In Woodstock -- and scammed!
I was once nearly taken in by one of those hand-written letters that arrive from Africa, asking you for 200 quid for some poor woman to complete her midwifery/teaching course. In fact, I was on the brink of sending off a cheque, when I got suspicious of the sob-story of financial decline (it was the phrase "and then we had to sell the goat" that, for some reason, got alarm bells ringing -- it was just TOO much of a cliché). And then -- being a semi-trained palaeographer -- I looked at the letter carefully and saw clear signs that it had been copied out by someone who had not much of a clue what they were writing,, and was probably spending all day churning out identikit copies to send off to people like me. It was even clear that the copyist had left a gap for the amount of money required, which had been filled in by another hand. (I thought that the copyist probably was well deserving of what money I could give him/her -- but there was no way of getting it to them!)
But normally I am much too suspicious and hard headed.
That said, a few weeks ago, as I now see, I got half-caught. An email arrived from one "Reinaldo Sanchez" in Venezuela, asking for a whole list of my books. He claimed to teach in a university, and explained: "I need the publications because I am working on a project with my students based on a study of the historical evolution of Greek and Roman Art".
Now, people do occasionally write from parts of the world where it is hard to get books and ask for them to be sent. If I can help I usually try to (PLEASE don't take that as an open invitation!!). So this request was not unprecedented. There was something a bit odd about it: Reinaldo had carefully specified the page numbers of each book and had asked for them to be sent by fedex or dhl (come on... do the deserving poor insist that their donations arrive by courier?). My assistant smelt a bit of a rat too -- but as I happened to have a Spanish version on one of the books lying around and not much use to me, we decided to send that off by ordinary mail.
Well yesterday I got forwarded another email from Reinaldo that had been sent to a colleague, with a similar list of requests. This time he was working on a project "based on the study of the historical evolution on <sic> Mediterranean civilizations according to politics, economy, culture and society." And my canny colleague had tracked down references to other message from Reinaldo (as professor of English, female musicologist etc etc).
I suppose it is one way to stock a book shop. But if you get asked, unless you are a keen supporter of the Venezuelan book trade, I would save your books. (Is there REALLY a market for my Triumph book in Barinas?)
Anyway, I got all this in Woodstock, where I had come for an away night with the other directors of our Leverhulme "Abandoning the Past" project. The only way that we can get a decent, uninterrupted period of time talking about the next direction of the project is by going right away from Cambridge -- and Woodstock is ideal, partly because there is no O2 signal (so no interruptions from the iPhone either).
Woodstock has some gloomy associations for me, as it was on the last away night there that I got done by a speed camera and ended up at the speed awareness course. On this occasion in fact the mobile cameras of the Thames Valley constabulary were out in force too (cross fingers that I wasn't doing more than 40 mph as they pointed the thing at me). But things looked bad -- and I mean even worse -- as we pulled into the pub in which we were staying.
For a start David Cameron's battle bus was there (as you see in the picture) pouring cheer into the true blue hearts of the Woodstock locals, to the accompaniment of the television and a lot of police (not my idea of peaceful away night). But the nastiest surprise was the obvious preparations (stage, microphones etc) underway for a MayDay evening concert in the town square -- onto which my nice bedroom directly faced. Sure enough, at 6.00 pm, the festivities started, kicked off by the Duke of Marlborough at the microphone (yes there really still are villages in England where the local Duke opens the MayDay knees up) and for about thirty minutes it was very loud music indeed -- of the Morris Dance variety.
Luckily for me (though sadly for the locals) it was already pissing with rain. And by 7.00 pm the rain had won and peace was restored.
And we had a great 24 hours talking about publication plans.
As for good news, you may have seen (as M Bulley has already noted) some flattering remarks about the blog and the comments in today's Observer (a nice article overall to judge from a quick glance -- haven't quite managed to READ it yet; but I guess some of my colleagues must be reaching for the sick bucket). And more important, I'm happy to report that this blog looks set to remain FREE on the TLS website. Thanks for your patience on this.