I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel to be writing this post because it means that the Durham Greek and Latin Summer School happened in person at St John’s College this year and I’ve not long been back home. If you know me then you’ll also know that I’m a little obsessed with the Summer School! Actually, scrub that, I’m massively obsessed with it but I make no apologies for that, it’s just the way I am and it’s not just because of the way my wacky head works, it’s simply because the Summer School is just brilliant in so many ways.
I will admit that when the Summer School in 2020 had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus (which was absolutely understandable and the right thing to do) I was gutted, and for a time I thought the same was going to happen in 2021 because the virus just seems to have a habit of ruining all plans and making people miserable. But thankfully this time it didn’t get cancelled and despite the fact we are still living through a global pandemic, we were able to go ahead at St John’s with some sensible precautions in place.
As usual a week away from home and the day job isn’t enough for me so I decided to extend my stay. I arrived two days early to explore Durham, do some ‘essential’ book buying and relax before the real hard work started. Usually I’d stay at St John’s, but due to COVID I couldn’t arrive at the college until the day the Summer School so I stayed at the local Premier Inn (Walkergate) instead. It was relatively cheap, did a good breakfast and was very close to the city centre so that was a bonus. There’s plenty to do in Durham and lots of sights to see, but for me it’s mostly about the cathedral. Not only is it a magnificent building to visit, it’s also a great place to sit quietly and do some reading or writing. It was scorchingly hot on the two days prior to the Summer School so the cathedral provided me with a cool and quiet place to seek refuge from the sun. If you haven’t ever been to Durham Cathedral I highly recommend it, it’s free to get in but donations are welcome and you can spend as much time inside as you want. It also has a great cafe and a good gift shop. Aside from book buying (which reminds me … I must take a larger suitcase next year) and visiting the cathedral I took a few pleasant walks by the river as they are always good to quiet my racing mind. So all in all, relaxing, reading and writing in and around Durham was the perfect precursor to a week of Greek and Latin learning.
Arrival at St John’s was, as usual, a high point because it’s where all the fun is not to mention the place where you are reunited with friends from Summer School’s past. Settling in was quick and easy and it honestly didn’t feel like it had been two years since the last Summer School because St John’s just doesn’t ever seem to change. The college is like a perpetual secret garden, a hidden gem amongst the hustle and bustle of the city where everything is just quiet and relaxed. As the day went on more people arrived and by 6pm we were all settled in enjoying our evening meal. I’d forgotten just how delicious the meals at St John’s were and you certainly never go hungry, in fact you’d be hard pushed not to leave a good few pounds heavier! After our introduction we all assembled in our socially distanced ‘bubbles’ with our designated tutor. I was surprised, but also really happy to see that Molly, a Summer School regular, would be tutoring me for beginners Greek this year, she’s a brilliant teacher and she really made the lessons fun. The fact that we were a group of just three made it even better.
As usual we worked hard on our chosen languages during the day and had some outstanding online lectures by guest speakers on the evenings. From the lectures we had though, the one that stood out to me was Dr Cora Beth Fraser’s Tuesday night lecture on Autism in Classics as it really made me think about inclusivity in the discipline as well as my own personal neurodivergency. Dr Fraser also introduced a new initiative called Asterion which is all about celebrating neurodiversity in classics so please do visit https://asterion.uk for more information on this. All the lectures were absolutely brilliant though, they covered a range of topics and no two were the same. As the week went on the community spirit got stronger because we were all like minded people brought together by our love of classics and ancient languages and that’s why the Summer School is such a unique experience for everyone who attends. The only downside to it all is that time flies when you’re having fun and this was certainly not what I wanted! I wanted the Summer School to keep going, I wanted to stay in that little St John’s bubble learning ancient Greek, but as the saying goes, ‘all good things do come to an end’ eventually. That being said, the final night of the Summer School was our party night where members of the course throw caution to the wind, get up on the stage and errrrm … perform. We had a great mix of acts. We started with a quiz which went down really well and followed on with some beautiful musical performances, poetry recitals and some hilarious dramatic enactments in both Latin and Greek. I had spent most of the afternoon scouring the charity shops of Durham to try find myself a suitable costume. In the end I opted for the tried and tested white sheet flung over me as I was preparing for an Oscar worthy performance as Narrator / Greek God in a rather questionable Greek play.
The Friday night was bitter sweet for me because although it was a really fun night, I knew the next day I’d be heading home and it’s always sad to leave because we all have such a great time at the Summer School. Nevertheless, everyone made the most of the last two sessions on Saturday morning and we assembled for lunch before departing. It’s always nice to see everyone together before we leave as it’s good to get the chance to say bye and chat about the week. I left St John’s this year knowing I’d had the best time ever and that I’d definitely be going back in summer 2022.
I’m now sitting and writing this blog post from home reminiscing back over the past week and looking at some of the pictures I took. I’ll definitely be continuing with Greek once I’ve submitted my MA dissertation in September but I also musn’t neglect my Latin either. I’m not sure what the rest of 2021 or next year will bring, but I do know i’ll be back at St John’s in the summer!
I look forward to seeing you there.