Don's Diary

July 24, 1998


I am in Slovenia on a British Council sponsored teaching week. My mission, to lecture to students at the University of Ljubljana on British cultural history, literature and popular culture. On my arrival, customs officials dubiously eye the teaching aids in my hand luggage - comic books, videos of Crimson Tide, Batman and Trainspotting, and a bottle of that Scottish cultural icon, the fizzy drink Irn Bru. Goodness knows what Slovenian undergraduates will make of this jumble.

Installed in a dark and gloomy hostel near the university, I escape to take a guided tour round Ljubljana.


I transfer to new living quarters in the faculty of arts building, where most of my lectures will take place. It is a converted bedsit tucked into a corner of the fifth floor. The building empties by 10pm, after which I become the ghost in the machine, padding through dark, silent corridors.

Bags safely installed, I visit the university's department of translation and interpreting, which, for complicated financial reasons, is hosting my visit. (The department is a new initiative, benefiting from a recent infusion of European Union funding. The staff are young and energetic, working seven to an office with few computers and one phone line.) I manage to wriggle out of a well-intentioned invitation to teach a first-year class in linguistics.

My mixed Anglo-American/Spanish Caribbean background has so confused my linguistic codes (is it spelt color or colour? oriented or orientated?) that the thought of exposing my language complex to new students makes me break out in a sweat. I promise to do an extra class later in the week, and opt for some cultural research instead, photographing what I missed yesterday.


I visit the British Council after 10am to make arrangements for my guest lecture on Wednesday. I am impressed by their new offices, their efficient staff and their enthusiastic director, Francis King, who is tremendously energetic for so early in the morning. I stagger out to grab an espresso at a nearby cafe. It costs all of 40 pence.

In the afternoon I deliver my first lecture, on American popular culture and comic books. It is a hit, particularly as I have brought a plethora of visual material for them to see. Out comes the 1960s Batman film, Crimson Tide, and colour overhead transparencies of superheroes in full flight. The comic potential of men and women in their underwear fighting crime is always worth exploiting, and today I do so shamelessly. The students laugh in all the right places, which is a relief.


A marathon teaching day, starting with a fourth-year seminar (20 students) on analysing mass media (in this case soap operas), immediately followed by a large and long first-year lecture on national and cultural identities.

Making the point about "imagined communities" and the use of commodities as cultural symbols, I unveil my pi ce-de-resistance, smuggled across real borders: Scotland's cultural answer to Coca-Cola - Irn Bru. The class takes the taste test: half of them love it, the other half loathes it. I tell them it tastes much better on a Friday night after several pints and a midnight order of fish and chips.

In the evening I give a talk at the British Council on invasion scare novels of the 19th century to about a dozen people.


A day off teaching, but the morning set aside to meet members of the department for discussions about teaching, research and matters cultural. I spend the rest of the day climbing Ljubljana's small hills and visiting its medieval castle, whose intermittent restoration over the past 30 years has led to some curious postmodernist interpretations of medieval architecture, including a lounge bar that looks like a remnant from the 1960s film Barbarella. I am told it is the official setting for all Ljubljanian wedding ceremonies.


Conclude my week with a lecture on decoding British soap operas, a tarted-up version of the points raised in Wednesday's seminar, except this time I face the full first-year student crowd (90 plus) and several members of the faculty. Another multimedia presentation, including videotaped samples of Brookside, Eastenders and Coronation Street.

At the end I am given an enthusiastic ovation, but whether it is because of the quality of presentation or because it is my last lecture, I am not sure. Later I find out that one of the most popular daytime programmes in Slovenia is Esmeralda, a Mexican soap opera, subtitled and complete with a special hotline number you can call to find out the next day's plot summary.

David Finkelstein. Co-director, Scottish Centre for the Book, Napier University, Edinburgh.

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented