Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chaucer conference blogging (1)

Well, I’m just back from the conference dinner on the last night of the Chaucer conference in Swansea. Lots of great papers, debates, arguments and discussions, which I’ll digest a little before I blog about in more detail.

For now, just some reflections on how to go to a big conference. There seem to be two main options. You can stay in the college accommodation on site, and meet your fellow delegates in the bathrooms down the corridor, and at breakfast, and on the bus to and from the excursions. As well as all day, every day, for the days of the conference. Or you can put yourself in a hotel, and hire a car, and pretend your life is not completely bound to that of the conference. I speak, of course, only of those not on a very tight budget. If you have the choice, there are actually pluses and minuses on both sides. But as the days wear on, in a very long conference, it is often very pleasant to have a little quiet time away from the madding crowds.

For this conference, I made a two-day road trip to get here, stopping at Winchester (Round Table, cathedral, pub lunch), Bath (fabulous restaurant), Wells (cathedral; purchase of green man boss), and Glastonbury (abbey; one of Arthur’s tombs; the chalice well), with three delightful travelling companions. We were all staying several miles out of Swansea, in the seaside town of The Mumbles, and had a hired car, so we could take ourselves back and forth at will. And I’m really glad we did.

It was especially nice to be able to offer lifts to colleagues, and so one night, Tom and I gathered up George and Jeffrey, who were staying in the dorms, and went out to Langland bay for a drink on the terrace, before heading down to a fish restaurant in the Mumbles. We sat in the early evening light, watching some kids digging out a boat of sand, relishing the incoming tide and the way it promised to set the boat free. We all felt, I think, somewhat liberated, to have chosen each other’s company, and to find ourselves observing ocean time, not conference time.

The funny thing was, we were each laughing at the other. Was it more laughable to be staying in humble student quarters on what can hardly be described as a lovely campus, or more laughable to be driving around from hotel to restaurant to beach to pub? Tom and I were expecting Jeffrey already to have blogged mockingly about our taste for the good life; so I’m glad to see, as I think, I have the chance to blog first…

We all had the afternoon off yesterday, too, so Tom and I played tennis, then drove out along the Gower peninsular and watched the tide come in over the Worm’s Head point. I will speak a brief paean to my writing collaborator, who is such a great friend and conference buddy. He is always the one who knows how to find a good restaurant, who always has something interesting to say about the session we’ve just attended, who is funny, and who is kind. When we were playing tennis, he was getting a little frustrated with some kids on the next court who kept wandering back and forwards across the courts, with some girls drinking diet coke and shouting, and kicking a soccer ball around too. It did get a bit hard to concentrate. But when we finished, he gave the new canister of tennis balls, which he had just bought the day before, to the kids, who had been playing with just one raggedy old ball, that was completely bald. “You’re a legend!” one said, and another: “A gift from the Americans!” I thought that was just a lovely thing to do.

A Dylan Thomas-ish moment, too. As the kids were mucking around, a car drew up on the hill above the courts, one yelled out, “Oy.. Pritchard … Dav!”, in that beautiful Welsh lilt.

There’s heaps to think and say about this conference, but for the moment, the thing that’s strongest in my mind are the friendships I’ve made and consolidated over the last few days. And that’s a great thing to be able to take away from a conference.

3 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

Excellent, that's much more like it.

I went to In the Middle and read JJC's account of the onsite accommodation ... Good call about the hotel. I think I was about 42 when I decided that I was never staying in college accommodation again evah, so it's been a while. It was the left-behind Band-Aid in the 1940s-era shower stall that finally did it, I think.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Mock you for the good life?? After I was the beneficiary???! I think not.

That evening with you, Tom and George was the highlight of the conference.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Jeffrey, you are too kind!

Pav, I agree: somehow even an anonymous hotel is more homely than a college dorm. But I know many who are made of much sterner stuff than you and I!