Advent Episode 6: In full spate

Sally Firth was in full spate. Alison liked the sound of that expression.  She tapped discreetly on her iPhone : ‘in full spate idiom’ and was rewarded with ‘a current of water at abnormally high level’ which wasn’t quite what she had been thinking of. Although the thought of Sally surfing triumphantly along the surface of a flooding river was fairly diverting.

Alison gazed attentively at Sally, seeing a trail of debris bobbing in her wake. She fell into a reverie. Was it debris, or was it a slew of drowning committee members?  She pulled herself together and looked back to the agenda, hoping to jog her memory about what Sally was so agitated about. Surely they hadn’t got to car parking yet?

Geoff was, as usual, failing to chair the meeting effectively. She wondered if he was even listening. Although his face was turned to Sally, he looked slightly distant.

Next to her, Paul raised his hand diffidently. She longed to grab his hand and wave it more assertively in the air, or maybe shout “Geoff! Paul has something to say!”. She smiled encouragingly at Paul, willing him to interrupt Sally. He raised his hand a little higher, but still tentatively. COME ON PAUL, she urged him silently.

She shifted rather ostentatiously in her chair.  Geoff started slightly, as though he had just woken up, although his eyes had certainly remained open, and looked over to the source of the movement. Paul waved his hand gently. A look of relief crossed Geoff’s face. Without waiting for a break in Sally’s flow, he harrumphed “thank you Sally, you’ve made that point so eloquently, we really must take all of that into account, I completely agree about that. I think Paul may wish to make an observation now”

Alison sneaked a look at her watch. 4.15pm. Possibly they were up to item 8, or maybe 7c, Sally might conceivably have been very annoyed about either of those. Only five items left, or possibly four if they were on item 8, and one of those was Any Other Business, of which she could only hope there wouldn’t be any.

Paul was about half way through a rambling introduction to his point. He seemed to be very grateful to Sally for making her cogent defence of the current system, and he wanted to support her suggestion that the committee should report back to the centre that it wasn’t necessary to make a change at this time.

Good God. What on earth were they all doing there? Who were ‘the centre’? Why not change? It would probably be quicker in the end than these pointless discussions. Paul tailed off.

Geoff paused for a moment, and looking carefully to the left of Sally, where there was nobody sitting, he said “well as I explained earlier, that was just an item for information, so there’s no vote to take. Let’s move on to item, er, 9. Car Parking”.

A forest of hands suddenly sprouted in the room, but people didn’t wait for Geoff to call them to speak, and a loud hum of competing voices filled the room. “It’s a tax on going to work”, “I can’t get the bus because I need to be able to get back if my elderly mum falls out of bed,” “I have to drop three other people off on the way to work,” “I can’t get back for nursery closing-time if I take the train,”  “It’s not fair”.

Geoff ignored the hubbub. One by one the voices fell silent, as their owners realised that the unwritten rules of university meetings had been broached. They all looked towards Geoff. Geoff cleared his throat and looked down at a paper in his hand. It looked as though he had prepared a speech.

This was far from the truth. He had been given a message to deliver.

“Colleagues,” he began, “as you know, the University is completely committed to reducing its carbon emissions and doing its bit for the local community by supporting public transport and reducing private car use. Charging for car parking is a well known ‘nudge’ policy to push people into desirable agendas” (mutters of ‘where’s the evidence for that?’ could be heard)

“Also, we want to make sure that the, er,” he looked up from the provided notes, “School of Sciences”, he smiled. He continued, looking down again at his instructions, “that the School of Sciences has appropriate facilities for the 21st century. By reducing the area of the car parks, we will free up some building space. It’s a win-win strategy”, he finished triumphantly, looking up from the notes and beaming round the room. “Now, this is an information item, so I don’t think this is the forum for discussion. You can email the head of Facilities if you have a comment to make. Let’s move on to item 10!”

The minutes crawled away, through items 10, 11 and 12. Geoff saw the finish line. “Any other business? No, that’s great. Next meeting  9 January, see you then, or more likely at next week’s timetabling meeting, must be off, another meeting to get to”, Geoff rushed through his last duties, gathered up his papers and ran for the door, head down to avoid delaying eye contact.

Alison felt the heavy weight of tedium still upon her. Three hours of her life she wouldn’t get back, as her teenage children would say. She exchanged a few pleasantries with colleagues and headed back to the office. Almost five o’clock. Was it worth starting anything else? She had been hoping to finish reviewing a paper after the meeting, but that didn’t seem feasible in her current state of ennui. As she turned into the corridor, she noticed something stuck to her office door. It was a Post-it.

alison. phone di bones. 0208 654 2304. alex.


This is an HE advent calendar for 2012. If you would like to find out what happens next at Burston Central, why not sign up for email updates when a new post is published, or follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter? Tomorrow’s episode: An Inspector Calls

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One thought on “Advent Episode 6: In full spate

  1. Pingback: Musing and Marking | Wading through Treacle

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