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Kansas isn't so bad really

"If I win the lottery ." is the typical Monday morning incantation in most college workrooms. Throw in a dark and wintry Monday, and you will have a chorus of voices that can drown out even the din of a classroom of 17-year-olds who have forgotten, conveniently, that they are to sit an assessment.

Lottery-win dreams range from "paying off the mortgage" to "running a little bistro in Paris". We convince ourselves this is our lucky week, and that, like Dorothy, we will find we're not in Kansas any more. Who knows what Faustian pacts are entered into on a snowy, dark Monday?

I muttered the incantation several times myself. Stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, I had just left sunny climes and a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. If I win the lottery, I chittered, I'm going to live somewhere warm. And I don't even buy a lottery ticket, so fat chance.

With a lottery win denied us, we have to get on with it and get over it. However, some of us start to worry that, with no lottery win in sight, we have to hang on tightly to what we have got. We worry we are perhaps not indispensible. Forget that little bistro in Paris. Forget change. We become obsessed with the fact that room 24 was always our room for teaching, so why has that been reallocated? We practise being the essential cog in the wheel.

If you have ever moved colleges and started a new job, you have probably met the person who has stopped dreaming and has decided to hold on tight. In with the bricks, they know where everything is kept and how it's done. But will they tell you, as a rookie? You might be after their job.

On my first day at one college, I picked up the key for a room but struggled to get it to open. It turned out that the numbers on the keys didn't match the doors. Nor was there any logical method to the change. "We had them painted over years ago and renumbered," I was told. "Fourteen. you need the key for 29."

My offer to rejig the key board was shrugged off. "We're used to it here. Doesn't bother us." There is always someone who knows the number to ring when the computer system crashes or where the printer cartridges are stored, but they are never too keen to volunteer any information.

Another year, then, and no lottery win? Relax. Who wants to be indispensible because they know where the pencils are kept?

We could have been stuck in the snow for hours but, out of the night, a lorry driver appeared, a vision in reflective orange, and helped push us clear and on our way. It may not be warm enough to swim in the sea every day here, but most folk are pretty decent and that counts for a lot. I decided lottery win or no, Kansas wasn't so bad after all.

Carol Gow is a former further education lecturer.

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