What I’m reading this month – Jan 19

Christmas holidays are indeed a good time for reading. Not simply because, as I intimated in my previous post, we tend to give and receive books at Christmas (and I mean “we” both in the general, possibly optimistic sense about people and in the very specific what-our-family-does sense) but also because we have time to read. I am a university lecturer, and reading is really part of my job, yet I know I don’t do enough of it professionally. Colleagues who drop by my office when I’m sitting in my corner chair, reading, have an indulgent grin on their faces, like they’ve caught me dreaming out the window or playing solitaire on the computer. At any rate, that’s not the kind of reading I’ve been packing on this last week nor this week we’re currently in. It’s a special, protected space to read eclectically and unapologetically.

Something of His Art by Horatio Clare (a very lovely cover)My wife read my suggestion of new books at Christmas as an instruction. This is not how it was intended, but it gave her a good opportunity to tease. I do expect she had this plotted already anyway, given how hard it seemed to be to track it down in time for Christmas. The book she’d picked for me is Something of His Art by Horatio Clare. He’s not someone I knew hitherto, though he seems to occupy a Robert Macfarlanesque space in the British popular imagination. The conceit is simple: he walks the supposed route J. S. Bach walked when he left Arnstadt to listen to and learn from the organist Dieterich Buxtehude, 250 miles away. He is accompanied by a radio producer and sound recordist, and he muses about art and artist along the journey.

I can see why she picked this book for me: it ticks all the boxes. It’s about long-distance walking, central-eastern Germany, music, and radio. It also has a gorgeous cover – the publishers were most certainly thinking of Christmas. Who knows how these timings go? We have pretty good imaginations anyway, but with my wife’s increasing insights into the publishing world, she can imagine the marketing machinery pretty well. Clare’s other book from this year is a diary account of his diagnosis with seasonal depression. It’s been getting very good reviews, but it might not be the cheeriest gift to offer someone under the tree at Christmas. Oh, but look – he did a series for Radio Three! And he ends up in Lübeck, which is where they make that nice marzipan. Okay, give it a pretty cover and we’re set. Continue reading

Piggies the Brave

This is mostly a reblogging effort. My wife has a real and proper online column which she writes once a week, and on the rare occasions where I’d like to write about something that she also wants to write about, her space takes precedence.

This one truly was a whale of a story: the missing guinea pig we were charged with minding, on the eve of our move from the neighbourhood, from Edinburgh, from Scotland itself. You can catch it all here, but this paragraph higlights the nub of the sadness:

It is terribly difficult to be tucked up in your bed, warm and dry, and to know that somewhere out in the dark, there is a little lost creature, shivering and terrified. And that there is nothing whatsoever you can do.

-Katie Munnik, ‘In the Garden’

What I can share here – and you know I’m a guy who likes a good joke – is that I knew,  rooting about in the dark, the wet, looking for the one pig hardest to find in the dark (the others had white patches, whereas Toffee was black and toffee-brown), was that this would be a very funny story to tell if and only if we find the pig again. Otherwise, there’s just no fun. So I’m glad to have a funny joke to share with our new friends in Cardiff. “So, just moved here – how were things on your way out from Edinburgh?”

Let me tell you…


The title doesn’t make any sense unless you know our neighbours’ song, which they wrote about their guinea pigs to the tune of “Scotland the Brave.” It starts like this:

Hark, when the night is falling
Hear, hear the piggies calling!
Loudly and proudly calling
Out of the hutch.
Out in the grassy garden,
Down in the laundry corner,
Panda and Patch and Toffee –
Piggies the Brave!

Good Old Shoes

The author's bad old shoes

For my graduation ceremony last week, I went full-formal. Male students, we were advised, should wear a white bow tie with a dark suit. Well, the specificity of the neckwear notwithstanding, a “dark suit” covers a multitude of garments.

But you know, graduation comes but seldom, and for a doctorate, is indeed the celebration of a significant achievement and investment of time. And since I am in possession of a tuxedo and since it was with me in Edinburgh, why not wear it? (The tux was first acquired for a gala I went to as an undergraduate in the company of my uncle, aunt, and not-yet-fiancé. It was a decommissioned rental job, and we determined that if I wore it three times, it covered the cost of the separate rentals, so why not? That one of those “times” was not yet specified but kind of hanging in the air like a descending hot air balloon makes the tux most significant for my now-wife.) (And how did it come to Edinburgh? We had been invited to dinner with a certain Lady So-and-So at the kirk, and the high-bond invitation indicated that gentlemen should wear a dinner jacket. My lexicon is not fully Britishised, so I had to check with my supervisor as to whether this really meant a tux; he said yes it did. Mine was senselessly squatting in a closet in Ottawa, so I hit the charity shops and got a 48-chest British-wool dinner jacket for seven mighty quid. That it was impossibly large for me was tempered by its obvious quality and inviting price, so I bought it and wore it, convinced that the low light of dinner would obscure its ill fit. The next time I was over in Canada, I made a point of returning with the tux, just on the off-chance another high-bond invitation should slip through the door-slot. Still waiting.) Continue reading

Heartsick Condolences and the Inevitable Deja-Vu

"You are the chump"

Fellow former CBC journo Dave Atkinson got the same tap on the shoulder in 2009.

Last week, I was at the inaugural conference for BRAIS – the British Association for Islamic Studies. It’s one of the initiatives assisted by the centre that’s funding me, and it brought together philosophers, historians, language scholars, political scientists, and social researchers like myself, all of whom touch on Islam and Muslims in the work that we do. I presented a paper as part of a panel on Scottish Muslim experiences organised by the Muslims in Britain Research Network; I was also busy as a volunteer support; it was a chance to “network” – crucial for a grad student on the cusp of completing the thesis and looking for “the next step;” and I took it upon myself to live-tweet Aaqil Ahmed’s keynote presentation. Ahmed is the head of religion and ethics for the BBC, and therefore a pretty important guy in the media environment in which I work and conduct my research. I’m not going to say it was the most important two days of my academic career so far, but it was exemplary of both the work I’m doing and the point I’ve arrived at.Michael Munnik presenting at BRAIS 11 April 2014

Thing is, five years ago, I would not have imagined this is where I would be. Continue reading