I was invited to attend the Society for Old Testament Study conference. It sounded interesting, and not something I have experienced before, so I was keen to attend. I sent off my application form and fee, booked a train to Sheffield and put the date in my diary. That was the easy part. (I also explained to my family that ‘SOTS’ did not mean what they thought it meant! They had images of drunken old men sharing sticky bottles of whiskey.)
British Rail announced strikes, and my train to Sheffield was cancelled. I decided that the conference was still worth attending, so booked a train for the day before, and a room in a Premier Inn. Worried that the cost/hassle was now increasing. A few other people from college were going, some by coach on the day of the conference, and one via the same train and Premier Inn as me. We would all travel home together after the conference. This is important. I have very annoying issues with anxiety, but usually if I force myself to do things, especially with other people to distract me, then it’s fine and no one notices. I strive to be normal.
However, the train drivers then announced a strike for the 5th, which is when we were travelling home. I agreed with my friends that we would catch a coach from Sheffield to Victoria. Which sounded easy until I thought about it. The coach picked up from a motorway junction. This might be tricky to reach with all our bags. The coach only went as far as Victoria, and there were no trains to bring me nearer home. It also looked like I would be travelling alone the day before the conference, and staying in the Premier Inn on my own, as the others opted for different travel plans. It was the final straw, and I was about to cancel. Husband then kindly said he would drive me, book an Airbnb where he could work, and drive me home afterwards. Phew! I was saved. (This is why I love the man. That and his wickedly funny sense of humour.)
The first day of the conference arrived and I desperately hoped it would be cancelled. It wasn’t. It was held at Sheffield University, which I found very confusing when arriving on a dark January afternoon. Managed to find the registration place, and checked into the ‘hotel’ (which was basically a student room. But a much nicer one than when I was a student.) I told my son, who knows the university, that the seminars were being held in ‘The Edge.’ He told me this is the student bar, and I should watch out for the jello-shots. (Not sure the family fully believed my explanation of SOTS.)
The itinerary was full, with lectures interspersed with drinks or meals. I soon got into the swing of it, my brain switched into conference mode: chatting to strangers over drinks, checking the timetable, listening to people present papers, learning almost as much from the questions that followed.
Most of the papers were very interesting, despite being read. I have realised that this is a thing in academic circles. Someone writes a paper (Eg. ‘The false prophets were overly optimistic, which is a human trait.’) They are then given 45 minutes to read it, followed by 15 minutes of questions.
Often the questions were not really questions at all. Sometimes they seemed a veiled criticism, suggesting someone else had already written about the subject extensively. Sometimes they were adding information from their own studies in the past. Sometimes they were an opportunity to cite their own paper/book. And occasionally they actually were questions, usually asking for clarity or how the paper tackled a certain problem raised elsewhere. It felt combative, and whilst enjoying the intellectual to-and-fro, I was glad that I wasn’t presenting anything.
I was aware that everyone was more learned than me (most seemed to be lecturers at universities). Most were probably more intelligent. I listened, and learned.
I also drank a lot of coffee.
There is not room here to talk about the papers that were presented. Some of them were brilliant, so I will write a few brief blogs to tell you about the ideas being discussed. I arrived home feeling drunk — nothing to do with alcohol, more complete saturation-point of my brain. I am so glad that I went.
Thanks for reading. I hope your brain has a work-out this week too.
Love, Anne x