Thursday, March 31, 2011

My midnight train to Georgia

As I pack away my books, workers outside are putting the finishing touches to a gleaming new office block they’ve spent the last year or more building. As turf is rolled out, the mud and rubble becomes an impeccably striped green lawn, and today they are fitting the street lamps.

Symbolic, I wonder? Three years ago, the moment I moved into this office they started demolishing the buildings next door, a protracted process with delays while they dealt with asbestos, and one that involved a combination of precision disassembling and the grinding brute force of a huge machine that ate all the concrete and bricks and turned them into hardcore for the new building’s foundations. With a six month pause while the banking crisis delayed their progress, the noisy activity has continued for most of the three years. Working to the constant din of reversing dump trucks and fork lifts, generators, cranes and deliveries, the environment didn’t feel as friendly as the cheery memos the builders were careful to send, keeping us neighbours in touch with their progress.

Meanwhile, sitting in an almost unheated office (12 degrees some days, on the thermometers purloined from the kind biologists next door) reading memos from the university urging us to save energy, we realise that some things in universities, those communities of highly intelligent scholars working to create new knowledge for the common good, are not as they may seem.

Anyway, I’m leaving now, leaving behind the disassembling, dissembling and grinding down (I’m speaking of the building site next door, of course).