Thursday, 21 July 2016


We attended our daughter's graduation ceremony at the University of Sussex yesterday. As it happens, despite holding seven degrees and two postgraduate diplomas from five universities between us, neither my partner nor I have ever attended a graduation ceremony in our own right. As I explained to the daughter, back then it all seemed a bit ... um... She offered the word bourgeois? Which is probably about right. They obviously teach them something at Sussex.

Clearly, we are very proud of her, and were very happy to cheer her as she crossed the stage, one of very few women to wear trousers, and not to wear ridiculous heels.  But Sussex use the Brighton Dome for their ceremonies, a concert venue, and clearly feel they need to put on a bit of a show. A process that could have been rattled through in an hour or so – next! – was extended to two and a half by the addition of  a video presentation about the university, and another by and about the students ("We had such fun! We don't know what we're going to do next!"), and then the preliminary speeches of the Vice-Chancellor and actor-comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar, who happens to be the university's Chancellor. Who also insisted on giving a hug to every graduand stepping onto the stage, and a wave to their family's smartphones if requested. Oh, please, just get on with it! Then there was his closing excursion into Wikiquote territory, in the style of an American "commencement address". Honestly, Sanjeev, you're a funny guy, but I don't think anyone wants to hear some borrowed thoughts on Life, the Universe, and Everything. Plus – and this bit I didn't mind – halfway through they awarded an honorary doctorate to venerable folksinger and folklorist Shirley Collins, with the inevitable presentation speech, video, and acceptance speech. Luckily it was just the degrees for the arts and media faculties being awarded, or we might still be there, wearily clapping the next happy young thing folding the diminutive Chancellor into an embrace.

The Prof had to be back in Bristol that evening, though, and so – trains from Brighton being fraught with ongoing cancellation problems – I sped us both back to Southampton in the car so she could catch the last train from there. Finally, job done, I headed home and made myself a late supper, and thought I'd better do the washing up before sinking into a chair.

But, what's this, no hot water? I checked the boiler, and it was displaying a fault code. I reset it, and another one came up. Never mind: although it was late I thought it best to call British Gas, with whom we have a maintenance agreement. I negotiated the usual maze of button pressing ("If you are a nuisance caller selling PPI, please press 7, for a sales pitch disguised as a marketing survey, press 8") and eventually got to speak to a real person, and explained the problem.

"Can you smell gas?" they asked.
"Um, no," I replied, "And anyway according to the fault code it's a water pressure problem".
"But can you smell gas?"
"Well, no, actually, I can't smell anything much, as it happens. I have very little sense of smell".
"Could you get a neighbour to smell for you?"
"At this time of night? Of course not!"
"In that case, I'm passing you through to the emergency gas escape team!"
"What?? No, really, there isn't..."

But it was too late. No doubt the B Team that mans the phones at 11:00 pm has strict procedural instructions, and I was being sucked into the flowchart. Turn off the gas. Don't turn any lights on or off, or operate any electrical equipment. Don't smoke. Is there a dog in the house? (What? Is this a trick question?). Someone will be there within the hour!

And they were. A nice guy showed up, confirmed there was no gas escape, and, yes, better get British Gas to come and see to the boiler. I apologised for the call-out, and he said it was no problem, another hour's overtime for yet another British Gas overreaction was always welcome. Better safe than sorry, eh?

So here I am today, stuck indoors on a lovely afternoon, waiting for an afternoon call from an engineer, "any time between 12 and 6". But at least I don't have to clap continuously while I'm waiting, or listen to any half-baked life-coaching. And I might even see what Shirley Collins I can find on Spotify.

No comments: