WORD OF MOUTH

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A dog-collared Nasser

Nasser has come to London. No, not Gamal Abdel. He's dead. This one's very much alive, and a good egg. He is Nadeem Nasser, who comes from Syria. He is the University of London's new chaplain, a job which covers a multitude of sinners (and non-sinners, of course) and he works part time at both the London School of Economics and London Guildhall University, which does not form part of London's federal university. Recently he was interviewed by Robert Hawker, the amiable editor of Noticeboard, newsletter of Guildhall University, where the Rev Nasser spends two days a week. During the interview, he said he had gone to study theology at Beirut University in the Lebanon. It was 1981; the war there was at its height, and he was just 17 - the youngest theology student in the Middle East. Hawker asked him whether he had dealt with terrorists during that time. "I wouldn't call them terrorists," he replied. What would he call them? "Young people who were convinced by big words that they had a case to fight for." That, I suppose, is called turning the other cheek.

Peg rediscovered

Until now, I must confess that I had never heard of Peggy Ramsay, and I dare say many of you are in the same predicament. Well, Ms Ramsay, who died in 1991 aged 83, was perhaps best known by celebrities in the theatrical world - people such as Robert Bolt, John Mortimer, David Hare, Alan Ayckbourn and Willy Russell. It was Peggy Ramsay who discovered Joe Orton, and supported him and his work at a time when he attracted much wrath from the more reactionary critics and audiences. For 40 years, she was London's most influential play agent. Now that influence is to be given the kiss of life by Dominic Shellard and colleagues at the Department of English Literature at Sheffield University. Dr Shellard has been commissioned by the British Library to start work on the Ramsay archives, which cover those vintage post-war theatrical years, 1958 to 1990. Her correspondence with actors, directors and playwrights during that period should make riveting reading. Dr Shellard is no newcomer to this type of work, having just catalogued the British Library's extensive archive of Kenneth Tynan, the much respected but controversial theatre critic, unfairly remembered chiefly as the first person to shock a few million viewers by using the F-word on the telly.

Lighting 34,000 bulbs

Trent Park's daffodils are famous throughout the home counties. Coachloads of parties ranging from toddlers to OAPs converge on this superb Hertfordshire park (nearest tube: Cockfosters) every year to wallow in this grand yellow carpet. Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils wasn't a patch on Trent Park's display. I'm sure Middlesex University, whose main site this is, has managed to recruit many a student thanks to its splendid daffs. Well, the display in front of the main building, which happens to be a mansion, needs 34,000 bulbs to renew its floral carpet. An almost invisible paragraph placed in North Circular, the university's newsletter, at the end of June, appealed for pounds 600 by the end of July. I am happy to report that this figure had been more than doubled before July was out, thanks to Middlesex alumni who raced to the rescue. In all, pounds 5,000 is needed to refurbish the entire plantation and to restore the Monet-like lily pond, gates and protected walkways on the Trent Park site.

Getting around

Travel seems to agree with Tony Carty, professor of international law at the University of Derby. He has been jet-setting more than most these past few months. First, there was a four-week stint in April teaching international law to students at the University of Umea, Sweden, which has links with Derby; then, in May, he popped over to the Max Planck Institute for Legal History in Frankfurt to help choose research students for a major exchange project. This left him just enough breath to take in the Picardie-Jules Verne University to negotiate joint doctoral supervision with Derby. As though this weren't enough, Prof Carty then nipped over to Harvard University in the States, to address 120 international lawyers from minority ethnic groups. In November he will be back in Sweden, to lead some workshops dealing with the legal transformation of Poland and Russia.

2001 - space odyssey

Ask your average traveller on the top deck of that Clapham omnibus which is the oldest university north of the Border, and his or her best guess is likely to be Edinburgh. Wrong. Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a comparative youngster. The answer is St Andrews (1410, though the university was not officially recognised until 1413), followed close at heel by Glasgow (1451). That makes Heriot Watt (1821) and Dundee (1881) mere babes. Glasgow is even now preparing to celebrate its 550th birthday in 2001 - its 11th jubilee! It should be quite a party.

Bridging the gap

To mark the 85th anniversary of the British Red Cross, Durham University has secured the help of youngsters from 28 junior schools. Together with engineering students, they will build a nine-metre-long "space-age model" of the Tyne Bridge, which will be decked in flowers of every description and erected inside Durham Cathedral. The bridge will be constructed from sheets of plastic, and will be translucent. The construction team must be about the youngest ever bunch of technologists. It is appropriate, for the chap in charge of the venture is Professor Harry Marsh, who claims an acronym - Input, the Industry North Project: Understanding Technology, set up 10 years ago to make young people (and their teachers) more aware of engineering and technology as career opportunities.

And finally ...

Professor Gerry Bernbaum, the vice-chancellor of South Bank University, has been interviewed in the university's student magazine, where he is revealed as a life-long Spurs supporter. But when it comes to the Spice Girls, he confesses without so much as a blush: "I have never heard of them, and I wouldn't know them if I bumped into them in the street." You should be so lucky, Gerry.

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