A rare work post

Dot writes: I don’t post much about my work. Ken posts about his, but his involves having deep and interesting thoughts, or at least shallow and interesting thoughts, whereas my daily routine goes like this:

a) leave house. Plan activities for day, which will involve reading an article on the train, finishing that pile of marking, teaching my classes, and then either spending some quality time with the book I’m reviewing or even (delicious thought) going to the manuscript department and ordering a manuscript for tomorrow.
b) feel travel-sick. Skim through a copy of the Metro (‘model Catriona McCloud (twenty) and randomly-chosen cute child Aoife O’Reilly (six) celebrate the launch of National Cake-Icing Week’) and then look out of the window.
c) get to work, check email. Answer email.
d) realise I have fifteen minutes before my classes and spend it photocopying.
e) teach. Have lunch.
f) look at marking. Sigh. Check email again. Mark one essay. Change decision about mark for essay.
g) mystery activities, all completely unavoidable. This week, mostly talking to printers, of which more anon. A couple of weeks ago, repeatedly finishing the marksheet for the Broad Curriculum course, only to discover I had to do half of it again.
h) teabreak, ostensibly to discuss marks with a colleague, in fact to talk about babies.
h) emerge from time-warp, run for train.
i) rinse and repeat.

We are supposed to be engaged in an exercise called Full Economic Costing (FEC – seriously) which will involve calculating the proportions of our time spent on teaching, administration and research, and submitting the data for uses as yet unknown but probably hostile. There is an elaborate protocol for calculating what counts as which precise activity. I’m not sure how to classify the time-warp part – perhaps an even split between teaching (early learning, theory of) and research (scientific, into distortion of space-time continuum by the powerful pull of tea). However, quite a lot of this last week must count towards that elusive activity, research, because it was spent in pursuit of a publication; though the insights I have gained have mostly been into Murphy’s law.

The School of English at TCD hosts an annual lecture in Anglo-Saxon studies by a distinguished visiting scholar. The series is known as the Kemble lectures, after the extraordinary 19th century scholar John Mitchell Kemble, who came to Dublin in 1857 to give a lecture and died here shortly afterwards (so, an auspicious precedent for our speakers). With two senior colleagues I’ve been involved in putting together a little volume of the previous lectures; they organised it, made the contacts, sorted out the money and wrote the introductory material, and I edited the actual texts. We are publishing it in-house but getting it printed by a local firm. It was supposed to be ready for this year’s lecture, the fifth of the series, which was yesterday. Sadly, this did not happen.

I think the printers didn’t appreciate how complicated a job it was going to be, while I didn’t appreciate how extremely explicit their instructions needed to be. When I’ve done editing before I’ve sent off the text in double-spaced A4 with the illustrations separately and some clever person behind the scenes has engaged to wave the magic wand that makes it look like a real book. This time, it only slowly became apparent that, since double-spaced A4 was what I’d sent, double-spaced A4 was what we would get, only shrunk to A5. Over the Easter weekend I reformatted all the files myself, page numbers, running headings, A5 layout, and all, and resubmitted the whole lot, with detailed instructions on how the images were to be presented since I didn’t have the computer skills to do clever things to them. There was then a pause. On Monday of this week the lady from the printers drove into college with proofs (remember, we were supposed to get the whole order on Wednesday) and told me to check them with a fine tooth-comb; they would start printing in the morning. Of course I found some typos I’d missed at all the earlier stages, but I also found that the captions had been left off the images, despite my detailed instructions, and that because the insertion of seven unnumbered pages of plates had disturbed the position of the numbered pages, all the running headings from that point on were in the inner margin on the left-hand page. This was my fault, I guess – I should have remembered that I needed to include the plates when I put in my page numbers – but at the same time it seemed odd the printers had not noticed. I rang back with the changes. The printer-lady was discouraged. ‘It’s such a lot,’ she said, plaintively. Well, maybe she should have suggested a coarse tooth-comb. I divided the changes into the ones we absolutely could not do without and the ones that could be ignored in order to make the Wednesday deadline.

The next day we were part-way through a long and controversial School meeting (FEC again) when my phone went, and as I hastily turned it off I realised the call was from printer-lady. Oh dear. I left the meeting but I couldn’t get through to her office number, and an e-mail she mentioned in a voicemail message wasn’t in my inbox. Shortly afterwards printer-lady appeared in college bearing another set of proofs. I checked through, and all the changes had been made (the running heading problem has been fixed by dropping in a blank page in a slightly odd place so that the numbering is non-consecutive, but never mind), the minor ones as well as the major ones. It looked lovely, I must say. Unfortunately, there was now no way they could make the deadline; we had wanted so many changes, you see. Could we not at least have a few copies to sell at the lecture? Printer-lady would tell the man to start printing immediately and they’d see what they could do.

So Wednesday afternoon saw a retired professor, former vice-chancellor and immensely eminent medievalist driving out to the printers’ place in the hope of carrying back some copies of our little book. And having to come back without them, because though they’d been able to print us about half our order they hadn’t been able to bind them. I got another call today and we should have our books on Tuesday.

Right up to the last minute, right up to about 3pm yesterday, I thought we’d make that deadline. It had become something of an obsession for me and I was getting rather wild-eyed about it. As it is, I’ve taken a couple of pre-orders, though sadly few, and I’ll advertise it through TOEBI and ISAS and FRMSI (if they don’t mind). Twelve euros including postage, if you’d like one. Every contributor a professor and nice pictures to boot. Would make a lovely stocking filler.

I plan to send the printer-lady chocolates anyway, because though she did have us tearing our hair out I think she genuinely did her best for us when she realised what we were asking, and she must have spent half the week driving up and down to Trinity and sweet-talking her way past the security guards without a parking permit.

Anyway, this is what I mean when I say I’ve been doing research.

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One thought on “A rare work post

  1. Poor thing! Sounds horrendous. Let me know when you want something posted on the FMRSI about the book. Sounds good and fun.
    I’m going to be posting about the FEC, let alone ARS, DRNC, and GRLS (but on metametamedieval) – by the way – will put up own completed form, heheh…

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