Thursday, 27 November 2008

An Inaugural Address

The action takes place in a single evening.


My Office
Time : 5pm

The Professor of whom we speak is handing me a scrawled expense claim for a James Bond DVD. There are many gaps in the form – as usual. He has a young academic with him and within minutes we are all gasping with laughter as the Professor of whom we speak tells stories of his wicked childhood.

He leaves, shirt tail adrift.


A Large Lecture Theatre
Time : 6pm

The Professor of whom we speak is standing in front of several hundred people. There is an expectant buzz because this is an Inaugural Address. It is the moment that marks the promotion of a Professor. His family are there in the front row, his mentors from his meteoric rise through Academia, the Management, his colleagues from the Department, his students. It will not be a standard academic lecture – it will be a review of his subject to which he is a leading contributor and a look back at the people and places that have inspired him. We lean back in our seats – we know this will be a bravura performance.

His wife has obviously persuaded him to wear a more appropriate jacket.


The Foyer
Time : 7pm

The Professor of whom we speak is surrounded by a crowd of people congratulating him. He has spoken for exactly an hour without notes. He has checked his watch only once. He has entertained his audience and communicated his enthusiasm for a subject which takes him to areas of international conflict. He has acknowledged his mentors and thanked his colleagues. It is just as well he was not sacked for the false fire alarm caused by riotous living in his first month in the Department because he is a huge asset.

Even if he is incapable of completing an expense form.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

the world outside my office

A phone call overheard
“…that and hedgehogs are his abiding passions”

I authorise an expense claim for waders.
They did not need waders in my previous Department.

Much chatter and laughter
near the poster requesting volunteers for
the Traditional Naked Calendar.

A field trip discussed
“ was great...
a whole week digging
into the back wall of a cave with a teaspoon...
and now I get to go to Spain to analyse the samples...”

An interview candidate with wild professorial hair
and a collar half up, half down.
I wonder if it is deliberate.

My friend the Catering Delivery Man smiles broadly
to see me in my new office.
I smile to see him...
nobody lays out a buffet lunch as beautifully as he does.

A colleague who cannot attend the Christmas lunch apologises.
He has to go to Venice.
He is very regretful.
He would rather go to the lunch

An unexpected gift from China
in packaging pretty enough to frame.

A student with slender fuschia pink legs
like an escaped flamingo

New vistas opening up
through the leafless branches of trees
outside my office.

I did not buy the gilet.
But I should have.
I am too easily intimidated.

I have finally found some Christmas Cards that I like.
It was hard this year.
Now I can start shopping for presents.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Office Next Door

I spend my days with a group of people
who are courteous, appreciative,
very funny and hard working.

Many of them are at the start of their careers
but have already made significant contributions
to research in their specialist field.

I admire them for their energy
and their commitment to worthwhile causes
all over the world.

And if they have brilliant minds
I don't think it matters
that they are chronically untidy.

Especially if it makes my office
look like a Zen zone.

Friday, 24 October 2008


A blackbird watches me on my way to work,
beak as bright as the Pyracantha berries it is eating.

A tall young man in full Goth regalia
clanks in front of me.
I wonder if he polishes all those chains.

Two magpies are taking a bath in the pool of water
on the flat roof outside my office.
Such busy splashing makes me smile.

The Solanum plant on my windowsill is growing!
There are new flowers!

The President of the Student society
bursts into my office,
her blonde hair glowing under her red cable beret.
She is adorable.

A colleague who will be in Morocco next week
promises to bring me something small from the local souk.
He beams with energy and enthusiasm about his work.

I meet a student from my old Department
and hear his plans for the weekend...
he will be singing in Westminster Abbey.

On my way home the aroma of Chinese takeaway
drifts from the student halls.

Here are two students wearing cycle helmets,
completely encased in bubble wrap.
It would appear that they are doing
downhill racing on office swivel chairs.

This is the first Friday evening
that I have not felt ill with exhaustion.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

I would rather be...

...sitting in the sunshine
eating my breakfast.

Does anybody else want to finish the Timetable?

Friday, 8 August 2008

Chocolate Therapy

Last Friday evening I came home from work
and ate four chocolate biscuits.

Ate is perhaps too genteel a verb.
Aspirated might be more accurate.

It was the end of my first proper week
and it had been hard.

Too many people to meet;
too much to learn.

So much chocolate plays havoc
with blood sugar levels
and so I went to sleep immediately.

When I woke up I listed my achievements:

reorganised office
ordered and installed new computer
taken my team to lunch
conducted two appraisals
completed Financial Year End
assisted in major office move
planned Capital Expenditure for year
learned how to operate Financial system.

I don't think I can keep that up much longer.

I really hope next week is a
'one chocolate biscuit'
kind of week.

Friday, 6 June 2008

A Short Story

Three years ago I started my job and on the first day I was by myself in the office I had a phone call from a Head of Sixth Form. He sounded a delightful man and he told me about a very talented young pupil of his who, mysteriously, had missed out on a place at University. I was impressed. Dan sounded like just the sort of student we wanted and so I contacted everyone I could think of and got permission to squeeze him into the over-full degree programme.

Dan has not been a model student. He has missed deadlines and failed exams. He is a bright boy but is extraordinarily chaotic. He is also extremely amusing and has entertained me greatly over the past three years. There was one unforgettable day when he clanked into the office wearing yellow Lycra and snow-boarding boots. A lot of our correspondence has been reminders about penalties and meetings with his Year Tutor but he has never held it against me personally. If he had organised himself and been a bit more disciplined about late nights and skiing holidays he could have done very well but instead he has had a great social time at University and he will just scrape by. Probably.

Yesterday, he came into the office and I asked him what he will do after graduation. As far as I can work out, he plans to spend the summer on the beach and the winter on the ski slopes. I have no idea how he will finance this but he was as optimistic as ever. His back up plan is to do a post-graduate course which caused a suppressed but audible groan in the office.

I discovered that his entry in the Yearbook includes the following
Describe Your Time At University:
Alice C. It is not a sentence but it is concise.

Ironically, if I had to describe my last three years it would be:
Dan - start to finish.

because yesterday I was interviewed for a new role in another Department.

And I was thrilled when they phoned to offer me the job.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Living with Geographers

The Geographer
Johannes Vermeer 1668-69

(Steadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)