May 27, 2009

Lord love a duck

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 3:58 am

Any wide awake person in the UK ought to be able to tell you that the theme of the last week or so has been ducks.

First we had an update on the long running crisis of MPs’ expense claims.  We learned that Sir Somebody or Other had claimed more than £1600 for a “floating duck house” on his pond. 
In his inevitable apologia and announcement that he would not be seeking re-election the MP noted sadly that the house “in fact was never liked by the ducks.”

The good Knight ought to have consulted the good scientists of Oxford University.  The results of a recent study to find out what kind of water ducks like best were released last week.

When offered ponds, troughs, and other opportunities (possibly including floating houses) ducks prefer to stand in a shower.

A typical headline screamed, “Boffins’ £300k study finds ducks like rain.”

Well, it was a week when taxpayers were feeling especially ripped off, what with all the MP shenanigans, and to some, I guess, this felt a bit like a last straw, since apparently we footed the bill for this too.  But I calculate that means each UK income tax payer spent less than 1.2 pence to be able to say with confidence, “Nice weather for ducks,” every time it rains – which it does quite a lot.  Sounds like good value to me.

However, the Professor of Poetry election, held once every five years, was the real news in Oxford in the last week.  The Professor of Poetry is a prestigious but largely ceremonial post, and its only formal duty is 3 lectures a year.  All current academics at the University, and every graduate, gets a vote, though they must do it in person.  Recently the requirement to wear a gown while casting your vote was relaxed, but you can still see academics strolling down Oxford’s High Street towards Examination Schools (where the election is held) with gowns flapping behind them. 

As in another recent election the first woman candidate (Ruth Padel, Charles Darwin’s great great  granddaughter) was up against the first black candidate (Nobel prize winner Derek Walcott).

Ruth Padel had become a sudden celebrity in the 200th anniversary of her famous grandfather’s birth and was the media’s current darling, but frankly she didn’t have a prayer against the much more distinguished candidate.  Walcott was the heavy favourite.

Then a story began to circulate on the internet about how Derek Walcott had been accused of sexual harassment at Harvard in the early 1980s.  Next anonymous letters were sent (only to women academics at Oxford) detailing the allegations. 

Ruth Padel declared herself shocked by such low tactics and assured the press that she had nothing to do with such dirty tricks – she was, in fact, “devasted” by what had happened to another poet, and felt “tainted” herself. 

Derek Walcott withdrew from the race, and Ruth Padel was elected.

Over the next week it gradually emerged that despite her denials, Ms Padel had been very actively reminding the world, via a series of emails to her journalist friends, of Mr Walcott’s alleged murky past.

The trail of damning evidence began when someone noticed that the very first journalist who wrote about the sexual allegations against Mr Walcott was a man called James Walsh, Ms Padel’s former lover.  A poem was produced in evidence.

“Home Cooking” in which the poet and her lover have sex on the kitchen table, was said to be about the journalist.  I can’t find a copy, but I’m guessing it’s a rhyming poem.  They cooked a duck.

On Monday, a little over a week after the first woman Professor of Poetry was elected, her resignation was announced.

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