Self-opinionated, arrogant, racist, sexist, homophobic, rude and ill-mannered. Discourteous, disparaging, disrespectful and derogatory. Humiliating, hurtful, loathsome and downright offensive. Surely, I can’t be all those things. Can I?
Well, according to one of my ex-students at least, I can and much, much worse… she said as much in an eight-page complaint about me submitted to the university. The one accompanied by an audio recording of one of my lectures as evidence against me. Just where she hid the microphone to make that recording, I don’t know. Never one to cover up her… I’ll leave it there for fear of sexist accusation, suffice only to say she must have hidden the microphone in her knickers which would account for the slight whimper and occasional unaccustomed smile crossing her face.
To be fair, I should have read the warning signs when the young woman… well, I say young, she wasn’t that young, somewhere in her 40’s from what I recall… first came for an interview to join the course. She told me she was a published writer, ferreted out a collection of shoddy, cheap, self-published magazines from the bottom of the dusty hammock she called a shoulder bag and handed them to me. I took them and, as I flicking through the pages, I could tell instantly she was no E. L. James. Rather than of stories of sex and debauchery, there were articles with such beguiling titles as “Why All Men Should Be Castrated” and “How to Murder Your Husband and Get Away with It” interspersed between outlandish conspiracy theories and articles on alien abduction that purported to prove the existence of extra-terrestrials (little green men to you and me). Fortunately, as she freely admitted, circulation of this mindless crap was limited to a handful of nutters, inmates of a nearby lunatic asylum and, more worryingly, their warders, so no real harm was done.
Why then, you might ask, did I take her on? The answer? Because what is missing from her list of my character traits is my patience, tolerance, social conscience and kindness of heart. In other words, I felt sorry for her. Her general demeanour, her sadness, the downtrodden look in her eye and… no, that’s bullshit. The truth is, we were desperate for numbers and I figured that if things didn’t work out I could always find a good reason to kick her off at the end of the first semester.
So, where my plan go wrong? What was the reason behind her vitriol and the venomous assertion that I was the vilest man ever to walk the earth? Was it because I told after she handed in her first essay to try Klingon next time rather than the incomprehensible gibberish she attempted to pass off as English, or because I told her ET wasn’t real making her cry? The answer, in fact, was much simpler and far more sinister.
The students had been tasked with creating a Photoshop poster for a forthcoming film festival to be organised by them and when she handed in her work I picked it up, stared at it, frowned, turned it around, screwed up my eyes, turned up my nose, turned it over, upside down and… promptly put it aside to deal with later. Which I did, but at the moderation meeting a couple of weeks later (in the interest of fairness the university hold meetings to independently verify marks before giving them to students) the adjudicator solemnly slid my assessment of her work across the table towards me and said with a hint of accusation. “You might want to take another look at that. It’s clearly factually accurate but the student might find the last comment a little offensive”. I looked at it. It read “call me a Philistine but I have stared at this piece of work for almost an hour now and still don’t have the vaguest idea what the hell it’s supposed to be. Even now I am not entirely sure whether it was created in Photoshop or with Etch-A-Sketch”. And then the offending bit. “An utter and complete load of mindless, meaningless b******s”. Seemed fair to me, but for the sake of peace I went back to my office and changed it before handing it to her.
Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and… before I had the chance to shout “piss off”, she barged in and flung the assessment in my face along with the poster.
“What the hell’s this?” she demanded to be told.
“How the hell should I know?” I snapped honesty “I’ve been asking myself the same question ever since you handed in the crap”.
“But it’s obvious”, she said grabbing the poster, slamming it on the desk and pointing a witchy finger at a barely distinguishable Star of David in the middle of the page, “that’s the performers on stage. And these…” she crooked her finger at four alien hieroglyphics scribbled in the bottom left-hand corner “they’re the audience watching them”.
Really? Was she kidding me? Was she taking the piss? No, she was deadly serious. “And what the hell are these things supposed to be?” I asked gesturing towards two more hieroglyphics in the opposite corner of the page. “The festival and production company logos” she replied condescendingly like it was perfectly obvious and I was a complete moron.
“You changed the corporate logos?”
“It’s called artistic interpretation”
“It’s not corporate then though, is it?”
Just then a colleague came in and, still seeking clarification it wasn’t just me being an arse, I held up the poster. “What do you think of this?” I asked.
“Complete load of b******s” he replied picking up a stapler and going out again.
I looked at the student and smiled. She shrugged, appeared visibly deflated and sighed miserably. “You’re not going to change it, then? My mark.”
“You can’t get less than f**k all!” I assured her.
“Not even a bare pass?”
“A blank sheet of white paper in the middle of which is a Star of David that looks like it’s the result of you leaving it on the floor and the cat using it as a scratching post, two meaningless hieroglyphics in one corner and four splodges in the other where a fly crapped in an inkwell before wiping its arse on the page? What do you think?” And with that, she left.
And that was the end of it… until I received the email detailing her complaint and discovered the adjudicator was right, it was the final comment of my assessment that caused her so much distress. But… but hold on, I’d changed that after the meeting… hadn’t I? I checked and yes, yes I was right. I had changed it, it was there in black and white for all to see, just two simple words “total shite!” What was wrong with that?
Addendum: After a lengthy investigation by the university I was absolved of any guilt in the matter, advised not to speak to the woman under any circumstance and, should I see her entering the premises, I was to advise security and have her ejected immediately. Turns out she was a serial dosser and I was the last in a long line of lecturers she’d made unfounded accusations against…
And all the time you thought it was me. As if!