Enjoying genocide

I should perhaps clarify the title before I am bundled off to Den Haag to spend some quality time with the International Criminal Court.  I have not previously indulged in genocide, nor am I doing so at present and I have no active plans to pursue a career in the field either.  Nor would I wish to encourage others to view this as a valid lifestyle choice – in general, the fewer freshly minted corpses your efforts leave at the end of each day, the better.

Enjoyment is often wrongly conflated with “fun” and laughter.  I have heard (though prefer not to believe) that a UK literary festival has used face recognition software to identify whether its punters are smiling after events (presumably as part of planning bookings for future events).  I like to imagine that literature – even in a festive setting – has a rather broader remit than smile induction.  John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, to give a single illustrative example, does not generally leave them rolling in the aisles but is still great literature and I really enjoyed reading it.  Often at the end of a play, or a piece of classical music, I am left shell-shocked and usually need a pause to gather my thoughts before I want to begin (or hear) applause.  Nevertheless, the evenings so spent are ones that I treasure.

Having, hopefully, weaselled my way out from under the title we can now proceed with the post proper.  This continues the events described in Ground Zero and Awkward? and so we shall start by using the standard procedure.

Previously on GofaDM…

Dimitris and Stuart, blog soul brothers, meet for the first time in London and enjoy a day of conversation, literature and theatre before parting at Waterloo station to catch their respective trains home.  [Just think, two whole posts totalling some 2000 words could have been covered that quickly – but would that have been as much fun?  (I have my fingers in my ears – la la la la la – I can’t hear you!)]

And now the conclusion…

Even before our momentous, physical meeting, my brother had invited me to an event at his university on Monday – perhaps as much for moral support as for my sparkling company (Warning: real company may not be sparkling) or in the expectation that the content would appeal to me.  I was slightly reluctant, not over fears about the content or the company, but as a result of the early start needed to reach Egham for the kick-off coupled with the strong probability of a late return home the previous night.  The prospect of paying for peak rail travel and the risk of being caught snoring partway through a serious, academic conference almost put the kibosh on the experience – but luckily less wise counsels prevailed.  With a little low animal cunning, I discovered that by breaking my ticket at Reading I could travel at peak for less money than an off-peak (don’t you love the insane ticketing of the UK’s railways?).  I also decided not to be such a wimp – I don’t get invites to many academic conferences and none with the subject matter in this case – I could manage on reduced sleep (and could always ask to be elbowed in the ribs if I started to nod).  To level the playing field with my much younger brother, I sabotaged his chances of sleep by lending him my copy of Into the Woods by John Yorke.  I thought this would catch his fancy and the temptation of reading a little further might trump the desire (and need) for sleep – and Mr Yorke did not disappoint.

We finished texting each other at 01:30 on Monday morning and I needed to be out of the house again by 07:45 (I think Dimitris had the scope for a few extra minutes of duvet-hugging before his departure).  I think it is safe to say that the two brothers who greeted each other at Egham station at 10:00 had been from their beds untimely ripp’d and so were deficient in a full complement of sleep.  As on Sunday, Southwest Trains ensured that only one of us arrived on time but you can put your thumbscrews away, I’m not talking.

We were bleary-eyed so that we could attend the conference entitled 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide: Denial, Commemoration or Reconciliation? staged in the Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway, University of London; and so is the title finally explained.  Not an obvious choice for a “date”, you might think.  My brother had a reason to attend, he is a member of the university and the subject matter relates to some of his writing, I was there because I thought it would be a learning opportunity that was unlikely to be repeated.  I wasn’t disappointed: the speakers were of variable quality but the conference overall was very interesting and covered an area I knew little about.  Whilst Srebrenica was the primary focus, it contained many lessons that could (and should) be applied much more widely – but which, in all too many cases, humanity seems to have forgotten or wilfully ignored.  Before going, I was slightly worried – given my tendency to lachrymosity – that I would spend the whole day sobbing uncontrollably, but this only became a major risk during one of the talks.  Perhaps surprisingly this wasn’t the one given by the survivor from Srebrenica and its death march but the Scottish forensic scientist, Robert McKee, describing the attempt to identify the bodies (often deliberately dispersed over a wide area).  The conference left me glad that I had torn myself from my unfinished (barely started even) slumbers.

After some hours of such harrowing, we decided to decompress with a cup of tea and/or coffee at a pub near Egham Station.  For reasons I cannot fully explain, this somehow morphed into me enjoying three pints of Harvey’s Best Bitter (surprisingly far from its Lewes home).  I did not enjoy these pints alone, but accompanied by a highly entertaining conversation with my brother in the sunny garden of the pub: given his greater experience of direct exposure to our local star, he sat in the sun and I in partial shade (had it been raining, our positions would have been reversed to play to my own climate strengths).  Actually, I must commend the pub as the garden at both front and rear provided free sunscreen for patrons to use – if only I had made a note of its name this recommendation would have been rendered so much more valuable.  Chatting about language and writing with someone who is both interested and well-informed was a lovely way to round off the afternoon – though I will admit that we did perhaps stray a little from the purity of thesis which the first part of this sentence might suggest.  Any time I can use the word idiolect in conversation, both correctly and without it seeming out of place, is time very well spent in my book.

After the third pint, the lack of sleep was catching up with us both and so we delivered ourselves back to the tender mercies of Southwest Trains and vague hopes of a pair of timely journeys home.  The difficult sophomore tryst having been a resounding success, I feel we have removed a lot of the pressure from any potential third assignation (and if you thought I was stretching the meaning of “tryst”, I have now snapped the sense of “assignation” in two).  As I have been writing this post – very slowly as a result of the crippling heat – it struck me that all three structured events forming the basis of our encounters to-date were essentially free.  I wonder how long we can maintain this tradition of holding such fiscally responsible conclaves?

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