Start of Year Shenanigans

Having returned from a few days of holiday, I am feeling frivolous. So here is a sketch representing the

Start of the Academic Year at the Department of Paintballing

The main characters in this sketch are described in a previous post in which the Department of Paintballing was introduced, with further information about its place in the University given here

The start of year staff meeting in the Department of Paintballing was a lively occasion this year. Everyone seemed to have come back from their various summer activities full of enthusiasm for a diverse range of new initiatives, and all were brimming over with their ideas ready to speak loudly over the top of everyone else. It was a cacophonous meeting, chaired with his usual aplomb by Professor Passive-Aggressive.

First to enter the fray was Dr Ogle (a relative newcomer whose youth showed), who had spent most of the summer, it would seem, lazing on the beach studying beachball games. He was full of ideas about how the standard way of paintballing, now revealed as very dangerous for young women with breast implants, could be modified so that those  same young women could scamper around in scanty clothing merely tossing brightly coloured beachballs at each other. ‘So much safer for the fairer sex’ said Dr Ogle, with something of a snigger. The chair merely raised an eyebrow at this and waited quietly for one of the women in the room to react.

Sure enough Dr Longwinded (Dr Philibuster hadn’t returned from the vacation yet, so she was standing in)  jumped into the breach with an irate diatribe about equality, respect and the importance of preserving the purity of paintballing, not dumbing it down with beachballs.  At the same time she demonstrated her awareness of the tabloid press, by pointing out the owners of the site had said in future anyone with gel implants would be provided with extra padding to prevent a similar accident happening in the future. (During all this, Dr Jobsworth was getting more and more agitated about the health and safety implications for the department, but did not manage to get a word in edgeways; she saved the memory up for a later date when she could introduce the idea of high speed impacts on gels with maximum effect to derail someone or other’s pet project.) While Dr Longwinded had airspace she decided to introduce her own ideas after her weeks in the Highlands communing with nature in a very wet and ill-protected tent which kept blowing over. The force of the wind had struck her, well, forcefully and made her realise that what the department needed was a large wind tunnel to explore the impact of adverse weather conditions on paintballing accuracy.

At this, Dr NIMBY could control himself no longer.


he yelled,

We do NOT need a wind tunnel. I know what will happen. I will be expected to give up my own large laboratory space to make way for this totally unnecessary piece of equipment. It will destroy my project on paint formulations, which need fume cupboards.

(Dr Jobsworth stirred uneasily again, as the word fume cupboards always reminded her of a particularly nasty accident with mercaptan which had rapidly spread a foul stench not only around their own department but into the neighbouring department of Strategies and Policies in Computer Wargame Development. She had never really understood why anyone had authorised its use in the first place, and was quite convinced she should have been kept informed with one of the requisite triplicate forms being filed in her very own filing cabinet.)  Dr NIMBY turned to Professor Passive Aggressive, looking for support.

I have a new student funded by Akzo Nobel starting next month, which has the potential to have major impact, pushing up their sales in paints for paintball operators significantly…..

There was a collective, heartfelt groan at the word impact, a wheezing and shivering as people remembered the dreaded REF, something most of them had managed to bury throughout the summer months but which suddenly rose spectre-like in front of them. They all knew that they would be being asked to start sketching case studies soon, that they had been advised to give the matter careful thought over the break from teaching, and not a soul had heeded that advice. Dr NIMBY was stopped in mid-flow, the groan momentarily causing him to lose momentum in his screeches.

For once, this gave Dr Mouse a chance to speak up. This was a very rare occurrence, so rare indeed that everyone just stopped and stared.

I think what we need to do is create a version of paintball suitable for the over 70’s,

she stammered in her barely audible voice.

That generation can’t go rushing around in the woods, their arthritis or hearts won’t let them, we need to create a new, gentle form that allows them to exercise both mind and bodies in a fashion suitable to their venerable years. We all know how much Baroness Greenfield would approve of such brain-training…

She got no further. Professor Passive Aggressive had swiftly switched into his utterly irate mode at the mention of the Baroness’s name. It had been bad enough when Akzo Nobel had been mentioned (well, to be fair, any industrial sponsorship was inclined to get under his skin, as he had never managed to bring in a penny from such sponsorship in all his years in the department), but Susan Greenfield’s name was like a red rag to a bull ever since he had once been overheard by a local journalist sounding off about her leather skirts and been publicly pilloried as a result. There was a loud explosion of wrath as he got into his stride

That woman hasn’t a clue about paintballing. Why bring her name into it? It is an absolute disgrace that you should think about such a thing. We are a purist department who value what we do…’ He stopped suddenly, to everyone’s amazement.

The rest of the group turned to see what/who it was that had done the unthinkable and shut Professor Passive Aggressive up in mid-rant. Of course, only one person who could do that – the Chair of the Faculty of War Games had entered the room.

I see it’s business as usual here,

she said.

I’m sorry to see you aren’t properly focussed on the most important topic of the moment. Which Unit of Assessment do you want to be entered in for the REF? I’ve heard rumours that you’re not content simply to be entered into Sport and Exercise Science, but some of you think you belong in General Engineering – not even the same panel. Huh!

And with that, and a withering look at the subsiding Professor Passive Aggressive, she left the room again. There was an embarrassed silence before Professor Passive Aggressive, with what dignity he could muster said

Shall we return to the agenda?

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One Response to Start of Year Shenanigans

  1. Austin says:

    Nicely done, Athene. Reminds me why I don’t go to a lot of staff meetings these days! Though a lot of ours were rechristened ‘Town Meetings’ a few years ago, presumably to make us sound more American.

    And… looking on the bright side, at least your scenario isn’t like the hilarious (if terrifying) video that I featured in this old post.

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