Well, that seems to have been the heatwave over – some of us northern types have always found it too much to have the temperature go past 20, and for an amateur gardener like me with about 200 pots (well, it seems like that when they all need watering!), the rain has been a welcome change. Unfortunately, the Brown garden has always been more of a nature reserve than a manicured plot and the tropical climate has rendered it currently something like the Amazon rainforest. Even the cat has gone armed with a machete when he makes his evening patrol around the borders.
I have always aimed to have a balance between the needs of the garden to grow and my need to be able to sit in it without being strangled by a particularly aggressive clematis. It seems that the balance has now swung in the garden's favour, so as usually happens at this time of year, I begin to wonder whether I should call in the experts.
The chaps on Gardener's World
or the Beechgrove Garden
seem to spend most of their time advising people who haven't got much of a garden to begin with, so I'm not sure how they would respond to a request of 'help, my garden is bullying me!' It did become rather an acute situation when I was struggling to see out of the sitting room window, so my son kindly offered to assist me to cut back the clematis, which was trying to force an entry through the roof tiles. But as any clematis aficionado knows, clematis grows back on itself, so if you chop one bit, another bit dies in a particularly ugly fashion, leaving a chunk of dead branches. And currently there are something like 20 bags of deceased clematis waiting to go to the local recycling centre, so the revenge of the clematis is complete…
The groves of academe
As anyone who has worked in education will know, the new year does not start in January but August/September, when schools and colleges go back – in the former case to the delight of their parents, who have now had over a year of home-schooling because of the lockdown. Since I retired from the excitement of higher education, my services have been in demand as a proofreader and editor of student theses and dissertations (in the latter case, often involving a good deal of rewriting).
To the disgust of my Finnish daughter in law, who is far more entrepreneurial than I am, I have never tried very hard to turn this 'talent' into a business, partly as it cost me more to employ an accountant to keep the HMRC off my back than I ever made from proofreading. And as my clients were mostly students, they never had any money anyway, although there was the PhD student from Kazakhstan, who came along with a large bag of £100 notes – I had never seen so much cash in my life and yes, I did declare it to the HMRC, which may have been a mistake as they have continued to make a mess of my tax affairs ever since.
But what is interesting about my 'clients' is the way that they leave everything until the last minute – in fact, as I write this, there is one student who is emailing me and begging me to do a last proof read before submitting her dissertation in two hours' time. No matter how often I tell them they can make better use of my time by not leaving everything to the last minute, they still procrastinate. I have a theory that when people are stressed or pushed for time, they will always focus on the thing they most like doing, or the thing they find easiest.
As other contributors to this journal know, one might like
writing, but to get it right is not easy, and for some people it will always be a penance rather than a pleasure. Sadly, with the levels of credentialism that now exist in higher education – that is, the more paper qualifications are demanded for jobs which probably don't need them – more and more students will be made miserable by being forced to do something they dislike. And there will be more work for me, for much as I fret and fume about my students' lack of organisation, as an ex-teacher I can't let them submit work that could be improved by a little more attention to detail.
I see there's yet another proposal to bring back Latin into non-posh schools so it isn't seen to be elitist. As a classics graduate, I can vouch for the fact that it's certainly easier to learn some Latin-based European languages, such as French, Spanish or Italian, as they are a heck of a lot easier than Latin – and Ancient Greek – which are very grammatically complex languages. As languages develop they become less grammatically sophisticated – English, for example, has almost lost the subjunctive mood, for who now says: 'if I were to go out later…'?
Also, what most people don't know is that the sort of Latin that tends to get studied was written by a highly-educated upper-class Roman. The 'plebs', as we know from graffiti at Pompeii and Herculaneum, spoke a language much more like modern Italian. So while posh Latin writers called a horse 'equus' from which we get words like equitation, the ordinary Roman called the animal 'caballus' – literally, an old nag – from which we get words like the French 'cheval' and our chevalier (that's enough of the Latin lesson).
What I would hope, though, is that the Latin students of the future don't have to start with Caesar's Gallic War, as I did as a 12 year old. It was presented as JC's 'adventures' in Gaul, but all he seemed to do was have fights with people, and I thought him extremely pompous, referring to himself in the third person as though he far was too important to say: 'I came, I saw, I conquered'. And there was no love interest, along the lines of 'I met this really hot Egyptian Queen the other day'.
In fact, I was so bored with Caesar and company that I covered my book with all sorts of little cartoons of him and the Gauls. My early ambition was to be a cartoonist, but unfortunately the French writers of Asterix the Gaul
got there first. So my advice for Latin teachers is more of Asterix and less of Caesar!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant