It has been a bit quiet here as I was up in Scotland for a conference. It was good. There were interesting presentations by old friends whom I have not seen for far too long and a chance to co-ordinate action against the cuts in England (they are not happening in Scotland, which maintains a more benign funding regime). The informal, well lubricated conversations over dinner were helped by sitting with people who I like and for whom I have the utmost respect.
However, all that was overshadowed by the night before. I had the chance to share a lot of drink with two of the best bloggers on the net. At times during the conference, whenever middle-class academic politeness dominated, I thought back wistfully to our raucous debates and wished people would sometimes let go of a little of their respectability and find some passion. Companionship, intellectual stimulation, and sheer fun with brilliant people, especially mediated by drink, always makes for a memorable evening. Just occasionally, something else occurs, a singular moment; a snapshot that you will never forget. That happened too.
At one point, already the worse for wear, I was standing over Adam Smith's grave, telling him to get off his arse and do some serious haunting of those who were carrying out abominations on the basis of a misreading of his work. As if to illustrate my point, the rough sleeper, sheltering from the bitter cold under the neo-classical portico of the church, gave us a resentful glance as we disturbed his peace. Our eyes met briefly. For an instant I was sober. What did I feel? Compassion? Distress? Anger? Relief at my own good fortune in life? I don't know. I turned around and went back to enjoying myself, tucking my conscience away in a drawer, like an unwanted Christmas gift.
We talked politics late into the night. On one thing we agreed. We condemned the self-congratulatory complacency of parts of a 'liberal-left' that cannot comprehend the significance of the grief of the bereaved of one who lost hope under Thatcher or the resentful look of a person, wrapped in bundles of rags, on a freezing night, outside an exquisitely beautiful 18th Century church.