“Do not under any circumstances smile at them before Lecture 3“.
I was twenty four years old. The person advising me had been teaching children and university students for almost my lifetime.
In one year of practising law as a newly qualified solicitor the only way that I could switch off and fall asleep was to drink myself into oblivion. By 9.00 pm every night I had consumed about a litre of red wine and was comatose. By 3.00 am I was wide awake with a furry tongue, an upset stomach and a racing heart.
What caused this?
Possibly stress – I was working twelve hour days five days a week plus at least four hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. No matter how hard I worked I couldn’t make a dent in my in-tray. The work that I was doing was as relentless as it was monotonous – uninsured losses claims from motor vehicle accidents, personal injuries claims, chucking tenants out of their homes for arrears of rents, a bit of nasty divorce work thrown in for good measure. All in all it was lots of fun legal work for a newly qualified solicitor.
Every morning I would unlock the office at about 7.30 am, put on a pot of filtered coffee and go into the toilets to cry for about half an hour. Getting that out of my system gave me the strength to go on with the day.
One Friday not long before Easter I was summoned to the boardroom to be told by the firm’s management committee that I was being made redundant. The firm needed, apparently, someone that was 4 to 5 years qualified to do the job that I was doing. I hugged the managing partner with gratitude. “You are taking this very well” he said, surprised.
Six months later I was standing in front of a sloping lecture theatre full of 200 plus BA accounting and business students. It was like bein eyeballed by a roomful of particularly cantankerous cats. There were growls from the back row. The front row was looking at me like I was small, grey and had just scuttled out of a hole.
“Contracts” I said “are a bit like using public toilets, always unpleasant but often necessary“.
So began my 5 year teaching career. In that time I taught students of all ages and backgrounds and levels of interest. Most of the time the students that I was teaching did not have the slightest interest in what I was talking about.
I used to tell people that I could walk ride into a lecture theatre on the back of a dancing bear wearing a sequinned body stocking and no-one would notice. Then a friend challenged me to start wearing sparkly things that might draw the eyes of the students, the way that magpies are drawn to flashes of bright things in the grass. I used to layer metallic belts and chinking bracelets to attract attention as I walked in. I must have sounded like a prisoner in chains rattling into lecture theatres like that.
About the time that I discovered a pair of Red or Dead shoes with chains instead of straps. Now and agan I wore the Really Quite Shiny Boots. Although there was less growling from the back rows I was never entirely convinced that any of my students took the slightest bit of notice of anything that I said.
After about five years of teaching, I started to get strange pangs which I interpreted as the need to get back to practising law. I had recovered from the job that lead me to drink myself into a stupor to get to sleep at night. As it turned out subsequently, law was a bit more fun than I had remembered it being. To this day though, I will thank the students and the lecturers that I met and worked with at N. University.
Not long before I emigrated to Australia I toddled along to a business networking event with an up and coming e-commerce entrepreneur as a speaker. He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him until he looked straight at me, smiled and said:
“My law lecturer at Uni always said that contracts are a necessary evil She accused me of not listening to her but I was.”
For the record, I think that I did smile half-way through Lecture 1. I can’t help it. That’s the way my face is made.