Weekend Reading: Sage on the Stage at the Sage

This week the internet has been all snarled up with politics – and not the classical kind. So it’s probably time for me to re-state my commitment to having an apolitical website. No party politics, no opinions on Brexit, no views on current electoral issues will be expressed here. My political convictions are my own, and I have no intention of inflicting them on others. Some people might see this as a cowardly position to take. But tough – it’s not their blog. This is a politics-free zone.

[Unless of course politicians decide to use Classics to make their points: I can’t resist that kind of temptation!]

This week I’ve been trying very hard to get lots of work done, with limited success. Some of the interruptions have been of the pleasant kind, however. Yesterday, for instance, was mostly given over to the OU Gateshead graduation ceremony at the impressive riverside venue of The Sage. True, the ceremony itself only lasted an hour or so: but the members of the Platform Party have to be there two hours beforehand for a VIP lunch (!) and the process of getting dressed up, and then we stay afterwards for the mingling and drinking. And then of course there’s the recovery from the mingling and drinking…!

(By the way, in case you’re wondering what to talk about at a graduation… one of the major topics of conversation is robes. It’s acceptable to stop total strangers to ask them what their robes signify. It took me twenty minutes to get from one end of the balcony to the other, because of the number of people asking me about my robes; you wouldn’t believe how many people have robe-stories. It temporarily supplants the weather as the leading conversational ice-breaker.)

There weren’t any other classicists there: but for some reason almost everybody seemed to have a Classics-related story to tell me. Here are my two favourites of the day:


“My daughter learned Latin at school, and was going to study it at university. I bought her a tea-towel with all the declensions on it. Then she changed her mind. So I took my tea-towel back.”

“Classics Professor X [I won’t use his name, but it’s someone I’ve met!] was called in to see his child’s headteacher. The Head said, ‘I regret to inform you, Professor, that your child will be advised to study Classical Civilisation. In translation.’ He never smiled again.”


A big shout out to the two BA (Hons) Classical Studies graduates of the day, Deb and Suzi – both of whom have put up with me for far more years than anyone should have to!

It was an event which reminded me of how great it is to work for the Open University. There are the students, of course, who make it all worth it, and who face all kinds of challenges over the years it takes to get their degrees. Then there are the staff. I was talking to two colleagues – one aged 79, the other 84 – who are both still teaching and still fabulous (one of them recently got married, too). I want to be like them when I grow up. Then there are the inspirational speeches. This year’s honorary graduate encouraged us to ‘shake our own cheerleader pompoms’, because nobody else will do it for us. Wise words. Now I just need some pompoms…




So here’s my annual call to all OU students. You don’t have to attend a graduation ceremony: it’s optional – but please, do it! Let your friends and family see what you’ve achieved. Or come on your own, and feel like part of a family – because you are. An OU graduation is the warmest, friendliest event: it’s a real celebration. And rightly so, because OU students are special. People cross that stage in wheelchairs, or with assistance, or carrying babies, or with children and grandchildren yelling from the back of the auditorium, and the support from the audience is tremendous because everyone there knows what it means to gain a degree when the odds are stacked against you.




VIPs in the VIP area. Interestingly, there are two tiers of VIP; the most important guests get table service while the rest of us have to get up and choose our own food. I think that makes me an IP rather than a VIP…


Slogans and inspirational posters galore.


So many OU goodies… I was very tempted to get myself a T-shirt this year, but I resisted.



Me wearing my robes with the huge shoulders that make me look like an extra out of Blake’s 7. I apologised to the man in charge of the robes, saying that some day I would come up with an outfit that could have a hood attached. He said, ‘Well, some day they’ll invent a robe that’s designed for women. This design is 300 years out of date’. I love the robe man.


IMG_20191107_163624 (1)
The Sage looking very atmospheric in the evening gloom.




This week’s links from around the internet




British Museum and stolen goods – The Guardian 

…and the British Museum on returning stolen objects – British Museum Blog 

Achilles at the British Museum – The Times

New Vindolanda revelations – The Chronicle

Reviewing Britannia season 2 – The Guardian



Comment and opinion

The murky provenance of the newest Sappho – Eidolon 

Sallust’s silent Cicero – LSA Classics

Roman dodecahedrons – Boing Boing 

Advice to aspiring academics – The Edithorial 

Thusnelda – Ancient Herstories 

Cracking an ancient code – Pursuit 

Thales of Miletus – Novo Scriptorium 

Lucian of Samosata – Modern Stoicism 

Coins of Agrippa – Time Travel-Ancient Rome 

Papyrus theft – Eidolon



Podcasts, video and other media

Vindolanda – History Hit 

The classical underworld as memoryscape – Research English At Durham 

Online Trojan women – Kosmos Society 

7 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Sage on the Stage at the Sage

  1. I definitely recommend the OU graduation ceremony..I got to meet faces I only met on Facebook – also graduated with my best friends – and they weren’t even friends when I started on my journey- so many people with so many stories- made sure I kept in touch with them. OU is family!!!! [and I shook the hand of Martha Lane-Fox]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading this thank you.

    Graduating BA in 2016 and MA in 2018 I am still on the active FB groups for A229, A330, A340, A86 and A864 and am a reall drum beater for both the OU generally and ceremonies in particular. Your comments have taken me back to 2016 and the feeling of the day. Please indulge me but this is my posting the following day summing up my feelings:
    As most people know I, along with other students attended graduation ceremonies yesterday, others had theirs previously and some are yet to have them. I know there will be people who will say ‘enough already’ but still being in the afterglow of yesterday humour me, I just wanted to share my thoughts.

    What an amazing, emotional and humbling day. An emotional sort of chap I even welled up registering, then putting the gown on – I know ridiculous. However, the sense of pride and achievement and the spring in my step walking towards my family while gowned up was tremendous. Sitting in the hall, talking to other graduates around me and watching the excited anticipation of those going on stage I am more than confident we all felt the same.

    There are a couple of specific parts that are staying with me.
    The part of the welcoming speech where, in part of feeling the achievement, we should reflect on what it has taken to get here – the all-nighters, the stress, how life can sometimes get in the way, cutting ourselves off sometimes and the ‘I can’t do it’ times. Reflection, although suggested in the early years, is something that I haven’t practiced. Focussing on it yesterday I suddenly though – yes I deserve to be proud, and that goes for all OU students past, present and future. We are truly a resourceful and determined bunch. This was probably best articulated by the huge applause for the graduate who went on stage, with her guide dog both in robes – another tear in the eye moment.

    One last ‘emotion’ moment for me (and I am sure others) was the graduates being invited to stand, face and applaud our guests, families and supporters. We all know how much they go through the mill on our journey and I just want to say a big thank you again.

    The end to a near perfect day was the chance to have a meal with the rest of my family, those who were not able to be at the ceremony because of ticket numbers. What a cracking evening.

    Anyway onto the next part of my journey and I just wanted to thank everyone, not just family this time but all the other students I have met, friendships made who have made the time bearable and enjoyable and wherever you are and whatever you are doing, the best of luck and fortune.

    Anyway, onto 2019 and the Masters and the standout moment was the honorary degree to Noel Fitzpatrick. I know you are busy but I urge you to go to 51.20 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5tGUNt8xKg&list=PL_IhkJB-WjZWKjwrSychxrfk3UyCsAjnk&index=2 and not have a tear in your eye at the end of the acceptance speech!. Hell, I am going to put it on the OU FB site for all those who like to remember their achievement and all those who feel like giving up. It works on so many levels.

    Sorry to rabbit on but I feel strongly about ceremonies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, what a lovely graduation story! Thank you!

      I admit, I haven’t always enjoyed graduations. My first one was tense – I had grandparents who had a knack for saying the wrong things to the wrong people! I skipped my second one, a year later. I did go to my PhD graduation, but that was tense too: the weather was so bad that lots of people couldn’t get there! After that I gave up, missing the next three (yes, I have too many degrees!).

      But the OU occasions are so great that next time I’m going to go for it! It may take me a few years to finish my current degree – but when I do, I’m going to walk across that stage and really enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I can’t echo strongly enough the comments above. If you’ve got an OU qualification then GO to a ceremony and CELEBRATE! It’s such an inspiring, uplifting, heartening occasion. The OU has been life-changing for so many people, myself included. Long may it continue. And let’s have proper funding back, too, so that those in our society who are already at a severe disadvantage aren’t callously excluded altogether by being discriminated against so blatantly and so shamelessly!

      Liked by 2 people

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