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Tea with the Sphinx – part 1 (or Reasons to be Cheerful)

July 3, 2018

Because we all know I am extremely garrulous and likely to go on for many blog posts enthusing about this conference. I’m going to try and rein it in this time and only do a couple of blogs, you may have noticed I wasn’t tweeting this time? Sadly, that had less to do with my new incisive and concise persona and more to do with technical issues – ok, so not really technical issues, I’d nearly run out of mobile data and I couldn’t get the wifi to reliably work on my phone but ‘technical issues’ sounds so much better! And I wouldn’t like you to think that the conference wasn’t tweetworthy, it was most definitely tweetworthy as can be seen here and here. I really haven’t got the hang of concise have I? Anyway, moving swiftly on . . .

I thought I’d do a post on what makes TwtS different to other conferences and a post (or 2) on the actual papers themselves, although the two are obviously connected – a large part of the joy of TwtS is the variety and multidisciplinarity of the subjects discussed. But, there’s all the other treats too – as many people noted, there’s a real kindness, generosity and support at TwtS. That’s not to say there’s no academic rigour, rather there’s a carefulness and mindfulness (if that word hasn’t been horribly overused) to the debate that’s lacking at so many conferences where the idea appears to be to score as many scholarly points as possible through attacking the speaker’s ideas. That doesn’t happen at TwtS and it makes for a relaxing intellectual atmosphere, and how often can you say that about a conference?

And then there’s shoes, yup, shoes. It’s a big thing at TwtS and as someone who loves shoes this is an excellent thing to have at a conference – there were Cleopatra shoes

Dragon shoes and Muppet shoes



Sea monster (?) shoes and light up shoes.

There was cake – there was amazing food full stop, although, remember the onion bhaji sandwiches of #Sphinx16? Coronation chicken tarts was another ‘interesting’ taste sensation, I ate one so you don’t have to and I really would advise you not to. But the cake? Delicious and beautiful, on Day 1 we had Twitter cakes

Day 2 images from the speakers’ presentations


There was jewellery

shoes and jewels

Rubbish photo of this slide – check out Lizzie’s twitter feed for beautiful close ups of Jasmine’s jewellery.


As an added joy, there were tarot readings from the wonderful Nikki – ‘if you start looking like you’re taking this seriously I’ll stop immediately’ – Brun (Animal and dragon shoes). Turns out there’s no money in my future, which is unfortunate, nor is there fame. I do, however, have a project and it’s going to be brilliant and I can confidently go ahead because everything is in place for me to succeed. Up to a point. There’s a problem, the Emperor, aka a man who outranks me, is blocking my path and will, if I let him, steal all the credit for my brilliant idea then completely wreck it, all my work – current and previous – will be in ruins, as will my reputation. I will salvage something from the remains but it will be just a small sliver of my former brilliance. Her parting words were ‘Beware the Emperor’ which I think is a fitting motto for every day, quite honestly.

I also gained a brilliant ear worm – and that almost never happens, it’s usually on the level of Kung Fu Fighting, Don’t Stop Believing or Trapped – but this time it was Tulane, fantastic by Chuck Berry, equally fantastic by the Steve Gibbons Band. As an aside my Mum preferred – and often played – Chuck Berry’s version, my sister preferred – and played – Steve Gibbons’, listening now I’m not really sure there’s enough difference for the level of argument this caused! I just loved the song so much I decided I had to call any daughter I might have Tulane, this didn’t happen (I was 11 when it was in the charts, I believed many things at 11 that turned out to be untrue) and I’d completely forgotten my intention until I saw in the abstract that one of the speakers had Tulane University as their alma mater. Ever since I’ve been happily singing:

Go head on, Tulane, he can’t catch up with you
Go Tulane, he isn’t man enough for you
Go Tulane, use all the speed you got
Go Tulane, you know you need a lot
Go Tulane, he’s lagging behind
Go head on, Tulane

And finally, the university itself. It’s beautiful, I’d never been a fan of campus universities, yes they’re very convenient but there’s always the danger of being cut off from the rest of the world, ivory (or brick) towers etc. I’m coming round to them though, at the Edgbaston Campus there are trees, sculpture, fountains and red bricks, not as many as there were and Martyn, amongst others, was rather tetchy about them knocking down the old library. Obviously with my love of bricks I sympathise with this view, but the new buildings look very swish and when they’ve finished the green space bit in the middle it’ll be a lovely place to sit out and admire the architecture. Even now with all the machines, noise and heat (golly it was hot in Birmingham! Look at that grass) it’s lovely

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Below is part of the Chancellor’s Court, which has Main Hall and its nine (male, just saying) statues: Beethoven, Virgil, Michelangelo, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Watt, Faraday and Darwin, all excellent chaps but you’d think there was space for at least a woman or two, no? No.

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Anyway, before I get sidetracked by the representation of women in public life – do not get me started on women on paper money and the appalling abuse Caroline Criado-Perez faced after suggesting Jane Austen should be on the new £10 note – let me return to the loveliness of the Edgbaston Campus

The ceramic frieze in close up

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No idea what’s going on here – is that a tuba on the left? The entrance to a wormhole? And, why is there a bath in the middle section?

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Nope, no idea about this one either, and the Victorian Web isn’t very helpful ‘Within their allotted spaces, these features complement rather than distract from the bold outlines of the buildings’ but, but, but what’s happening? Who cares, it’s art innit? And, it does make for a lovely place to wander with a coffee mid-conference, as does the Barber Institute – again the location for Day 2


Photo from Which has lots of lovely ‘then and now’ photos of the building

All of these things combined to make Tea with the Sphinx 2018 a joy to attend, and I haven’t even got on to the papers yet, Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment . . .




7 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathleen Sheppard permalink
    July 3, 2018 11:29 am

    Thank you for sharing so far! I can’t wait to hear more!! It seems worth it just for the cakes and campus. 🙂

  2. Martyn permalink
    July 4, 2018 12:06 pm

    Tetchy? I’d have said wistfulness given an edge by mistakenly drinking the decaff all morning. Admittedly the library was no architectural gem, but unlike the finer redbrick buildings, it was actually part of campus life. I only ever went in the Great Hall once a term, to collect my grant cheque (or ‘check’ as WordPress prefers). No idea what other rituals happened in there.

    • harngroup permalink*
      July 5, 2018 8:32 am

      Ah, I think I was listening through the decaff coffee and invested tetchiness where there was none. Clearer labelling for the hard of thinking would make life so much easier both in the coffee department and the map department. Although, to be fair what I really need is a map that gently takes me by the hand and escorts me to where I need to be and maybe coffee jars that when you pick them up ask ‘Do you really want decaff, because that’s what I am’. While we’re at it can I also have 1 size screwdriver that fits all screws and a way of emailing coffee, cake and chocolate?

      • Martyn permalink
        July 5, 2018 12:34 pm

        Working on it. Screwdriver-satnav with usb port and expandable ‘dispenser’? Like a Swiss Army knife, but useful.

  3. harngroup permalink*
    July 5, 2018 9:24 pm

    Now, I hadn’t thought of combining the screwdriver and coffee/cake/chocolate dispenser but I like the way you’re thinking here.

    • Martyn permalink
      July 6, 2018 8:13 am

      It’s the way things are going. Apparently you can already get phones that take pictures.

      • harngroup permalink*
        July 6, 2018 12:36 pm

        I can’t shift the image of proper old fashioned, plug into a phone socket, phones with a camera (which uses film) attached. It’s hot. It’s Friday. I am easily amused.

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