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Mixed Sex Crowd Gathers via Internet To Perform Perlocutionary Acts In Public

  Sun 10th April 2011

J L Austin presentation

Photograph used by kind permission of Lancaster University. Reproduction prohibited.

A lovely afternoon on Thursday was spent unveiling a plaque at the birthplace of the Lancaster-born philosopher J L Austin. It was an initiative of Brian Garvey, of the University's Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, who instigated the whole thing, contacting the owner of the house, the Civic Society and the City Council, and ordering the plaque from the company which makes them. A conference in his Department pulled off the considerable coup of getting John Searle, from the UCLA at Berkeley, as one of the keynote speakers.

Hillside, where he was born, is a very pretty cul-de-sac, a cobbled private road, laid out in its present form in the 1860's. Me and Helen, who was covering the event for the University, arrived to see a small table outside the front door: on it, bottles of champagne and sparkling flutes; about thirty people from the conference the University had arranged around it, and Austin's family. As the Priory church clock above us struck twelve, Austin's sister (in the pink raincoat), now in her nineties, unveiled the plaque to our applause.

Disinhibited by midday champagne, I couldn't resist, after the toast, adding "To perlocutionary acts!" Austin's daughter (on the far left in the picture) coruscatingly came straight back with a good in-joke. "And what are we to infer from that?"

The owner of the house next door took us on an informal guided tour of the shared gardens, passing a little stone trough where flowers are tended to mark the site to which the Grammar School was relocated in 1472. It was convivial, an unspoken sense of privilege in the air. By various means, we'd manoeuvred ourselves into a position in life where we could stand around in the sun on a weekday lunchtime drinking champagne and talking about architecture.

I've been appointed Presiding Officer at the University for the Local Elections and AV Referendum that will be taking place on 5th May. I've worked at every election for many years, but this is my first time as Presiding Officer. 234 pounds for a day's work, which will conveniently provide my spending money for France.

I said in my application that I have my own transport but I don't think a bike counts. Sitting in the hot sun yesterday in a beer garden with Erica and her mum, I was worrying out loud about my lack of transport. Erica's mum immediately offered to do the ferrying about of the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia on the night. We then moved on to the Pendle Witch, where we sat with three of the strangest looking doll-like young women, friends of Erica's, their entire bodies and faces a veneer.

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