Mists, mellow fruitfulness...and that undone to-do list

As the new academic year begins, Emma Rees awakes from drowsy reveries of new school shoes

September 11, 2014

Source: Miles Cole

Season of lists and mellow fruitfulness (Sunday before Induction Week)

Washing machine hisses, slurps and dies. Look up error code on Google. Wonder how important “Motor” is. Turn off and back on again.

And again. Decide to wait patiently.

Decide it’s terminal.

Realise that most of household’s underwear is inside, lolling in grey, soupy, soapy froth. Press face to porthole. Dog joins in.

Finish wiping dog saliva off glasses. Prise open washing machine door.

Arrive at campus launderette clutching carrier bag full of soggy socks and pants. Tip them into machine, switch it on and sit down to read.

Young man repeatedly presses button labelled “tumble dryer”. Nothing happens, because he’s trying to switch on a washing machine.

He presses button again, harder. Stare at book. Won’t interfere – would embarrass him.

Tell him he’s trying to turn on tumble dryer. Show him washing machine button. Worry that he’s going to be in one of my seminars.

Young woman asks me whether I think tiny, rose-coloured cardigan should go on synthetics cycle.

Realise with dismay that I look like someone who knows about laundry. Or a parent. Or both.

Catch sight of Teaching Award Colleague (TAC) approaching launderette on way to library. Am engrossed in phone. Then in poster advertising student insurance. Then in spider clambering over rim of plant pot on windowsill. Will not mention award.

Will not mention award.

TAC has spotted me. Waves.

Will not mention award. Shout congrats to him on award.

Literally the worst start ever to a new academic year.

Home again. Go into study to pack bag for week ahead. Momentary flashback to junior school. New knee-length grey socks. Freshly sharpened pencils snuggling in pristine Adam and the Ants pencil case. Name tags. Smile to self.

But Peggy Lucas always had more grown-up shoes than mine. Mum called them: “Not very practical.”

Frown. Husband asks what’s wrong. Is frustratingly incredulous when told that – psychologically – cannot start new academic year without new shoes. Compromise reached: agree to buy new pencil case instead.

Miles Cole illustration (11 September 2014)

For a little while, miss Woolworths very much.

Husband very unaccommodating of nostalgic Woolworths reverie: asks when last shopped there. 1993. No idea what point he’s trying to make.

This is going to be a brilliant year. Go through diary and block off days for writing. Will use every last minute of those days to write. Will turn off emails, Twitter and Facebook. Will have done all teaching prep in office so none comes home. Will be “A Writer”. Shall find out once and for all when to use “will” and when to use “shall”.

Tidy desk. Find list made immediately after June exam board. List is like buttery, melty madeleine: youthful optimism of beginning of summer floods senses. Summer List tasks: 17.

Update Summer List.

Summer List tasks partially completed: 5.

Summer List tasks wholly completed: 1.

Summer List tasks to be carried over on to Autumn List: 23 (several items on Summer List had subheadings).

Realise how much of summertime spent being asked questions: “Day off today?” “Lecturer? You must love those long holidays!” “Been able to get away this summer?”

Realise how much of summertime spent answering questions (often with unspoken, invisible footnotes – am an Academic, so nothing to worry about):

June: No – working from home. Yes – working on new book. No – writing it. No – no wizards. Nope – no vampires. It’s about female sexuality. And you?

July: No – working from home. Yes – writing a book. No – not really Richard and Judy’s style. No – not this year, but have had several weekends away. And you?

August: No – working from home. No, nothing specific. No – nowhere special. You?

September: Yes.

Email from new dissertation student. Says she’s no longer writing on monstrous women in Shakespeare.

Draft reply: “Dear Kitty, Thank you for your unilateral pronouncement about changing dissertation topic. Luckily, I know all about All Of The Literature, so your decision to write on representations of the colour red in Hawthorne and Poe is just splendid.”

Delete reply. Type and send new reply suggesting meeting as soon as possible.

Rejoice in clean inbox. Little folders down left-hand side of desktop positively burst with meticulously corralled emails.

Email notification pings.

Thus begins the new academic year: not with invitation to be keynote at major conference, but with spam email about burial insurance.

Start thinking about wine.

Miles Cole illustration (11 September 2014)

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