Students looked bored as the blood trickled

March 18, 2005

A valiant effort to break into (and out of) her house left Delia Davin battered but not beaten

Many years ago I was driving from my home in Leeds to my department at York University when I realised I had forgotten my lecture notes and handouts. I calculated that if I turned back to get them, I could still reach the lecture hall on time.

Alas, when I rushed, panting, up to my back door, I realised I had forgotten my house keys. Fortunately, even though we lived in one of the most burgled areas in the country, I had procrastinated about replacing an old Yale lock with anything more secure. I was sure that if I threw myself shoulder first against the door I could force my way in. This indeed proved to be disconcertingly easy. I ran into my study, snatched up my lecture notes, bolted the back door, from which the lock was now hanging loose, and went through the front door, slamming it shut. As I did so, I realised that I had once more forgotten to pick up the keys. I was now in a small and claustrophobic porch leading to an external door. I prayed that this door would open, but no, the children, obedient to my oft-repeated instructions, had locked it as they left for school.

This was long before the days of mobile phones. Unless I could break out, I would miss my lecture without even being able to send apologies to the students. I would also have to spend seven hours imprisoned in a stuffy space until my children freed me.

This horrible prospect gave me the courage to punch a fist through the leaded light panel of the front door and re-enter the house to find my keys. Now I was afraid that when the children returned to find a broken lock on the back door and broken glass on the front one, they would naturally jump to the conclusion that we had been burgled yet again. I scribbled a quick note to the effect that there was nothing to worry about and I would explain everything later and jumped into my car.

I watched the clock and the speedometer all the way to York. I was now cutting it fine, but if I was stopped for speeding I would also have to explain the blood that was oozing down my arm.

I arrived at the university, parked the car and snatched up a container of baby wipes that had been felicitously discarded on the back seat and hurried to the lecture hall. As I delivered my lecture, I picked pieces of glass out of my hand and dabbed at the blood. Fresh trickles appeared whenever I raised my arm to use the blackboard.

To my astonishment, the students didn't react. As usual, some looked bored, others nodded and took notes. No one asked me what the matter was. No one even looked surprised. Was there nothing a lecturer could do to arouse the students' interest?

Delia Davin is emeritus professor of Chinese,Leeds University.

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