Got back very late last night after an extremely enjoyable day in Winchester. Emi and I were up at 6 AM to prepare for the long trip and it was sometimes uncomfortable in the confined space of the train to endure the four and a half hours it took to get to our destination.
Once there, however, we met up with our friends Colin and Caroline Hunter who met us at Winchester station and drove us to the Cathedral to meet John McKenna, one of the University's governors, who had proposed me for the 'Doctorate Of Arts' honorary degree. John turned out to be a lovely, kind man who looked after me throughout the ceremony and read a flattering introduction to the assembled Cathedral audience just before I received the official honorary degree. The degree was presented to me by the Chancellor of the University, a man who just happens to be television presenter and master gardener Alan Titchmarsh. Alan is a very genuine and erudite man whose talents, from the evidence of his inspirational and enlightened closing speech, extend in several directions beyond his more obvious gardening expertise. I was very impressed and enjoyed chatting with him after the ceremony.
Of course, there was the formality of robing up prior to the procession into the Cathedral. My robe as an honorary 'doctor of the arts,' was mainly red with purple highlights. I also had to wear a kind of wide cap with a tassel, not the mortar board I'd expected, but which I rather liked and, in photographs taken afterwards, made me appear quite the traditional academic from history. With my grey goatee beard and the tasseled hat and robes I resembled Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Magus and Polymath and a personal 'hero' of mine. What fun!
Nevertheless, I was quite nervous about the whole thing and worried that I hadn't prepared an acceptance speech, (not that I could have read it with my failing eyesight if I had.) So I just spoke a few words off-the-cuff, from my heart, and left it at that.
After the ceremony was over, (and it included many highlights, as well as Alan Titchmarsh's fine closing speech and a very nice performance from the student choir and string ensemble,) we retired to the Wessex Hotel for tea and cakes and wine, (though, due to my Diabetes, I had to forgo the cakes.)
Then a dash to the station to catch the train back to Yorkshire. Two fans waiting for me outside the station with albums to sign, which I signed happily whilst keeping an eye on the minutes ticking away to our departure time.
Once safely on the train we settled down for the long trip back home. No restaurant car, no cafe counter, just a small snacks trolley, which couldn't be wheeled through the train due to the number of passengers who were unable to find a seat and had to stand in the vestibule or in the aisles of the carriages. The hours ticked by, relieved temporarily by my iPod which played back '40s swing music and Tony Hancock radio sketches for me. Couldn't read though as my eyesight proved too problematic and pulling out a magnifying glass to attempt a better view of the text was embarrassing.
Eventually the train creaked into York station and we got a taxi home. Our beloved cat, Django, ran to meet us as our footsteps crunched the gravel to our door, so pleased to see us after a long day alone. I can't begin to explain how much this innocent creature means to us, how he has brought so much fun, joy and warmth into our lives. Those who are cat lovers will know and understand perfectly what I mean. I'm encouraged by the fact that so many artists and intellectuals have been cat lovers too. I've always thought that a person who has a rapport with our feline friends is a person you can trust. Jean Cocteau and Austin Osman Spare were both photographed with their cats...and both are heroes of mine.
Today, we visited my mother in Wakefield and tonight decided to eat out at our favourite village pub. A proper meal as opposed to the sandwiches we ate yesterday.
More work ahead though, lots more, and my sense of panic intensifies...