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Books for women

Women are to be given a library all their own. I can disclose that the Fawcett Library, a veritable treasure trove of more than 60,000 books and pamphlets, at present languishing in a damp, cramped basement of London Guildhall University, is to be given a new, purpose-built home. The priceless collection of women's literature dates back to 1600, but is particularly strong on the suffrage movement and contains hunger strike medals and banners seen at demonstrations led by Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughter Christabel, and Dame Millicent Fawcett. This week, a group of influential women, chaired by Barbara Follett, Labour MP for Stevenage and an alumna of the London School of Economics, met to discuss setting up a National Library for Women, at a cost of pounds 8.5m.

Ms Follett, it may be recalled, founded Emily's List six years ago to help fund the election of more women to parliament. It certainly seems to have done the trick. Why Emily? It's an acronym: earning money is like yeast. Ah-ha ...

Bell makes music

Yet another birthday, even if only a 60th. The Schools Music Association of Great Britain, whose diamond jubilee it is, has my heartiest congratulations. Music in schools has suffered the most outrageous cutbacks at the hands of the last uncultured government (and the present lot's no better), so when the few remaining music teachers manage to perform miracles at the annual School Proms and SMA concerts, they deserve our plaudits. Max Pryce, SMA secretary and for many years music adviser to the London borough of Barnet (until he, too, was cut by council plebs), has produced a 60th anniversary gala concert, to take place at the Royal Festival Hall next Monday, at 7pm. Among the many performers will be the Surrey Youth Music Wind Orchestra, the Latymer Chamber Orchestra, Haringey Big Band and St Martin in the Fields Gospel Choir. Martin Bell, the white-suited anti- sleaze MP, has agreed to compere the programme - quite different from "compering" wars for the Beeb, as was once his wont. The concert, backed by the University of North London, is open to the general public. I have supported the SMA for years, and certainly won't miss this one.

Steeping the char

When motoring was still a pleasure, I used to drive from south to north, stopping at every service station en route just to listen to changing accents. Britain has a variety of regional dialects richer than any other European country. Next week, the University of Leeds celebrates the centenary of Harold Orton's birth. He held the chair of English Language at Leeds in 1946, and made dialects his business. He even sent hundreds of young graduates scurrying around 313 locations in England and Wales to find the answers to 1,300 questions for a national survey, whose results were eventually recorded on a series of 12-in gramophone records. A linguistic atlas shows tea (or char) to be "mashed" in Yorkshire, but "steeped" or "soaked" in Cornwall and "masked" in Northumberland. When it is cold down south, it is "parky" in Bronte country. "Awkward" means "clumsy" in Somerset and "stupid" in Nottinghamshire, where bus conductors still say "hold ye tight, me ducks". I am indebted to Reporter, Leeds University's staff newsletter, for a comprehensive background to the three-day conference (24-26 March). Professor Katie Wales, one of the organisers, points out that, although radio and television have spread more standardised English, soaps and commercials have encouraged regional accent diversities. Among her examples are commercials for Tetley tea bags, Hovis bread and Cellnet phones. Soaps such as Emmerdale, Coronation Street and EastEnders help to act "as a badge of social solidarity and identity". Further details: Dr Clive Upton (who worked with Prof Orton), School of English, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, (0113 233 4740, fax: 0113 233 4774); e-mail: c.s.upton@leeds. ac.uk


Some time ago, I asked readers to concoct a new name for Anglia Polytechnic University. The old poly was full of laudable intentions when it was allowed to call itself a university. It was determined to maintain the "polytechnic" bit to show where its heart really lay. But governors grew tired of being goody-goody. They wanted to be a University with a capital U like everybody else. And, if truth be known, they really chose APU to top alphabetical lists. At last, and without a loud hailer, they've chosen a new name: University of Eastern England. Simple. Just like the University of Central England or the University of the West of England ... The Privy Council, which has been sitting on the hush-hush proposal for about seven weeks, has promised a decision by 2 April, when APU governors next meet. Has anyone objected? The University of East Anglia, for instance? Watch this space. But be ready to welcome the UEE to the tail end of the alphabetical list.

From bard to verse

What can you possibly give a chap for his 434th birthday? Another interpretation, perhaps? I firmly believe that what we really, really know about Shakespeare (for 'tis he) could fill the back of a postage stamp, and that, if he had to sit an A-level paper on himself, he'd fail miserably. But teachers of English - those stalwarts who have to generate sparks of passion from bored and belligerent teenagers for this 16th-century genius - will be devoting a birthday conference to him on Thursday, 23 April. That fine actress Fiona Shaw, whose performance of TS Eliot's The Waste Land drew richly deserved acclaim, has agreed to address delegates on "Shakespeare and Friends; Ibsen and Enemies". And Shakespeare expert Professor Kiernan Ryan will speak on "The Battle for the Bard". The 11th annual Teachers of English conference will present "New Horizons in Shakespeare" at Royal Holloway, among the University of London's most attractive campuses. At pounds 36 for the day, including morning coffee, lunch and tea, it's a snip. (More information from the organiser, Dr Sophie Gilmartin, Royal Holloway, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX (01784-443214).

And finally ...

During a recent meeting of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) to discuss much-needed advancement in higher education, one senior delegate was heard to mutter: "Labour's slogan, `Education, Education, Education' is all very well. What a pity universities make up the fourth tier!"