um, really?

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 22 July 2008 2 comments

(An American traveller writing to the (London) Times on the subject of rail travel in Britain. Oct 1, 1890.)

If the traveller wishes to get from the up platform to the down platform, or
vice versa, he is obliged to cross over the line by a bridge or under the line
through a subway, but he cannot cross the line itself. I am aware that the
raising of the platform several feet above the level of the line has two
advantages; it prevents accidents, and it makes the getting into a carriage very
easy. Nevertheless, these bridges and subways are a sore trial to my temper, and
I would willingly risk (as I do in America and generally on the Continent) being
knocked down by an engine rather than climb those stairs, and I have frequently
rushed across the line, much to the consternation of the amiable but too careful
officials. The expense of lowering the platforms to the level of the lines would
be so great (to say nothing of the advantages mentioned above) that I know it
will never be done; but I cannot say that this knowledge makes the inconvenience
more easily borne, or reconciles me to the awful thought that for ever and ever
travellers in England must perpetually ascend bridges and descend subways.

How is this even controversial?

Posted by September Blue 3 comments

Two and a half of my jobs are in the middle of a pay restructuring process. Still. I grow weary of this. Leaving aside all the fill-in-the-blanks griping about management and bureaucracies and The Problem With Higher Education Today etc etc, though, here's a thing: why can't it just be about the money?

No, I'm serious. I don't mean the work itself; I'm fine with not getting paid a fortune to do any of the things I do. I mean the discussions about the jobs, and what the pay is for the jobs, that come up two or three or sixteen times a year. The kind of discussions that involve me snapping at one of my bosses, for the first (and hopefully the last) time, when he responded to my "But you agree I've been underpaid for the last two years?" with "I think you're taking this a bit far - it's not like anyone deliberately set out to pay you less than you should have been." The kind that include every single discussion about teaching pay, which by unspoken academic law cannot take place without a litany of disavowal: it's really good experience and we need it for our cvs and really we should be grateful there's any teaching for us at all and of course we care about the students and we're not in this for the money and we know the university's budget is struggling and we know the department's doing all it can and we hate to even vaguely imply otherwise - so, um, will we be paid for office hours this semester? Sorry to ask so bluntly! Sorry to ask at all! Sorry to keep bringing this subject up when you've already said that you think it's a shame you can't pay us all as much as you'd like to!

Oh, now, look. Discussions about pay are just that - discussions about pay. It's not personal. I didn't complain about being underpaid for two years because I worried that everyone above me in the hierarchy was a evil moustache-twirling villain who went home and kicked their dog every night. I really don't care whether they underpaid me through malice or forgetfulness or accident or what. I complained because I wasn't getting paid what I should have been paid. Ditto, teaching, where I know that the department is operating under tough financial constraints and that the people responsible for budget allocations would pay TAs generously if they had all the money in the world to do it. I believe the sympathy, and I appreciate the sympathy, and continuing to haggle over pay does not mean I am rejecting the sympathy or calling anyone evil - it just means that I'd like to get paid, please, because
I'm operating under tough financial constraints as well.

Yeah, a bit grumpy today. But, honestly. Here's the kind of pay issue I'm talking about here: in one of my jobs, which involves working quite closely with students (I was going to specify whether it's the teaching one or the non-teaching one, but I doubt it matters) , the pay restructuring has involved reclassifying something which was once paid work into something that's neither paid for nor on the contract. It's not essential for doing the job, but it is useful (both for me and my colleagues and for the students), and it's understood that people in my particular role will be spending a couple of hours a week doing this particular duty anyway, even under the restructured pay system.

Oh, I do not think so.

But do you know how difficult it is to have a conversation about this that doesn't turn into a) a debate about whether I naively misunderstand the pressures of university finance or b) a debate about whether I cruelly underestimate the purity of my boss's convictions in truly, madly, deeply wanting the situation to be otherwise? And that's not even getting into c), in which I struggle in vain to find a way to phrase my objections that doesn't come across as 'I don't care about the students - I'm in this for the cash.'

I like my jobs. I do. I'm just not doing them for free.


Posted by September Blue Thursday, 17 July 2008 1 comments

Get home from work at quarter past ten, tired and bad-tempered and annoyed with the boss who wants eight weeks of work done in two. Slump up the road, down the other road, up to the door and place key in lock. Turn key.


Key turns half-way and no further. Hmm. Try jiggling it round in lock, plus various combinations of pushing door forward/pulling door back while turning, without success. Hmm.

Take key out of lock. Examine key. Examine other keys on ring. Try all of those, just in case. Step back and inspect building door is attached to, just in case. Establish beyond doubt that key and door belong together. Lick finger, run along edges of key, place key in lock, turn.


All right, this is not funny.

It looks like someone has clicked the snib on the lock from the inside, thus preventing anyone from getting in without help from someone on the other side of the door. Consider this. Decide neighbours couldn't possibly be that stupid, and that failure of door to open is merely illusion of own tired mind. Place key in lock. Turn key.


Third Law of Shared Buildings: one of your neighbours is always that stupid.

Try pressing buzzers of neighbours' flats with dim hope that anyone will answer - buzzers rung after ten at night in this building tend to be rung by crazy shrieking banshee friend of one of the neighbours, who should not be encouraged. Indeed, buzzers go unanswered. Consider the idea that one of those buzzers must to person who put snib on lock in the first place. Wonder if they are the same person who allows crazy shrieking banshee friend to wake everyone up at 4am. Fume in ineffective silence.

Consider options.

Friends a few doors down have big shared garden, separated from my building's small shared mudpatch and mattress graveyard by two walls and whatever lies in between them. If walls climbable and mysterious area navigable, could get into back of building and bypass need for security door. Call friends.

Phones go straight to voicemail.

Curse world.

Consider other options. At the back of mudpatch/mattress graveyard there are the back walls of two grand-looking houses. There might be some space there, or at least some way to climb through from the other side. Head off to investigate.

Access to houses behind locked gates in big wall. Only way in without key is to Spiderman it forty feet up along very narrow top of mostly-medieval wall until a point where the ground comes up to meet it on the side where the houses are. Consider that a) wall was designed to repel invaders, b) climbing along wall means climbing past small clusters of teenagers smoking outside pub, several of whom I will probably end up teaching next semester if I end up falling off a wall in front of them because the universe would not pass up a joke that good, and c) climbing on important mostly-medieval things possibly punishable by death at hands of tourist board. Decide to call this plan B.

Return to own door, just in case. Try key in lock again. Just in case.


Wish death upon neighbours.

Notice lights still on in empty-looking restaurant below flat. Go in, find head waiter clearing tables. Explain situation.

Head waiter looks sceptical. "Why you not have key?"

Show keys to waiter. Explain ineffectiveness of key at its usual task. Waiter produces own keys, heads outside to door, places key in lock...


Waiter grumbles. "Your neighbours, so much trouble. Always they come in asking to be let in here. Always they shout. Sometimes they bang door. So much trouble."

Agree, fervently. Commiserate. Share with waiter latest exploits of crazy shrieking banshee friend of neighbours. Realise am still standing outside on pavement.

Waiter promises to find other waiter who will go through kitchen and attempt door from other side. Disappears back into restaurant, reappears several minutes later looking determined. Waits with me until footsteps are heard on other side of door. Smiles.

On other side of door, mysterious unseen waiter pulls at handle, then attempts to turn lock.


Turn to head waiter. Raise arms, eyebrows. Head waiter leans into door and shouts to other waiter in langauge I do not speak. Other waiter shouts back. More rattling. Head waiter shouts some more. Other waiter conquers lock.

Clunk. Door opens.

"They had turned snib on door!", head waiter says. "Who would do stupid thing like this? You should leave them note."

Oh, I will. Believe me.

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I feel so bad

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 16 July 2008 0 comments

I'm skipping work today to put some time in on an article I need to get written... well, two years ago would have been good, but let's just say 'soon'. The two jobs I should be doing this afternoon and evening aren't shift-work, thankfully, but the work in question does need to be completed at some point, and there's a lot of it. So, guilt. Especially since I know there was a time when I juggled four jobs plus the PhD and still managed to get stuff done - why can't I be that productive now?

It doesn't help that the article's stalled again at the reading stage, and this never feels like work unless I'm taking copious notes I'll never look at again just for the hell of it. It's so difficult to measure progress this way. Pages read? Books read? (What when none of them are useful?) Percentage of full thought process complete? I wish there was a unit for calculating this. I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere, plus I'm skipping the jobs where progress is not only measurable but pays by the hour.

(And lo! My phone beeps with a text from a colleague asking in a puzzled way if I'm not usually around on Wednesdays. Sigh.)

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My new and wonderful GP is referring me to a specialist to find out what's going on with my eyes. She's fairly sure it's not going to be anything terrible, although she did suggest that the migraines I've been getting for the past few years (thanks, academia!) might be putting too much strain on my already-damaged optic nerves, but thinks it's definitely worth checking, plus I should probably be seeing an opthalmologist regularly anyway shouldn't I, hmm? (I should. The reason why I never got that set up when I moved away to university is purely because I was eighteen then and thus obviously immortal.)

Anyway, in honour of that, here's a pre-operations picture from back before my condition was diagnosed. Thanks, surgeons!


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Continued fortunes

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 13 July 2008 3 comments

Now that Article One - my baby, my firstborn - has gone back out into the world to try its fortunes once again, and I can step back and think about it without a miasma of nail-biting guilt settling over me, I've realised something strange. The part of the article I liked best, the one part I was happiest with when I finished it the first time round, was grumbled at in both readers' reports. This in itself isn't surprising, but the part of the article I hated, the part I knew was weak at the time, didn't know how to fix without a major overhaul, and cringed at on re-reading, was received well. I know I'm not the most objective judge of my own work, but still, I can't help thinking that this is the academic equivalent of reviewing Return of the Jedi and telling everyone that the Boba Fett character was an unnecessary and irritating bit-part novelty, but the Ewoks were just great.

My patchwork blanket of summer jobs is still holding together well enough to keep me warm. At the moment, two of us are moving a large quantity of withdrawn library material into boxes and sending it off to loving homes in various departments, which involves a whole lot of stamping things with a 'Withdrawn From [Such-And-Such] University Library' and a small amount of making boxes. (Me and Dr K have agreed to ceremonially stamp each other's foreheads with that very same stamp when we leave here for full-time academic positions.) Because it's noisy and we need space, we get to do this in a gloomy area at the back of an old bindery.

Dr K got there before I did. When I met him there the next day, the gloomy area at the back of the old bindery featured:
- a desk,
- a decent swivel chair, on which Dr K was sitting,
- a computer, connected somehow to a network socket I didn't even know existed,
- a desk-tidy, filled with stationary that looks suspiciously purloined,
- and a phone. ("I feel like we're more important if we have our own extension," as he explained it.)

We might still be minions, but now we're minions with our very own in-tray.

Where I've been

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 9 July 2008 2 comments

apart from somewhere in the existential state of forgetting I have a blog. But yeah, mostly there.

I've been graduating (finally! FINALLY!), at what turned out to be the same ceremony where the first students I ever taught were graduating with their BAs. Lots of applause. And then my department forgot to invite its PhD students to their own graduation party, because they're great like that.

I've been finishing the Article of Pain, Doom and Despair, which is a revise-and-resubmit for a journal that I still think is way above where I should be aiming. But, the editor had some very positive things to say about the first version of the article (you know, after the 'no'), and the revised version is a whole lot better. I'm even happy with it, almost. So, yes, the article which has attached itself to my life like a remora and sucked out every element of non-procrastinatory free time for far too long is done.

I've been tidying my flat, although sadly not well enough to prevent it never needing to be tidied again. One day, one day.

I've been at work, too, doing (seriously) five different jobs in the same building. I have long since lost track of who I work for; these days I just do whatever I'm told so long as the person doing the telling looks vaguely like a librarian.

I've been doing a 1000-piece jigsaw, and pretending it's some kind of thinking time for working on the article.

And I've been considering going back to Article Two, the one I haven't done any work on since, um, March. Please hire me, universities of the UK! I am so very productive, between my part-time job and my jigsaw!

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