To hell and back in a big blue wheelie bin

6th February 1998 at 00:00
Perhaps I should have known when Lou Reed's Perfect Day kicked in as I drove to work on Monday morning that it was a nice touch in irony. But I didn't know, as I drove through a pretty dusting of snowflakes, that I was due for a spell of days when nothing goes right and you feel like complaining to Jack Black that your perspex shield has developed leaks and can you have your money back.

By the time I had parked my car, the pretty little snowflakes had become a white-out and by lunch the favourite spectator sport from the office on the second floor was watching cars fail to negotiate the steep hill on which the college perches. Classes were sparsely populated as students decided to make their getaway while it was still possible, or else filled with students more interested in ogling the weather than with group work.

My snow tyres usually work like an amulet, guaranteeing that once my car is suitably and safely shod no snow falls. Not this time. So what if everybody else had to cope with the snow, too. I was beginning to feel it was my own personal blizzard.

You want more? Try this one. My creative class is mainly made up of retired people. They meet each Tuesday morning and are a joy to teach. Usually. But this was an unusual week. Peter, elaborating on the theme of his short story, drew from his pocket a small Swiss Army knife his son had given him and extolled its virtues. Before I could draw the discussion back to more pertinent matters, Helena, a sweet, greying lady who writes smashing, evocative short stories, informed us all that a knife was indeed very handy. She had lived abroad for years and grown accustomed to carrying one for her own protection. "It makes me feel safe," she said as she unsheathed a four-inch, wicked blade.

There was a pregnant pause. "Handy for removing stones from horses' hooves, " someone remarked nervously. No one offered criticism, constructive or otherwise, when Helena later read an extract of work in progress. I had a small word in her ear before she left class and made a mental note to add to my teaching plan, "check Helena's bag for offensive weapon".

My second-year Higher National Diploma class were all set to do an assessment. Unfortunate, then, that I had been foolish enough to time it for the day after a big class party. Four of them had made a night of it and were still so cheery they couldn't quite understand my frozen face. After all, they had made a huge effort to get into class on time. "We couldn't drive," Tim said. "Not after all that bevvying. We got a taxi so we'd get here in time. He was crazy that driver, nearly killed us." Tim had slept on Iain's floor. His face was creased as well as petulant. They were pasty-faced, unwashed and probably had difficulty focusing on the text in front of them. All of them failed. Pretty spectacularly. Not a particularly profitable session.

That afternoon a columnist from the local paper phoned. He had been browsing through our free newspaper, which lists current part-time day and evening classes. He was curious about my creative writing course - and unsettlingly antagonistic. His parting shot was "I see your college is running a short course on the art of juggling. Can you tell me anything about that?" Lots of smart answers ran through my mind but I rejected them. I can sense a trap being set. If there is one thing I do know it is never give columnists material they can use. I haven't seen what he has written yet, but at least he doesn't know about the knife.

In the morning, the library phoned to say the video I had ordered couldn't be found. A severe setback, since the assessment I was running was built round it and the handouts and worksheets were sitting neatly on my desk ready for class. I tried to explain how important it was that the video was recovered. I think I used nouns like disaster and adjectives like Titanic.

And so yet another perfect day turned into a perfect evening which culminated in my sifting through my ultimate filing cabinet - the big blue wheelie bin which stores waste paper - in search of a cheque from the Scottish Qualifications Authority. The first search revealed nothing, but I had one clue to go on. Also missing was a promo list from Waterstone's which had arrived through the mail at the same time. Wherever the Waterstone's leaflet was, so too was my cheque.

I think that was probably the moment I decided I had had a bad week, sitting in the kitchen in the wee small hours, surrounded by junk mail and old newspapers. But it was also the moment at which the fates decreed I had been punished enough. In a spectacular deus ex machina resolution, my life changed. Suddenly, with the faintest suggestion of the whirr of wings, the slightest sensation of a sprinkling of fairy dust and some barely audible tinkly music, there, lodged between the sheets of a glossy brochure on "Getawayfromitall Holidays" (the staple reading of FE lecturers, surely) were the Waterstone's leaflet and my cheque, nestling cosily together.

In the morning, the library telephoned to say my video had been recovered and there followed a week when everything seemed to go my way, when things fell into my lap when needed, and admin staff seemed there only to facilitate my progress and clear a path for me. Even the HND students seemed repentant and turned up for reassessment clear-eyed and freshly ironed. Either I am moving in a charmed circle, or Jack Black's perspex shield has repaired itself. Whichever, I know one thing for sure. It cannot last.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media and communication at Dundee College.

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