I woke to find myself in bed with a principal's wife...

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Franz Kafka wrote in Metamorphosis that "as Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect".

With me it was worse - I awoke to find I had been transformed into a college principal. As I went to bed the previous evening a lecturer, the experience was, to say the least, interesting!

First I noticed that there was a principal's wife lying in the bed beside me. I am not in the habit of going to bed with principals' wives, so something extraordinary had happened in the night.

"You look different dear," she observed, smoothing a wrinkle from her elegant winceyette pyjamas. "Have you been eating in that training restaurant again?" "I I I think I must have had a knock on the head, it's making me a bit forgetful."

"Obviously." She took the old, baggy black suit I had selected and hung it in the wardrobe. "You haven't worn that since incorporation. These are the ones you wear now you're a chief executive." She indicated a line of sharply-cut garments with labels like the Italian national football team.

I tried one on. "Aaagh!" I shouted. I clutched at my left side. "Help. I've got this terrible swelling around my heart."

"Don't be silly, dear." She lifted a leather object from out of my inside pocket and removed a wad of Pounds 20 notes. "There. Just your wallet. Easily remedied. Isn't it time you were off to work?" I went outside and got into my car. There was an unfamiliar smell of leather and a bewildering array of dials and switches on the dashboard. Then I realised the problem, it wasn't a 1986 Cavalier. My key fob told me that it was in fact another fine Saab supplied by Executive Leasing. I switched on the ignition and let it glide me to work.

On the first floor I found a room labelled chief executive's personal assistant. "Good morning, chief," said the woman inside, "you look different today."

I explained about the knock on the head. "You'll have to talk me through some of the detail," I said. "Perhaps you can start by telling me what I do with my time. For instance, when do I get to see some students?" "Just a moment. " She consulted a large desk diary. "November 17. That's when we've scheduled this year's prize-giving. I suppose you'll want to make your usual speech? The one about everyone pulling together in times of hardship."

"Yes, yes, I suppose I will. But what about the lecturers? No doubt I'll be seeing some of them quite soon."

She turned over more pages of the diary. "No. No. I don't think we've got any disciplinary hearings for a while."

"You mean the only time my staff get to see me is when I'm going to sack them?" She thought about this for a moment. "How often does the Queen see her subjects? or the PM his voters? Anyway, I expect you'll see that oafish one at some time today. The one who walks in here without an appointment and calls you Jack."

"I take it that's the NATFHE secretary?" "That's the one. Although you normally have other names for him by the time you've finished shouting at one another."

"I'm sure I do." I tried another tack. "Perhaps I'd better just get on with formulating some educational policy."

"Oh my! That must have been some nasty blow. You haven't had anything to do with education for years."

"I haven't?" "Why do you think you appointed those four deputies on such magnificent salaries? One each for programme assessment, curriculum management, learning development and quality assurance."

"Why indeed?" I had only been a top manager for two hours, but already I was beginning to feel a little surplus to requirements.

"Well, if there's nothing else I think I'll just wander up to the executive hospitality area for a pre-lunch aperitif," I added.

"But chief you haven't done any of your work yet."

"What work? You've already told me I have nothing to do with students or lecturers or education. What is there left?" "Chief executive! Stop pulling my leg."

"No, really. I've forgotten a lot of things."

"Indeed you have. Well, let me tell you. It's money. That's what your life is all about nowadays. Money, money and more money. How to get it and how not to spend it."

"But don't I have accountants to do all that for me?" "Oh yes. Lots of them. Two in payroll, three in information systems, four in funding, two more in finance and three attached to each faculty to handle their devolved budgets. "

"There you are then," I said reaching for my coat.

"But you're the chief accountant." She put my coat back on its hook. "Look. " She pointed to a printed notice on the wall. The buck stops here! Only "buck" had been deleted and "unit of funding" typed in its place. "You thought that was quite droll when you first thought of it. Hardly stopped chuckling all day."

"No doubt. But what you're saying is that really I'm nothing more than some I great big banker!"

"Yes chief executive. That's what your staff often say about you. Give or take a letter or two. Any more questions?"

"Just one."

"Fire away."

"When can I go back to being a simple lecturer again?" Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London further education college.

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