Friday, 26 June 2015

AHRC: 'We'll Start with a Poem...'

Custard Cream: In Demand
The Arts & Humanities Research Council turn 10 this year, and to celebrate they are planning to fund an art event loosely based on Chinese Whispers. Now read on.

A meeting of the Strategic Working Action Group on Greater Explanation of Research in the Humanities (SWAGGER (H)) at AHRC HQ in Death Star House. Conference-quality coffee is being served. They are in to their third hour. All the custard creams are gone. 

Chair: Right! So that's Working Group's acronym sorted. We're all happy with SWAGGER (H)? Those in favour..?
(A desultory show of hands)
And those against...?
(A desultory show of hands).
Motion carried! Excellent! Now on to item 2: plans to celebrate our 10th anniversary...yes, Alison, what is it?
Alison Seersucker, Principal Officer with Responsibility for Sector Engagement (PORSE) (for it is she): Before we move on, I was just wondering, just wondering if there was any possibility, at all, of reconsidering the acronym? It's just that that final 'H' at the end is a bit...well, inept?
(There's a collective groan)
Chair: Look, Alison, we have spent the last two hours discussing the acronym. I accept that it's not perfect, but I think it's time to move on. Okay?
(Alison Seersucker, PORSE, nods sheepishly). 
Right! So plans for our 10th anniversary. Thoughts anyone?
(Silence. Everyone looks at their feet, or concentrates on their empty coffee cups)
No? Well here's an idea. Remember back to childhood and the excitement of birthday parties. Yes? Wouldn't it be good to rekindle and recapture that excitement?
(The silence deepens. Feet are studied in detail). 
What I thought was this: let's have a series of events based on children's party games!
(The silence becomes so deep and so thick that people can barely breathe. Alison Seersucker, PORSE, raises her hand).
Chair (exasperated): What is it, Alison? It's not about the acronym is it? That has now been agreed, you know.
Alison Seersucker, PORSE: No, it's not the acronym, your worship. No, it's just...won't the sector feel that a series of childhood party games is somewhat, well, infantilising?
(Members of SWAGGER (H) nod vigorously, whilst being careful not to catch the Chair's eye).
Chair: Well! Does anyone else agree with the PORSE?
(The nodding stops instantly)
Alison Seersucker, PORSE: I think, I think we might be a laughing stock, your worship. We've spent the last decade trying to justify our inclusion with the scientific big boys. If we start running children's party games all that good work might be wasted. And the humanities academics themselves might feel a bit, well...patronised.
(The nodding has begun again, but stops as the Chair's eyes sweep around the table). 
Chair: Nonsense! The only feelings we'll engender will be goodwill towards the humanities, tinged, perhaps, by a little jealousy from the EPSRC and BBSRC that they hadn't come up with such a good idea first!
(The silence descends to the lowest depths of the Mariana Trench).
I've already had some ideas! (he removes a crumpled fag packet from his pocket). Now, let's see, I thought we could kick off with a game of Chinese Whispers. Start with a poem, see, then print it on a colostomy bag. That sort of thing. Marvellous fun. Perhaps then we could have 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey'. Start with a poem, and try and pin it on a donkey that's been cut in two and pickled in formaldehyde. Super! Marvellous fun.  Then 'Musical Chairs'. We'll start in complete silence, with a poem. When the music starts everyone has to pretend to be a chair of their choice. Super fun. 'Sardines': we start with a poem, divided it into the constituent words, and hide them around the place. They have to seek each other out and when they have: bingo! We end with a poem too! Super and marvellous! And there should be nothing but jelly and ice cream throughout the year! All those in favour..?
(A desultory show of hands)
All those against..?
(A desultory show of hands)
Motion carried! Marvellous! Well done SWAGGER (H)! You won't regret this. Now, on to item 3: election of a new Chief Executive. Any thoughts anyone?
(Silence)
Well what I thought was this: we start with a poem...
(A collective groan. Several members keel face forward into the cold coffee and crumbled custard creams)

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