Thank you to the Class Ass.
I have just been very very lucky. I have won the Classical Association Prize for 'a significant contribution to the public understanding of Classics'...about which I am dead chuffed. Previous winners include Peter Parsons, Charlotte Higgins, Tom Holland and Caroline Lawrence .. and it is very generous. (OK, let me confess, as you'll only ask, it was £5000... some of which, for what it's worth, I shall be giving to my Faculty without which and whom none of what I do would be possible.)
The presentation of the cheque was at the annual Classical Association conference dinner, a delightfully boozy occasion brilliantly hosted in Reading this year, marred for me only by the thought that over the course of the evening I would lose the cheque. (The good news is that I didn't and that it is now on the kitchen scales waiting to be paid in.)
I did get the chance to say a "few words" in my "acceptance speech".. and what I wanted to hammer home was that "classical outreach" was a communal operation. Classics has a great public engagement record stretching back more than a hundred years -- and it's grounded in the fact that it has something to reach out with. (To put it in basic terms, if you don't have a strong research base and new things to say, you might as well forget "outreach"... because it will be built on sand.)
The example I plucked out of the air was the popularity (and commercial success) of Greek drama on the West End stage. This is partly down to those who inspire directors, or write reviews, or appear on tv explaining why this or that play is so importantly interesting.
But it is also down the man or woman who has spent many moons unglamorously in the library trying to work out what the "ge" means in line 429 ("ge" is often translated from the Greek as "at least", but it means a lot more, and a lot less, than that).
In fact public engagement is often done best by those who have spent the lonely hours in the library puzzling over the "ge"... or, to put that more strongly, if you haven't done your "ge" duty, you arent likely to do the best job in inspiring others to be really interested.
On all this I feel pretty strongly: talking to people more widely outside the academy demands no less specialist infrastructure than writing for those within it. "Popular" writing is a different way of writng with just the same knowledge base.
So far so good. But there were a couple of stings in the tail.
First, I tweeted rather joyously yesterday that I had won the "Class Ass" prize. And the reaction of many on twitter was that I has won the proze for the best bottom in town -- which just goes to show how un-tuned one can be to puns on one's own doorstep.
Second, the fear of losing the cheque delivered in another way. When I tried to get into my office in the faculty building on Cambridge this morning, I found I didnt have my Uni card, which lets me in (as well as letting me into the University Library and countless other places I need to go). I had it in my pocket while I was going in and out of the Faculty Library on Thursday, and I guess it is somewhere there -- as, the fact is, you need it to get IN to the library but not OUT...but meanwhile, until it comes to light, I am an outcast.
If anyone has found it, please let me know.