Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It doesn't come alone

I read in The Times today of a birthday that shocked me.

When I was at college, at Merton Oxford as an undergraduate, I had a tutor who was the archetype of the young academic. He was just a little bit edgy. Just sufficiently sarcastic to leave you unsure where you stood. Intense. Very very bright. I guess I thought he was in his early thirties back then, if I thought about it at all.

Already well published & well respected, he had to endure those students who didn't quite get his brilliance. He had to cajole me. He pushed me through the History of Political Thought paper. Not my finest hour. Philosophy & I were never on intimate terms, and often, in those weekly tutorials I would find that nuance was a stranger and the sledgehammer my greatest friend as I wielded my infamous prose style over Rousseau and Locke and Hobbes.

My tutorial partner was Germanic in his control of detail. I was George Bush next to him. Though with Boris Johnson's style. After a rip-roaring dash through the Social Contract, my tutor puffed out put his cheeks and said - "Well, that was a tour de force". Nuff said.

After finals, we had a historians drinks party. I had been silent about my last essay, my last throw of the dice, my final risk. But news had travelled. This particular tutor sauntered over to me, glass in hand in his particular insouciant manner and uttered one word: "Poetry?"

I smiled and demurred. My essay in rhyming couplets was already gaining its notoriety.

We were young. It was a long time ago. How long? Yesterday. I was a kid. A stick thin kid with more hair than I knew what to do with. He was hardly any older, drinking in the student bar. Age does not come alone. If he has gotten old what does that mean for me? 

I read in The Times today of a birthday that shocked me: Professor Robert Gildea, historian, 60.

Many happy returns.

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