No peace for the wicked
I am spending Christmas in the library. Well, that’s not quite 100% true. The whole family is taking today off work for the ritual turkey, presents and inebriation. But that’s as far as it goes.
I should say that I can think of many more exciting ways of spending the festive season (I’m not that sad). But I have an unmissable deadline on 2 January, which can only be “un-missed” if I get to work for a regulation eight hours or so, on most days between now and then. (OK that trip to Egypt didn't help!)
I realise that my blog may give the impression that a don’s life largely consists of whirlwind tours to exotic foreign locations. But most of what I do is infinitely more humdrum, and much less blog-worthy. Right now, it involves putting on my fingerless mittens and “checking references” in the Classics Faculty Library, whose heat has been firmly turned off until the beginning of January.
I feel a bit like the academic equivalent of Tiny Tim.
The unmissable deadline in question is from Harvard University Press. I finished writing my book on the Roman Triumph back in late September. It’s now been to the referees chosen by the Press and been formally accepted. But I am very keen for it to be published in 2007 (because that’s the only way it will count towards the national Research Assessment Exercise, the government’s sledge-hammer which divides funding between UK universities on the basis of the quality of their research – don’t get me started!). And to be sure of that, I have to get the absolute final, final version in on 2 January.
It’s tedious work. There’s not much thinking left to do. The big job is to make all the references in the foot-notes consistent. So, where now I sometimes refer to “Cicero’s In Catilinam”, sometimes to” Cicero’s Cat.”, and sometimes to his “Against Catiline”, I have to pull everything into line. It sounds simple, but actually it 's one of those simple problems that take forever.
There are all kinds of tricky decisions. Take the English or Latin dilemma. It’s confusing for any reader to have some titles in English, some in Latin -- so you want to opt for one or the other. But then “Ovid’s Fasti” sounds a bit silly if you call it “Ovid’s Calendar Poem” (which is the correct translation) – and equally “Livy’s History” sounds horribly pedantic when rendered as his “Ab Urbe Condita”. You can see how you can make a huge meal out of the task.
All this was keeping me pretty busy and I had got through three chapters out of nine, when late on Christmas Eve I had a sinking feeling. I was working off a print-out of what I thought was the last version of the text, exactly as it had been sent off to the publishers. But I kept coming across errors that I was sure that I had already corrected. In particular I was absolutely convinced that I had corrected the date of the reign of Edward VIII from 1937 (wrong) to 1936 (right).
Indeed I had. The horrible truth turned out to be that I was working off the print-out of an earlier draft. It could be worse; it is rectifiable. But this evening must now be spent transferring all the hand-written corrections from that version to the final one.
All the same, I feel eternally grateful that I work in a university that allows me access to one of the best classical research libraries in the world, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, even when it's closed to the rest of the world. You can keep all those Cambridge posh dinners; most of us don’t have time to go to them anyway. The libraries are the thing. It may be cold, and getting colder, but at least I can get to the books.
Anyone who think academics are a lazy bunch of lay-abouts should come and take a peek at the intellectual activity here over Christmas week. I’m not the only one among my colleagues beavering away. And even if I am giving it a break today, I am confident that if I were to go over to the library, I’d find some company.
Dedicated or mad? You choose.