I was there as a contestant for a Channel 4 programme, Codex (to be aired some time in September, probably). It was gair who put me on to it, to begin with (thanks, gair!). It’s one of those shows where groups of people with particular professions get together to make a team: district nurses, brewers, park attendants and the like. I thought a team of children’s writers might work well, and that we’d get some free publicity to boot – which is how we ended up on the show. Because the BM is filled with people all day, they film the programme overnight. It’s quite an undertaking: they have to set up a fully functioning studio and film two shows, beginning only when the museum closes at 6pm and finishing by 5.30am. We were on the second shift, starting at 2.30am. They kept us awake with caffeine and Haribos. And food. Lots of food. Long trestles of it were laid out in a kind of undercroft area beneath the entrance hall – and it was only after I’d had rather too much that I noticed the mice running about nearby. After that it was Haribos only for your intrepid contestant.
Unfortunately I can’t say anything about the show itself, as I had to sign a contract to that effect. But I can perhaps reveal that the team we children’s writers were up against – in a show all about the artefacts at the British Museum – was composed of professional archaeologists. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination…
Coming back dazed yesterday morning, I noticed only after about half an hour of being on the train that it was entirely covered in mud. The seats, the carpet, the luggage racks. Thick wedges of mud hung from every table, as if some mud creature had been sliming through the corridor, trying to rub itself clean on the way. Half an hour after that (my brain was siezing up by this time) I realized that it was the after effect of Glastonbury: the train had already done the run from Bristol to London several times that day. Bristol Temple Meads still looked like a refugee camp when I got there. The concourse was filled with piles of mud, many with people inside them. Others had despaired of their clothes and were wearing bin bags. They all looked like they’d had adventures too.
And then I went straight on to work, where as I was going up the stairs to my office I met two colleagues – both historians – who told me that a friend and colleague of mine, whom I’ve known for 17 years, had collapsed and died on the campus that morning. No warning. All the historians had been having a meeting, including him, and he’d seemed in good form. He’d popped out to go to the toilet – and was found dying there ten minutes later. He was my age – mid-forties. Didn’t smoke, hardly drank, not overweight, kept fit, both his parents are alive and in good health: no one saw it coming. He was also one of the most thoroughly decent and unfailingly kind people I’ve known at UWE. For what it’s worth, he was an excellent scholar too. The world of seventeenth-century German studies is the poorer today – and so is this one.