Gossip dominated the agenda when a group of us met shortly after new year to chew the fat. Each presently works where the others used to, so everyone is acquainted with the subject under discussion. When we got around to the sad case of X (not his real name), an interesting side issue arose.
X is married with mature children but has developed an adolescent devotion to a recent recruit, herself a married lady. As romances go, this one rates pretty low on the Richter scale since it appears to be entirely unilateral. What has set the steumie talking is the extent to which X is prepared to sacrifice his self-respect in the hope of reciprocal adoration.
By all accounts he hit the academic equivalent of skid row when he volunteered to undertake on the lady's behalf a duty which for most teachers represents the nadir of the various tasks comprising their employment package.
It was Friday afternoon, Christmas was looming and the lady would have preferred shopping to the fate for which duty rosters had provided. Artfully, she made her views known to X and before you could say Jack Robinson (not his real name), he had succumbed. He took over her invigilation.
He was marked down unanimously as a lost soul, this being perceived to be an action more damning than more intimate manifestations of mutual attraction such as had illuminated our earlier conversation.
Suddenly I heard myself speak. "What is so awful about invigilation?" The communal chatter froze in mid-sentence on the impact of this apparently heretical question. Blindly I pressed on. You have a guarantee of a predetermined wedge of time without interruption, save for requests for additional paper or enlightenment on a matter contained in the examination paper about which you, like Manuel from Barcelona, know a-nothing. You tell me that you can assure yourself of a similar luxury without extraordinary subterfuge and I will call you a fantasist.
What is more, the use to which the time is put is entirely discretionary because it is secondary to the primary object. Many seize upon it to mark scripts from other examinations, but I prefer total privacy for that exercise. As it happens, I invigilated on a recent Saturday and succeeded in disposing of a substantial amount of personal correspondence and accounts pending. The Times crossword was uncharacteristically easy. Some handout material was updated. Scotland won at Lansdowne Road and Hearts took three goals off Rangers at Ibrox. On due reflection, this was probably one of the most productive days of the year.
Why then should invigilation attract such a stigma? The answer, I imagine, has more to do with the seemingly menial nature of the job than the fact that it is essential. Little more than the ability to stay awake is required so the deployment of important staff for such routine activity is perceived to be inappropriate.
That is why X blundered in deputising for his comely colleague with such evident alacrity. None of his colleagues read gallantry into his gesture, only self-abasement. Had it been attendance at faculty board or something similarly prestigious, it would probably have gone unnoticed.
There is a lesson here for us all. Choose carefully the manner in which you profess your illicit amour so that only the target appreciates what is afoot. There is a very fine line between nurturing a love that is fine, noble and innocent and making a damn fool of oneself. Or to put another way, semper vigilans.
Frank Moran (not his real name)