Wooing NADFAS: Setting Out One’s Stall at the Annual Directory Meeting

April 13th, 2012 by admin

The annual ‘Directory Meeting’ is a key event for NADFAS lecturers, as they are able to advertise their wares and take provisional bookings from clients – the secretaries of the regional Decorative and Fine Arts societies – who assemble there en masse. It is a great and splendid occasion.

On Tuesday 27 March, the meeting was held for the first time in the sumptuous Westminster Central Hall, a venue much approved of by the writer, who photographed the above view of the nearby Abbey from its entrance.

Newly-accredited lecturers are given a precious opportunity to ‘market’ themselves by means of a two-minute presentation on stage. It is their one-and-only chance to make an impression and stand out from the crowd, on which their future lecturing career may well depend. These are followed by the one-minute presentations of established lecturers, who will have competed by ballot for the limited slots. The occasion is somewhat reminiscent of the auditions on X-Factor: those exceeding their allotted time are ruthlessly silenced by having their microphones turned off.

My new colleagues are all as brilliant as they are congenial and, in successive addresses, each of sparkling originality, they contrived to fascinate on the obscurest of topics. I hoped in my own presentation (the ‘Ws’ came last!) to epitomise the spirit as well as the content of my NADFAS lectures. It is clear that humour, and a strong element of social history, were much appreciated by the audience.

Apparently I am alone in offering a lecture, the teasingly-named ‘Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture’, about the most notoriously over-developed town in England. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Rudigore, the word ‘Basingstoke’ is said to ‘teem with hidden meaning’. Apparently it teems with it to this day as the mere mention of it had the hall in stitches. The joke seems to have been enjoyed by branch secretaries from as far away as Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, who hastened to book the talk.

Indeed, well over half my bookings that afternoon were for ‘Basingstoke’. There was a tense moment when I was approached by representatives of the Basingstoke DFAS. Luckily they were all smiles and it appears that I will be able to deliver the talk to their group in 2014 without the prospect of being lynched.

Here, then, is the text of my address:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am an historian of domestic life. I am interested in fundamental things like fashions, hairstyles, and the living arrangements of both rich and poor.

First, I offer a lively introduction to the Bayeux Tapestry. I demonstrate that the Normans were a bunch of skinheads, and that they attributed the downfall of the English to their girly hairstyles.

Or I can take you on a room-by-room tour of Simon de Montfort’s castle in Hampshire. I will reveal the most intimate details of Simon’s home life, even down to his undergarments.

Or let me guide you through the world of Jane Austen, peeping into peasants’ cottages on the way. I will elaborate on the peasant’s smock and the gentleman’s knee breeches, on powdered wigs and pigtails and on the shocking introduction of the trouser. 

Or I can show you my family photos from the 1890s and early 1900s – scenes of people wearing the latest fashions in the Bois de Boulogne, sitting on bicycles, posing with a new motor car or indulging in mixed bathing, all of which offended or even shocked the conservatively-minded at the time.

Finally, let me commend to you ‘Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture’. It is about the post-war development of a typical English town. What motivated the planners who imposed the absurdities of Modernist architecture on our landscape? It is a story that neatly illustrates the ugliest episode in England’s architectural history. You will be thrilled to discover the largest phallus on public display in Britain. You will marvel at the sudden rise of the chav. Hilarity is guaranteed. Please book now to avoid disappointment! Thank you very much.