Today I’ve been picketing. It was bitterly cold, but at least we didn’t have snow in our corner of Wales. I’m in awe of those who have been picketing in the snow in many parts of the UK.
The aspect of academic life that non-academics (including family members) find most difficult to understand is the need to move where the work is. In our family, this means that P works in Manchester while I work in Cardiff, that is, almost 300 km away from each other. This is logistically and financially burdensome – to say the least.
Before I landed in Wales, I spent time studying and working in Brussels (BA/MA), Turin (Erasmus), Cambridge (MPhil), London (PhD), and Cambridge again (postdoc). I also commuted from Cambridge to Reading (a 5-hour round trip) to do some teaching once a week while rather heavily pregnant with tween T. Now, I love travelling and living in new places, but there is no denying that it can be very difficult to be transplanted from one environment to another and to grow new roots on a regular basis.
I had moved internationally once before adulthood: my family lived in Letchworth Garden City (not far from Cambridge) for two years. I was three when we moved there, and five when we returned to Belgium. That experience undeniably shaped me in many ways. One of my earliest memories is of the bookshop Heffers in Cambridge – I kid you not. I also have vivid memories of the books my mum read to me whilst living in the UK, and in particular of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series and – of course – Ladybird books, upon which I briefly touched yesterday.
Unfortunately, I forgot my English once I returned to Belgium. These things happen: bilingualism is not always an easy thing to maintain. But when I made the decision to relearn English as a teenager, I did turn to Ladybird books again. I recall reading the Ladybird abbreviated version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, for instance.
Eventually, I did return to Cambridge and settled in the UK, and I acquired a collection of second-hand Ladybird books. Tween T and Big Boy G love reading them, although Tween T is shocked by the casual sexism and racism displayed in some volumes. I guess some parents would shield their children from such things, but I prefer to explain to them that things change.
Among my favourite Ladybird books are – no surprises here – those about nature and plants. The artwork is so beautiful. And I have a special fondness for Animals, Birds and Plants of the Bible (published 1964), which lists titbits about plants and animals in the Bible, with references in the margins. Here is a passage from the spread on herbs. It’s delectable:
In Bible times, herbs were used in the preparation of food and as medicine. Tithes and taxes were paid on many things in the time of our Lord, including some herbs. He rebuked the Pharisees for being more concerned about the payment of tithes ‘for mint and rue and all manner of herbs’ than about the true worship of God.
Palestine mint was not unlike our garden mint. Anise, or dill, was used as a medicine and for flavouring. The cummin plant was ‘beaten with a rod’ to release the ripe seed, which looked like caraway seeds. Rue was used as a medicine and as a spice.
When I moved to Cardiff, I discovered that I do not like ladybirds, the insect. My office is quite regularly infested with ladybirds. They smell of formic acid, I found out…