Don's Diary

September 22, 2000


To the Netherlands, with good friend and colleague Dr Donna, to speak at the "Global Conference on Language and Literacy" at the University of Utrecht.

Travel in the university car - a 2-litre Mondeo fetchingly decorated with a large, blue logo on each side. Never driven a car with an engine larger than 1100cc. Speed is tempting; Donna sits twitching.

Break our journey in Belgium and come across the familiar-sounding Knokke Heist. Over a wheat beer, we indulge in a feast of mussels.


Wake up suffering from a nasty bout of mussel poisoning. In addition to the usual symptoms, my entire body has become incredibly stiff - it is hard to bend any limb or get out of bed. The conference begins this evening; we must be on our way.

Donna eats a hearty breakfast; I slip down a few Imodium. Bent into the right shape to drive the car, we set off. However, at our first unscheduled stop at a Belgian service station, I catch sight of a family troughing down polystyrene trays of chips and mayonnaise and have to repair to the conveniences.

Donna drives the rest of the way while I mutter nonsense about "good, plain English food" in the back seat.


Missed the opening reception yesterday evening - must make every effort to turn up for the opening keynote paper.

Still a bit stiff and sweating profusely, I arrive at the Dom Kirk with seconds to spare and manage a swig of a glucose drink and some Rennies. Space has been staked out with small items from Donna's handbag.

The speaker is Frank Smith of Joining the Literacy Club fame. His work on the development of reading and writing abilities was important stuff in the 1970s. Today, however, he is talking without notes about cathedrals, mathematics, emancipation and technology. Declaring that the battle for emancipation (in terms of "master/serf" oppression) has been won, he proposes that the next great struggle is against the dehumanising forces of technology.

The response from delegates is mixed: some are clapping ecstatically, others are clutching their heads in their hands.


Present my paper. As I unload briefcase, video recorder, data projector, extension cables and European adaptor plugs from the car, I wonder why I hadn't planned just to read it instead of dragging half of Curry's around Europe with me.

Nevertheless, the video examples seem to work well, and I reward myself with a glass of distilled water and some Pepto-Bismol. Later, after a second, excellent keynote by Lisa Delpit, we head to Amsterdam, where we treat ourselves to traditional Dutch fare.


Homeward bound. Traditional Dutch fare does not agree with Donna, and journey is interrupted by frequent "comfort stops". I offer recently acquired digestive remedies. Our trip has developed a reassuring symmetry.

Viv Ellis is senior lecturer in education, University of Brighton.

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