Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tis the Season for Course Meetings and Christmas Meals

Entry for 17 December 2006(in flight back to USA):

This week has felt like staggering from one long meeting or holiday meal to another. These appear to be the joint signs of the season in Scottish academic culture. I had 10 hours this week of meetings with fellow members of teaching staff, to review the term just completed. The MSc course staff members met on Tuesday, then on Thursday there was an all-day meeting of the Counselling Diploma course staff. These meetings differed greatly in their structure, size, amount of interpersonal processing, content and so on. Both were very productive in terms of providing useful opportunities to take stock and to think into the future.

The Diploma course meeting was longer and less task-focused. However, the contrast to my first exposure to Counselling Unit course meeting process last summer was striking. At the two meetings I attended in late June and early July, it was clear that morale was low. Many of the part-time tutors complained that the changes due to staff turnover had not been properly assimilated and that they felt adrift, cut-off and not “held” by Unit management. From Thursday’s meeting, nevertheless, it is clear that we have come a long way since last summer. Although there have been various crises and stresses over the past months and many of us do feel stressed, we have new staff and new energy, and the training in all three courses appears to be going well. Morale is high and we are looking forward to the rest of the academic year. New, excitingly developments are afoot. After Thursday’s meeting, I felt ready to celebrate

This was a good thing, because celebration was definitely on the agenda for the week, as various celebratory meals followed one another relentlessly. First (to back up for a moment), on Wednesday, I took Diane out for a birthday lunch at a very nice Scottish restaurant, An Lochan, which we have been to last Summer (under its old name, Café Royale). Then, to cap Thursday’s all-day Diploma course meeting, there was the annual Counselling Unit Christmas dinner, this time at The Windows, a restaurant on the 7th floor of the Carlton George Hotel, near to Georges Square. There were Christmas crackers; I ordered turkey and fixings (having missed my Turkey Experience by being in Italy for Thanksgiving this year). Far below, the wet streets reflected back the Christmas lights. I remembered how I had met most of the staff last year at this same holiday meal, after a lonely and stressful week of waiting for my job interview here. We have all traveled far in the past year!

On Friday I went for the holiday midday meal organized by the Fulltime Diploma course students. This was at a restaurant in the West End named The Primary (because it used to be a primary school). This took most of the afternoon, and I had no sooner arrived home, before we had to turn around and go back out to meet Dave and Elke at Wagamama (the Japanese-noodle-style restaurant mentioned in my blog previous entry, “The Dark”). By this time, I was sure that I couldn’t eat another bite, but I managed to find room for a salad, miso soup and some edemame (and their unlikely but delicious chili pavlova parfait for dessert…).

The week began to feel like some sort of medieval Trial by Festive Meals. We have been enjoying the generally smaller portions served in restaurants here, after suffering the inflated serving sizes favored in American restaurants. However, since it is the holiday seasons, all bets are now off, and the servings are Truly American in their over-the-top overabundance. Thus, it came as a great relief to be able to eat normally on Saturday.

Finally, it was off to the annual Christmas concert at Barony Hall. This is a fine redstone 19th century gothic revival church at the top of High Street, near Glasgow Cathedral. Over the past 50 years, the drastic decline in church attendance across Scotland (as in much of Europe) has forced many fine old churches to close for want of parishioners. In the best scenario, these churches have been desanctified and converted into performance spaces, that is, temples to the performing arts. In this case, the University of Strathclyde spent 3 million pounds to clean the red sandstone (darkened from industrial pollution), make the nave into an effective performance space, and build a pavilion to connect to old church hall to the nave, making large reception area.

The concert was performed by Capella Nova, an excellent local group specializing in Scottish medieval and contemporary vocal music, assisted by a visiting brass quintet from Saint Petersburg, Russia, who were also in fine Slavic form. We were perched up in the transept loft looking down on the musicians from the side. The program was an entertaining blend of traditional, medieval, modern and popular music, complete with audience participation in singing several familiar carols. At the intermission, the audience was treated to the two staples of UK seasonal celebrations: mincemeat and mulled wine. All in all this was a lovely end to a demanding week of meeting and celebrating!

Footnote: The Bear. Part of the tradition of Unit’s holiday meal is a blind gift exchange. In a kind of poetic justice, I received a teddy bear wearing a shirt that said “Scotland” on it. In 1985, while traveling with Brendan, Diane, my Dad and my sister Louisa, Brendan left behind a similar teddy bear at a bed and breakfast place somewhere south of Glasgow (I can’t remember exactly where now). This teddy bear had been given to me by a former girlfriend from the University of Santa Cruz, and I had passed it on to Brendan on a kind of extended loan. With the loss of the teddy bear, I felt as though I had lost part of my youth. For many years I looked without success for another copy of the same teddy bear. Now, after another turning of my life, out of the blue I had received a replacement for the Missing Bear. Not the same bear, but a new one, emblazoned with the name of my new country.

1 comment:

Brendan Elliott (武戀殿・絵理夫) said...

I remember the loss of the bear, but I don't remember ever having been told that it came from a former girlfriend at UCSC or that it was an 'extended loan'. It's funny how my child self had always thought of it as 'my bear' and I don't recall paying attention to where it came from. Sorry for losing it... It's nice to hear that you finally replaced it after all these years. ;)