The students are revolting

In which a lecture on the Thirty Years War is swept aside by a juggernaut of animal welfare protests, and Gloria Monday becomes a pro-chicken heroine despite herself

March 2, 2009

I spent last weekend working on a lecture. It’s one I had given before, admittedly, but I had done a lot of updated research, so I strolled along to the lecture room feeling quite pleased with myself. But when I got to the door I found two disgruntled porters standing outside.

“No point going in there, Miss,” said the more bad-tempered-looking of the two. “It’s full of bloody students.”

“Good,” I said, temporarily stunned that hordes could have turned up for a lecture on the Battle of the White Mountain and the causes of the Thirty Years War.

It flashed across my mind that maybe someone had brought out a new historical computer game in which Catholics and Protestants can massacre each other across computer-generated scenes of 17th-century central Europe – hence the unexpected surge of interest in my lecture. But of course I was way off the mark.

“Not good at all,” muttered porter number two. “The buggers are having a sit-in and the place will stink by the time we get ’em out.”

There followed an exchange between the two about idle young sods who should be out working for a living, instead of wasting public money, then some speculation on what a spell in the Army or Navy might have done for them, followed by a frank confession of what they thought the university ought to do to evict the protesters, which involved various degrees of physical violence that would probably have been thought excessive even in the early 1600s.

I listened, much in the way that you listen to ranting taxi drivers late at night when you don’t want to risk being dumped in an alley. I then proposed that I might at least set foot in the lecture room, thereby fulfilling my contractual obligation to turn up. With less than complete enthusiasm, they stood aside and in I went.

The lecture room can seat about 120 students, although I doubt that more than 50 were in residence. There were banners all round the walls and a mound of discarded plastic coffee cups on the floor, and they all appeared to be watching a video. All heads turned as I went in. One of my least hard-working students shouted, “Yo, Glo, have you come to join us?” and there was a gale of laughter.

Yo, Glo, indeed! That’s how they address you in emails these days, too. “Yo, Glo, why have you given me such a low mark, you tosser?” was one such communication that came my way recently. Yo, Glo! Whatever happened to the days when I would have been Dr Monday?

Anyway, enough of reminiscence. I gritted my teeth and asked the lout what they were sitting in for. A protest against the university’s refusal to sign a petition deploring cruelty to animals, came the response. “Just watch that video!” shouted several voices, and I turned to look upwards at a ghastly set of images of naked hens in cages and baby seals being clubbed to death on blood-soaked ice.

“Where do you stand on cruelty to animals?” shouted a lanky blonde from the front row, so I said I abhorred cruelty to four-footed or feathered friends, so much so that I even give my cat home-cooked chicken liver chunks every Saturday night as a treat.

What a mistake that was! I was bombarded with accusations of cruelty to chickens and had to make a dash for it, running past the now-grinning porters, who had been peering round the door to see how I was getting on. If I’d stayed I would probably have been treated like a 17th-century hostage and hacked to bits.

Later in the bar, friends commiserated. One mate had once gone out in the snow wearing her Mum’s old fur coat, on the grounds that the creatures had been dead for more than 40 years, only to find when she got home that she had been walking around all day with a sign saying “I used to be alive” pinned on her back.

Another recalled how activists had “liberated” a local maggot farm, a deed that led to some very rotund local birds for several days after the heroic deed had been carried out. In the middle of all this, the Yo, Glo lout appeared, having obviously been evicted but still burning with zeal. He made a beeline for me.

Even though he called me Glo again, I was pleasantly surprised that what he came to say was a sort of apology. It turned out that after I legged it, the lout had defended me on the grounds that no other academic had bothered to come and offer support, so he had undertaken to help me understand why I had to do more research on the provenance of my cat’s Saturday night liver treat.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I asked why he and his fellow protesters didn’t begin an investigation into the provenance of the chicken in the tikka masala sandwiches on sale around the university. At this, a light bulb clicked on in his head and he shot off.

This morning there’s a photo of me on the protesters’ website, captioned “Gloria fights for chickens’ rights’. The student newspaper is coming to interview me later. I appear to have become a local heroine.

And judging by the number of protesters that have just marched past my window, there may not be a lecture room unoccupied for a fortnight, which should give me a bit of time off. I shall go home early and eat that can of foie gras I was given for Christmas for my supper.

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