I spent the majority of the last week with the Luddites. Not physically, you understand – if there are any Luddites around here, it’s probably me, what with my aversion to embracing technology (particularly the iron and the Hoover, my husband will be chipping in). But in my head, I’ve lived amongst the early nineteenth-century frame-breakers of the Midlands, turning their tale into a story for a summative assignment for Uni. My final summative assignment, as it happens. “I shall miss this,” I thought, as I threw the packet of text into the basket in the foyer, to a cheery “well done!” from the assistant behind the desk. I assume she was congratulating me on making it in before the deadline, rather than on writing the assignment itself or, indeed, on getting to the end of the two-year MA course without being laughed out of the building. But as it happens, the sense of achievement felt pretty much like all three.
Meeting assignment deadlines has been problematical for me and despite not being a party animal, or enjoying life on the edge, or any of the other reasons the young students at our University take assignment writing right up to the wire, it hasn’t been unusual for me to make the seven minute journey cursing every traffic-light change or OAP driver in my way, screech illegally into a reserved parking space in front of the English Department, barge through the surprisingly large crowd of people doing exactly the same thing and throw my coursework into the correct basket, with only minutes to spare to the 12.30 pm deadline.
Witnessing the last-minute-handing-in session (as opposed to posting your work into the box in the office, several days earlier) is an interesting experience in itself, I can tell you; even at 12.28 there are students desperately trying to finish their work or print it out or find cover forms and packets to put it in. But you’d think that witnessing it once for posterity’s sake would be enough: my continued insistence on deadline-pushing is simply taking the mick.
Part of my problem has been starting off the work in the first place; I put it off and put it off, doing almost anything else – including ironing – rather than begin. “Just write something – anything – to get going, and you’ll find that what you need will come,” one of our tutors told us.
And it’s true, once the rusty machine of creativity is cranked into motion, it often takes on an impetus of its own and starts to churn out a decent product, even if the first few yards of material are sub-standard and go in the bin (or rather into the ‘seconds’ pile for later use. Writers rarely throw away anything they’ve written, even shopping lists, as the surfaces in my dining room bear witness).
For this assignment, however, it was having too much choice over what to write which stumped me. Having started down one route some months back, two recent archival finds offered me a different story, from a completely different – and frankly much more interesting – perspective.
And for a couple of nights I wrestled with it, re-reading my source material and over-thinking the new idea to see how it would work. By 9 pm on Thursday I had to make a decision and faced by the enormity of starting again and the ticking away of the hours, the only sensible one was to stick with the story I’d originally planned.
And that’s what I did, staying up till 3.30 in the morning to break the back of it, and getting back on again at 8.30 am the following day. At 10.30 I made a cuppa for our mate, Big D, who was next door building a wall for our neighbour, and rudely cut short the chat he clearly wanted to have.
At 11.30 I almost bit my husband’s head off for asking if the kettle was on (but made him and Big D a cuppa anyway). And at 12.05, I swore profusely when the doorbell rang to announce a delivery man who took ages to find the place for me to sign on his hand-held computer.
By 12.10-ish, I was ready to go: the separate sections of the assignment had printed out successfully (no repetition of a previous deadline day when it wouldn’t), I’d pulled them into one document ready to upload to the Uni website (a recent innovation), just needed to click the website itself, which I’d left open all morning ready to do so and… my laptop froze.
And I was left with a dilemma. Should I dash off to Uni and get the paper copy in before the deadline, risking the electronic version being late, or should I switch the computer off and on again to upload the electronic version and risk getting the paper one in late?
Thinking of traffic lights and old aged pensioners, I decided I should leave straight away. And at 12.25-ish the paper copy hit the basket. 12.33 is the time the website clocked my uploaded assignment, the time highlighted in red.
I left it a few hours, thinking no-one might notice, then in case they did, emailed the departmental secretary to ask my punishment for being three minutes late. I think she found the idea amusing, but it was good news: online submission can take place any time over the day. “We appreciate you can’t be in two places at once,” she said, “so the important thing is to ensure the paper copy is in by the deadline. Mind you,” she continued, “you only have to do this once more, for your dissertation.”
|Cutting-edge technology in the Wordsmith household|
And indeed, that is so. I celebrated reaching this milestone by having a snooze to catch up on the zeds I’d missed the night before and, later, showing Child 1 how to use my 1950s sewing machine to make a cushion. Not exactly the burning of the candle at both ends I expect my fellow-students were doing, but it was a laugh. Especially when she shared her misconception that the back-stitch lever would take faulty stitches out again. “It’s not like an undo button!” I chuckled. I ask you, who’s the Luddite now?
The finished cushion.
Anyway, I really should take myself away from this word-tapping machine. I’ve already moved the sewing machine from the middle of the hallway where the daughter left it and stowed it away in the airing cupboard to gather dust for another decade. But the Hoover is still on the landing, looking at me belligerently, so maybe I should join the 21st century and give it its weekend exercise.
Vacuuming around the huge pile of ironing as I do so, naturally.