Outdoor Learning – “Lost like my name…”

The poem by Fuller I cite in one of the research diary posts on Looking for Ludchurch is there to underline how important this project is – and how when we invest something with credibility or significance, we give it power to make or mar us. I am still in the process of digesting it all. The entries for the Wild Spaces, Wild Magic visit days take me through a process I am clear I have not yet finished:

The First is a poem I am still unsure of, although colleagues and friends have been kind.

The Second was the visit to Thursbitch, so unlike what had come before (blogged in detail here) it almost – almost – was not the same place. Except Mat and I sat in Thoon.

The Third is the account of the first visit as people better prepared to the Green Chapel. I remain wary of identification of the place, but with Ralph Elliott’s book, with Garner in our ears, with the Google project to do, this was another different experience.

The pace and tone changes in the Fourth, for Friday afternoon, when Debbie arrives, Mat comes back from Ludchurch, Roger and Jane arrive and with as little commentary as possible we take our new visitors up to the Green Chapel. Then that evening read together the stanzas of the Gawain poet.

Saturday morning, grey skies and a last whole-group visit to Ludchurch: this is my Fifth diary entry, the one I have most difficulty with. Not that it was bad, in any way – but I needed to set the order of event out clearly.

Entry Six is my attempt to recount the visit that stays with me, my walk alone up through the evening wood to say goodbye to the Green Knight, and to reflect on how challenging that- and the writing and thinking of the day – had all seemed.

Why “a language learned but nothing understood/Lost like my name within the magic wood”? Because Caliban’s despair at his lot echoes my own impatience: I want to write weighty, interesting pieces, to communicate my utter love for this valley in the autumn, for the myths that run through it (and other places such as along the Ridgeway) or for the people I worked with this weekend in Gradbach – and yet I see that so often my image of myself gets knocked when I try, and I end up somewhere as intellectually or spiritually or emotionally magical as writing about literature and landscape but feel disempowered. Like Gawain I have  “groned for gref and grame” (line 2502); all the tricks of academia are at my disposal, just like all the trappings of knighthood are for Gawain – but we both return with a simpler lesson. I read the message to be to stop posing and get on. 

So I’m back, and now the work starts: turning this – all this – into papers, into projects for students, into return trips.  This is, after all, what we went out into the wilderness to do.


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Green Thoughts, Green Shades, Green Knights

What sort of journey does Gawain go on?  I asked this when thinking about the interior and exterior journeys in children’s literature and traditional tales. Today – cold as cold, but sunny even in the woods as the leaves lose their grip – I was struck by the challenge in how I ask my students to take some time alone and quiet in the woods. No ‘phone, no eye contact with one another, just ten minutes (today five, since they were so cold) stood or sat alone in the sunshine of a little wood.

I do this because one of the dominant things when we think about outdoors is the opportunity for boisterous play – the “let kids be kids” argument is full of this. However, I saw this picture of one of my class and suddenly remembered a little girl who “played camping” all one long summer afternoon in a nursery garden. I repeatedly asked her if she was OK, if she needed anything, and she always smiled and said “no.” Letting humans be human is often about the powerful and energetic ways we interact; today’s shelter building and “One Two Three Where Are You?” games were great examples of this. But to “be” outside may also need time: time to listen to the angry little wren, the panic of a jackdaw, the wary crackle of feet (a hoof, I suspect) in the undergrowth. Time to not listen to me melling on, or to the demands of social media –

till what I find, I find
because it’s there

as John Burnside puts.

Rachel Kaplan‘s sustained work on the benefits of being outdoors (for example here)  emphasises the restorative effects of being out in nature.  She is also clear you don’t need a wood, and I can understand that.  I might contend that these forays into expansive environments also can/might include a spiritual encounter – with silence (or, as the students today identified, a lot of different, smaller noises), with our own feelings and intentions. For some this is familiar, welcome; for others, I know from debriefing this activity in the past, it might entail a confronting of an individual’s own discomfort. What sort of journey  do we go on to our respective Green Chapels, and what might we find? Time to be alone with (or without) our thoughts can lead to all sorts of different paths and encounters – even in five minutes in an autumn-cold wood.


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We’re (still) Not Scared

Politicians in the latest attacks on Higher Education have stated that we should be “accountable” for what we teach. I am not shrinking from the veiled threats here; this is not a bear I am frightened to meet. Indeed I don’t think I’ve ever taught about Brexit except to deplore the disjuncture between Fundamental British Values and recent reports of increasing xenophobia and homophobia.

However, in case we are to face a purge from those who see themselves as our Lords and Masters (sc. to include our Ladies and Mistresses) here is a list of possible offences (they are bit inconsistent, and I have deliberately mixed them up so no priority is visible) I may wish to have taken into account:

I am a traditionalist; I believe, with the founding mothers and fathers of Early Childhood Education, in the role of the imagination, in art, in play and being outdoors;
Funding is linked to taxation of society and intimately connected to society’s duty to work for the good of all;
Libraries are a good idea;
It’s not down to Reception;
Knowledge is a vital component in education;
Staff-student ratios are key to interactions, themselves key to quality;
There is no single action that makes children readers;
Children’s rights are human rights;
Schools as organisations are on the whole staffed by people with energy and vision;
Class and social capital matter;
Qualifications do not ensure quality;
School uniform is about control;
English spelling has evolved under a number of influences that are not always internally consistent;
Some children’s lives are deeply shit and even where that is not our fault as educators it is our responsibility;
You can learn more about children’s learning by going out for a walk with them than by quizzing them about how they match data projections;
Planning and data may inform but are not in se quality at any level of teaching;
Developmentally appropriate practice is an ethical position, not the whim of “middle class do-gooders;”
Skills and attitudes are vital components in education;
Children’s chances are not improved by debates that distract teachers: trad/prog is too often poisonous timewasting by the pedagogologues;
Reading high-quality children’s literature is enlightening for adults as well as children;
Politicians (of any persuasion) who seek to pontificate about education should be invited to spend considerable time in schools that have not been smartened up for their arrival.

Bite me.

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We’re Not Scared

Bear Hunt is an improbable book: wonderful, but not really a narrative of an afternoon’s outing. The children move through a variety of landscapes and seasons in a re-playing of an older nursery game (with possible variants about lions, guns &c.) and we are not, I think expected to view this narrative as reliable. Grassy hills in summer, mud flats, forests, snow and then to a seaside cave: wild, funny, incongruous, and fantastically depicted by Helen Oxenbury.  It is open, therefore, to a lot of very playful interpretations – and therein lies some of its strength: the rhythms and the scenarios carry us along to the encounter with the bear and then back again.  There could be debate about why the bear chases them, too – and whether it is hungry or lonely as it returns to its lair at the end. Michael Rosen’s own energetic performance of it differs from my own; I suspect everyone who has shared this with a child or a group of children will have done something similar: a pace-change here, an inflection there.

I might as well shrug and say “literature is like that.”

But one reason why literature allows so many interpretations is that we each bring to any interpretive act – reading, walking the landscape, whatever – the acts that have come before it.

And so Bear Hunt presents itself to me afresh as I prepare for my next encounter with the Big Thing we might suggest is not dissimilar to a bear in  a cave: the dwelling of the  Thurs (þyrs) that gives us Thursbitch.  In that light the bear is a figure of terror as it is often in folktales, and actually that’s how I first read the Rosen-Oxenbury collaboration. Children, the innocent protagonists, play out a possible trespass and run home. Red Riding Hood’s great-grandchildren have to learn the lesson for themselves.


Photo from Oct 16 of first visit to

When we went to Ludchurch that feeling of trespass was not so much one of danger as of nefas, of the unhallowed intruding. The Green Chapel was a place of wonder, and if it is the site of Gawain’s encounter with the Green Knight, I can understand why. A place of awe and wonder – but also one from which Gawain returns chastened, wiser.

The next day’s expedition in the fog to Thursbitch felt different.

Here is Garner’s own evocative description of his visit not only to Thursbitch, but to the elusive Thoon above it:

At high noon in high summer, Thursbitch is visually different from the first visit, when I didn’t notice the bump on the horizon. Now I did. In the two-mile stretch of the valley, this outcrop is the only interruption of the peat ridge. We went to look.

It’s an extraordinary feature, entirely geological: a natural recess, shelter and cave, above a confluence of waters at a ford.

The combination of a natural cave above a confluence of waters at a ford made sense. In my background reading I’d discovered that such a place was the one most favoured by a þyrs.

When I – we –  went there I was definitely a bit spooked, and it wasn’t a beautiful day: this was my account. Our haste at leaving felt more like a dismissal than being chased – and yet the dreams that followed certainly suggested I had felt more menaced than I had let on.  To borrow Garner’s words “A novel may be finished. A journey is not.” Which is why I am sitting in a busy University atrium, planning the next trip – and why, thinking about We’re Going on  Bear Hunt makes me wonder: trespass and return is a powerful theme, and if Garner’s mastery of his narrative means there is, in some sense, no return for the protagonists in his novel, this is an arabesque on the more familiar plot line: leaving home, trespass and initiation are deep-seated in our communal storytelling psyche.

Bear Hunt retains power as a story not only because of the lovely illustrations and the driving, rhythmic storytelling – and it does have both of those – but because it taps into a deep source. The children are Red Riding Hood’s descendants; they are also Gawaine’s.



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Yellow Skies and Red Suns

Monday 16th October:

What a day today has been! And while words like “apocalyptic” were bandied about on Twitter, the epic skies made me think not only only of texts like this manuscript of Beatus of Liébana’s commentary on the Apocalypse , with its rich and terrifying visions of the end of all things, but of the icon gold of Jackie Morris’ art work in The Lost Words.  The icon is important here,  the translation of the Divine into the here and now.  I remembered the colours in the Corfu Icon Museum and the gold in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and Monreale Cathedral in Sicily. It is as if I am back with de Hamel and the Remarkable Manuscripts again: so much beauty.  Back to myth and might-have-been.

I have said I won’t review The Lost Words, although I have commented on it, notably in response to Rob McFarlane’s wonderful essay and on the original movement around excising words from the dictionary.  My avoiding a “proper” review is partly because Dara McAnulty’s blog reviews it so much better than I could. I will however comment on this one other aspect of the work: how nature writing and art have an astonishing double edge to them, revealing the instant beauty of the thing or event, and at the same time revealing the “mystery…instressed, stressed,” that is at the heart of the icon, maybe at the heart of this book of spells and the pictures than conjure not only this kingfisher, those otters, but also an almost Platonic ideal. Nature -dare I personify it? – herself.

And maybe this is the revelation, an apocalypse: the eternity in the gold behind Jackie Morris’ kingfisher, the “quick now here now always” of Rob McFarlane’s Wren.


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I didn’t really need to be so irritable about the fact that, at a recent NASUWT event, someone suggested returning to work after maternity leave might result in teaching younger children and that that could be seen as demotion. The Women Teachers’ Consultation Conference was set to highlight some of the inequalities around women returning to teaching, and didn’t need me mansplaining about all over the place.  But demotion was the word in their Twitter post – although I notice that it now seems to say that “Taking maternity leave is the factor which most detrimentally affects women teachers’ career development.” I hope this is an edit on their part, not an oversight on mine. Whatever it was, demotion flew round the corner of Early Years Twitter I frequent.

So briefly, here’s a few thoughts on demotion.

Coming back from maternity leave to a job with fewer prospects is not on for the woman concerned. Coming back to a job for which you are ill -prepared and into which you are an unwilling conscript is bad for the children. In these senses, coming back to teach a younger age group is very possibly discriminatory, and almost certainly a bad move from an SLT. I recognise what one respondent suggested that the NASUWT were trying, albeit ineffectively, to highlight injustice and poor judgement. However, the word demotion suggests something else: it carries with it the idea that working with a younger age group is an inferior task.

At a time when the notion of child-initiated learning/developmentally appropriate practice is called into doubt, and when the proposed revision of the Early Years Foundation Stage is already seeing territorial demands about what the profession needs, it seems to me, is a cohort of eloquent new teachers prepared to take up the challenge. Not to “fight” in some odd way for this or that (phonics, no phonics, a bigger sandpit, whatever), but to be able to pick up research and engage with it, to find the best practice and follow it, to enrich childhoods and build foundations, to show genuine interest in children beyond the tick sheet, to provide for burgeoning delight in reading and problem solving.  This cannot be done by using the language we already have of Early Years.

  • Down to Reception.
  • The Littlies.
  • The Rugrats Teacher.
  • “So, do you teach them anything?”
  • “How hard can it be?”

All phrases I’ve heard or had reported to me: this is the kind of disempowerment that goes with the word demotion. Cute is merely cute; forget Margaret McMillan and see Early Years as soft and cuddly -and rather expensive, now we come to think of it. Now I know school leaders who would excoriate anyone who suggested that this is how they viewed the Foundation Stage in their school, and defend the practice in their Early Years classes against the pedagogologues whose experience of Early Years is dropping off someone’s kids, or who see the Foundation Stage as an ineffective way of mirroring secondary Maths: bit that word demotion remains in my mind.

It is perhaps up to the older generation who have fought these status wars before (“Time to get away from the happy chaos of sandpit and water tray”) to give some thought to how we we should refer to the Early Years. The sharp end?  It is not demotion to go down to the Early Years; it should be a question of “Are you sure you’re up to it?”

Early Years teaching demands snap decisions about pedagogy, an understanding of children’s needs and a willingness to meet them, to decide how best to help form an understanding of behaviour and to impart this or that piece of knowledge. It’s teaching, for goodness’ sake. Let’s talk of it as such: the glorious, complex, busy world of Nursery and Reception (and KS1, too) that make possible the brilliant work that follows.

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More on lost words

When, a while back, I made a brief mention of the disappearance of some words from the Oxford children’s dictionary I acknowledged the limitations of the lexicographer, who needs to balance all sorts of needs. I also mourned (briefly) the way that “country” words might fade into ignoble disuse. Today, Robert Macfarlane picks up the linguistic gauntlet, reporting and critiquing a paper (which I must read) on the capacity of children to assimilate knowedge about real species, but contrasts this with what appears to be a preference for Pokemon,  which Macfarlane characterises as part of a “lack of natural literacy.” I could, maybe, try and contrast this with the walk I’ve just taken where 7yo granddaughter made up a song about conkers- but as I type, I see “conkers” is not recognised by my predictive text or spellchecker….

His writing is detailed, moving, insightful, and ranges from Barker’s Flower Fairies through Le Guin and Garner. I feel, as I read Rob’s thoughts in the paper, that I have been trotting behind him for a long while, as well as looking at other stuff along the way, and am looking forward to hearing him and Jackie Morris as part of their book tour for Lost Words. His name-checking of authors and critics we both admire – or that a growing community that I am amazed to find I inhabit with him, and Mat, and the great Alison Lurie and others all have read – is enlightening about how a scholarly community  is constituted, made up of links and lines as complex as a set of ecological interrelationships.

Jackie Morris explains the evolution of the new book.  Here is her blog post on the book, itself well worth a read, and she explains how the vision for their new book moved from protest letter through initial conceptions of a “children’s book” through to something rich and strange. I am looking forward to buying my own, and to having it signed in due course…

But this essay in the paper takes me further, and I am immensely grateful. It seems to me that we (whoever that comprises, but I hope it means me, and Mat, and The Landreader project, as well as bigger  names) are no longer marginal children’s lit ecocritics, but part of a bigger movement of eco-literacy. I feel a call, if not to arms, then at least to get my critical compass out, to set out again (and again) on the paths that lead from the crossroads where The Chaperon Rouge meets B’zou, to where Gawain meets the Green Knight – and back again, through the riches of folk tale and legend, through traditional tales and modern inventive fictions, so we can help people appreciate, in Macfarlane’s words, how “nature, naming and dreaming are all tangled together.”

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A Litany

“Who first made you want to be a teacher?”

A not dissimilar set of occurrences to the one I’ve discussed before about memory of books I have read springs immediately to mind. Here, rather than a narrative, is a brief litany of the saints whose practice suggested teaching (in some form or another) might be for me. Not included are those teachers whose dodgy or eccentric behaviour made me think “I could teach – but not like that”), nor yet those teachers who made a bad call and, for example, taught me I was useless at maths – so, sorry, Miss Thorn, Fr Lobo, Mr Lawson, Mr Foley, you gave me lots to think about, but your inclusion would have raised more questions for me.

Mrs Newsome: my kind and gentle Reception class teacher;

Mr Kilner: allowing drama and voice recording and C S Lewis more or less at the drop of a hat;

Mrs Rawlins, my Y6 teacher: for giving us the best end-of-day story times;

Mr Brown: you had no idea what you were getting from a very hands-on school to see me through the last, unhappy months of Primary – but you listened, and you tried and you talked to me and my parents;

Miss Parkinson: for allowing huge swathes of time to let Y7 and 8 be times where we all explored stuff together;

Mr Gunningham: for the Latin, and the patience, and the wit;

Fr Flannery: for the Latin and the Greek and the RE and the humorable impatience at our adolescence;

Mr Barlow: for not fitting the frame of teacher or Jesuit with much compliance but still getting us there with energy and engagement;

Mr (now Fr., and Professor) John Saward: for tutorials in which he displayed a real interest – and did so in meetings that extended well beyond the time allocated;

Fr Brian Findlay: every boy should have such a mentor. I think you can see some of his mannerisms in Ian Hislop and I have to admit a great deal of my fake erudition is put on in mimicking Brian’s real depth;

The great Maggie: her imaginative planning and ideas sustained me in my first job; her PGCE dissertation on ecology and storytelling sits on my office shelf and still gets read; her anecdotes are recycled in many of my lectures;

Leslie Grundy: visionary headteacher who made me want to do nursery and taught me how to do it;

Julie Fisher: who gave me the framework to try to put intelligent pedagogy into action;

and Brookes colleagues who taught or continue to teach me how to do it, day after day. But I’ll stop with just my first leader and mentor at Brookes, Helena Mitchell, so this doesn’t become an Oscars list.

Thank you to all of them, living and dead.


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What is Children’s Literature For?

I began to think about this in the context of a canon of children’s literature, which I discussed in April.  I wasn’t going to blog more about this – blogging time needs to go to my pending teaching and the next Wild Spaces, Wild Magic trip in November. However, three ideas have surfaced this week that need a bit of rethinking for me. I referred on Twitter to the last time the “shouldn’t be allowed” argument drifted my way, which I discussed in this blog post.

The most recent – that is, today, is this Guardian article on children’s literature and empathy by Alison Flood.  The research is based on children’s responses to an anthropomorphic Little Raccoon – and I have to be honest and admit that this YouTube representation doesn’t endear me to the text for starters.  Note however, (5 min 09 sec) the explicit message “When you share with others they share with you.” So first of all, let’s just get that out of the way: that’s not a moral message, or the moral of the story; it’s an aspiration.  The moral of the story is “sharing is good.” It is a heavy-handed delivery at best, and do bear in mind the comments made by @zudensachen on Twitter, his best being, I think

I’m critical of the psychology research approach that expects moral stories to ‘work’ as exemplars. Stories are wriggly.

Wriggly. Brilliant. And here is the first flaw in the research: poor quality literature is no better as a guide to children’s ability to infer, critique and wonder than a bowl of nutritious slop is a guide to their ability to discern healthy food.  Bluntly put, there is no wriggle in the cute raccoon.

I do share Dave Aldridge’s general disquiet about the kind of study referred to in the Guardian that explores the tricksy interface between psychology and literature, but that’s my problem. Patricia Ganea’s work is itself interesting  (I am in any case grateful for the nudge away from my knee-jerk reaction to actually looking at her work that I got from the inestimable Hamish Chalmers). Her “Do cavies talk?: The effect of anthropomorphic books on children’s knowledge about animals” is a fascinating study, useful for my own research because of the landscape issues it throws up , and I need to come back to her “Toddlers’ referential understanding of pictures” which I have just seen.  The problem really comes down to the bigger question about “using” children’s literature. In the article Alison Flood bases her own work on, “Do storybooks with anthropomorphized animal characters promote prosocial behaviors in young children?” – linked here, if it works – Larsen, Lee and Ganea explore issues around children’s understanding of choices and actions through the issues of identity and anthropormphism. It is good to see the Marriott “Red in tooth and claw?” cited; they know their stuff. There is, I think, a big problem with quality: Little Raccoon Learns to Share is, as I’ve suggested, not the best: heavy-handed morality and wordy, and the “humanised” Photoshop version the team produced consequently can’t be much better. The comparability of texts is assured, but only, it seems to me, at the cost of the text being engaging.  That the control book is by Eric Carle is almost worth a methodological reflection in its own.

The Guardian article ends with voices from authors. I am unsure whether the article’s author is missing a tone of irony or whether I am searching, desperately, for something that isn’t there, but the final paragraphs suggest we are all a bit lost:

Picture book author Tracey Corderoy said that in her experience, “where the main characters of a moral tale are animals as opposed to humans, the slight distancing that this affords the young child does a number of important things. It softens the moral message a little, making it slightly more palatable. Some would feel that this waters it down and makes it less effective. But the initial ‘saving-face’ that using animals brings quite often results, I feel at least, in keeping a child reader engaged.”

Kes Gray, the author of the bestselling rhyming animal series Oi Frog and Friends, was unperturbed by the researchers’ findings. “Authors and illustrators have no need to panic here, as long as we keep all of the animal protagonists in all of their future stories unreservedly cuddly. Big hair, big eyes and pink twitchy noses should pretty much nail it,” he said.

Here we are into this idea that children’s literature has qualities that are only to be measured by the message, by the use an adult can get.

The second is my finishing (again today, on the bus) Joan Aiken’s personal take on writing. There are things about the child reader’s reading of significance :

…The child may draw conclusions from the actor’s face and general demeanour, but he won’t have any certainty about it And such experience as he has to draw on will be limited…

that I might query, and other pithy comments I want to stick on my wall:

A child reader is very like a wary and agile fish – to keep his attention you have to bait your hook with cunning…

If you can pluck out some small common denominator of experience that will instantly register with the reader, you have made yourself a friend…

Personally, I believe that an overt moral message is to be avoided like the plague… A book is supposed to be for pleasure, isn’t it? Who are you, anyway, to preach morals to the young?

And the third is the arrival of Pam Smy‘s book Thornhill, and the kerfuffle it has caused. This is her blog  and Mat’s thoughtful review (avoiding spoilers as Ella in the story avoids brambles) is here and (of course) well worth a read.  My comments here aren’t going to contain spoilers either, because I haven’t read it to the end; the thoughts here aren’t about what promises to be (and people warn me that it will be) a troubling denouement, but about the language people are using about the book. It comes down, in many cases, to the notion of suitability – and this in turn seems more to be about classroom use and where it is marketed in bookshops. Fight your way, then, first off, past the BBC sign-in system and listen to this http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jlm30 posted by @rokewood on Twitter this morning as a timely reminder on the general picture and then consider these statements:

  • Bloody hell!That is one hell of a book. How to teach with it?
  • Certainly wouldn’t use at primary; not for whole class and prob not with an individual child unless I knew very well indeed. Powerful though.
  • Totally unsuitable for under [age range specified].
  • We read stories precisely in order to help them grow emotionally, morally and spiritually.
  • Why teach that life is hopeless?

I’ve selected and anonymised them, and they are presented here with only one (sort of) judgmental comment: that under all of them is the assumption that books are there specifically to help adults do something., and that misjudgment around this can be damaging. It is a schoolified view of literature. “We read stories precisely in order to…”

So much here, it’s hard to know where to start, so I shall go back to my beginning. Is the dilemma about “using” Thornhill about the authority and/or moral purpiose of the teacher? Is children’s literature fundamentally a socialisation process involving text? Is it there so that this book or that can be a vehicle for a curricular aim? Where does the responsibility lie in the chain of author/illustrator>publisher>bookseller>adult supplier of money for books (parent, headteacher)>adult chooser/proposer of this book or what? Whose job is it to approve of the books children access? Why ask children to read, to be engaged with narrative and character in fiction?  What is literature for?

Answers on a postcard.

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Hiya Ed

When I started at University, I spent the first, painful term, calling my tutor, Dr Taplin, “Errrm,” because I didn’t know what to call him. I now see from his College bio entry that he was frighteningly old (to use a phrase from Lucy Boston): in his mid-thirties. Maybe as old as some of my younger colleagues, such as Jon or Mat. I was completely in awe.

But that was 1976. Oliver Taplin was a young, successful academic in the only University I knew. Heir to C S Lewis (who also taught Classics at Magdalen) , but very willing to shake us out of the reverential classics of school by getting us to look at Archilochus, or to try for an appropriate modern word for “pedicabo” in Catullus. As I said, I was completely in awe: when Dr Walker said hello to me outside Blackwells Bookshop, I was dumbstruck. When we last met, at a Widening Participation event a couple of years ago, I called him Ralph, and even then wasn’t sure if that was sacrilege.

Language changes, status changes, and with both of those forms of address change. As we get ready for a new academic year, as we read the comments from students of last year – cards after graduation, the Trip Advisor that is NSS – I wonder what this cohort will make of me. It’s (just) possible this is the last group of first years that I will see through to graduation: how will I appear to them? To rub it in, I look for my own staff page, and find a “Page Not Found.” Absit omen.

Which brings me back to my jokey title. How will the emails address me and my colleagues? “Dear Professor”? “Hey, Nick”? And does it really matter? Is respect something that goes hand-in-hand with cautious forms of address? Should formality be demanded? What does it signify? What is gained, what is lost?

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