Weekend Reading: As Time Goes By

This week I have been mostly staying in the house.

I feel like there’s a theme emerging here…


View From South Shields Lockdown


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.


Me at 20 with my grandparents, who regarded all of this university business with deep suspicion.


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.


Me at 20 in a very contrived graduation photo (fake scroll, fake hat etc.).




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





Comfort Classics

Comfort Classics: Liz Gloyn

Comfort Classics: Edith Hall

Comfort Classics: Tony Potter

Comfort Classics: Naoko Yamagata

Comfort Classics: Pam Herbert

Comfort Classics: LJ Trafford

Comfort Classics: Sarah Thomason

Comfort Classics: Colin Gough

Comfort Classics: Rob Cromarty

Comfort Classics: Mary Beard

Comfort Classics: Christine Plastow

Comfort Classics: Klara Hegedus

Comfort Classics: Gina May

Comfort Classics: Joanna Paul

Comfort Classics: Jack Lambert

Comfort Classics: Lilah Grace Canevaro

Comfort Classics: Steve Havelin




12 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: As Time Goes By

  1. When I was 20 I was quite happily getting on with my Russian literature, until I came across something called Plato’s Republic at the uni library…


  2. At 20 I was furiously busy failing medical school. Doing so took up all my time and energy. And it was thoroughly well worth the effort! 🤣 Life opened up wonderfully afterwards 😄 not least in clearing the way for Classics 👍👏😁


  3. At 20 I was trying to raise money for moving away, nothing fancy to share from that period 😂 The picture with you grandparents is the sweetest thing! But the thing mine were most suspicious of was definitely the whole moving to the UK affair ahah


  4. 20 was a great year for me. A couple of years preciously I had dropped out of school (which I can add I absolutely enjoyed, school that is although dropping out was a bit cool), I was a herdsman, had a motorbike, was single but with a girfriend, very few personal responsibilities and no debt. What’s not to like?

    You are right, looking back at what was perhaps a simpler and easier time…. hhmmm have I got rose coloured spectacles on? OK, I have my Smallpox vaccination scar, the Russian boats turned round just before they got to Cuba (actually I found that night quite frightening), believe it or not rationing was still in force when I was born, the first thing I learnt at school was four farthings make a penny but generally speaking like was at a much gentler pace. I do think social media and 24/7 news feeds have a lot to answer for.

    ,After the recommendation on Comfort Classics still reading The Twelve Caesars. It’s a fabulous read – why didn’t I read it before? I will own up to be quite shoched at the savagery of Augustus (at least in the early years) – he wasn’t the cuddley Brian Blessed character after all! :-O


  5. Is someone hiding behind you in the photograph with your grandparents, Cora Beth? 🤔 Otherwise you would appear to have between you an unfeasible configuration of upper limbs! 🤣


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