Don's Diary

August 22, 1997


Ten days to go before setting off on holiday, just enough time to finish the last chapter and clear my desk. The press release on Warwick's election of first woman pro-vice chancellor went out today, so the phone has rung all morning. Two radio interviews and three newspapers later the chapter is up to about ten pages. Last interview is done on the phone with a gin and tonic in hand and new kitten climbing up my skirt. When I see it in print it looks decidedly dodgy. Did I really say I was "gobsmacked to be invited to do this job"? Hardly diplomatic, but it has a ring of truth. Must give the gin a miss next time round.


To the university to finalise everything before departure. In the humanities building, I pass exhibits from family planning conference. Prime stand is condom display with huge plastic penises.

Unfortunately, this is directly opposite Islamic students' prayer room. Since my first item of neo pro-vice chancellorial business is memo about inadequacy of prayer room for growing numbers of students, I feel especially aggrieved. Send memo pointing out that had we not given an honorary degree to David Lodge the week before, I would personally have brought him over to see potential material for next satirical novel.


Child number two, home for vacation, staggers downstairs and we go off in search of a computer to help her write dissertation. Dearing report raises spectre of student finances again. As mother of one past, one present and two future students, calculations of required student finance seem wildly underestimated. Some students clean offices before going on to lectures.


Terrible start. Heard child number two at 3am, found her in bedroom of number three (just returned that evening from holiday in France) with empty hamster cage and suspicious-looking cat. All day spent hunting for hamster, to no avail. Manage to write about half a page after lunch. Friends to dinner, but celebrations dimmed by continuing mystery of missing rodent.


To London for radio interview. Child number one rings from Phoenix to discuss latest life crisis. Try in vain to get answers to questions about holiday home she has arranged for family on Cape Cod. Seems my priorities are her trivia. Check tickets. Discover flight time moved from 3pm to 11am. Will have to leave home at 5am to get to Gatwick by check-in deadline. Hamster still missing.


A good run at chapter this morning but work ends at noon with arrival of four of student daughter's housemates. They play cricket and basketball with youngest child, but then eat 50 sausages, 24 sausage rolls and countless crisps while waiting for meal. By 7pm no food left in house, dishwasher is full and hamster still missing. Neighbour comes to cry on shoulder and offer to housesit. Seems like good solution, especially since Oddspot, new kitten, needs constant attention. Could he have eaten the hamster?


Children report strange smell on landing. Find body of hamster with suspicious teeth marks under a bed. Hold funeral in garden. No possibility of working on chapter. Take children bowling and for a pizza to compensate. Smallest child collapses after bowling with temperature of 102. Children too ill and upset to sleep in own beds, so make nests with duvets and blankets on our bedroom floor. Place looks like Victorian slum.


Sent a copy of next year's committee timetable (dear God, how will I cope?) and summary of Dearing report. Will read it on beach. Sick child temporarily relieved by copy of Beano. Hamster owner of refuses to feed guilty cat. Rush to desk when child falls asleep and get to within last three pages. Try positive thinking, fail. Check passports. One is missing. Two hours later it is found in income tax return papers. By now it is 9pm and no dinner ready, but we have finished a wine box in under three days.


Unable to sleep for worry about packing, unfinished chapter, own inadequacies. Since cannot run family successfully, how can I run a university? Downstairs in early light to wash kitchen floor as penance. Deepest depression starts to lift when sick child comes down and demands breakfast, cheque arrives in post and suddenly last few pages fall into place. I have finally made it. Passports in order, housesitter due to arrive, children cheerful, packing does not look too bad, even sun is shining. Promise to buy a new hamster in September, put manuscript into large padded envelope. Only hours to go now, before the Atlantic beach beckons. And Dearing. Or can I swap him for the Beano Summer Special?

Susan Bassnett, professor at the centre for British and comparative cultural studies, Warwick University, and the university's first female pro-vice chancellor.

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