Category Archives: Off Topic

Suffolk Staycation

Apologies for my absence – I’ve been holidaying to the far north east east.  No no, not Siberia, camping by the sea in the far north east of Suffolk. And financial squeeze or not, I wonder why anyone ever goes anywhere else. Our county is an absolute delight:

Lets face it, who needs to go to the Med when the North Sea is so lovely and swimmable – and has such great waves to boot?

And who needs  the Sistine chapel ceiling when you have such things as the glories of the Wenhaston Doom close to hand? If you’ve not seen it, its a large wooden representation of the Saved and Damned – saved in its turn  from Henry VIII’s reformers by a coat of whitewash  (and then by a shower of rain from a bonfire 400 years later. Yes really. It was lying in the church grounds, slated for destruction, when a rainstorm finally washed that whitewash off and they saw the Doom for the first time in centuries)

And not even the Taj Mahal, or the Great Pyramid at Giza can give you such a flavour of the person it commemorates as does this wonderfully funny epitaph at Bramfield.  I want one too!

For those who like more active sports, in Suffolk there’s always that great (non-blood) sport of crabbing. Do you know it?  I swear there are crabs all over the county who have to book into fat farms when the holiday season is over, they get so bloated by meals of bacon, chicken and the like.

In the evening there are such delights as the Moving Pictures. This Picture Palace at Southwold seats 70 people now that they’ve built a Royal Box – and it has a uniformed commissionaire and an organ that rises from the floor too.

Though there are plenty of other amusements  for those who prefer to remain outdoors.

And at the end of a well-spent day, can the Manhattan skyline possibly beat this?

I’ve come home brown, relaxed and happy. I’ve walked or cycled most of the time. I’ve wasted no time in traffic jams. I’ve spent no time at airports.  But I have spent every penny of my holiday fund in Suffolk.

Win, win!

Happy Father’s Day

I’m sorry, but for once I’m going to indulge myself and get personal.  Today is Father’s Day, and my father, Raymond Page,  died in March. He was a unique, interesting and amusing personality and so I’m taking the opportunity to post the obituary I wrote for him (which is otherwise behind a paywall)

Professor Raymond Page

Raymond Page with his first grandchild, Nell. This kindly side of him would come as quite a surprise to those he skewered with his uncompromising intellect..

Raymond Ian Page, who died on 10 March 2012, aged 87, was Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Cambridge, and  Fellow and former Parker Librarian of Corpus Christi College.

In the words of Prof Rene Derolez: “Where would runic studies in the British Isles stand now if it had not been for Ray Page?”  A  rigorous scholar, a fierce critic of  ‘sloppy thinking’  and a prolific writer, the quantity and quality of Professor Page’s scholarship in Anglo-Saxon and Norse studies is matched  by equally significant work on glosses, on manuscripts and on manuscript conservation. Justifying his more critical pronouncements with trenchant quotations from St Paul, Page made it a personal crusade to resist the “insidious” way in which runes are “...touched by the flight from reason so characteristic of our pragmatic, scientific and down-to-earth times.”

Born in Sheffield in 1924, and educated at King Edward VII School,  Page’s  family circumstances meant he left school prematurely. It was fortunate for him – and for twentieth century runic studies – that on discharge from the Navy after the war his ex-serviceman status entitled him to a university education.  After graduating in English from Sheffield, he spent a year working on an MA  in Denmark, and then moved to the University of Nottingham where he gained his doctorate in 1959 whilst working as an assistant lecturer in the Department of English Studies (where in later years he became Special Professor).

In 1962, Page left Nottingham for the University of Cambridge, where he was appointed  lecturer, and later, reader, in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, before becoming  Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in 1984.  From 1965 he was also Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College’s  Parker Library,  the magnificent collection of manuscripts and early printed books  acquired by that snapper-up of unconsidered texts (and former Corpus Master) Archbishop Matthew Parker.

It was said of Ray Page that it was hard to know whether his fame as Parker Librarian eclipsed his status as Elrington and Bosworth Professor, or vice versa. It is certainly true that as Librarian, Page focused his characteristic dislike for woolly thought and actions onto the practicalities of conserving the manuscripts in his care. You could say that he took it personally.  Anxiety to preserve the old materials that framed irreplaceable contents caused him to introduce an entire new ethos of conservation to the college library world. Under his stern eye, the Parker Library became flagship for new manuscript conservation techniques, which ultimately led to the setting up of the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium.

Yet Page’s monograph ‘Matthew Parker and his Books’ (1993) reflected another side to his role as Librarian. Arising from a series of lectures he gave as Sandars Reader in Bibliography,  it brought together Page’s many years of research into Parker’s relationship with his own collection.

Page enjoyed the his work in the Parker Library immensely, and often referred to himself tongue-in-cheek as the “kindly silver haired librarian”. It is only fair to mention  that others referred to him as “that silver-haired master of silver-tongued vituperation.” He rejoiced equally in both titles.

In addition to his university appointments, Page held honorary doctorates at the Universities of Sheffield and Trondheim, and the Dag Strömbäck prize at the Royal Gustav Adolf’s Academy in Uppsala.

After his retirement  in 1991 he continued working on his first love – runes – and was often chauffeured around the British Isles by his devoted wife Elin in search of new inscriptions. On one such trip the pair were stranded overnight on a storm tossed Scottish islet – only avoiding death by exposure through the help of a group of Buddhist monks.  He continued to publish, and brought out  the second edition of his seminal ‘Introduction to English Runes’ to which Page referred with characteristic lack of gravitas as ‘the little red rune book.’

Blessed with a quick tongue, a panoramic frame of reference and a witty and fertile mind (when first shown a digital camera, he responded “C’est magnifique, mais c’est ne pas Daguerre”), Page often used humour to hold the world at arm’s length, saying with Sydney Smith “While others rise by their gravity, I sink by my levity.” His conversation could be exhausting to keep up with, a polyglot patchwork of allusion, quotation and terrible puns, delivered deadpan, but with a sneaky twinkle from bright blue eyes.

And while unwilling to meet pretension with unmerited praise, or accept assertions unchallenged, Page was intrigued by genuine expertise, whatever the field, and had a huge respect for other people’s interests and views, whatever their age or background. Never one to take himself unduly seriously, his private letters tended to have a ‘Hagar the Horrible’ cartoon attached to them.

Despite his fearsome reputation,  Page is remembered as both kindly and generous-spirited  by generations of younger scholars. This intrinsic kindness and consideration became defining characteristics when the last few years of debilitating disease took so many of his other qualities and interests away from him.

Ray Page is survived by his wife, Elin, and two daughters. His only son died young.

Professor Raymond Page, Anglo-Saxonist, runic scholar, and Parker Librarian, was born on 25th September 1924. He died on March 11 2012, aged 87.


Carers – who will strike for them?

I am sitting here contemplating likely chaos on 30 November and thinking that its a shame that carers have no union. Carers have no pay, no recognition, and most of all no wonderful pension that they can drop all their responsibilities for and come out and strike about on Wednesday next. If carers could, and followed the example of the others who are striking, we could say our strike was for for a greater good, that we see no collective responsibility for the individuals we may damage in the process, and that the longterm advantages outweigh every other consideration.

But we can’t. We are carers because we love those we care for – and thus are sitting ducks.

I’m thinking – as I listen to good, solid, left-wing speeches about ” supporting the workers” – that its about time the left wing drags itself into the 21st century. It needs to recognise that nowadays “the worker” is the lucky one – sympathy and support should be focused on the plight of those who the state has left unsupported and unable to work.

(And yes – New Labour, Old Labour, wet and dry Tories – not one of you has given a monkeys for the plight of this large but clearly unimportant group. For all the care you have had for carers they might as well have been a rural bus route!)

The public sector worker works long hours, unrecognised, for the good of others? Very true, some do. Others earn very large salaries on very specious grounds and do very little in return, explaining, rather like bankers, that they earn a market rate and if you don’t pay it, the best candidates will go elsewhere. (I am thinking here of certain past Council Chief Executives). The public sector worker earns less than the market wage to support society out of a sense of duty? Maybe. Some are health workers and emergency service workers and other ‘frontline staff.’ . Others are about as near the front line as a WW1 general – and earn many times more than the troops in their trenches – but the unions represent both impartially.

Carers work much longer, much less recognised hours than nurse, or teacher or chief executive. Do carers get holiday pay? Hell, they don’t even get pay – and are often stigmatised by the Uncaring Press as shirkers or work-shy, to boot. Carers don’t get sickness pay or pension contributions. They are workers that the state has never bothered to support, or unions to represent or fight for. No one has cared to join forces and strike to give them ANY alleviation or compensation for all those long long hours of ungrudging – but uncosted, unwaged, unpensioned and unrecognised – work they do to save the public purse. Labour and Conservative governments are closer than they recognise.

Ok, I must declare a personal interest. As many know , I an a 24/7 carer of a young person with a disabling and highly dangerous condition which needs constant supervision and specialist care. Until very recently I was also a lone parent (of 3) – and as such I had to fit my earnings, and family life in general, around this care. For seven whole years I had no help from the local authority or government because of a system so sloppy, un-joined, un-focussed  and uncaring that nobody felt a need to respond to my enquiries, tell me of entitlements,  or fight on my behalf.

This is one of the reasons I entered local politics. Nobody should be in the position I was in.

I’m not whining. We all survived and no-one was (much) the worse for it so far, but one of the things that suffered very much indeed was my career and with it my chances of a reasonable pension to support me after all the years of working flat out.  It is impossible to be a full-time carer and full-time worker – and it is equally impossible to pay for the level of care needed unless you earn a banker’s – or a Chief Executive’s – wage. (For those who are interested, I solved the problem by writing. If  you make that deadline online, nobody knows you filed your copy from beside a hospital bed).

But why are we carers not recognised by unions? Why haven’t the unions fought, walked out, picketed on our behalf? Because carers are not ‘workers’? In supporting their well-paid workers in this selfish strike, the unions are victimising both the carer and the cared for with what seems (from the outside) an arrogant lack of care of those who truly need it – and an astonishing insouciance about the consequences of their actions.

My child has waited 6 months for a specialist NHS appointment in London, on November 30th. I am hoping – praying – there will be sufficient goodhearted ‘scabs’ for her to be seen, because otherwise there’s another six month wait. Assuming we can manage to travel to a central London Hospital on that day. No thanks to the unions.

In a debate on twitter today I was told that if the “race to the bottom” on pay and pensions is allowed to go ahead, those who have no choice because they are ill will look back on these days and ask us why we didn’t fight harder

I pointed out that if my child died because the strikers were looking to the future rather than caring for her present, she will never be able to look back at all. And I will look back on each and every striker with such rage, you would find it hard to believe.

Whereupon a – I am sure -personally nice and caring person tweeted the weaselly evasion to end all weaselly evasions:” taking a step back how can an individual withdrawing their labour in say, border agency be held responsible for what may happen to your daughter? “

Come on. A collective intention to strike with the intention of exerting collective pressure to gain collective benefits MUST be accompanied by collective responsibility for the harm you do.

And whether you keep those pensions (which so much more generous than outside the public sector), or whether you too end up in no better position than the legion of unionised workers who accepted major changes to pensions under the last government without a SQUEAK out of you, remember, please the pensionless carers and those they care for.

They have never received any of your benefits -but they will suffer from your industrial action