A triumphant queen returns to the shores from which she sat sails many moons ago. Crowds cheer, flags fly, the queen lifts her hand waving graciously. I imagine Mick Jagger returning to the LSE or Bill Gates being honoured at Harvard. That was me last Wednesday at 16.30pm as I was coming out of Euston tube station, heading towards my old college.
SOAS, where I studied from 1987 to 1992, had invited me back to give a talk about publishing as part of their Writing Week. I had already been interviewed for their student magazine ten days ago.
As I walked along Euston Road, I pictured myself standing at the podium in the main auditorium looking into a packed audience of eager, young faces ready to receive the wisdom of a mature alumna. I imagined a couple of my old professors sitting in the audience too. They had recognized my name on the programme and now wanted to see what had become of their former student.
At the reception I was pointed in the direction of Room 406, one of the smaller, dimly lit classrooms. Fair enough, I thought to myself, better to have a small, well-populated kingdom, than to address an amphitheatre with empty seats. My talk was scheduled for 17.00. At five past two students appeared. By quarter past four more joined but one left as soon as I started to talk.
‘So, no red carpet for you,’ Peirene of course can’t avoid teasing me the next day.
‘A waste of time then?’
Well not quite. I quickly jettisoned my speech, gathered my five acolytes around me and engaged in a conversation. We discussed the art of translation, how to set up your own business and the importance of marketing.
‘It doesn’t sound like your students wasted their time,’ Peirene remarks. I look at her in surprise. It’s rare to receive a compliment from her.
But she is right. And what’s more I was given a master class in the thoughts and concerns of students as they enter the job-market. I will manage Peirene interns better as result of my hour at SOAS. As Mick Jagger already sang ‘You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need’.