Saturday, 1 March 2008

Visitors from the 9th Planet

My old friends Neil and Sandra came to Cambridge today. Neil Dell is a graphic designer who still works in the building in Shoreditch I used to share studio space in. I have been discussing websites with Sandra recently and who knows, I may actually get it together to create one - with her help, hopefully. They work together as 9th planet

Neil and I went for lunch and popped in to the round church of the Holy Sepulchre on the way. What a wonderful building that is. When I was at school, as part of my Art 'A' Level, we studied medieval architecture. My art teacher, Joe Taylor, would take us out in the school mini bus to look at churches and castles in Northumberland and County Durham. The enthusiasm he managed to pass on has never left me and I can get a little too excited by a nice bit of dog-tooth moulding. I am reminded here (worryingly) of Philip Larkin writing about people who 'tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were' and who are 'randy for antique.' Am I randy for antique? Possibly.

Which got me to thinking that education is a funny thing. Often it is the peripheral things that affect you the most or have the most lasting effect. One of the many things that contributed to me ending up a writer was a strand of my BA in Graphic Design/Illustration - what would now, slightly ridiculously, be called a 'module' - that was taught by the late (and I'm going to say great) David Melling who was then Dean of Humanities at Manchester Polytechnic. It was called 'The History of Ideas' - which makes me smile even now. It sums David up in a way.


The set texts were Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris and Europe's Inner Demons by Norman Cohn - oh, and Keith Thomas' fascinating Religion and the Decline of Magic. It would be hard to sum up in a sentence what it was about but sitting in that room discussing messianic movements, Matthew Hopkins, angels, John Dee, Plato, the European Witch Craze, and goodness knows what else was a high point of my college life. Again, the fascination (if not all the detail, sadly) has stayed with me. Again David was another person who encouraged me to write.


I know a little bit about a lot of things. It is the sign of the rather undisciplined mind that attracted lots of school reports about daydreaming and lack of concentration. But I feel vindicated (almost). The great thing about being a writer (or an illustrator or graphic designer) is that general knowledge is a great thing. You never know when that strange half-remembered whatever is going to come in handy.

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