I SWEPT into one of the two visitors' car parking slots next to the reserved management places, right opposite reception with the gay abandon that only comes when driving onto campus on a Saturday morning.
I was too early for the afternoon half-day assertiveness workshops and the Evangelical street theatre group that uses the arts centre every other weekend; I had come at the quiet time, the one hour in the week when college is not humming to the tune of corporate bookings, wedding receptions or public meetings.
I was pottering in the staff lounge in my role as social secretary, debating with myself about nipping over to the discount store to stock up with some more coconut rings or some obscure middle European brand of fruit-filled biscuits that always seemed to be ridiculously cheap, when in walked Pat, a figure from the past.
"Pat, what are you doing here?" I exclaimed. "It must be 10 years."
"Twelve," she said, embracing me with a strength that both surprised and left me faintly winded. "I have a day to spare. I though I'd call by."
Pat had left three mergers and five principals ago. She resigned in a whirlwind of excitement to start a new life in Manitoba. There had been postcards, but she had faded from our memories like the DES circulars in the box file under the staff lounge telephone.
"I wasn't sure that I'd got the right place," she said in a transatlantic accent.
"There have been quite a few changes," I pointed out as we took a tour of the building. "We're on three sites now."
"Two fewer than before."
Pat was staring at a pile of old computer monitors in the corridor outside the Pollocks Bearings Information Retrieval Centre. "Do you have many computers in Winnipeg Pat?" I asked.
"We're hot wired honey. All this stuff looks pretty ancient." She glanced dismissively across the college's latest computer equipment.
"Do you think so?" As we wandered the corridors of a sensitively converted 1960s grammar school building, overhead walkways took us into fairly new annexes, airy concourse areas revealed themselves beneath spiral staircases and challenging metalwork sculptures popped up where you'd least expect them.
I tried to fill Pat in on the fast moving world of further education in the late 20th century. I was conscious of using the word "initiative" too often and at one point got us lost both in our discussion and where we were exactly on campus.
"I don't think I've been in this building before," I said, slightly embarrassed as it dawned on me that I had taken a wrong turning in the underpass beneath Bashir-McLelland Plaza and we had stumbled into the local discount bedding warehouse. "So, as you can see we teach a lot of different things nowadays," I smiled, recognising one of my students demonstrating a futon.
"Are we lost?" Pat asked correctly.
"Well, I must admit that I do have trouble walking and trying to explain the implications of the Dearing Report at the same time." We laughed all the way across car Park B and back to the staff lounge on the strength of that quip.
Over a cup of coffee and a ginger nut Pat explained that her decision to leave for Canada had been a successful one. She had her own telemarketing business and a big house on a lake. She exuded the kind of confidence that comes with having made the right decisions at the right time, I couldn't help admiring Pat's success. She had come a long way from soft ginger nuts and instant coffee out of chipped mugs.
"It all sounds like the Canadian Dream," I said wistfully.
"Even down to the Mounties," she smirked enigmatically, rooting in her rucksack for the keys to her rental car.
Later I met up with my mate Colin from maths in a queue for a meat pie after a dreary first half at Athletic's new Pollock stadium. I told him about my strange meeting and about the unsettled thoughts that had earlier caused me to watch Football Focus in a state of distracted torpor.
"Stewing in your own juices again?" commented Colin. "You couldn't leave teaching. It's too late anyway, what would you do? Nothing beats the satisfaction of being a lecturer in an FE college. "Nothing," he said loudly in a man of the terraces kind of way. In the time it took to get served and for the teams to come out onto the pitch in front of about 4,000 quietly cynical fans Colin had helped me snap out of my hopeless reverie.
"And besides you wouldn't want to live in Canada, it's too bloody cold in the winter. And there's no football."
"I've always fancied Greece," I countered.
"Well, you don't need to go far for that, here's your pie."
Donald Hiscock teaches in an FE college