By Douglas Kerr

Monday 12th March

Got back this afternoon, with a quite significant headache, from a week’s research trip to London and Oxford. I like working in the British Library at St Pancras, not only for its fantastic collections but also for the atmosphere of the reading rooms, though I suppose this is not so evocative as when the library was in the British Museum, in the great round Reading Room where Karl Marx used to study. It was only when I gave up smoking that I began to like working in libraries. At one point in my postgraduate career I did some work in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, one of the coldest cities on earth. Huddling with my wretched fellow-smokers on a sleet-swept Edinburgh pavement in February seemed a high price to pay for future academic glory.

Tuesday 13th March

Up at 6:30, to get over to Macau, where I am helping to select a candidate for a new Professorship in English literature. The University of Macau seems to have plenty of money, and they are expanding and bringing in new professorial staff. Like us, they are housed in a squashed hillside campus – I always get lost when I go there – but soon the whole university is moving to a brand new site. This morning we are interviewing overseas candidates on skype. It’s not perfect, the sound is fuzzy and the picture can freeze disconcertingly. But it makes a big difference when you can see and hear the people you may be working with. Shortlisted candidates will be brought in later for a campus visit. Ages ago when I applied for a job at HKU I was interviewed in London, offered the job by telegram (telegram!), and didn’t meet any of my colleagues until I stepped off the plane in Hong Kong for the first time – by which time it was too late, on both sides.

Wednesday 14th March

This evening there is a Hong Kong International Literary Festival event at the Club Lusitano in Central, co-organized by the Man Asian Literary Prize. The authors shortlisted for this year’s Prize – from Pakistan, India, China, Japan and Korea – read from their works. I have been involved with the Festival for five years or so. Other colleagues from the School of English serve on the board for the Prize. It was a fun evening, and good to see some old friends. At these occasions, I often wonder why I see so few HKU alumni. Do graduates of the School/Department of English/ESCL just stop reading when they leave university? It’s odd. You would think our own alumni would be the natural constituency for an international literary festival in Hong Kong. Time to do some publicity. Please visit the Festival at, and come along to our events in October.

Thursday 15th March

Three of my MPhil students have completed their thesis, passed the viva exam, and are now making final corrections before their work goes to be housed, physically and electronically, in the university library. Congratulations to them, and what a relief, for student and supervisor! Examiners send in their written reports in advance, and I always tell students not to be nervous about the viva. If your thesis was terrible, a viva is unlikely to save you, and if the thesis was good, even a disastrous performance at the viva probably won’t drag you down from a Pass to a Fail. Nobody ever listens to this advice of course, and the viva is always an ordeal for the student. I remember for several days after mine, I kept thinking of
absolutely brilliant things that I could have said if I’d thought of them at the time. Come to think of it, this is true of just about every lecture or publication I have produced.

Friday 16th March

I have started working on (or at least thinking about) a new course I’ll be offering, on Narrative, in the new 4-year curriculum that begins next year with the dreaded intake of the Double Cohort in September. How are we going to cope? What’s more, we are gearing up to move to our new building in July. My new office will be a lot smaller, and for months, like some other colleagues, I have been trying to get rid of books. Students have taken quite a few, the library accepted a gift of five boxes full, others have been donated to a scheme for sending books to mainland universities. Why aren’t my bookshelves now full of gaps? Somebody must be breaking into my office at night and depositing their books in my shelves. I have a list of suspects. And I know where their offices are.


In February and March there was a wealth of concerts and performances to go to in the brilliant Arts Festival, which has left me rather shell-shocked. What about this weekend? I think I’ll be tempted to the cinema to see either Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy
or The Iron Lady. Betrayal and national decline in the 1970s, or brutal economics in the 1980s? I’m afraid I may be suffering from Masochistic Nostalgia. Better make an appointment to see a consultant in Cultural Studies.

Please mark your diary for the Farewell to the Main Building event, in the afternoon of Sunday 22nd April. Details to follow. See you there!

Published on: Mar 15, 2012 < Back >