April 25th, 2012


Diana Wynne Jones Celebration: Pre-math and Aftermath - but other people are better at Math

I was intending to do a full report on the Diana Wynne Jones celebration on Sunday, but I didn't have a moment until today, by which time of course there are several excellent accounts already out there, such as these two by gillo, and this by Cheryl Morgan. I will also be doing a brief account tomorrow over at The Awfully Big Blog Adventure. So these are just a few interstitial notes.

ashkitty had come down from Aberystwyth the previous evening and was staying over, and at 10am I arrived with her at St George's to help get things ready for the Event. (There was, throughout, some hesitation in my mind about what to call this happening. Memorial service was too grim, while celebration - though it was the official title - seemed to evoke balloons and party poppers, especially in sentences such as "When does the celebration start?") Getting things ready largely consisted of heaving many boxes of books down to the crypt and setting them out on trestle tables. I cannot, however, claim credit for the magnificent Babel Tower of Diana's foreign editions, which had been accumulating in her house for years: that was I think the work of ashkitty and Diana's son Micky, who was directing operations. I did however nab a rare copy of the German Skiver's Guide: Handbuch zum Webtauchen. I also had to sort a set of her book covers into chronological order for a display by the bar - something I think I did more or less correctly from memory, although I was a bit hazy about the late '80s and early '90s. Upstairs, the Steinway concert grand which is a fixture at St George's (which is often used by the BBC for lunchtime concerts) was being expertly played by an array of Diana's relatives, including her daughter-in-law, grandson and nephew. I state as a matter of record that the latter two musicians are both named Tom.

I was expecting a bedraggled Polly to turn up, but instead nineweaving came, amongst various others of Diana's friends and relatives, and after a while she, ashkitty and I made our way up the hill to the pub where an ever-increasing number of DWJ's fans was assembling, including fjm, chilperic, gillo, Cheryl, Gili Bar-Hillel and her husband who had come from Israel, and (all the way from Australia) splanky, who was doing Eastercon and this on a kind of fan scholarship (I had no idea such things existed), as well as many friends from the 2009 conference and other DWJ meets past. Apart from having to wait almost an hour for a burger, it was a very pleasant lunch - and our party eventually ran to four concatenated tables, taking up much of what was, thankfully, a particularly cavernous pub.

The Event itself is already well described elsewhere. I thought it went very well, and managed to stay dry eyed until Dave Devereux's account of being with Diana at the end of her life - but there was plenty of laughter too, and I think Diana was approached from enough angles that we managed by a process of - not triangulation, perhaps, but polygonization? - to see her before us, if in a fitful way like a Star Wars hologram. It was the kind of event where one thought, "I wish Diana could see this - she'd really enjoy it!"

In the interval and afterwards, I met more old friends, including a student whom I didn't recognize because she was in the wrong context - agh! - and the indefatigable and generous Jessica Yates, whom I never see but she gives me some carefully-selected photocopies from her bag. Blackwells had taken up position in the crypt, and were selling advance copies of Reflections, which looks a handsome volume. I hear that David Fickling, its publisher, was also somewhere about, but I managed to miss him.

Speakers, partners and dogsbodies went to Diana's house for a bite to eat afterwards, and I did a bit of ferrying of both people and unsold books (giving directions to Diana's house is like playing three-dimensional chess: it's generally easier to give the person a piggy-back). This occasioned my meeting the charming Megan Whalen Turner, who had come over with sdn and who helped me defy gravity by carrying dozens of books in a box that had very largely ceased to be. My opening conversational gambit was, "I guessed the twist in The Thief!" (I am so gauche.)

nineweaving was staying overnight, as was ashkitty, and we spent the evening watching The Owl Service on DVD - or at least a portion of it, for ashkitty, despite her expertise in matters Mabinogioniac, had somehow neglected ever to read the book, and I didn't want to give her too many spoilers. In the morning I went with nineweaving in a rather chilly drizzle to see the underestimated stones of Stanton Drew, the pockmarked grimness of which is mitigated by the rosy pink with which they are flecked, and by the little rock pool worlds of moss and lichen that have evolved on the flanks of their fallen. It was both too wet and too early to have lunch in garden of The Druid's Arms (where three outlying stones stand next to the picnic tables - the Cove of the monument), but we went the extra mile to Chew Magna and ate there. I've been round Chew Magna church several times, but only on this occasion did I stop to read the list of incumbents and their patrons. Most of the latter are local noblemen, although in the mid-16th century several of the Chew Magna vicars seem to have been installed directly by Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth (I wonder why?); but the most striking entry was for 1643, in which "Stubbs - a Preacher" was listed as vicar, while the entry in the column of patrons read simply: "The Mob".

Later that afternoon I took nineweaving to Bristol Airport, whence I hope and trust she made it to the next leg of her European tour - and so came home to catch up on marking, European bids, and proofing of articles - from the tight deadline parts of which I have just emerged.

Altogether, an excellent weekend.

Speaking as a Rector...

The house I live in is only six years old, but it was built in an area that was once, before the Reformation, monastic land. After the Dissolution, that land was sold on to private owners, of whom I'm the latest in a long line. But it did not come stringlessly. The monasteries had acquired rectorships to one or more churches, meaning that they were entitled to tithes from the church's parishioners, but also that they were liable to keep the chancel of the church in good repair. (Why just the chancel? I've no idea.) When the land was sold, those rights and liabilities were sold with it.

The right to tithes has long since ceased, but the liability to repair chancels continues, and will do so in perpetuity (or until some future government decides otherwise). In practice, churches seldom call on hapless householders to repair their chancels, but it does happen, and can be ruinously expensive. For this reason, most people (me included) take out a once-and-for-all insurance against that contingency when they buy the property. From memory, it cost me about £120, which seems quite a lot now, but against the background of the many apparently arbitrary sums large and small that one gets stuck with in the course of buying a house, appeared trifling at the time.

Still, it tickles me to think that I'm a rector (even if a lay one). I didn't choose the role - which means I suppose that it must be a vocation - but I'd like to make the most of it now I've got it. What can I do with this title? Will it get me a better seat in a restaurant? Can I administer extreme unction to small mammals? What are the possibilities?