Don's Diary

August 14, 1998

Tuesday

High days and holy days. For Degree Congregations Day One I choose jacket with firm top button so as not to be strangled by hood of academic dress (presumably designed with the male shirt in mind). Phone call from Nicholas Baring, one of the honorary graduands at the first ceremony, to say that the other, David Gitari, Archbishop of Kenya, has been hospitalised overnight with a swollen leg. He is determined to discharge himself and come to the ceremony. I go straight to Canterbury Cathedral. Half an hour to find wheelchair, footstool, team of strong men, radio mike and stair-free venues for robing and for official photos. Congregation is always a miracle of organisation: getting the right certificate into the right hands despite latecomers, fainting grannies, errant VIPs. Faced with an emergency, the teamwork is magnificent: porters, technicians, clerical staff on marshalling duties all rally round. More students and less money may have taken a toll on other parts of the university experience, but graduation seems to have got better over the years. Students of the 1990s unembarrassedly love processing through the cloisters and in through the great west door of the cathedral.

Wednesday

Three degree ceremonies yesterday, three more today. Eight thousand people have come and gone. Is this the university's largest public event? As students mark their rite of passage, it is certainly an alumni occasion on a grand scale. The honorary graduand at the final ceremony is David Puttnam and his car is caught in traffic. Television crews, radio and press journalists are waiting for him. Give them all a cup of tea. Puttnam has come hotfoot from awarding degrees in Sunderland, where he is chancellor. Is it better to give than to receive? He seems to enjoy receiving and is really helpful about spending time with each of the media reps. He is photographed, in all the gear, with a journalist from the Kent Messenger who is getting her BA in English, achieved through part-time study. Lots of good coverage.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday

Three full days at the Kent County Show Business Expo. Sartorially ambivalent. Need suit for being businesslike but flowery hat for official lunch. Out on the showground you see cloth caps and wellies, shorts and T-shirts, bowlers and jodhpurs. Have we got the university presence right? If this is a cross-section of the life of the county, then we need to be here. The Business Expo is a newish venture; its carpeted marquee has a cooler tone than the teeming best-of-breeds and country crafts outside. The organisers reckon they have got 800 participants in the exhibition and its associated seminar programme, many of them from businesses that want to work with the university.

They also want to see our Mallorcan Midwife toads, the stars of the stand. The tiny beasts, the size of my thumb, are part of a captive breeding programme that we are carrying out with Jersey Wildlife Trust. Two postgrad students act as toad handlers. They are dead keen on their work. "They Went to Kent" is our device for enticing passers-by to the stand. The game is to match faces to names of well-known alumni. Interesting to see the levels of recognition. Just about everyone knows Alan Davies. Next in popularity is Tom Wilkinson, thanks to The Full Monty.

Visit wonderful WI tent to stock up on chutneys. Colleagues take the opportunity to join the Goat Club and the rabbit breeders association. Hidden depths in the team, evidently.

Sunday

Eight hundred bishops and their spouses arrive on campus for the Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of the Anglican Communion from around the world. This is the third to have been held at UKC, ever since the 1968 Conference in London where the contrast between first-world bishops in posh hotels and third-world bishops in garrets was too uncomfortable to be workable. Now they are all accommodated like students, eating in our halls and holding their plenaries in the sports centre. Some fabulous marquees have gone up, one with a balcony built over the slope looking down to the cathedral. The media interest is enormous - not least in the spouses and the four husbands accompanying some of the 11 women bishops.

The conference has done a deal with the Bishop's Finger pub in the city, offering discounted drinks for the media entourage. The charity golf match is billed as "Play a Round with a Bishop". I think of the campus as pretty compact but the bishops say they will go home fit from walking between buildings. The Bishop of Ely has brought his bike. For UKC Hospitality, the residences and catering arm of the university, this is a conference and a half. They are gearing up for a barbecue for 2,500. Their laundry list offers cassocks (Pounds 4). Cannot think of a gathering quite like this: Tony Blair, the head of the World Bank, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Queen all feature on the programme.

To Gatwick to collect my eight-year-old who is flying in as an unaccompanied minor from grandparents in Newcastle. No hat or frock required.

JOANNA MOTION Director of communications and development, University of Kent at Canterbury.

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