It looks like I'll be doing an M.A.
at University College London
from September. I've just come from an interview with the head of linguistics and admissions, Professor Neil Smith
, and he's happy to take me on; now he has to persuade the bureaucrats to overlook the irregularities. He's the author of a good book on Chomsky
that I'd used in my writeup there, and I'd already contacted him to ask for his comments; hadn't realized then he was the one in charge at UCL.
I had hated my job for years, hated the whole profession (not telling; it's something I'm ashamed of, because it's so worthless and useless), and wasn't contributing anything to the world. But what could I do? I was well paid, far better paid than I could conceivably get in any other field. So I was stuck with that and dreams of being the next Joan Aiken cum Douglas Adams cum Joanne Rowling. The almost total absence of my writings on E2, however, shows that I'm not a very fast or persistent writer. I can't think of plots. The rest, I'm good at; just not plots. Now a comic novel doesn't have to have a brilliant and watertight plot, if the jokes are good enough, but it does still need a serviceable one.
Latterly, for perhaps as much as a year, it wasn't just the usual useless timewasting, but I felt more and more strongly they were trying to get me to quit. Or it was the incompetence typical of the company and they just hadn't noticed I had so little to do. Anyway, what could I do: resign? And have nothing. Finally, last month, they either gave up trying, or noticed, or just had a bright idea of sacking staff to help the budget; and they made me redundant. Seen this every couple of years: three or four go, often people who've been there years, it's quite routine. So I tried to look sober and not squeal in glee when they called me into the office with long faces.
Skipped and danced for a while, once safely outside the building. Bought some Australian champagne for immediate quaffing. Started making plans. Worrying period of a week or two when I didn't actually know how much redundancy money I'd get; the statutory amounts turn out to be disappointingly small. A book said companies usually top it up with ex gratia payments to reflect your real salary, but my ex-company was not exactly rolling in it. In the end it turned out to be a lot, better even than the maximum I'd hoped for.
So now I had enough to live on in comfort for two years, even with nothing coming in. Of course I don't want to use up all my savings, but the point is I could do two full years of study, if I had to. I've been looking for jobs over the last few weeks but this is a hollow mockery to satisfy the dole people: I know none of them are going to want me, because I'm not qualified for anything. Clearly courses were what I needed; editing, publishing, technical writing, something of that nature, so I sent off for those amid the pointless job applications.
Somewhere in there crystallized the idea that I needn't restrict myself to job-oriented courses. I could enquire about postgraduate studies in linguistics, which, while it doesn't pay, is unquestionably what I should really be doing. Something must be supporting those who do it for a living. The key thing about the redundancy money was that it made enough to support me for two full years, if necessary: one M.A. in linguistics, and one a vocational qualification in bookish pursuits. In reality I hope to pursue linguistics ever after, Ph.D. and mummification in some comfortable old department with a good supply of port, where I shall spend my days and nights making crabbed comments on cobwebby manuscripts, and pointing out other people's mistakes, and finding exceptions to generalizations, and debating the philosophy of language. Having decided this, I ought to have applied to Oxford and Cambridge too, and other institutions with a high reputation for the subject, but really, UCL is so convenient, half an hour by bus, and if I can't get in I might as well give up.
Well, today was the interview. Made a fool of myself, of course, but I can't help that. I might need to get my parents to go through all the papers in their house trying to find my actual degree to convince the bureaucrats it's not just an artefact of the other bureaucrats where I was before being chary about admitting what they'd awarded long ago (in the early 1400s, roughly).
I'd sort of expected my claims would be tested viva voce. So I can write on linguistics here, but how much of it is what I actually know? (Most of it, is the real answer, but it's by no means self-evident from reading a few nodes.) But no, no tricky questions about tense marking in Swahili, or syntactic typology of New Guinean languages, or evidence for phonetic shifts in pre-classical Greek.
Came home, en route buying nutritious things like smoked tofu, tempeh, brazil nuts, figs, mixed sprouts, port, and Guinness Foreign Extra.