Friday, 27 March
Only a very short corona-related translation to do today so I decide to focus on office administration.
I have thought for a long time that I should have some kind of emergency file for my company, in case of my being incapacitated (this need not be anything drastic like dormition but could simply be breaking a leg abroad). It feels inadequate not to have this kind of back-up especially when Anglia is now a one-person company as far as administration is concerned.
I started a file once but haven’t kept up and it’s full of useful information about the address of our accountant-before-last and our now non-existent auditor.
I spent largely the whole day getting this old file up to speed. It takes time as it also raises the question of how my office is organised or rather not organised to enable anyone other than me to find things.
After a few hours, I am sitting in a sea of paper, an inglorious mix of old German train seat reservations, Anglia’s annual report for 2010 which has popped up from some local black hole, info sheets about a book on the history of Bengal and other fragments. For a while, it feels impossible that I would ever be able to resolve the situation but that I am going to be sitting for ever in this paper glacier. Somehow by the end of the day, it resolves itself. But I’m not finished. I still have another day’s work and reorganisation ahead of me.
I then turn with some relief to working through my back copies (or rather one back copy) of the Times Literary Supplement. It’s recently undergone a radical makeover, which I have very mixed feelings about. The current editor, Stig Abell (no Swedish connection as far as I know despite the name) with his double first from Cambridge doesn’t sound like your typical dumb downer. However, he has been managing editor of the Sun for a number of years and I find it hard to conceptualise how that could be attractive to an intellectual (unless it’s an indication of extreme strength of character and will to gain his spurs in News UK to make possible a transition to editorship of the Times Lit…).
But there’s also the age question. There’s an old man floating around in the background who doesn’t like change. I rather liked the TLS as it was – erudite and offering a glimpse of various highly specialised and sometimes arcane areas. We’ve been acquainted for a long time – from my early awe at the vastness of everything I didn’t know to a more comfortably confident relationship now that I have myself become a fairly extensive orphanage for neglected pieces of information. And now it’s not the same any more, another unwelcome indication of increasing marginality, that I’m no longer the mainstream generation but am becoming a memento of time past.
But I also realise that nothing is gained in the long term by Brezhnevisation, that an inability to adjust would lead eventually to its Punch-like disappearance rather than preservation.
I control my angst about the new typeface, the new layout, the broader coverage and decide to give it a chance and ignore the agonised shrieking of the invasive old man. And I find that it’s not bad (this is English for I’m quite impressed). The coverage is not, of course, the same as the London Review of Books, but then it never was. But there are a number of articles that attract my interest in a recent copy from 6 March; articles about the Humboldt brothers, Wilhelm and Alexander, the “dictionary wars” in the US between the lexicographers Noah Webster and Joseph Worcester, reviews of a book on Venus and Aphrodite and of “Sounds and Furies, the love-hate relationship between women and slang” (I particularly loved the slang expression “het-lagged” for the “how a gay person feels after spending holidays with their hetero extended family”), and of “The autobiography of Solomon Maimon” on Jewish Life and European thought in the eighteenth century. There’s other material on sporting heroes which leaves me cold but I think the concept of the revamped journal is good. It feels as if it’s reaching out to thinking people rather than cowering defensively behind the high walls of the castle of the intellect. Hopefully a small step towards attitudes to culture that I find attractive in France, a welcome relief in a country sitting in a broken-down Austin and shaking from side to side to create an impression of movement.
And there is also, of course, the bonus of a “hug-me” moment. a feeling that I might be Methuselah light but am at least still open to change.