Saturday, 20 March 2010

Living the nightmare

To misquote the late, great Marvin Gaye: how many eyes have seen their nightmare? Well now mine have, and I can tell you that it wasn't a pretty sight.

I have had this nightmare more times than I care to remember. This is how it starts: I am about to give a lecture. I stand up in front of a packed lecture theatre. And then it all starts to unravel...

Last week the nightmare came true: 120 undergraduates sit in serried ranks above me. Eyes fixed, expectant. I open my powerpoint presentation...

Oh. Holy. Jesus. Instead of 25 images by women artists 1870-1900, each slide contained nothing but a cryptic message: a ransom note for my kidnapped pictures. The price for their safe return? 'A decompressor is required to view this image'.

Gah! But I don't speak computer! A decompressor? Is that even a thing?

Now I am faced with a dilemma: attempt to maintain the flimsy veil of infallibility? Or reveal my abject incompetence and focus on damage limitation? What would Shami Chakrabarti do?*

After a couple of hours minutes of paralysed indecision, I decide that honesty is the best policy and blow my cover by putting the ransom-slides up on the enormous screen for all to see. I have no idea what I am going to do and believe me when I say that second-year undergrads are not always the most forgiving of audiences.

But here's the weird bit: all this time my brain is going, 'Why am I not panicking? I should be panicking. This is an extremely panic-inducing situation. But I'm not panicking! Why?'

Why? Well because actually, it really wasn't that bad and no one had died, I suppose. I told the students to talk amongst themselves, jumped on Google Images and managed to find not all but most of the images I needed - or at least something close enough - and started 13 minutes late.

That's it. Fin.  

I know: quel anticlimax?

And the moral of this story? Maybe that the nightmare scenario isn't necessarily that bad after all. And also: maybe I should stop letting the fear of the nightmare scenario stop me doing all that stuff that seems impossible, but in reality is no biggie. At ALL.

So come on people - get out there and live your nightmares!

The actress Ellen Terry photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron - one of the images I DID manage to find in time. She took this in 1864. Astonishing.

*Shami Chakrabarti is my definition of the clever, confident, principled modern woman. Am I right, Mrs H?


  1. Shouldn't Shami Chakrabarti have become the new Chancellor of the UoS? I saw her receive an honorary Doctorate a while ago at one of our graduation ceremonies. Can you imagine her whipping the current senior management team into shape? A x

  2. Yes, Shami for President!

    It's funny, when they were asking for nominations for honorary degrees that year I wanted to nominate her, but never got round to it, and then she got one! Maybe I have undiscovered secret powers...

  3. I dont dispute it at all but why is that photo astonishing to you? And also how many crumpets is it reasonable to eat in one sitting?

  4. Okay, think of most of the examples of VERY early photography: unsmiling portraits of people with broom handles up the back of their corsets (or worse). The lovely Ellen is all natural and dreamy - she has bare shoulders for goodness sake.

    Re. crumpets: 4. 5 TOPS. How many have you had?

  5. p.s. That is four = acceptable, 5 is pushing it, not 4 and a half, obvs. That would just be silly. And a waste of half a good crumpet...