In one of the first lectures I ever gave, I realised that I was actually cupping my left breast as I talked. Horrified, I had to nonchalantly put my hand down and act like someone who always fondles her breasts in public.
To be fair, I was explaining to 2nd year undergraduates how a breast cancer biopsy could be performed using a head-mounted display, augmented reality, baby, and since I was still new to lecturing and had an out-of-body experience every time I stood up in front of anyone, I could have been doing anything and not noticed. It was only when I got distracted by a couple of lads in the front row tittering away, as it were, that I realised what I was doing, and tried not to become consumed by my self-consciousness, I just had to press on and get to the end of that lecture.
I couldn’t even get irritated with them because as an undergraduate, me and a mate used to do impressions of one of our lecturers who would hold onto his pecs when considering the complexities of the formal languages: OBJ and Z. We would howl with laughter. Little did I know, that lo and behold, I would be there a few years later doing exactly the same thing.
Soon after Boobgate, I had a professor sit in one of my lectures to assess me as part of the teaching and learning course I was doing. He was astonished at the attendance I had. He had lectured the same group of students earlier in the term and was amazed that they were all still coming to mine. I didn’t like to say that they probably turned up to see what I would get up to next.
In the previous lecture, I had stepped backwards and cried out: Arrrgh, arrgh, arrgh, as I waved my arms around. For some reason, I fully expected to go crashing down off the stage. However, when I didn’t fall, I stopped flailing and turned to see what had happened. There was at least another foot of stage behind me. I smoothed my dress down and pressed on regardless as if to say: Well who doesn’t do a quick impression of someone falling off the stage before moving onto their next slide?
The professor gave me some really helpful feedback afterwards and asked during the lecture if I meant Gameboy when I said Playboy. I was explaining how to turn a Gameboy into an amateur head-mounted display. Gah, I do have a tendency when under stress, and particularly when trying to impress, to say the wrong word, especially if it’s a word I don’t use very often.
One time, I was at an alumni event in the House of Lords and was talking about traffic calming. Everyone was speechless until a lovely man stepped forward and said in his beautiful RP, I think the word you are looking for is boll-ard.
I’d been talking about road bollocks for at least 10 minutes.
I never set out to become a lecturer in computing. In fact I hadn’t set out to become anything, least of all in computing. Originally, I just wanted to go to university.
I came up with the idea to study English Literature after watching Educating Rita, (1983) but I didn’t get the grades I needed (three ‘A’s) and I didn’t have the money to get my ‘A’ Level History remarked, which everyone else did and is one of my few regrets, since everyone went up at least one grade. Nor, did I want to resit, I had been there, done that. I was keen to get on with my life but decided that I wanted to do something different as I was beginning to question how useful French, History and English Literature were. They couldn’t even get me on a course and I have a ‘B’ in English Literature. So, taking some random advice about applying to courses which had loads of space in the clearing list, I ended up on a computing degree at Liverpool Polytechnic.
My dad (who had left school at 16, my mum, 14) asked me the night before I was due to leave: Are you not worried about starting a degree in something you know nothing about? Me, with the breathtaking dazzling confidence of my 18 year-old self, said, Course not, how hard could it be? At which point, everyone reminded me of all the times I had said that when I hadn’t prepared for something and gone out and failed.
I spent my first night in temporary accommodation at the real university in a block which overlooked the street and indeed road sign of Strawberry Fields, which was painted on the wall, so it couldn’t get nicked. I think I must have gone down to dinner, I don’t really remember but I got talking to a load of part-time masters students somehow who were staying in the same halls and took me off to the pub. They were on a study-week as they were all fully grown up and working and so took the opportunity to give me lots of advice and beer whilst they reminisced about their time as students.
The next day, excited and fuzzy headed, I went off to the accommodation office, I thought they would give me keys instead they gave me a list of landlords and told me to get some 10p pieces. Charming.
It took a couple of days but I found a place and a friend. She was one cool chick with whom I kept crossing paths, so when she was in the phone box ahead of me, it felt like a sign. I waited for her to come out and introduced myself. We teamed up, found a place together, and became firm friends as we began our new lives.
Sometimes, I dream that I am back in Liverpool. I am always looking for a place to stay or searching for a friend. I welcome this recurring dream now, because it is a shift in my consciousness which signals to my heart that I will wake up to something new.
On that first morning it was to wonder why some Japanese tourists were taking pictures of a wall, but I took it to mean that there’s magic in the most unlikeliest of places and people, and proceeded through my day with that intention.
Sometimes I feel naive and silly to think the way I do. I feel like I’ve just been caught accidentally holding my breast in public and I will get distracted and won’t finish what I’ve started, but when I worry that I might fail I remember 18-year-old me shrugging and saying: Course not, how hard can it be?
And with a breathtaking dazzling confidence that I still dream about, I ask myself: Indeed, how hard can it be?
[ part 2 ]