Ten days ago, I went to Greenwich University to discuss a project for a new journal which will allow students to publish articles alongside academics and get equal recognition for their work. This was exciting in itself and an initiative which is greatly overdue: for as long as I can remember, academics have delighted to ‘co-author’ works with students and grab most of the credit as a reward for their ‘names’, while allowing the students themselves to do the donkey work (although I should add that there are some honourable exceptions and also that one or two other journals already exist that are published along the same principles). I shall probably write more about this project when it is up and running.
Greenwich University is a vibrant place. It has long been the home of the Maritime College: there have been naval buildings there since Elizabethan times. Adjacent is Deptford, famous for its docks and as the place where Christopher Marlowe, allegedly a spy for the Elizabethan government, was murdered. Greenwich itself is the final resting place of the Cutty Sark. The university dates from the mid-nineteenth century, though some of the buildings are much older. It stands proudly against a steep curve of the Thames, alongside a stretch of the river that is uncompromisingly wide and majestic. This is frequented by both barges and pleasure boats, which reminded me a little of the river traffic in Shanghai.
The university is housed in a series of white stone buildings with evocative names such as Queen Anne Court, Queen Mary Court, King William Court and the Dreadnought Library. Much more recently, one of the buildings has been dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lawrence. There is a maritime museum, admission to which is free, and across the road another museum which is currently hosting an exhibition of J.M.W. Turner’s sea paintings. Unfortunately, I had no time to visit either of them, but I shall be returning later in the summer and plan to be much better-organised then.
I know from personal experience that, as well as being cosmopolitan, Greenwich students are extremely switched on, because for the last several years I have recruited student panels from among their ranks for some of the conferences and seminars that I have organised. Like students everywhere, they seem to prefer to wear a uniform. This spring, for the girls, it is cropped tops and pale (very short) denim shorts, these worn with thick tights and brightly-coloured canvas ankle boots, and, for the boys (many of whom sport Pete Doherty-style pork pie hats), skinny jeans with long plaid shirts.
Not to be confused with the ‘real’ students was the seemingly endless procession of secondary school parties that were doing a tour of the campus and its attractions. Each was (more or less) in the care of two or three harassed teachers, though the pupils were without exception doing their best to ignore the latter; they were slouching along at a snail’s pace, spread out across the pathways two or three abreast, just like the pupils I have seen dawdling to and from our local secondary school. The real-deal students, by contrast, were marching along rapidly and purposefully, busy, busy, busy, laughing and chatting, with too much to do but taking it all in their stride. A couple of years ago they were probably staunch members of the slow-stroll brigade. Is university really so effective at inspiring them to action, I wonder, or are those having to endure the ignominy of supervision just trying to drive their teachers berserk by taking the longest possible time to trail from A to B?
Despite the somewhat alarmist weather reports about the ‘Stage 10’ smog in London which I heard being discussed on the Tube and elsewhere during my journey, it was a beautiful, clear, sunny spring day in Greenwich and at least five degrees warmer than the dank and misty Yorkshire that I’d left at 7 a.m. Spring may be coming slowly, if surely, to the North, but I can bear witness that in London and environs it is now full-on.
My meeting about the journal slid by all too quickly, three hours gone in an Augenblick. I’d hoped to have time for at least a quick peek at the Cutty Sark before I left, but my watch told me that I had less than an hour to get back to King’s Cross if I were not to endure the combined wrath and triumph of the ticket collector as he rejected my fixed-time ticket and forced me to buy another. I’ll therefore have to save that pleasure for next time, too.
However, as I was waiting at the traffic lights in one of the busy main streets that threads through the old town of Greenwich, I happened to look back and see the masts of this historic ship rising surreally above the buildings and a row of buses, as if it had just joined the queue of local available public transport. I took a quick snap before I hurried on.