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?

5 comments:

  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

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  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...

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  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?

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  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?

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  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...

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