Don's diary

April 10, 1998


The Political Studies Association conference we are organising this year has been an outstanding success. A succession of brilliant papers, three days of continuous sunshine, the food has been a gastronomic delight, the organisation has run like clockwork throughout. Conference delegates, publishers' representatives, distinguished visitors, the PSA executive and colleagues are all smiling contentedly I and then I wake up. There is a Billy Liar in all of us, or so I tell myself.


Woken early by my recurring PSA nightmare. So few people have turned up that I am reduced to apologetically buying everyone a drink. What is worse: that so few people are there or that I buy them all a drink? In dreams begins responsibility.


There is still the routine business of being head of department, teacher and all-round academic: letter to the dean pleading for money for a colleague, a student reference, a succession of visitors and phone calls, referee a grant proposal, arrange a meeting I what are these letters I am signing? I make a mental note to increase my additional voluntary contributions. When did I start thinking so much about my pension? In the afternoon I pop into my colleague Nick's office to remind him of the meeting with conference stewards. Nick is carrying the load of actually organising the conference, I only think about it (the definition of an academic?). A few minutes later I pop into Nick's office to ask him if he has sorted out the overhead projector slides. A few minutes later I pop into Nick's office to suggest that we may need additional signs. A few minutes later I Nick has everything in hand but would make still quicker progress if people stopped popping into his office. I resolve to send a memo urging colleagues to stop disturbing Nick. Think Scarlett O'Hara: tomorrow is another day. It is not quite as reassuring a thought as I hoped.


I was right not to be reassured: there are a host of problems (or "challenges"). Will there be enough stewards? I the budget is worryingly tight I who is preparing the badges? I have we checked with the minibus company? ... will the students' union turn off the juke box in the bar we are using? I offload all these anxieties on to Nick and an ever-so-slightly pained expression crosses even his resolutely calm features. I look at my watch: 8.30am. God may have created the world in six days but he has never organised the PSA conference. In the evening a farewell dinner for one of our superb general teaching assistants. I am struck once again by how fortunate I am in my colleagues - genial, tolerant and supportive. Always looking for the cloud where there is a silver lining, I wonder how long this can last. Well, it will at least last the evening, so I start to enjoy myself.


I wake much calmer. Or is it a hangover? When I go into the department office to ask something, Pauline gives me one of her "perhaps care in the community is not such a good idea" looks. I check to see I am not wearing shoes that do not match. No, it is only that I asked her the same question an hour ago. Martin, Nick's admin assistant, has now taken to sleeping in his office. Following the discovery of a small but vital omission in our system for recording registrations he has just completed an all-night session. I try not to think about how little he is being paid.


In my post is a document from the administration ominously entitled "Review of the university decision-making processes". I read: "We would like to start from first principles". The contents are sensible enough but long experience of academic discussions teaches me that first principles are rarely the best place to start; at least not if you want to get somewhere. Nick is definitely looking older than he did two weeks ago. I tell him so. He smiles, replying that he has just had an email from the chair of the PSA: I am expected to sit at the top table for the annual dinner. He tells me I am looking older than I did two minutes ago. My last desperate throw - gender balance - should get me off the top table.


I try to keep Fridays for research but not today. The day passes in a blur of mind-numbing trivia. After I pester Pauline for the fifth time in 20 minutes, I resolve to send out a memo asking colleagues not to disrupt work in the office. I struggle to remember all those convincing reasons why organising the conference is a good thing. It is only three days away. On the bus home I amuse myself by enumerating the different things that could go wrong. I grow bored once I reach 60. Arrive back late. I must listen to some music. I firmly put aside Gotterdammerung. I know ... the music swells as Gloria Gaynor belts out 'I Will Survive'. Yes, it is going to be okay. Is that applause I hear? Surely that is not the young Julie Christie I see? Let me buy you all a drink? Cheers, Nick.

Head of the politics department at Keele University, which is hosting the 1998 Political Studies Association annual conference.

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