1997-2017: A political transition from triumph to despair

Just over 20 years ago, on May 1 1997, a General Election took place which Tony Blair and Labour won decisively. After years of supporting the Labour Party, and having become a member earlier that year, it was a wonderful time for me, full of hope for the future and a belief that things really ‘could only get better’. To put the icing on the cake, GB won the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of days later with Katrina and the Waves, with their song ‘Love shine a light’!

I have often asked the question ‘what went wrong’? World events didn’t help, and although I supported our intervention in Iraq at the time., clearly Labour lost a lot of support because of this. Making Gordon Brown leader didn’t help either (he was a great Chancellor of the Exchequer but no leader). In politics, parties tend to lose support after a long spell in power, and the 2010 election result was no surprise. Since then we’ve had 5 years of coalition government, and less than 2 years of the Tories, with David Cameron presiding over the EU Referendum with its disastrous result, and Theresa May taking over as PM. Now we have another election on June 8th, with an almost certain outcome of a large Tory majority and a hard Brexit. Labour have made themselves virtually unelectable thanks to their leader (and some of his shadow cabinet) , and it’s too soon for the LibDems to make much of a comeback, although they are making a spirited effort, which I am trying to help.

For me, we have truly gone from a time of positivity and belief in the future, to one of sheer despair. Sad times indeed.

 

Unexpected recollections

In the past 2 weeks I have run a meeting (see previous post), and also managed a few days off over the Easter weekend to recover from the meeting and the Spring Semester teaching period (although that still has a couple of weeks to go!)

The meeting that I organised was a 70th birthday celebration for Richard Catlow, who was my postdoctoral adviser, and who really got me started on my career. I managed to get many of his former group members to attend, and this brought back all manner of memories. In my days off I mulled over these with Angela, and we thought it was worth writing them down, so here are a few random memories from ‘back in the day’>

  • When I first joined Richard’s group, both at UCL and then at Keele, there was a lot of rivalry, even sometimes bad feeling between group members. Now we all get on fine, but it wasn’t always like that! I don’t know if this happens in other research groups; I have never had enough people working for me at a given time for this to be a problem!
  • In London last weekend we visited the American Dream Exhibition at the British Museum. Among the paintings exhibited was this one by Andy Warhol:

Of course, ALPO in this picture is a make of dog food. But seeing it immediately reminded me of my work many years ago on modelling AlPOs (aluminophosphates). Much work has been done on these materials since then, but back in the late 80s I had a PhD student working on modelling these materials. I do remember a lecture by Jack Klinowski where he showed this picture, but I hadn’t seen the original until last week. Oh, and the student decided research was not for her, and left without completing the project.

  • Another random recollection concerns a conference I attended on zeolites, held in Amsterdam in 1989. I was then a recently appointed lecturer, and wanted to keep costs down, so I stayed in a very cheap hotel next to one of the central canals. It was so basic that the shower room down the corridor was just a recess in the wall with only a curtain to preserve the modesty of the person in the shower! Having spent a month in Amsterdam a couple of years before, I knew the area well, but probably I wouldn’t stay in such a place now!
  • Finally, for now, I must thank David Coombes for reminding me that just over 20 years ago, on 21 April 2017, I was external examiner for his PhD viva. It was a Monday, and the viva was supposed to have taken place the previous Friday, but thanks to an IRA bomb scare, trains weren’t running on part of my route. This was of course prior to the Good Friday agreement that put an end to most of these problems.
  • I did think of some more things to write here, but didn’t note them down at the time, so they will be added later if and when I remember them!

Advances in computational and experimental studies of solids: a meeting to mark Richard Catlow’s 70th birthday (Cosener’s House, Abingdon, 10-12 April 2017)

It was back in March 2016 that I first had the idea that a meeting should be arranged to mark Richard Catlow’s 70th birthday. Having organised a similar occasion for his 60th birthday, back in 2007 (unfortunately pre-blog and my use of social media), this seemed appropriate. Initially the idea was to have an organising committee, and I approached potential members, but it soon became clear that it could only be done effectively by close liaison with Richard, and from then on I was effectively the sole organiser (although I am grateful for administrative help received later).

We discussed possible dates in April 2017, and where it could be held. Richard preferred a neutral venue not associated with his current employers, so eventually we settled on Cosener’s House, a place in Abingdon often used by people carrying out experiments at the nearby Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The venue was booked, and all available rooms were reserved, and we set about discussing who should be invited, before the event was advertised more widely. I made a list of Richard’s contemporaries who he particularly wanted to attend, and invited them. It was very encouraging that they all accepted. I then advertised the meeting to pre4sent and former group members, inviting them to register and present talks.

In September 2016 I met with Richard to discuss the general format of the meeting, and in February 2017 we started putting the programme together. All this coincided with my appointment as acting head of my school at Keele, and having two new modules to teach, so it was difficult for a couple of months. But by mid March everything was coming together. Ideally I would have liked a site visit, but there simply wasn’t time.  However, I had discussed everything in detail with both Richard and the Cosener’s House staff, so I hoped everything was in place!

On Sunday 9th April (2 weeks ago from writing this post), I set off to Oxford, staying overnight close to the station, and on Monday 10th April I took a taxi to Abingdon, arriving at Cosener’s House a few hours before the meeting was due to take place.

I’m pleased to say that the meeting got off to a great start. It was particularly pleasing to get so many of Richard’s former group members together, as well as people he had worked with, including Sir John Meurig Thomas, Tony Cheetham and Brian Fender. We even had a visit from Richard’s PhD supervisor, Alan Lidiard. The talks were excellent, and we had lots of good discussion. The accommodation and catering were both excellent.

All in all I was very pleased with the meeting, and pleased that everyone enjoyed it. You can find a collection of photos taken at the meeting here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robajackson/albums/72157680516575331, and one of the conference photos is given below. I will also post the meeting programme on my website (www.robajackson.com) in due course.

My thoughts on the triggering of article 50

I haven’t posted about Brexit since my post of 10 July last year. Since then not a lot has happened; there’s been plenty of talk, but because we were (and still are) EU members, nothing of any consequence changed. But today article 50 is triggered, which sets us on the irrevocable road to leaving the EU.

I heard Nick Clegg speak on Radio 5 live this morning; not someone I’ve ever had much time for, but he does speak sense on the EU. He reminded us that the EU referendum was set up by David Cameron to deal with a rift in his party, rather than thinking about the national interest, and also expressed the view that I share, which is that many people’s vote for Brexit was a protest vote against many things, some of which had no connection with our EU membership. I covered this latter point in my post which is linked in the last paragraph.

If I think back to when we joined the (then) Common Market in 1973, I was 16, and politically aware enough (thanks to my parents), and I was very much in favour of us joining. Two years later, Harold Wilson called a referendum on our membership, and I remember wearing a ‘Keep Britain in Europe’ badge to school. Now I am probably coming to the last few years of my working life, and I do worry for the future of the United Kingdom outside the EU, especially if, as is likely, Scotland votes for independence in a few years time.

In terms of how leaving the EU will affect me job wise, I am concerned about the loss of EU research funding, and the effect on student mobility. Hopefully the negotiations that will start from tomorrow (presumably) will take these issues into account, but unfortunately I have no confidence that Theresa May and her team will give priority to these issues. All we can do is watch this space. To misquote Gloria Gaynor, we will survive, but our country will change, inevitably, and not necessarily for the better.

 

Crazy times

This is my first blog post of 2017. I took on the role of Acting Head of my School at Keele on 1 December of last year, but the responsibilities only really started to kick in when the new semester started in late January. I have coped reasonably well with those commitments, but what has really caused me problems has been my teaching. I have been teaching a new module on Digital Forensics; very interesting, but I’ve been teaching it single handedly, and although I did a lot of advance preparation, I’ve still had to write quite a lot of material while the module has been running, which is never ideal. For example, the last two lectures, which take place next week and the week after, still have to be written, and they are on challenging topics. More about Digital Forensics in a later post, hopefully! I also had to prepare and deliver four two-hour MChem sessions on Materials Modelling, and although it is my research area, it still took time. On top of this I’m external examiner at a couple of other universities, and have had to review exam papers for them, as well as setting ones myself.

The net result of all this has been that I’ve been doing 7-day weeks, and getting in at crazy times, but still not keeping up. I was determined to write this post just to record it all, but even the time taken to write this could be spent writing some of a lecture!

We have two weeks of teaching left until Easter, and I am literally counting the days. It’s not been good, and I hope I’ll never have another time like this, with this crazy conjunction of commitments. Hopefully the next post will be more positive (:

My review of 2016

In writing this review, I am reminded of a program on Facebook which gives your most used words, to show what you have been posting about. In that spirit, to describe 2016, certain words/phrases come to mind: Mame, Brexit, ICDIM2016, Pokémon Go, NSSO, Digital Forensics and AHoS! I will explain the significance and meaning of these as we go through the year.

I was grateful to have been well during Christmas 2015, having been struck down with flu/a cold the previous year. The New Year got off to its normal start, with exams, and then the new semester got underway on 25 January. My teaching was largely unchanged from last year, and my project students were making good progress, so when I was asked by Stephen Hearson to play in his production of ‘Mame’, I accepted. It involved a full week of performances (22-27 February), and normally I would not be able to commit to that. But 2016 was exceptional (I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it in the coming year), and although it was hard work, I was glad to have played; it was my first experience of pit playing for many years.

In March I attended my first LibDem conference, which took place in York, where the Social Democrat Group that I’m involved with were running an event. It was an interesting experience, and it was nice to spend a couple of days in York, which was still showing signs of the flooding that had taken place a few months previously. The event went well and the group attracted some interest, although it is obvious that we have a long way to go!

April and May were mostly spent doing teaching and administration at Keele, although we got away to London in the Easter vacation (we actually went in late March) where we went to some exhibitions and saw The War of the Worlds musical.  1 May marked 30 years at Keele for me (see blog post about this). In June, as teaching activities came to an end, I had my last external examining trip to Nottingham Trent University, and an EPSRC Panel Meeting. The EU Referendum, on 23 June, resulted in a vote for Brexit, which was very dispiriting and worrying, and which I’m still coming to terms with (although nothing has actually happened yet, there have been serious knock-on effects like the fall in the value of the £ and general loss of confidence in the UK economy).

In July, Mário visited me in advance of the ICDIM2016 conference in Lyon. We had a useful few days working together, before travelling to Lyon via London. We took the direct Eurostar service from St Pancras, which was very smooth, and got us there in a few hours. The conference itself was good, although it was a bit stressful for me given my relative seniority in the conference organisation, etc. But we presented our work, and got some useful feedback and new ideas for future work, as well as seeing old friends and colleagues. On returning from Lyon I started properly preparing for the new module on Digital Forensics that I will be teaching starting in January 2017 (alarmingly close as I write this!).  I also was occupied in supervising a summer project student, which is something I haven’t done much before, but which went very well.

In August I had my customary trip to the Great British Beer Festival, and Angela joined me there for some of the days. I talk about this in a separate blog post (‘August 2016-culture, beer and Pokémon Go’). As the title suggests, we took in some shows and exhibitions as well. I had been intrigued by the interest surrounding Pokémon Go, and started playing it on August 7th. It has had an interesting and unexpected effect, as I will mention later.

Since earlier in the year I had been planning a 70th birthday event for Richard Catlow, to take place in April 2017, so later in August I met him to discuss this. I will doubtless write more about this event in my review next year!

September included a few days in Glasgow, and a trip to Brighton for the LibDem Party Conference, where (again), the Social Democrat Group had an event (although I couldn’t stay for the actual event). Angela joined me, and we enjoyed visiting Brighton very much. I also started playing in the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra in September, although in the end I could only play in their first concert because my work commitments increased in November. Hopefully I can re-join them in April 2017 for their summer concert. Later in September our new academic year got underway, and I was very busy for most of the Autumn Semester.

October and November were mainly occupied with lecturing, and supervising my project students, as well as my new MPhil student. In November I was summoned by the Dean of our Faculty and asked to take on the role of acting Head of our new School (Chemical and Physical Sciences) until such time as a new Professor is appointed (AHoS). I started this job on 1 December, and as yet many of my new duties haven’t fully kicked in. I expect this to change in January however!

In December we managed to visit my mother, who was staying in Highfields Care Home in Halesworth for a month’s respite care (my sister and brother-in-law being in India over Christmas). Angela and I had travelled to London so Angela could go to the Olympia Horse Show, and the next day we went to Halesworth on a day trip! It was the only way we could work out how to do it, and it was Angela’s ingenious idea. My mother seemed OK but was treating the home as a hotel, and not really interacting with others there. We felt this would have to change if she moved there permanently. I had my customary Christmas conference in December, this time in Loughborough. It went really well, and the organisers did a great job. My treasurer’s report was accepted without problems.

And so we come to Christmas, which we are spending quietly at home. January will be full of challenges, so I need to rest as much as possible. A final comment is that, thanks initially to Pokémon Go, I started daily early morning walks around campus in September, and I have been feeling the benefit both physically and mentally from this extra exercise. I will of course continue it in the New Year.

Films, music, plays and exhibitions 2016

I saw 12 films in 2016 (1 less than in 2015):

The 5th Way (30/01)

Dad’s Army (17/02)

London Has Fallen (7/03)

Eye in the Sky (21/04)

Florence Foster Jenkins (12/05)

Independence Day Resurgence (29/05)

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (20/07)

The Girl on the Train (15/10)

Inferno (18/10)

Arrival (20/11)

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (11/12)

I saw 6 exhibitions:

Painting the Modern Garden (RA, 12/02)

Fashion through the times (V&A, 13/02)

Other Worlds: Visions of the Universe (NHM, 30/03)

Georgia O’Keefe (TM, 10/08)

Sicily: Culture & Conquest (BM, 12/08)

Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (BM, 24/08)

I saw the following Plays, Music and Musicals:

Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix, 13/02)

Rehearsal for Murder (Regent, 20/02)

The Three Degrees (Crewe Lyceum, 09/03)

War of the Worlds (Dominion, 31/03)

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (Crewe Lyceum, 23/04)

That’s Entertainment (Regent, 23/06)

The Go between (Apollo, 8/08)

Joan Collins Unscripted (Crewe Lyceum, 27/09)

David Essex (Regent, 24/11)

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music