Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Ian // Development Assistant

After a period of postgraduate study, I was working in the development office of a mysterious and unnamed Oxbridge college. Part of my job involved organising degree ceremonies, a task that involved decent amounts of rigorous, sustained organisation, unbelievable mundanity, and stupid Latin phrases.

In lieu of actual training, I had been provided with a thick wallet stuffed with loose sheets of paper which formed a byzantine and, for me at least, insufficient guide to the task at hand. One ceremony fell just as I was about to take a week’s holiday to visit home.

Though I was on a casual and zero-hours contract, I was apparently expected to turn up at college on a Saturday to shepherd luxuriously-robed graduands around medieval streets. I assured my employers that everything was in hand and the ceremony would run smoothly in my absence. Off I went up the M1.

At about 4pm, just as I’d arrived at my mother’s place, I received a call from an unknown number, but one bearing an area code that I definitely did recognise. Looking out of my childhood bedroom window as I picked up the phone, the inevitability of my having “fucked it really bad” dawned, but I was just as excited as anyone to learn how I’d done it.

Well, it was the Master of the college, an austere political scientist who did not suffer fools with particular pleasure. And here he was, suffering me.

“Where are the commemorative books?” He asked, with pointed disdain.

Ah, fuck, the books. These were given to graduates as a gift by the Master when they collected their degree certificates. Due to a miscommunication with the Porter, who also helped organise the ceremonies, I’d made the executive and, clearly, foolhardy decision to not have them for this ceremony. I was under the impression that they weren’t always given out, and also they looked as though they’d been designed using WordArt on Windows 98. Genuinely terrible.

In somewhat more diplomatic terms, I explained why I had neglected this area of my duty.

“I hand the books out with the certificates. It is what I do, and it is what I always do. Where are they?”

I directed him to the stationary cupboard of the development office, where a box of the books was stored amidst old fundraising leaflets and post-it notes.

His next phrase, surgical and quite elegant in its disapproval, still sticks in my mind.

“I shall do my best to retrieve the situation. I must inform you that this is not satisfactory, and we will discuss it upon your return to college.”

The line went dead. This was bad enough, but I’d also ballsed up the previous evening when the selfsame Master requested a list of each graduating student, along with biographical notes on them and their families, which I hadn’t done. I had to come back into work on a Friday night to write them up before stuffing them meekly in his pigeon hole at 9.30pm.

Still, could’ve trained me, though.