Advent Episode 18: Secret Plans

Bob was back in his office, trying very hard to block out Martin’s incessant phone calls on the topic of car parking. He was looking at the computer screen. He’d opened a new file and given it a title.

Accountancy in the UCNB

Then there were four headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. He thought about what Sheila had said to him. The whole notion was ridiculous, but for some reason the two of them had been picked for it. Sheila said she thought it wasn’t because anyone thought they were particularly good, but because they were easily bullied.

Bob had bristled a bit when she said that, because she didn’t know him, but on reflection he had to admit it was a plausible reason. Alan had mentioned the possibility of redundancies. Sheila said that Alan had brought up her sick leave when he’d ‘asked’ her to get involved. Of course it was outrageous behaviour, but as she said, who was going to believe someone who’d been off for months for a psychiatric illness against the DVC? What Alan hadn’t bargained for was that Sheila had got new weapons in her armoury.

Bob had been quite bewildered by then, but he thought it was something to do with assertiveness techniques rather than actual weapons. At least, he hoped so. He was actually quite keen to find out more about Sheila and her weapons. Academic life was getting surprising again. He tried to focus on the positives.

He started to type.

Strengths: Price; costs; experienced, committed staff; link to established university and its quality procedures

Weaknesses: no extra services associated with university; maybe seen as poor relation by students and employers; competition with main brand; no research input to courses

Opportunities: new in the market, unique offer

Threats: Difficulty in recruiting staff (poor relation); no proper market research?

He deleted the last sentence. He didn’t know about the market research. Perhaps there had been a lot. He looked up for a moment. He wasn’t very up to speed with marketing, but he’d had to have a passing knowledge when he was investigating accounts, to judge whether companies were doing what they liked to call imaginary marketing, that was to say, marketing without any intention of selling a product or service, but just to give the illusion of running a normal business. That was more on the money-laundering side of things. He’d been more of a specialist on tax avoidance and fraud.

So, who would be interested in the University College of North Burston? With the huge hike in fees, there were going to be some new marketing considerations. He jotted down some more notes.

  • New full-time students who are debt-averse,
  • Part-time students who want a cheaper option
  • Students who live at home and don’t need/want sports/community facilities

It was rather a dismal list. This wasn’t going to lead to a diverse, vibrant community of staff and students. Especially if the range of subjects offered was so limited. Law, Business, Accountancy. He glanced over to the window. Even though his view was blocked by Martin’s desk, he could still see glimpses of the Art building, festooned with orange and black banners which proclaimed themselves to be an anti-Halloween installation – it looked a bit ragged now, but it was still defiantly different. UCNB was just going to look like an office block. He sighed, and returned to his plan.

He had turned off his email alerts so that he could concentrate, but it was difficult to block out Martin, who was keeping up a low-level grumble. Martin put down the phone for the umpteenth time unlocked the screen-saver, and let out a delighted shriek. “Bob! Bob! Have you looked at the latest?” Bob sighed, saved, and switched to email.

To: allstaff@burstu.ac.uk

From: Justin Marks, head of campus communications

Subject: tablet computers

Priority: urgent

All staff and students using the BurstU tablets, please return them to the nearest helpdesk immediately. A serious technical fault has been identified. Do not switch the tablets on.

Martin was chortling. “Ooh, I wonder what’s happened to them? Serves them right for setting up a scheme like that and not planning it properly.” Martin had been very upset not to be offered one of the new tablet computers. “I’ll phone Jerry over in Marketing Management, he’s got one. See what’s happened.”

Bob tried very hard to get back to his list, but despite himself, he couldn’t help but be drawn to Martin’s gleeful half-conversation.

“They did what? She didn’t! American flag? Where? Brilliant!”

Martin was clearly in heaven. Eventually he replaced the receiver and turned towards Bob. “You’ll never guess why those tablets have been recalled.” Bob waited, attentively. He knew from experience that he wasn’t actually required to have a guess.

“They’ve all been hacked. The university home page comes up with a porn picture, and the best bit is, someone’s photoshopped the VC’s head onto one of the, er, “ Martin searched for the right word “er, protagonists.”

Bob giggled. That was quite funny.

“No, actually, the best bit is that you can’t move off the home page. It’s stuck on the VC in action. Brilliant.” Martin guffawed. “It’s going to take them forever to sort that one out. I think they gave out four hundred and fifty of them.”

Bob smiled again and turned back to the screen. Martin was going to be occupied for a while, phoning round to tell people about the latest management disaster. It did raise an important issue about information services for UCNB, though. He’d better add out-sourcing to his plan.


Sheila was in her office on the other side of the park, looking at a similar file on her own computer. She was feeling pretty pleased with her plan. It had been a stroke of luck to meet Bob this morning. With her legal skills and his forensic accountancy experience, they were going to run rings around Alan Chilcott. She put her headphones on and started to type.

After two hours, she stretched. It was looking pretty good. Time to look at a printout. She saved the file and then sent it to print. As soon as she’d pressed the button, she realised that she’d have to run to the printer to collect it in case anyone else would see it. Everyone on her floor shared a printer, or multi-function device as the technical term would have it: printer, photocopier, scanner.

They weren’t allowed printers in their own offices. Something to do with the green policy? It was an absolute pain when everyone was trying to print stuff out ten minutes before class started. She hurried down the corridor and was relieved to see that there was nobody else hovering round the machine. She grabbed her plan and walked more slowly back to her office, flicking through the pages. It looked quite good. She liked to get the presentation right. She looked up. Surely she hadn’t left the door of her office open, even though she’d been in a hurry. She definitely hadn’t locked it, though. Shit. She’d left her bag in there and everything. She burst back into the room.

Lilian was standing over by the desk. “Sheila! I just popped in to see how you were getting on with, er, letting the students know about next week’s change of session.”

Sheila looked at her sharply. “I think we agreed that you’d be doing that, Lilian.”

“Really?” Lilian looked innocent. “I must be getting confused in my old age. Mind not working properly. Trouble up top.”

Sheila winced. “Well, that was what we agreed.” She stuck to her guns. “You need to put some materials up in the VLE as well. I’ve hidden the Corporate Liability stuff again, as it’ll be for the following week now. Don’t want to confuse them. Oh, bad luck about your tablet computer, by the way.”

Lilian looked only slightly put out. “By the way, Sheila,” Sheila wondered what was coming next. Had Lilian been invited to join Alan’s project as well?

“Did you hear about that poor lecturer being found dead?” She emphasised the last word.

“No,” replied Sheila “I’ve been really busy, I haven’t heard anything. Well, apart from that urgent message about tablet computers. Someone from Law?”

“No, no, no. Biology, I think. Terrible thing.”

Sheila looked at Lilian in surprise. She didn’t usually waste sentiment. “Did you know him, Lilian?” she asked, gently.

Lilian stared at her. “Don’t be silly, he was in Biology.” she said, as though that were sufficient explanation. “Well, ok, best be going.” she said, and she sidled out.

Sheila sat down. Something wasn’t quite right. Lilian wouldn’t normally have given in so quietly about the VLE stuff. Although maybe she was unaccountably touched by the death of whoever it was. She glanced at the computer. The screensaver was on, so Lilian hadn’t touched the mouse or keyboard. Hopefully she hadn’t seen what Sheila was working on, either. She’d need to be more careful about it, or maybe she could say it was a simulation she was developing to do with the students. Perfect. Nobody would query that.

So what was Lilian up to? Sheila had a sudden sinking feeling. There was something missing from her desk. Her Moleskine notebook. The notebook with all of her secret pep-messages. The one with the ‘advantages’ list for the secret project. Sheila jumped up and ran down the corridor. Lilian was standing at the multi-function device, photocopying something.

As Sheila reached her, she reached down to the little table next to the copier, and lifted up the notebook. “I thought this must be yours,” she said “you must have left it next to the copier.”

Sheila had gone slightly pale. “er, thanks, Lilian” she said, weakly. She walked slowly back up to her office. She was certain that she hadn’t taken the notebook to the copier. Certain. But why would Lilian have borrowed it, and then given it straight back? It didn’t make sense.


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One thought on “Advent Episode 18: Secret Plans

  1. Pingback: Advent Episode 17: Kindred Spirits | Wading through Treacle

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