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7:36pm on Monday, 13th March, 2006:

Loss of Sleekness


By 4pm today, third-year students had to hand in the posters for their projects, so they could impress us all on Project Demonstration Day (20th March). Over the weekend, two students sent me their projects to look over and coment on, which I did.

This morning, there were four more projects in my in box, including the original two newly-modified. OK, so I looked at those then went in to work, during which time another four projects arrived. OK, so I looked at those, too. Each of these took at least 30 minutes, and usually more like an hour (probably longer than at least one of them took to create theirs, even including the web searches they did to find some text they could rip off — fortunately I spotted it before they formally handed it in and were done for plagiarism).

At about 2pm, an email arrived telling us all that students mustn't submit their posters without supervisor permission. Great, I have a lecture from 3-4 today: when are they going to get my permission? Oh well, lectures are supposed to finish at 10 to the hour so I may escape in time.

Anyway, the story proper starts at 2:40pm. I'm due to give this lecture at 3pm, rescheduled from last week. The lecture immediately follows another lecture for the same subject given by a different lecturer, so I know to expect a good turnout. So as not to lose my voice, I decide to get myself a cup of hot chocolate (cost: £1) from one of the university cafés. I go in and yay, only one person in the queue in front of me! And two people serving!

One of the people serving was new. She hadn't done this before. The other person, about double the first one's age, was helping her. It was a sllllooooowwww process.

The man in front of me ordered a coffee. The older woman started to make it but she had to help the younger one use the till. Then she had to ask the man what he wanted because she'd forgotten. Then, another person appeared behind the counter who started to make a coffee for himself because it was his break, so we had to wait for him to finish. At any point, the younger woman could have asked me what I wanted, but she didn't. A career in public service beckons...

Anyway, once the man had made his own coffee and the older woman had made the other customer's coffee, and the younger woman had given it to him, the older woman asked what I wanted. "Hot chocolate", I said.

Meanwhile, the customer in front of me mentioned the little matter of a chocolate eclair he'd paid for but not been given, whereupon the younger woman went over to get it and found herself incapable. It takes about three seconds to pick up a paper cup, stick it under the hot chocolate machine nozzle and press the button; the older woman did all this but the final step, then went to help the younger woman with her "who knew tongs could be so complicated?" moment. Only when the matter was resolved did the older woman press the dispense button, by which time it was getting close to 2:50pm — the time I'm supposed to be in the lecture theatre setting up.

So I'm waiting, and I offer to pay the £1 before I get my drink, but the older woman is completely distracted by the fact that the hot chocolate machine has run out of chocolate. She picks up an industrial packet of brown dust and empties it into the hot chocolate machine's skip, and discards what it had produced before it stopped because it was half an inch short. She starts it up, and I eventually get my hot chocolate.

Only, there isn't a lid for the paper cup. I don't care, but the older woman is going to get one for me from stores anyway. I try to protest, but she stops and talks to the youger woman, who is having trouble holding a plate in one hand and, er, nothing in the other. I'd go, but I still haven't paid.

Eventually, she comes back, gives me the plastic lid, takes the crustiest, flthiest pound coin from my pocket (revenge!) and I can finally rush to the lecture theatre block. My lecture is in the obscure room LTB B,to which I have given my students directions.

In LTB B is another lecturer all set up. He tells me his lecture has been rescheduled here, too, and his class will be arriving soon. He's also in the Electronics Department (not that I've seen him at any staff meetings), and after I convince him I'm a lecturer and not a student he suggests I go and speak with the member of the clerical staff who organised it to find out where I'm really supposed to be.

So off I go. On the way, I meet my students who have come out of the earlier lecture and are heading for LTB B. I waylay them and tell them to wait until I find out where the lecture is really supposed to be. I find that the secretary is in her office, and she tells me that I am indeed booked for LTB B and the other guy is LTB 1. I go back to the students, and say we'll go to LTB 1 rather than throw the other lecturer and his entire class out of LTB B. I go to LTB B anyway to tell him to redirect any stragglers from my class to LTB 1.

Except, he's packing up! His class — which consists of one (1) student — has gone to LTB 1 and phoned him to let him know his mistake. So now I have to go to LTB 1 to tell my lot to get out, we're in LTB B after all. Augh!

By this time, we're running late, so I motor through the lecture. I motor too fast, and finish early (not that the students complained; they'll complain when they see how many slides I have for them tomorrow, mind you). Although there are questions afterwards, I'm still left with enough time to get back to my office and answer any emails from students waiting for permission to hand in their posters.

There are four waiting for me, all hoping I'll give last-minute comments on their submissions. However, since it literally is the last minute, I don't have time to do any of them — all I can do is tell them to hand in their poster RIGHT NOW and hope they get it in time.

I read once that when laboratory rats are subject to random acts of stress, for example minor electric shocks in their feet that appear with no warning and related to nothing in particular, they get frustrated. One of the visible signs of their being picked on by (as far as they're concerned) the world in general is that their normally sleeky coat becomes all rough and matted.

I'm not a rat, but if I were, after today I don't think anyone would complimet me on the sleekiness of my coat.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).