All for the want of a tablecloth

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
The sun was streaming in the windows - the first blue day for ages
The sun was streaming in the windows - the first blue day for ages. "We could go outside - sit on the grass - and do this," Robert suggested helpfully. Everyone thought this was a great idea, probably because it would use up some of the time for Restricted Response Questions.

Shiny, slightly sweaty, eager faces awaited my response. "There is no grass."

Life can be cruel. Our campus has little to recommend it apart from the people who inhabit it, and we are due to flee in the near future to a world with trees and grass and somewhere to sit in the sun, but not just yet.

We inhabit concrete environs reminiscent of Auden's bleak "plain without a feature, bare and brown,No blade of grass,and nowhere to sit down".

Nevertheless, it's pristine. Our caretaker cares for our backyard. He herds smokers away into pens. He shames potential litter louts by writing chastening poems entitled "Seagulls don't chaw chewnie".

The other week, however, he confessed to not knowing whether to be angry or proud when he discovered an extensive graffiti flowering over a brick wall, a door and part of the ground. It appeared to be some sort of complex mathematical formula.

We were all impressed. Our campus obviously spawns quality graffiti. Certainly this didn't fit into any of the categories we knew; neither childish prank nor significant linguistic event.

We usually contain our learners' creative impulses within the courses. You can't move for students sketching in corridors, you dare not sit down on a seat without checking that you are not going to squash a half-stitched bonnet, and you get used to a student asking if they can just use the iron and the ironing board to press out a seam while you continue teaching.

Isn't all that sufficient outlet? Apparently not, and I think I can identify the tipping point. The hospitality management students at Kingsway Campus organised a medieval banquet, served by maidens, monks and court jesters. They offered a whole lamb roasting on a spit.

Meanwhile, I organised a simulated press conference. The room was prepared, the projected backgrounds readied, and the students sent emails about the time and venue. It all worked beautifully and provided a real-seeming experience.

Afterwards, Linda said she enjoyed it but it was not what she expected. Disappointed, I prompted. She finally revealed that she thought "there would be a white tablecloth".

I blame hospitality management. Give a student a lamb turning on a spit and who knows what they'll want next. My disquiet deepened in the afternoon, when I turned to the whiteboard. There, blossoming in the corner, I spotted a small mathematical formula. Enough is enough. I will obviously have to turn to my colleagues and ask them if I can borrow a white tablecloth.

Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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