And now the end is near… I’m not going to say that I’m unaccustomed to public speaking, as that’s manifestly untrue, and actually I think that I’m reasonably good at it – but I am not good at it when it concerns myself, especially at the tail end of a synapse-frying exam board, and especially when it hadn’t occurred to me that I might have to do such a thing, and so my response to a farewell presentation from Bristol colleagues was an inarticulate and embarrassed “thank you”, trying to hide behind the lemon tree they’d bought me. So, this is a chance to make up for that, and to articulate what I should have said…
It would require a superhuman effort to spend twenty-odd years in a department and not have some of its ethos and outlook rub off on you, but the imprint of Bristol Classics on my research and general outlook is much deeper than that. In part this must be because the department has had such a strong and distinctive character; fiercely intellectual and theoretical, always willing to question received wisdom and scholarly convention – even at the expense, once upon a time, of developing a rather unfair reputation for being nasty to invited speakers in the research seminar.
This offered an environment that was both bracing and supportive – in the sense that there were no preconceptions about what topics were worth studying or what approaches were appropriate, just encouragement to push arguments to their limits without fear of failure or worries about disciplinary boundaries. My interests in historical theory and the influence of antiquity in the modern world were already in place when I arrived over twenty years ago – and probably played a role in my getting the job – but it seems unlikely that I would have felt free to develop them to such an extent anywhere else.
I have had the privilege of working with wonderful and stimulating colleagues, both academic and administrative – it feels invidious to single out individuals – and wonderful, stimulating, infuriating and lovely students (ditto, only more so; you’re all my favourite). I have had the opportunity to shape an entire ancient history curriculum according to my own dogmatic preferences (and would rather not hear about what they’re going to do with it now I’m out of the way), and to develop my unexpected predilection for bureaucracy at faculty and university level.
Abiding memories of twenty years in Bristol? The hills; in my previous job I cycled twelve miles a day, to and from work, up and down some pretty substantial Welsh landscape, but I took one look at St Michael’s Hill and put the bike in storage. Numerous cafes, bars and restaurants: the Depot (don’t bother looking for it, it’s not there any more), the Muset, Rocinantes, the Iguana, Mocha Mocha, Bordeaux Quay and above all the Highbury Vaults (even after the Smiles brewery was closed down). Conferences at Burwalls, with its spectacular views up and down the Avon Gorge. Less positively, Hawthorns sandwiches, which meant that the phrase ‘lunch provided’ on a meeting agenda became a threat rather than an inducement. More will doubtless flood back over the next few months, as the reality of leaving starts to sink in.
But above all it has been about colleagues and students. I don’t remotely feel that I merit presents or even thanks; I just hope that I have done as much for the department and its people as they’ve done for me.