This week I have been mostly staying in the house.
I feel like there’s a theme emerging here…
Actually I’m coming to the realisation that my commitment to Splendid Isolation is more long-standing than I thought. You see, on social media this week people have been posting nostalgic photos of themselves aged 20 (#MeAt20), and the vast majority of the photos posted by classicists and archaeologists are captioned, ‘Me at a dig in Egypt’, ‘Me working in Pompeii’, or ‘Me on a tour of classical sites of Europe’. They’re all very glamorous and interesting.
My photos of ‘Me at 20’ are not so interesting. At 20 I was not touring Europe, or up to my knees in a muddy trench. No. I was mostly staying in the house.
At 20 I was finishing my first degree and frantically trying to scrape together enough money to pay for my Masters. I was applying for all kinds of grants and loans, while also working hard designing tat for tourist shops (caps, postcards, fridge magnets, that kind of thing) to save up some cash, and doing occasional bits of translating work on top of that. I’d never been out of England in my life; if I’m honest I rarely even made it as far as the nearest city. I tried to avoid going in to university because public transport was expensive. Also I didn’t own a camera, so my photographic activities were fairly limited.
At 20 I didn’t have a computer. I had a little electronic word processor (remember those?) on which I typed up some things – but most of my university work was hand-written. My design work was done by hand, on sketch paper. I acquired books by inter-library loan, and spent hours feeding 10p coins into the library photocopier. If I needed to talk to someone I had to pick up the phone (landline, of course – I didn’t have a mobile). My television was black and white (for years I thought Inspector Morse drove a black car), and I was consistently and inexplicably bad at setting the video timer.
So in comparison, today’s isolation is looking pretty luxurious. I have a phone which is also a camera, and I can take thousands of blurry photos of cats and pretty trees without having to go to a chemist to develop them. I have instant access to more movies, TV box sets and games than my 20-year-old self would believe. I have a job that doesn’t require me to come up with rude slogans for hen-party T-shirts. I have books delivered to my door (Note to Self: must stop buying books). Best of all, I can connect to people whenever I want to, without leaving the house or even having to pick up the phone.
And then I can pass those conversations on to you.
This week, in my Comfort Classics interviews, I’ve been talking to my former student Pam and current student Tony about their classical interests; to OU lecturer Naoko about Epicurus, and to Liz Gloyn from Royal Holloway about Petronius (one of my favourites too!). It was also a treat to hear from Professor Edith Hall, whose new book I’ve ordered (must stop buying books!) about the poet Nossis, who hasn’t really crossed my path before. I have plenty more great interviews lined up for next week too – although I’d better take the weekend off to do some marking!
Then there are all the other connections made possible by the world we live in now. Every morning my son and I reluctantly do the live Joe Wicks workout on YouTube (my stamina is improving but I still keep falling over!) – and we know that all of my son’s friends are doing it too. I’ve run a whole series of live drop-in sessions with students from across the world this week, and I have a day-school scheduled for tomorrow. And tonight I’ve actually had to brush my hair, in preparation for a weekly video Zoom meet-up with classicists from across Europe.
My 20-year-old self, struggling to set the video timer and voluntarily self-isolating in a bedroom piled high with dog-eared photocopies, would be baffled by all of this. It would sound like science fiction – and not the plausible kind.
So I grant you that there are many things wrong with life right now. But – all things considered – I’m happy not to be 20 any more.
This week’s links from around the Classical Internet
10th Anniversary newsletter – Classics For All
Arrest in the Papyrus Scandal – The Oxford Blue
Comment and opinion
Women in Classics – Society for Classical Studies
Classics after coronavirus – Eidolon
Being a student book collector –UCL Blog
Lavinia in The Hunger Games and Downton Abbey – Ostraka
Boris, Pericles and coronavirus – BBC
Thoughts on the papyrus scandal – Rogue Classicism
Name generator – Eidolon
Myth and Playmobil – Antiquipop
Podcasts, video and other media
A virtual tour of two Pompeii houses – Smithsonian Magazine
Hospitality and gift exchange – Kiwi Hellenist
Agrippina and Messalina – History Hack
The First Servile War – Ancient History Fangirl
Hail, Who? – I, Podius
Colouring Competition – Bellum Sacrum