapping at our shores has become a tidal wave. Every day, hundreds arrive here from Eastern Europe, lured by the promise of a state-subsidised lifestyle they can only dream of back home …’ ‘(Welcome to Gravy Train UK’, Daily Mail, 3 October 1998.)

I also discovered that the Daily Mail first used the phrase ‘bogus asylum seeker’ on 6 November 1996,  in an article titled ‘Rapist’s refuge in Britain’.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Goodbye, Mr Chips

This week I've been clearing out my office and packing my books into cardboard boxes. We are moving to a new building soon. It's been like Haydn’s farewell symphony here this year: desks, chairs and people have gradually disappeared as they've been relocated elsewhere. And soon the knock on the door will come and it will be my turn.

It's an evocative and melancholic experience, getting rid of discarded drafts of articles that went nowhere, uncollected students' essays and old minutes of meetings that I am no longer supposed to keep under the Data Protection Act. The names of former students and colleagues spring up like Proustian madeleines. And so much paper! Yellowing, frayed, no-good-for-anything-anymore paper, with things written on it that might as well be Babylonic Cuneiform. I also found some money in a tupperware box - £140 in notes that are no longer even legal tender. I have no idea how it got there. ('Dougal, the money was just resting in my account ...')

The managerialist university has no sense of history and no memory, because it is about processes rather than people. Action points, delivery strategies, going forward. The only tense that matters now is the future. But people have memories and feelings, and they can't help becoming attached to places and things, even if they are just filing cabinets and operators' chairs.

And in the blink of an eye my life passed. All my shelves have now been emptied and the paper bagged up and ready to be shredded. My office looks like an entry for the Turner prize. I'm going to call it 'Goodbye Mr Chips'.

And as I sit in the echoing emptiness of my office, this poem springs to mind: