Let me say straightaway that I am damn delighted to have been given an OBE, for "services to classical scholarship". You'd have to be a pretty curmudgeonly old soul not to be very tickled.
You'd also have to be oddly unreflective not to wonder for a day or two whether to accept, for all the obvious reasons. Do I really think that an Order of the British EMPIRE is quite what I should be putting my name to? And isnt the whole honours business a bit silly anyway?
Well, yes, it is a bit silly in a way .. but here are the reasons for me accepting and being damn chuffed.
The truth is that when the envelope arrived, I wasnt quite sure what to do (I guess every normal subversive human being must have the same ambivalence, or at least I hope they do). The advice I had was simple. If you want to refuse, do so on principle, forget about it, and dont tell anyone that you turned it down (because that's just a reverse kind of boasting).
So, I thought, would I really not tell anyone? Answer, no, of course I'd blab.. at some evening or other after half a bottle more of pinot grigio than I should have consumed, I would have said (to a no doubt unreceptive audience) .. oh actually I turned down a medal...
Ar that point the Neil Macgregor story came to mind: he turned down every honour offered, so it is said, then took an OM. How sexy is that...? Well very sexy, but it snookered me. If I think it is sexy to hold out for an OM (which MB is a million miles from ever even being considered for), then I have rather blown my cover on the matter of principle. Either you have no truck with these things, or you're on board -- holding out for for something "better" is worse than vulgar.
So I am now pleased to say that I accepted. Why?
First, my Mum and Dad would have been so pleased. "Oh go on" they'd have said, "dont be such a stick in the mud.. do it for us". Second, I know that many people have spent hours getting this for me (and how rude, honestly, to say no thanks -- or even just "no").
But third there is the old cliché of "the subject" -- and true,for me, it is. My whole career has been directed to ensuring that "services to classical scholarship" is something you could still get a little gong for. So what message would it be sending, to whom, to turn it down.
So I'm pleased. And well done Romans.. you just got a medal from another empire.
(There's quite a good parliamentary discussion on the honours system here.)