During my years working in education I heard more than my fair share of pathetic excuses for students being late or not turning up for lectures. Like the girl who texted in one morning half an hour after the session started to say “sorry I’m late, but I’m waiting for the dog to have a shit in the garden”. Or another who, only half-dressed and sweating like she’d just run the London marathon (either that or she’d been having shenanigans with her boyfriend for breakfast), burst into the room one day just before lunch and blurted breathlessly, “Sorry I’m late – I thought I was in already”.
Now, despite being innately scatty and hare-brained, the girl wasn’t totally thick, so I knew there would be an explanation, I just couldn’t imagine what that might be. Had she banged her head and suffered a temporary loss of memory? Had the girls in the café started serving magic mushrooms on toast for breakfast or inadvertently laced the muffins with some other hallucination inducing drug? (Let’s be honest, the usual fare in the Grumpy Mule is far from Haute cuisine, so anything would be an improvement). No, it was nothing so perplexing, the explanation she proffered so simple and uncomplicated it was hard to believe she actually made it up.
Her eyes fluttered with wide eyed innocence. “I was in bed asleep and dreaming I was in uni. Then I woke up and realised I wasn’t. I got in as soon as I could”.
Words defied me, so I dismissed the class and went to the pub for a stiff whiskey.
Then there was the guy who had a brain tumour.
It was one Friday afternoon just after 4.30pm (their next assignment was due in at 4.00pm) that he rang in with the devastating news. I could barely make out what he was saying, his faltering voice croaking like the Grim Reaper was tickling his testicles with his scythe (he should have been doing performing arts, not film production). “I know I’ve missed the deadline”, he mumbled scarcely audibly, “but I’ve only just got back from the hospital. I have a brain tumour”.
Clearly, anybody with a shred of compassion would have been shocked to hear such news and I was no different. “Sorry about that”, I said as I picked up my briefcase and slipped on my jacket. “Let me know when you’re better and we’ll talk about it”. And with that I put the phone down and trundled off for the weekend without thinking anything more about it….
Alright, alright, before you start, I know my reaction wasn’t particularly caring, sympathetic or in-line with the usual safeguarding concerns relating to education, but it was Friday afternoon and if I’m not in my local by 5.30pm on Friday afternoon, then the landlord’s likely to send the police out looking for me. Besides, it was bollocks. Made up. A figment of his over fertile imagination. And how did I know that? Because his latest news, if it was to be believed, was the culmination of his own Annus Horribilis. Nobody in history has ever had such a crap year.
Over the previous twelve months he and his family had been plagued with sickening bad luck, his sister had got herself pregnant by an alien (what he meant to say was somebody from out of town, from the next village, or something, but he was trying to sound poncey), his mother had been bitten by a mosquito and contracted malaria whilst on holiday in Blackpool (apparently, the doctor said this was extremely rare) and his grandfather had passed away, not once, but twice in the space of three months. And all these things happened just before he was due to hand in an assignment or on a day he hadn’t turned up for an important lecture. Every time. Without fail. His bad luck was unbelievable… literally.
When I arrived in on Monday morning his report was already sitting on the corner of my desk and he was sound asleep in the lecture room, so while I was drinking my first coffee of the day, I picked it up and flicked through it. The assignment was to write a critical review of the David Fincher film Fight Club. I started to read and… and I was flabbergasted. Not only was it punctuated, but it was emotively written and flowed beautifully. Here was a guy who had previously shown no understanding of the written word whatsoever, who once told me an apostrophe was some bloke who hung out with Jesus… and here he was writing prose worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Well, perhaps not that good, but not bad. My beating heart was gladdened… until I noticed something that threw me. Morgan Freeman? Kevin Spacey? They weren’t in Fight Club… but they were in Seven which was also directed by David Fincher. Then it hit me. The little shit had downloaded a review from the internet and passed it off as his own. Only he’d downloaded the wrong one… Seven instead of Fight Club.
“What the hell’s this?” I demanded to know as I whacked him around the head with the rolled up report waking him from his slumber.
He looked up at me through blurry eyes. “My assignment. I know it’s late, but…
“Its plagerised and… and it isn’t even Fight Club, it’s…”
“The wrong film”, he exclaimed as the penny dropped. He started to stammer. “I… I did two and…. I had extenuating circumstances”, he snapped angrily. “I had a brain tumour”.
“Oh yes, I forgot about that. How is it?”
He took a deep breath and bit his lip. “Better now”, he sighed. “They called from the hospital on Saturday morning to say they’d had a second look at the scan and they couldn’t find anything.”
“They couldn’t find a brain?”
He narrowed his eyes and glared at me. “Anything wrong with me”.
“Good, I’m glad to hear it”, I assured him thinking I was being supportive. “Get me a letter from the doctor to that effect and I’ll put your work through”.
He lowered his head and sat quietly, just long enough to collect his thoughts. “There might be a problem there”, he mumbled hesitantly. “The doctor flew out yesterday morning to deliver humanitarian aid in Africa and can’t be contacted. He won’t be back until the end of the year”.
It was about then that I gave up the will to live.