Camp-us coffee al fresco

Camp-us coffee al fresco

It had been a trying few days for Ruth, a newly arrived lecturer at Greystone.  She felt disconnected, almost cut off, despite having received a thorough induction from the administrators in the local support office and a five page checklist of departmental directives which seemed to cover every conceivable aspect of campus life.  And that was only a part of it.  After a campus orientation tour and yet more briefings on this, that and the other, Ruth was finally issued with a gleaming campus card.  Now a fully signed-up member of the university, she had access to the hallowed ground that was the staff car park, just as long as she made it to work by nine every morning – before all the spaces had gone.  Reeling after this most thorough initiation, Ruth still felt somehow lonely.  She was dying to meet her teaching colleagues and wanted to get on with the teaching.  She was also by now quite frankly desperate for a conversation about something more stimulating than first aid kits and fire drills.

The design of the arts building where Ruth had her office seemed to make things worse.  When she first saw the rows of closed heavy oak doors along both sides of the narrow and dingy breeze block corridor, it crossed her mind that the place could easily be mistaken for a monastery, or a prison. She even asked herself,

‘Who occupies these cells, saints or sinners?’

For Ruth it felt like a more like prison.  Confined to her cramped office behind one of those doors with barely enough room for a single desk, she found herself wondering where everyone was and how she could meet them.

Just that morning as Ruth was unlocking her office she heard a door open at the other end of the corridor.  She turned quickly, ready to give a smile and at least wave good morning but to her disappointment, no one materialised and the door closed almost instantly.

Not to worry, she thought. This morning’s meeting will change all that. Ruth had received an invitation by email from her new academic director, Jonathon to a ‘scheduled conversation’ about the course she would be teaching.  After locating his door, she knocked gingerly and heard a gentle voice,

‘Do enter’.

On the other side Ruth found Jonathon sitting in a comfortable room with a desk, a meeting table with four chairs and a large window which overlooked the walkway, a long concrete pathway which zigzagged through the centre of the campus.

Across the room Jonathon was smiling.

‘Hi Ruth, welcome to Greystone.  Glad you managed to locate my room.  I know it isn’t easy for the uninitiated.   I hope you’re settling in OK.’

Thinking but not dare saying, ‘I’d hardly describe myself as that’, Ruth enthusiastically greeted Jonathon and blurted out how she keen she was to meet the team.

‘It will be nice to finally meet everyone,’ she repeated.

‘Ah yes’, he replied, and looking at this watch he added, ‘but it’s not quite time… coffee?’

Reaching up to a compact coffee maker tucked neatly on top of his filing cabinet, Jonathon asked,

‘What will it be, Cappuccino, Latte or Americano?’

Ruth imagined she might be in Costa, a brand seen on almost every campus.  Not wanting to give the impression that having a barista for a boss was anything out of ordinary, she opted for her usual – an Americano.  Jonathon happily obliged and poured it into a paper cup.

‘You’ll need a lid when we go out.’ He said. ‘I have some here.’

‘Go where?’

‘Onto the walkway… to meet the team. We’ve just a minute and then we’d better go down.’

‘On the walkway? I thought we might be meeting them in the staff room. You know, at coffee time.’

‘Oh we don’t have a staff room any more. And coffee time was stopped last year as part of the ‘Use or Lose’ Campaign.  The school office did an audit.  Something about the number of ideas for successful research grant applications and stuff like that, and then declared we didn’t need coffee time.  In my opinion, use or lose doesn’t come into it.  We were using it.  I don’t think they realised just how much business is done over coffee.  So we’ve had to find an alternative way to meet.’

‘What happens now then?’ asked Ruth.

‘We make our own coffee and meet on the walkway between 10 and 10.30 every day.  It’s a bit random as you can often get what feels like the whole university wandering up and down.  It gets really crowded out there. They must’ve shut down coffee time in all the schools.  At least when we had it in 0.23 you knew who you’d be seeing.’ He paused. ‘Didn’t they cover this in your induction?’

‘I thought they covered pretty much everything. Seems not.’

Jonathon handed her a lid.

A moment later, he led Ruth down to the walkway.  She wondered what exactly was going to happen. They stood in the walkway at the school entrance and waited.  At first, there was hardly anyone around. Gradually people began to emerge from the various school entrances. Most were holding coffee cups, along with notebooks and iPads.  Some were holding up sheets of paper with names written on them as if they were meeting someone at an airport.

After three for four minutes, people were milling around along the whole length of the walkway, in eager conversation.  It gave Ruth the impression of exercise time in a prison yard.

With a shout of ‘Follow me!’ Jonathon started moving towards the top end of the walkway.

So, thought Ruth, this is how we meet the team.

 Do you still commune for ‘coffee time’ at your university?

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