A surprise Christmas bonus for me this afternoon. I had signed up for what I thought would be a day of "Unsatisfactory Progress" meetings in the Arts Faculty, but only four students turned up for interviews. I sat and went through all the remaining paper files and by 12.00 I was done, so I gladly accepted Sylvia's invitation to so and sing Christmas carols with the Faculty staff. Our pianist was the university organist, so we were well managed, along with a guitar accompaniment and about 25 folk sitting in the lecture theatre (the one with the piano, obviously). Our new Dean was there, too, as was Lauren, Joel's cello teacher, who's been working in the office this year. I was then invited to their lunch (rice paper rolls, sushi, dolmades, little pies, fabulous platters of fruit and cakes). But by the time they were getting to their Kris Kringle, it really was time to leave them to it.
I'm back in my office now. The English office has closed for the year, and I'm under instructions to lock the kitchen when I leave. The heavy rain that's forecast for the day has just begun. I have my car in the carpark, though, after the bicycle puncture on Wednesday morning (just after I had melted the plastic handle of the feather duster on to the iron).
It's been a momentous year for professional staff in the university. For academic staff, certainly, but our office and school are staffed by a wonderful team of folk who have really battled this year to stay calm and cheerful as their working conditions underwent a seismic shift. First they were re-organised from departments into schools, many of them having to re-apply for their own jobs, and then having to quickly adapt as different department cultures and practices were merged. And now the University is re-structuring student services, so there are more dramatic changes ahead. My own office is close to the Department one, and I like this. I don't really try to do any research or writing when I'm on campus, so my time here is usually rather social, and I like the sense in which we're all engaged with students, and with each other, but that will soon change, alas. Actually, yesterday I also happened to be in the office here just as they were having their last morning tea for the year; with staff from several buildings gathering to say farewell to the one leaving, and to give presents to our outgoing Head of School.
I'm going to spend the next hour or so tidying up my office, getting things off the floor so it can be cleaned, and then I'm going to go home and decorate our Christmas tree.
Dame Eleanor Hull, though, has tagged me for a meme: "books I've loved reading in 2007". A little tricky, this one. There have been one or two. Having Middlemarch read to me when I was sick was one of the reading highlights of my life. I ended up finishing it myself, but could hear my friends' and families' voices as I read. Of course I'm partial, but I loved the single chapter Joel read to me early on: Fred and Rosamund and Mrs Vincy at breakfast.
With some friends (our parallel family: two academic parents, one child), we also made an effort to read Romeo and Juliet before pizza on Friday nights. I was the nurse, in my best Sybil Fawlty voice, and I distributed the other parts according to character, as I thought. Joel and Eva (eight months younger) were Juliet and Romeo; both eagerly eschewing the type-casting of gender. But you could see how a boy could easily play a girl. Again, Joel threw himself into the cadences of the lines and the emotions, and I realised how all the hours and days and weeks I read to him when he was younger had paid off. But we only got half-way through Act IV. Once the novelty wore off, and once Mercutio's part was over, it seemed hard to keep everyone's concentration going.
There was also Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, thoroughly recommended to anyone wanting to think about land — possession, knowledge and use — in the Australian imagination.
But mostly - and this is a hard confession to make - it hasn't really been a reading year for me. It's taken most of my energy and concentration just to get through the reading and writing I've had to do for work. By the end of the day, or at the weekend, if I'm not working, I've tended to be sleeping, or feeding the goldfish. In part I think it's an effect of the medication-induced menopause (I will write a proper blog entry about this in the new year, I promise): concentrating on stuff has been a real problem for me this year. I'm hoping for much better in the new year.
So, if anyone wants to pick up the tag, I'm swinging it around: "how have you performed the act of reading this year?" in what company? with what voice? in what context?