Forever blowing bubbly
It was Christmas 1996 and I was explaining to this motor cycle courier why the bottle of champagne he was attempting to thrust into my hands couldn't possibly be for me. "I'm a lecturer," I protested, "in an FE college. People don't send us champagne."
"Look," he said, "I'm only doing my job. It's from some geezer called Ward at the Association of Colleges. lf you don't want it, pour it down the sink. "
I didn't want to do that, but given its source I didn't particularly feel like drinking it either. A few days earlier, a piece I'd written had appeared in The TES suggesting that the new cuddly, lecturer-friendly image Roger Ward was trying to project at that time was phoney. My article contained the usual knockabout stuff, but the message was clear enough: the man couldn't be trusted.
I wasn't exactly expecting a libel writ as a result of these not particularly original observations, but I certainly wasn't expecting a bottle of bubbly either. The gesture had the effect it was intended to have - a disarming one.
Of course Roger Ward was used to "disarming" lecturers - though many would no doubt select a more robust verb to describe what his policies had been doing to them over the years. From our perspective he'd been out to get us from day one of his appointment as big boss of the post-incorporation college employers.
True, we knew he was a tool of the Tories - a high-rolling hammer to crack a not particularly tough nut (or should that read Nutfhe?) - but was there ever a more willing and eager instrument in the history of our particular corner of education?
He seemed to take a particular delight in spelling out to us how he saw our future: poorer, tireder, more put-upon. Our holidays would be shorter and our workloads heavier. Job security would be a thing of the past and very soon there were to be a lot fewer of us.
Funnily enough we didn't like this. We tried not to take it personally. We didn't always succeed. Five years on, and Ward's stewardship finds us as he had intended us to be found; as he told us we would be found. Exhausted, stressed and demoralised, it seems we can only stand helplessly by and watch as each year our salary buys us less than it did the year before.
Now that the man - the tool - has departed (with, we note, money in the bank and his AOC laptop still clutched firmly under his arm) we are not likely to thank him for what he has done to us.
Come to think of it, I never did thank him for the champagne (Pol Roger, would you believe) either. I couldn't bring myself to drink it. That would have made me feel somehow corrupt. Instead, I raffled it at my NATFHE branch and sent the proceeds to the Southwark College strike fund.
Given what subsequently happened to the striking lecturers at Southwark (forced back to work and their leader sacked) that might look like throwing good money after bad.
Given what has since been revealed about Ward, however, I'd say it was more like throwing bad money after good.
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London college