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Disorderly conduct

‘When will we wise up and realise that we are being slowly boiled alive by the 21st-century-lite version of a good-old 20th-century-style totalitarian state?’


I would love to be enjoying a serene old age.

Instead, I am becoming increasingly fractious and irascible.

I even took the problem to a doctor this week. Notice I said ‘a doctor’, ‘the doctor’ no longer exists: the direct article implies that this is an expert you consult regularly, who knows you. I had never seen this man before and may never again. He is just ‘a doctor’ among several. The one I saw once before is no longer there at the surgery. That’s something else I have become irascible about. The increasing depersonalisation of our social services.

Anyway, I had begun to think I might have Type-2 Diabetes. I don’t know why, it is this year’s fashionable metabolic disorder. Being irascible is one of the symptoms, I read. I got the impression that ‘a doctor’ rather disapproves of patients even knowing technical terms like ‘metabolic disorder’. He seemed impatient to get me out of his office, and did not ask any pertinent questions about when and where I become irascible, or examine my tongue. He merely wrote out a chit for some blood tests.

‘A doctor’ has no idea who I am, not that I am anyone special. He seemed quite irascible too, although it was before 9 a.m. so maybe he was still digesting his breakfast. Maybe we both have a metabolic disorder? It probably did not help that my appointment was for Tuesday, and I turned up on Monday. Mental confusion is another symptom of Type-2 Diabetes.

Later on Monday, after finding my way home I had an email from the college, that tipped my irascibility over the edge and brought out my inner Hulk.

I am due to start work next week, invigilating exams. It is the only regular employment I have. Twice a year, for the past six years, I have spent a couple of weeks earning a small amount of money, pin-money as they say, invigilating undergraduate exams. I get to observe and moan about how illiterate, undereducated and confused university students are today (I never got to university myself). A small amount of precise but not very taxing admin work is involved, and a great deal of sitting or walking about doing absolutely nothing for up to three hours at a time, other than responding to students’ requests to borrow a ruler, or go to the toilet.

You develop coping strategies for the boredom, the desire for sleep, the fear that Time itself could be subject to the law of entropy. It’s stimulating, saying no to students who want to go to the toilet. I’m almost 65, I have a regular bladder problem – also maybe a symptom of Type-2 Diabetes. Even I can get through a three-hour exam without needing to go to the toilet.

It’s fun, grimping and miring when students who have brought along only one ballpoint pen that doesn’t write, ask if you can possibly lend them a pen. And you get paid by the minute, which in my case isn’t quite a record as I used to be paid for doing 60-seconds’ advertising voiceovers, the shortest contracts I have had (offering little opportunity to get fired!). Where a 60-seconds’ voiceover used to earn me £150, today 60 seconds’ worth of sheer numbing boredom gets me 15 pence. That’s the price of progress.

So it’s not a real job, I do it for other reasons.

It’s like volunteering, socially useful. The lecturers used to have to do it, now a ragbag team of volunteers does it for them, freeing-up what remains of their time after they have done their one hour of contact with the fee-paying students each week. And it helps break the social isolation. I live alone, get no holidays or breaks from routine, have no place of work, no partner, no close friends and nowhere much to go and meet people, except on my walks with Hunzi or at choir once a week. And I get pretty irascible with dogwalkers who won’t let their dogs play with Hunzi, and with altos who can’t hold a simple harmonic progression in their fuzzy heads. Invigilating has a Zen-like quality, serene and rather beautiful. Also, like daffodils, I rejoice to see the pretty girls in Spring.

Now, out of the blue, a new system has been introduced, which nobody consulted with or told us about. Now we have to go through the same formal application procedure as the staff, with many forms to fill out, proofs of identity, proofs of nationality, proofs of right to work in the EU, bank records, equal opportunities monitoring, prison records, racial typing, religious affiliations, damning admissions that no, one does not speak Welsh, sadly, and the whole, deathly paraphernalia of the intrusive nanny-Stasi state. All just to put in some self-effacing voluntary work for two weeks, twice a year, that I’ve been doing happily for years already, without attracting the notice of the Goon Squad.

And we might have to go through this nonsense every time! The University personnel department is notorious for not keeping records. Every exam period now could start at Year Zero.

When will we wise-up and realise that we are being slowly boiled alive by the 21st-century-lite, consumerist version of a good-old 20th-century-style totalitarian state?

I replied in furiously indignant terms. Apparently it made the poor girl cry, who had been forced to sign the email. Her boss replied, furiously indignant at my furious indignation. We seemed to be approaching some kind of precipice. I wrote back and conciliated.

I said, I am not a person who cares for bureaucracy, I prefer to live below the radar and not draw attention to myself in official circles. I am vanishingly self-effacing. I merely seek a serene old age. My interest in invigilating (I didn’t mention the daffodils) was almost entirely driven by altruism and social responsibility. I had not applied for a formal post and did not expect to. I did not think I could even find all the information demanded, but I had given it to them several times before and could not see why I had to do so again in triplicate. I was sorry if my email had made the poor girl cry.

(Actually, my irascibility flares up any time there is a suggestion that I am not who I say I am: I have bogled before on matters of identity. I happen to believe that anyone in the world should be able to go anywhere, live and work anywhere and do whatever they like as long as it doesn’t harm anyone or frighten the horses. National borders are a curse and an affliction on Humanity.)

And the admin boss wrote back nicely, and blamed the Border Police (first cousins to the Gestatspolizei) for making everyone’s life a misery, and kindly offered that if I came in, she would lend me a quiet corner and any help I needed to fill out the forms. Meanwhile, my exam-room boss emailed me to tell me soothingly that he’d had to go through the same tiresome protocols and he’s a tenured professor!

Now I feel bad, and guilty.

And then on Tuesday I had a flaming dingdong with Amazing.uk, that led to me firing-off an irascible email to their US supplier.

In my defence, I had pre-ordered the advertised item almost two years ago, only to be told it did not yet exist and I could cancel my order if I wanted to. They’ve been sending me the same message every three months since. Now I have become elderly and irascible and don’t really want the item, it has become a matter of principle that it should get here pronto.  Accusing the supplier of fraud and incompetence probably wouldn’t have helped matters.

Anyway, the item (which I had been incorrectly told was out-of-stock as soon as it was announced last week that it had finally become available) arrived in the post yesterday, and fulfilled all my prior expectations, so now I feel doubly bad and guilty. Feelings of badness and guilt, I read, can be symptoms of Type-2 Diabetes. And now they are attached to the item itself. I am looking at it guiltily, feeling I no longer have much use for it. I’m such a bad person.

I can hardly wait for those test results to come back positive, otherwise I have a real personality problem.



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