For reasons not entirely clear, a few weeks ago I received an invite to process alongside 49 other members of the University community, as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
The head of Computing Services, Andrew Lee, requested I write a blog about my experiences.
The details of this blog have been ruminating in my head for several weeks, and the final version is just a fraction of what is in my head. I will write a little bit about what I do, something about the day itself, and a little about my sporting life at the University.
I like to think I am representing those of us, in Computing Services but also in other areas of the University, who have been diligently turning up for work, day in and day out, for years.
Working at the University
To the young people of the world wishing to take a journey into the rarefied world of MIS systems, I recommend a childhood memorising data from reference books. I am thus deeply indebted to my father, who, when I was age 9 or 10, gave me a copy of the 1958 Wisden Cricketers Almanac. Shut away in my bedroom, I would spend hours reading scorecards from the 'Golden Age' of cricket. Living as we did in Somerset, I came to idolise the batting and bowling averages of a Bill Alley. I discovered the beauty of the cricket scorecard, still the pinnacle of human achievement.
After devouring the Wisden, I moved to other books of 'sporting bests', and could soon name the ground names and capacities, nicknames, shirt colours, record attendances, leading goalscorers etc of all 92 football league clubs.
Cricket, of course, provides the richest source of data. It is also, annoyingly, prone to change. In my universe the leading run makers in Test cricket are still Sir Garfield Sobers, M.C Cowdrey and Wally Hammond, and if asked the question: "Peabody, who are the leading wicket takers in test match cricket" , I would without hesitation respond: "Lance Gibbs with 309, followed by Fred Trueman with 307, Sir!".
“And , Peabody, how did Fred Trueman feel after taking those wickets”.
“If I may say so sir, he felt ‘bloody knackered’”.
“Very good Peabody”.
In this cruel and fast changing world, it comforts me that Jack Hobbs, with 61,670, is still the leading run-maker in all forms of first class cricket, and still will be when I have fallen under the proverbial bus.
I progressed to memorising the lyrics of pop songs, reading atlases (starting with the index of course), dictionaries, and, in a rare creative period, The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thinkers, pages J-K (being a slow reader of text I couldn't manage the whole book; J-K is a rich vein actually: Joyce, Kafka, Kant, Kierkegaard, Paul Klee and many more I forget).
So now, decades later, on arriving at the coal face at 8am, sweaty from my bike ride in, and enjoying that first exquisite mug of coffee of the day, I can look on that support call from the student, confident in the knowledge that I have the intellectual capacity to deal with it. Just by looking at the email address of the enquirer, perhaps his or her student code, and the way he or she has signed off their email, I am able to pinpoint exactly which bit of the Postgraduate application system has defeated them and how I can make right their wrong.
To make things even more fun, I challenge myself to answer a support ticket without even reading it. Alas, the final stage of the perfect system whereby one will be able communicate the answer to the requestor by telepathy, has yet to be perfected, and the day when one can hold down a job in 'Computing Services' without actually having to see a computer is perhaps still some way off.
The team spends much of the day supporting and improving a myriad of systems. New ones are discovered every day.
Barely a day goes by when you do not have an intelligent conversation about something you do not understand. Thus you are always reminded of how little you know.
The rules around access to data seem to change on a daily basis. I am never quite certain whether I am in danger of being shot at dawn for exposing too much data via the web, or strung up at dusk because an academic cannot see the data that they believe they should. I find this keeps me on my toes. Keeps me focussed.
Sometimes we get time to develop stuff, which is where the real fun is.
50th Birthday at the Abbey
Regarding the procession itself, some weeks ago I received an outline of what we would be expected to do. One of the instructions related to the dress code:
"We would like the procession to have a fun, colourful feel. Please wear something that you think reflects your University life, e.g. Team Bath top, lab coat, department uniform etc."
I struggled with this. I am a middle aged, middle class man. I wear blue trousers, a blue shirt, and blue jacket. Other colours are possibly allowed if one is feeling frivolous, and paler colours are perhaps acceptable in summer. I wear brown shoes. I do not wear t-shirts adorned with witty slogans. Thus my default dress would not create a fun, colourful feel. As for a department uniform, I am not entirely sure what a Computing Services uniform would look like, but I am certain (let's face it) that it would not win any awards for sartorial elegance.
Part of me wants to rebel against the tyranny of having to be fun and colourful, but I also felt I was letting the side down. On Monday afternoon, struggling with these contrary feelings, I broke down. Just an hour before the rehearsal I purchased a pair of 'rust' coloured suede shoes from Clarks (£38 in the sale) in order to add some colour to my uniform. I have never before owned a pair of rust coloured shoes, and I am not sure whether I feel liberated or embarrassed.
To further dandify my default appearance, I wore a red silk scarf.
The dress rehearsal took place on Monday evening at 6pm. I met the person I would be processing alongside - Jack Kitchen, an undergraduate being honoured for his role in University radio. Like many of the students from the SU, he was wearing a purple jacket, along with a pair of natty pointed shoes. Most of the staff seemed to be wearing their normal day clothes, and I realised I had not needed to buy the rust coloured shoes after all, but by now it was too late to go back.
Whilst we waited for the rehearsal to begin, I chatted with Rob Whalley from the STV; we reminisced about how the place used to be and all the changes that have taken place.
Most of the rehearsal involved standing in a line in the abbey, listening to the University A Capella band (Aquapella) work through a repertoire of 1970s disco songs. This was not what I was expecting but was certainly entertaining. We then practised walking to our seats and sitting down; from our seats, we listened to the University choir rehearse their performance of 'Alleluia'. This was more high culture than I normally experience on a Monday evening.
On Tuesday morning we were instructed to be at the Guildhall by 9.45am, where we stood in a hot room for 75 minutes wondering exactly why we needed to be there so early. Perhaps we needed to practice standing up.
After loitering like ‘Billy no Mates’ by the coffee for some time, I chatted with Tim Woodman, one of the Vice Marshalls. The last time I saw Tim was on a cold and misty December day some years ago; Tim was writhing in agony on the astro turf pitch having just broken his knee during a friendly game of football. We were now able to spend several enjoyable minutes chatting about knee injuries.
I caught up with one of my colleagues from SREO - Helen Buick. Helen knows everything about modules and courses and programmes (lucky her) and is one of those people who do an amazing amount of important and unsung work.
I also spoke to senior Samis tester Merrilee Hurn. As Merrilee used to be personal tutor to more students than any other academic, I formulated a scientific law that I use in all testing:
"if it works for Merrilee Hurn it will work for anyone".
Alas, having just checked the data, I see that Merrilee is no longer the uber Personal Tutor, and I will have to re-write all my test plans.
I was also able to have a conversation with Jayne Bolland from the library, and was able to reminisce about a couple of years in the early 1990s when I worked in the Waterstones bookshop that was then housed at the front of the library.
About 10:55am, after a group photo, the Processing 50 were instructed to form our line. I noticed that Jack had added a tie to his uniform. Other members of the procession had also added some flourishes to the uniform they were wearing the previous evening, so there was the American Football player, the scientist in lab coat, and ‘The Stig’.
Now confident in our abilities to remain on two feet during the procession, and followed by the dignitaries including HRH the Earl of Wessex, we ventured out of the Guildhall and through the throngs of onlookers toward the Abbey. Outside the Abbey I enjoyed a few moments of the University folk band, noting some worthy beards.
We processed through the central aisle and took our positions in the choir stalls. The service was lovely; for an hour or so I was able to forget that I am merely a small cog in a large bureaucratic machine, and enjoy the performances of music, dance and poetry against the backdrop of a beautiful building. After the VC's discourse on Virgil, the ceremony ended with the Aquapella performing their rendition of 'Celebration' by Kool and the Gang.
In my head, I had pictured that in return for the task of walking a hundred yards or so, I might be offered a glass of fine wine, specially selected from the Vice Chancellor's personal cellar. Alas, after the service we were straight outside. There was time for Chris Shimmin-Vincent to take a photo of me in front of the 50th birthday sign, before it was on to one of the free buses and back up to work and the world of Samis.
Roger outside the Abbey with his new rust suede shoes
Later in the day, I went to the Claverton rooms to help with the Party on the Parade; my task was to oversee the showing of the film 'Goal!' and to monitor the board of birthday messages in the Foyer. It was very quiet by then and I wasn't called on to do anything. There were a handful of people in the Claverton rooms . I watched the DVD, which was very good, and celebrated the day with a glass of cheap Merlot (as in, the bottle would have been cheap, my glass was very expensive).
Sport at the University
For no reason other than I was asked to write anything at all, I am going to write a paragraph or two about sport at the University.
I have been fortunate to play a lot of sport during my time working here, and I have met many people through it. I have seen the gradual evolution of the University's sporting offering. I guess to its credit the University has managed to provide access to sport, whilst simultaneously building on many of the fields where sport used to be played. The days in the 1990s of just strolling onto the campus of a Sunday evening, for a game of tennis on the courts down near 2 South, are obviously just a memory.
Back in the day there was the old 'prison gym' in the Founders Hall, the badminton courts, the cricket nets, the 25m pool. They have all gone. I had a period of playing squash, against Rob Branston from Management (we were both equally bad so had close games), and Graham McNally , who always thrashed me. There was a year or two of badminton, with Andy Male, McNally (less good at badminton than squash), Catherine Jewell, Mark Edwards and Mark Bryant. I did a year or so of Paul Jordan's x-biking class in the STV.
The death of the 25m pool was a big blow, destroying the lunchtime routine I kept for several years, when I would cycle from 2 South to the 25m pool, have a quick swim in the worlds hottest pool, quick shower, then cycle back. Extra fun was to be had in avoiding paying the nominal 50p charge.
When the 25m pool closed, like many people I have had to learn how to swim 50m at one go without drowning. The 50m pool is an amazing facility to be able to use in your lunch hour. I started swimming in 2003 and have kept going since. Many a time a lunchtime swim has energised me enough to get through the afternoon. I have kept a spreadsheet that records the location, time and distance covered for every swim I have taken since 2003. Oft times I will wonder why it is that I can be so fanatical about ensuring my swimming spreadsheet is accurate, and yet I find something ostensibly more important, for example writing down instructions on how to download A level results, such a fearful bore.
Football at the University
I started playing football in the Staff/Postgraduate league soon after starting here in September 2001. I was invited by my then colleague, Jerry Ball, who sadly passed away in 2005, to turn out for 'his' side - Chem/Admin. They were a very good team and several glorious years followed. The picture below shows the team from around 2002. Myself, Mark Bryant, and Jonathan Cox are still at the University.
That side in full is:
- Back row - Pete A, Jerry , Phill, Mark,and Pete S.
- Front row – Jon, me, Mike, Jamie and Joe
When I started playing, there was a block booking on Tuesday and Friday, and on Thursday there was another session: 'Old Mans Football' (OMF). The league was run by Alf Hall of BUCS. Alf still turns up today for OMF.
Here is a photo from a Computing Services social game; in the photo are Alf, myself, Roger Jardine, and the ex head of BUCS, Rod Angood:
Pete Adams took over running the 7-a-side league from Alf; when Pete left for Bristol, he asked me to take over. This was in 2006. Before then, our football had been free. Now, we had to pay for our pitches, which required us to be more organised. The league moved to Friday lunchtime only. I thought I would do the admin for the league for a year or two, but 10 years later I am still doing it, mainly because the person running the league is allowed to play every now and then.
My own side, ACE, typically 'lose a few, draw a few', but in the last couple of years have picked up some decent players somehow, and we have won one or two games too. I am grateful to my team mates for allowing me to loiter up front whilst they run around.
I have met loads of people through playing football here, many of whom I would otherwise have never met, and I believe that the football league adds something to the life of the University. Over the years 100s of players must have played in the league. I have been playing for 15 years, but there are a few who have been playing for longer: Dave Higgins and Steve Chandler of ‘Old Centralstorians’ for example. Steve has been irritating everyone with his goal hanging for several decades and always scores when we play against him.
Cricket at the University
After a couple of years of working here I noticed that there was a Staff and PG cricket team. I put myself on a mailing list, but not having played for many years, I worried that I would not be good enough. In 2004 I had my first child and was too busy. In the winter of 2005 I emailed Rob Branston and asked whether I could come for a trial at the nets. He said 'yes of course'. Thus began my association with the Venturers cricket club. I went to nets regularly over the 2005/6 winter (remember this was back in the day when work didn’t always get in the way of more important activities) and hit a bit of form in the glorious hot summer of 2006, when I must have played 20+ games. I realised that everything I knew about cricket I had learnt by the age of about 13, when I was reasonably good at it, and I could pick up from when I last played regularly in my early twenties. I think this taught me that anything you learn when you are young will never leave you.
I have carried on playing for the Venturers, albeit much less in recent years, and never with the relative 'success' of the early years. In one game this summer, fielding in the outfield, I saw a ball loop harmlessly toward me. I was meant to catch the ball, but just could not move my hands over the ball in the required manner. I feared then that The Captain would politely ask me to field on the Third Man boundary. I am ever grateful to him for sparing me this humiliation.
When 'researching' for this blog piece, I read through some of the old Venturers match reports. Many of these have been written by Gregory Sankaran, and allowing for the flights of fancy when describing his own bowling, are mini works of literature. There are some marvellous passages in the reports. Gregory is one of those people who keep something going through their own enthusiasm and dedication. (Simon Shaw must also be mentioned for captaining the team for many years.) I enjoyed a pleasurable hour or so reading some of Gregory’s reports. Perhaps one day he will publish them.
Here is a typical paragraph (I remember this game from 2007 very well; it is one of my better ones):
Adam followed Chintan and he held one end up while Roger went about the business of winning the match, but was eventually bowled and Simon finished the innings with Roger (60 no) with only 9 balls to spare. Much credit was due to the fielders for sticking it out and for the umpires who were half drowned by the end. Despite another good bowling spell it is in this capacity that Lee also gets the final mention. At Hinton Charterhouse he sported a professional-looking white coat and Trilby which we agreed suited him well, while this time the choice attire was a velvet black jacket to contrast the white Trilby. This lent him the look of a 1930s gentleman of leisure and we agreed he cut quite a dashing figure. A sweepstake is now running on what he will have for us next game.
This is written about a game we played two days after the birth of my youngest son, Ned, in August 2006:
Roger, though, had showed up and been congratulated on the birth of his son. There was a delay a the start of the innings while the umpire mirrored events elsewhere by refusing to officiate until he had finished changing a nappy for his own son. When things go under way Roger made some celebratory runs before pulling one that didn't bounce and Duncan, Andy (who had proved to be rather a good wicketkeeper) and Kevin also all contributed. They didn't contribute enough to get us anywhere near the 240-odd that Kilmington had made, but enough to avoid utter disaster. Indeed with eight overs to go we were 150 for 8, which was where they had been when they had had eight overs to go. The difference was that by that time Duncan Rance and Steve were batting and they were not going to threaten the rugby posts. All they did was keep us out of the bar for a bit.