Friday, February 17, 2006

Nunc dimittis

Much has happened to me since I last posted on Infinite Space. I am half way through my term as Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing at Magdalene College in Cambridge (the wind, as I type, is making an eerily human sound in the sealed chimney of my flat). So far this illustrious-sounding job has involved growing fat on High Table fare, teaching the odd class, and trying to get on with my new novel. The heartening thing about my stay is how curious the academics have proven to be: very little snobbery about, though some old-fashioned reticence. Small talk is not a forte of my hosts but it’s worth setting them off on their chosen subjects. At lunch and dinner, I end up feeling a bit like Melvyn Bragg on ‘In Our Time’: trying to make sense of conversations about paleoclimatology or medieval tort law…

Other news: I will be travelling to Geneva next week to meet the International Secretariat of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and to watch a first screening of PLANET ACTION: the conservation-themed TV series filmed last summer in Central America and SE Asia. My experience of working with WWF conservationists was a daunting and inspiring one. It really is one of the most effective and authoritative NGOs in the world, combining hard science with economic realism, idealism and pragmatism. If you want to watch me (or my more attractive co-stars) sweating in various tropical locations, don’t miss PLANET ACTION on ANIMAL PLANET – scheduled for broadcast in May.

My grandfather died on Burns’ Night, aged 88. Harold Norminton was a linguist, a teacher, a bon vivant. He volunteered to fight in Bomber Command in World War Two even though, as an Irish citizen, he could have sat out the war in safety. In 1945 he joined the British Council and proceeded to spend several decades in South America, India and Europe. He was in many ways a difficult man to get on with; but he loomed large in the lives of those who knew him and was capable of great charm.

Harold’s wife, my grandmother Luce Mercx, died eleven years ago, but her name has been handed on to the newest member of my family: my niece Lucie Jeanne Emilie Lindsay, who was born in the early hours of Monday morning. Congratulations to Natalie and Simon and the boys! The conjunction of a death and a birth reminds me of those strange lines spoken by the shepherd in The Winter’s Tale (III iii): “Now bless thyself: thou mettest with things dying, I with things newborn.”


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