Friday, June 09, 2006


Candidate's Log, June 1 - Day 13 (Advent of the ILM)

Awoke v. early in attempt to consolidate demography knowledge. Not particularly successful. Made way down to Schools with Rick & Sarah, who were sitting Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa - one of the many papers I would have liked to have done, but apparently an absolute nightmare. Rick had red carnation, however, ensuring that he would be happy with outcome however paper went.
Made way into exam room. PPE exams had now shifted away from core papers, requiring massive exam halls on first floor, to option papers with smaller numbers, leading to move to tiny rooms on ground floor. Felt somewhat discomfited by shift: decided that my concentration was better in large rooms full of hundreds of other people. Was further discomfited - nay, infuriated - by another development. In small room, there is no scope for not paying attention to annoying neighbours. After I had seated myself, the most annoying neighbour of all wandered into the room: Irritating Library Man (ILM). ILM's eyes darted around room sneakily. He stomped all over the room looking for his seat, with no discernible pattern to his search. He began near me. I desperately hoped he was not near me. He wandered off into the other half of the room. I breathed a sigh of relief. A minute later, he returned, and took his place at the desk right next to mine.

Irritating Library Man first came to my attention quite some time ago. It was an economics lecture. I had arrived late and been unable to get a seat, so was standing at the back. ILM walked in ten minutes late. He attracted my attention because of his captivatingly infuriating body language. Eyes are drawn to him almost compulsively, in the same way that you cannot stop watching the grisly details of a housecat dismembering a bird in the garden. Similarly, while watching him you really want him to just stop. ILM does not walk: he strides. He strode aggressively into the lecture, carrying a singular expression of sublime disinterest in anyone else in the room, including the lecturer. He had no hesitation about standing in front of people, and in fact, he stood in front of at least three different people over the course of the twenty minutes he was present. Whenever he stood still, his attention was focused on deciding who to stand in front of next; he sighed loudly approximately every two minutes, and spent more time glancing around him than he did on watching the lecture. He held himself very straight, with his hands jammed into his pockets, stretching his trousers so as to accentuate the fact that his fly was very much undone. After sighing and stomping about the back of the lecture for twenty minutes, he strode off again, finally allowing me to return to concentrating on the lecture.
He was a constant fixture at the Social Science Library, but I usually managed to avoid him, but the next time he really impinged on my consciousness was on one of the days when I had arrived slightly too late to get a seat in the study booths. I returned from lunch to find that he had set up in the seat next to me. He was even more irritating when sat down. He continued to sigh loudly. He did not spend time looking around himself: instead, he gave every indication of being wilfully oblivious to the presence of other people. His body was perched on his seat in an aggressive way, constantly wriggling, leaning back and stretching out his arms and yawning loudly, then hunching forwards and attacking his computer with typing that was so hard and fast and loud that he might as well have been hitting his keyboard with a hundred tiny hammers every thirty seconds. He moved with a definite sense of aggressive purpose which conveyed antagonistic thoughtlessness rather than firm decisiveness. Every time that he sighed, faces around the library would glance up in annoyance, which he would studiously ignore. After a while, he jumped up and strode out of the seating area. Thinking that he would be gone for at least half an hour on a break, I made myself relax and attempt to recover the concentration which he had so cruelly punctured through no more effort than irritating body language. It was not to be. He returned within three minutes bearing a packet of crisps, which he threw onto his desk while he determinedly seated himself, and then grabbed back into hands and proceeded to open. The rustling noise of the crisp packet opening caused one hundred heads to turn and stare in astonishment as he threw the packet back onto his desk and resumed his hard typing. One hundred heads would glare up again every so often for the next half an hour as he would thrust his hand into the loud foil packet, withdraw a crisp, and commence to activate the pneumatic drill of his teeth as he crunched it into oblivion with all the sensitivity and subtlety of a full brass section unleashing a sudden fortissimo on a silent concert hall in the middle of a harp solo. Far too stressed out by my own outrage - you don't eat food in the library, dammit! - and by the constant and increasingly aggrieved glares of one hundred fellow library users contemplating shouting at the oblivious offender sat but a metre to the right of me, I decided to take a break of my own. On the way out of the library, I realised that a seat in the study booths was free; I wrenched off my sweatshirt, threw it on the desk to reserve it, and gleefully returned to collect my laptop and finally escape to somewhere where I could do my work in peace. He needed a name, and I did not know it, so I mentally christened him Irritating Library Man and resolved to avoid him as far as I possibly could.

It was thus with a major sinking feeling that I realised that Irritating Library Man would be sitting next to me for the three hours of my demography exam. He was true to form. Having found his seat, he threw his mortarboard onto the floor next to him with some force, accompanied in short order by his (pre-tied) bow tie, a number of pens, and then his jacket itself. He then lifted the chair and placed it underneath himself, sighed loudly, and glared around the room. Throughout the exam, he did his very best to distract me as much as possible. The sighing never let up. Every so often, he would decide that his pen was unsatisfactory (presumably it had lost function after the number of times he had been forcefully clicking it) and would cast it violently onto the floor, lean over to pick up a replacement, and get going with clicking the new one into malfunction. He would periodically shift his chair so as to adjust himself into a more comfortable position; unwilling to then adjust back again into a position amenable for writing, he would reach over and lift his entire writing table so as to reposition it in a more comfortable place. He had not remembered his candidate number - in what might have been his fifth exam - and needed it brought over to him; he had not brought a watch of any sort, leading to his constantly throwing his entire body forward over his desk so as to get a clear view of the clock on the wall behind us. When he needed paper, he would throw his hand into the air and not stop sighing until the invigilators had brought him some; on one occasion, needing to go for some water, he threw his hand in the air, and, clearly expecting to have been noticed within two seconds, gave a loud cough to attract their attention. Having succeeded in attracting the attention of everyone in the room apart from the invigilators, he decided that he did not need to wait for their permission before leaving his desk; he was halfway to the door when they noticed that he was going for water. You don't just jump up and leave your desk in the middle of an exam, dammit! On several occasions, I feel almost certain that he cast his eyes up to look at the answer I was writing in my own booklet. When the last hour rolled around and he moved onto the math question, he subjected his calculator to the same rigorous punishment that he had given his computer in the library before; the increased frequency of his sighing and clucking indicated that he was having difficulties.

I, too, was having difficulties - with him. But my difficulties would have been much reduced had I been facing an easier paper. Did two essay questions relatively respectably, one on the fertility transition in the developing world and one answering the delightfully-phrased "Given the trouble and expense, why does anyone in the modern world bother to have any children?". Problems arose with the math question, however. This was the only compulsory math question on all of my exams, and therefore the very last compulsory math question that I will ever have to do. Somewhat depressing to discover that I could not actually do it. Question had twelve parts, and I managed six. Took 45 minutes to complete these. Realised that I did not know how to do the remaining workings, and that I certainly did not know how to do them in 15 minutes. Spent ten minutes ensuring that what I did know was properly polished and clearly presented. Hesitated for a moment. Wrote "out of time for further calculations" on paper. Spent remaining five minutes frantically attempting to write a commentary on results that I had not actually completed. Gave up in despair mere seconds before order came to stop writing. Felt somewhat downcast: this was easily my worst paper thus far. Although first two questions were all right, can't imagine breaking the 60 barrier on account of the last one.

Returned home feeling quite exhausted, but happy that it was over. Launched into Cold War revision. Not particularly successful: was quite tired. Just three left.

Thursday's Mood: Grrrrrrr.

This has to be my favourite ever blog!!! It's so funny... I'm going to print it and put it on my wall... mwa.
Hehe - I can't believe you felt the need to mention that his bow tie was a pre-tied one...
Not only was it pre-tied, which is a bit lazy but not a sin in itself, but he had clearly only affixed it so as to sneak past the schools staff checking for sub fusc adherence - it was off and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top even before he came into the room. That's just plain disrespectful to tradition.
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