Snipers and welcomes are thin on the ground

14th January 2005 at 00:00
The official opening of the new annexe is about to take place. When they designed it, the architects used the dramatic stairways and curved access ramps as focal features, so it has unofficially become known as the Snakes and Ladders building. A VIP has been booked to perform the ceremony, and we have been getting ready for weeks.

Walls that cracked as they dried have been repainted. Surfaces that buckled have been re-laid. Doors that stuck have been rubbed down. Fluctuating temperatures are now under control and howling draughts banished. Work has been displayed on walls and stains have been removed from carpet tiles.

It is a pity that most of the students who put up with months of building work are to be kept out of sight on the Big Day. Security will be tight, as the VIP is a Public Figure. I doubt if the profile of our college or our guest is high enough to be of any interest to terrorists, but it is probably only wise to insist that all staff and students carry their identity passes and no one parks in the car park where the VIP will arrive.

Rumours that there will be snipers on the roof are surely going too far.

Still, we are taking no chances and the Snakes and Ladders building will be nearly empty. Our VIP will meet a handful of whizz-kid students and their teachers in our state-of-the-art computer suites.

The students all know who the guest is, but have no clue as to why they have VIP status. We brief them, but still they would rather see the striker from our city's premier football club - now that would be worth all the fuss.

Comes the day, and the weather is terrible. A thin line of disgruntled students is forced outside to form a grim welcoming party. Cerberus, the manic mechanic from maintenance, frantically pours road salt down the access ramps and across the VIP's path. The VIP is inevitably late and the welcoming party is cold and bedraggled. I look up to check the presence of the snipers but, if they are there, they too have taken shelter before they are blown off the roof.

The VIP arrives, smiles briskly and professionally at the unwelcoming party which manages to cheer feebly, before everyone is quickly whisked inside.

The party makes its way through the corridors, past the newly-painted rooms which have been security-cleared and sealed since early morning, past the gleaming resource areas and the empty refreshment facilities, past the silent workshops, and into the computer suite where the demonstration lesson sprang into life only minutes before.

It is a miracle, but today and for one day only, not a single student is in the chat rooms, sending filthy emails or zapping non-terrestrial creatures.

No one wears a peaked cap or a beanie hat, chews gum, swears or reaches for their mobile and they keep this up for at least 10 minutes.

The VIP has seen enough. Ribbons are cut, sherry is drunk, photographs are taken. The limousines drive away and it is all over. If the snipers were ever there, I never saw them slip away. Only the abandoned abseil ropes, flapping damply on the back wall of the Snakes and Ladders building, remain to remind us of the day.

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