Thursday, 16 September 2010

An Ending and A Beginning

The academic who dreamed of golf courses
is dressed in the suit that he wears to weddings
with the tie that he keeps for special occasions.

He whispers that he did not sleep last night
because he was so worried about his speech.
I whisper back that I did not sleep either
because I wanted everything to be perfect for him.

He asks who is coming.
I tell him that all his friends will be there
He shrugs and suggests that it will a quiet event.
I tell him to expect a room full.

The Head of the Academic Services Review is there
He can remember getting phone calls
when he skipped lectures as an undergraduate.

The Head of Department reminisces about the time
that they were stuck in the African sands together.

The Deputy Principal teases him about his office
which was archaeological in appearance
with layer upon layer of paperwork and books
carefully stacked and undisturbed.

He starts his speech nervously
and immediately turns to his beautiful wife
who was a student when he was a young lecturer.
"Meeting my wife was the turning point of my life" he says,
they smile at each other and the nerves vanish.

He flourishes his briefcase,
a veteran of 40 years service,
battered and unpolished,
and walking boots of similar vintage.

Stories of exotic illnesses around the globe
cause his audience, who have just eaten lunch,
to wince and look out of the windows.

He mentions the famous cricket match
in which a Professor was out in ignominious circumstances
The Professor confesses afterwards that he didn't know
whether to laugh or cry at the memory.

After the presentation of the formal gifts
he opens the unusually heavy gift.
"Surely it is not a theodolite" he says.
But it is a theodolite
with a message from his friends on a brass plaque.

We raise our glasses to this modest man,
friend and colleague to us all,
who has given forty years of service to the Department
and wish him happiness in his retirement.

And then the academic who dreamed of golf courses
gives me a hug, gets into his car
and sets off to improve his handicap.

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