August is the one month of the year that is both in the university vacation and parliamentary recess. I therefore have no undergraduate teaching and no formal parliamentary commitments. I normally have few meetings scheduled. One would assume it is therefore the least busy month for me and that I would have time to do plenty of posts on this blog as well as a range of other activities. If only it were so. It tends to be the busiest month.
There is a certain cycle to the month. 1st August comes and goes. At some point, I remember that the first of the month is the anniversary of me receiving my peerage and that I forgot to do something by way of celebration. The first weekend of the month is one of two weekends each year that I routinely take off. However, the rest of the month is devoted to research. This usually means completing various writing commitments. This August, I completed and submitted the manuscripts for two journal articles. I have also completed the text of a short book that is designed as an introduction to reform of the House of Lords.
The point is not only that I am fairly busy, but that once I am engrossed in research and writing I usually become oblivious to time. This can make for some long days, ending with me realising I have not got round to posting much if anything on the blog. I do remember that I need to eat, though it can be mid-afternoon by the time that I realise I need to get some lunch. I can vary meal times according to the state of a manuscript: I never waste time just sitting and eating, when I can be eating and catching up on reading.
September means – this year at least – the House sitting for a couple of weeks and then preparation for the new semester. I will still be getting on with research and writing, but it will be combined with other commitments. Christmas and Easter vacations offer no respite, because there is always marking to do. Oh well, roll on next August.
I am not sure if it is me just getting more irritable or if standards in the media are slipping (I appreciate the two are not mutually exclusive), but I get irritated whenever I see a story in which a reporter writes ‘lead’ for led or in which three or four things are listed followed by ‘and the latter’ (latter can only be used when there are two options). However, most irritating is the way in which headlines are constructed. Syntax is clearly a problem for some writers: ‘he opened the door in his pyjamas’. A good example today is the strapline: ‘Secrets of a Police Marksmen, Channel 4: Tony Long recalls his career and the five people he shot in documentary’. Either they meant ‘Tony Long recalls in this documentary his career and the five people he shot’ or it is a documentary that will have the police rushing to make an arrest.
On the BBC Today programme this morning, Baroness Grey-Thompson was interviewed about this year’s Paralympic Games, but she was referred to throughout as Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. This is not the first time a Baroness has been referred to as Dame. It has happened before with Baroness Grey-Thompson and with Baronesses Bakewell and Neville-Jones. They were dames before they were ennobled, and it is always possible that the interviewers are not aware of their elevation to the peerage. (Somewhat odd if that is the case given that it is six years since Tanni Grey-Thompson joined the Lords.) Either that, or some presenters at the BBC simply don’t know the difference between a Dame and a Baroness.
I have never noticed a peer who was previously a knight being referred to as Sir.
In an earlier post on my participation at the Judges’ Summit held at the Vatican on Human Trafficking and Organised Crime, I promised to publish more pictures of the occasion. These are some of the official photographs. The one on the right shows me in contemplative mood. To my right are Baroness Butler-Sloss and District Judge Christopher Prince. To my left is a Japanese judge: if he appears to be young, that is because he is, a product of a career judiciary.
The picture on the left shows me signing the declaration deriving from the Summit. All the British participants signed, but with reservations about two of the articles. The final picture (above right) is one of the official pictures of the participants. It was a well attended summit, attracting judges and lawyers from around the globe. As I mentioned in the earlier post, I was the only political scientist attending. I think I can be easily spotted…
There were many very good entries for the July caption competition. They made me laugh, but then created a problem in choosing a winner. Not for the first time, I was spoiled for choice. My initial short list wasn’t that short – I narrowed it down to ten – and then after much deliberation reduced it to four. I focused on those that combined wit with attention to the details of the photograph. In order to narrow it down, I was rather strict (Matthew Oliver thus missed out, for example, with ‘As he looked around Lord Norton commented “this is one of the largest and most attentive audiences I have had for some time”‘ because I wasn’t looking round!). Nicholas Hackett went in for a bit of flattery – ‘Lord Norton statute added to square’ – and was an immediate contender. On a similar but less elevated theme, the contribution of Dean B – ‘Is the guy in black saying “These new inflatable Lord Nortons really make it a lot easier to do my job’ – raised a laugh.
After much reflection, the runner-up is Neil M with a typically original entry: ‘Yes, officer, I was standing in the square when a smartly dressed man approached, punched me in the chest and walked off with my new camera shouting that he needed it for next month’s caption competition. Fortunately, CCTV captured the whole thing.’
The winner, combining topicality with an eye for detail is Mark Shephard with: ‘Do what for Spencer Tunick? I thought I was here for an interview… away with the hands and the blue paint.’
For anybody who does not get the topical reference, see the story of the Sea of Hull here. The prize will be on its way to the winner.
I thought it may be time for a bit of light relief with another caption competition. This picture shows me being interviewed recently by DeHavilland on the constitutional implications of the UK exiting the EU. When I saw the picture, I realised it had a number of features that may render it appropriate for a caption competition. As usual, the winner will be the reader who comes up with what in my view is the wittiest and most appropriate caption. The prize will be one of my recent publications.
Yesterday, I and my colleague Lord Parekh were installed as Honorary Freemen of the City of Kingston upon Hull. It was a remarkable honour in its own right, made all the more so by the fact that very few people have been accorded the freedom of the city. Those that have been include Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and, earlier last century, Thomas Ferens (the subject of my Founder’s Day Lecture last year). The award recognised the link between university and city and the fact that Lord Parekh and I have between us almost eighty years of service to the university.
My appointment was proposed and seconded by former students of mine and the citation was extremely generous, noting that the freedom was conferred ‘in appreciation of the eminent and valuable service rendered by him to the City in the fields of constitutional affairs and the British constitution, and in recognition of the high esteem in which he is held across the political spectrum as one of the United Kingdom’s foremost constitutional experts, enhancing the prestige of our University in Parliament and encouraging generations of his students in a deep appreciation and understanding of the political arts, to the great advantage of Kingston upon Hull.’
The ceremony itself was impressive occasion.
As to the question I have been most asked, no, I have not acquired the right to herd my sheep through the city.