I’m afraid I haven’t had much time to blog lately, despite the fact that I have four books waiting to be reviewed. The truth is work has finally caught up with me. Don’t think I can’t hear you say “It’s about time!” – I know I tend to have a more relaxed take on life than most of my colleagues! Last Monday, for example, I spent the better part of the day (and evening) knitting and gossiping over tea and scones with a couple of friends… There’s been nothing like that going on these past few days, however. No more cakes and ale for me! It’s been work, work, and more work, and the weekend is only going to bring me more of the same.
The thing is, I’ve got a deadline: next Thursday, as soon as my evening class is over, I’m off to England for a week. Normally, I’d be jumping up and down in excitement at the prospect: I love taking the Eurostar and being whisked from the Gare du Nord to St Pancras, from the land of croissants and café au lait to that of builders’ tea and hot cross buns in just two hours! But I’m not going for pleasure this time: I’m going in order to participate in my first ever academic conference – or in other words, in order to be roasted alive.
The conference itself promises to be fascinating. Entitled “Ruins in Twentieth-Century British Art and Fiction”, it proposes to analyse the function of ruins in works ranging from the early twentieth century to the present time. A more detailed description of the conference may be found on the University of London website, along with a programme of the two days. I myself will be reading a paper on London during the Blitz, as depicted in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and Rosamond Lehmann’s The Echoing Grove. For those of you who happen to be in London and are interested, the conference will take place on 4th and 5th November at Senate House. Should my own presence there prove insufficient to fire you with instant enthusiasm, I can guarantee there will be plenty of more distinguished participants.
And therein lies my problem. The bald truth is I am utterly, irrationally, and uncontrollably terrified. I have never been much of a public speaker – my brothers have informed me (with no small measure of disgust) that my voice goes all high and squeaky if I so much as address a waiter in a restaurant. This I vigorously deny. It is merely an ignoble attempt to undermine my authority as the eldest sibling. However, the fact remains that the prospect of getting up on a podium and addressing a roomful of professors, some of whom I know (albeit from afar), all of them better qualified and more experienced than me, has the power to turn me into a jelly. I am all a-quake and a-quiver, even though there is still a week to go and I am still standing firmly on the opposite side of the Channel.
Hence the knitting, socialising, and myriad other forms of procrastination – all part of a desperate attempt to put as much distance between me and the dreaded event as possible. Even writing up my paper would mean accepting that The Time Had Come. So I kept putting it off, until I realized that the sands of time were running out – fast! – and that if I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself, I had better knuckle down. Luckily for me, I have always worked best when under pressure. And at least, I am being kept too busy by this particular rush of adrenalin to worry too much about next week’s…
There is one glimmer of hope in all this darkness: as soon as the conference is over (and provided I’ve survived, of course), I’m heading straight for Cambridge, where I have another appointment to consult the Lehmann archives at King’s. I can’t wait to walk down King’s Parade again, and see the golden yales above the entrance of St John’s College, and listen to a lunchtime organ recital at Great St Mary’s! If I focus on Cambridge, then it’s just possible I won’t run screaming out of Senate House next Saturday morning.
© Florence Berlioz 2011