Tag Archives: design the spine

subtext 180 – ‘better sorry than safe’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/

In this issue: editorial, welcome week, deanshare, lab location, UA92 galore, FASS typos, house-building, union blues, shart, poem, TV review, letters



Gaps, holes, deficits, cuts, absences. Call them what you will, it would be hard to deny that the academic year has been littered with them, providing the subtext drones with more than enough metaphorical material to stretch to breaking point and enough space to fly the traditional end of year round-up through on a bus.

The biggest gap generator has been the ongoing building work on campus, particularly on the Spine. There have been holes in the ground where the Spine has been dug up, communication gaps where the pink and purple diversion signs have failed to keep up with the actual situation ‘on the ground’, and most worryingly there has been a huge gap in provision for disabled users of the spine, with accessible routes around the pinball game that traversing campus has become having all but disappeared. Add to this the gaps of buildings that failed to appear (squints at the Management School) and the gap we didn’t know we had (cocks an eyebrow at Alexandra Square’s Big Screen), and it’s a wonder we didn’t all get a collective sprained ankle.

There have been financial gaps as well. Students who may have specific learning disabilities have seen a cut of 50% in the funding available from the University to be assessed for them – a massive blow to the life chances of those that need one but can’t afford it. Nationally, the most disruptive gap of the year was the deficit in the UCU pension fund – and understanding thereof – that saw an unprecedented turnout in support of strike action, and UCU members picketing for two weeks in freezing conditions. Whilst the picket lines saw a huge amount of support from students and non-striking staff there was another gap: no clear or coherent response from the VC. The University as a whole continued to fail to cover itself in glory when the Gender Pay Gap report was published in April, revealing LU to be third from the bottom in the country (University of the Year, though!) with a mean pay gap of 27.7% as opposed to the national average of… cough… 17.8%.

There have been notable gaps in democracy, honesty and decency. Maybe it started when Lancaster University Students’ Union refused to take a stance in regard to supporting the UCU strike, and it definitely didn’t end with their ‘creative’ approach to the online AGM ballot. Maybe it started when the University Court was abolished, removing one of the last democratically elected bodies in the institution (and one that oversaw the appointment of various posts). In fact, subtext notes – with some glee – that you can read all about the machinations of Lancaster University’s ‘Strategic Planning & Governance’ division at gap.lancs.ac.uk. Maybe it started when the VC led us to believe that Lancaster was the first port of call for UA92 (it wasn’t) and shrouded the entire business in a cloak of secrecy. Maybe it started with swastikas on Sociology department doors appearing overnight followed by the attempted setting up of a new student society concerned with white supremacy and other alt-right (i.e. fascist) ideas. This is a gap that is going to take more than a bit of polyfilla and a trowel to sort out.

And we’ve been feeling a bit gappy ourselves – retirement and illness have left us short of an editor or two in the subtext warehouse, so we welcome all those readers with a critical eye, a writerly bent and a typing speed of 80wpm to drop us a line at subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk to get involved. And so, once more unto the breach, dear readers – starting October. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks for writing in – do keep doing that. Failing that, hit us with your ‘like’ stick on our Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/lusubtext


We are all mightily fed-up with navigating our way around the building site that is campus. Yes, it is inconvenient and means a few more minutes walking from one part of campus to another. But what does all this chaos mean if your mobility is restricted in any way? Below we reproduce some edited selections from announcements made by Disability Services over the last couple of months.

28th March: To access the North Spine from Alexandra Square […] Approach the North Spine from Alexandra Square keeping to the left. When at the top of the steps in Alexandra Square turn half left and head towards the entrance to the side of the Learning Zone. Proceed through the Learning Zone to the right and follow the route through to the doors opposite. Once through the doors turn right and head through the cut through, bringing you out next to the Pharmacy and Santander. Please note that the accessible route to the North Spine leads through the Faraday Complex. Please be aware that the route through Physics garden may be temporarily restricted in width due to works in the area. Access North of Blackwell’s Bookshop is closed along the Spine. To access the Spine North of Blackwell’s Bookshop use the following route from Physics Garden. Here there are two routes – a route through Bowland Quad and an alternate route through the Faraday Complex (Faraday Route is accessible, Bowland Quad is not accessible unless proceeding to the perimeter road). Faraday Complex Route: Proceed from the North Spine up the ramp towards the Physics Building. Halfway up the ramp, follow the route round to the left towards the Faraday Building. Enter the Faraday Building and turn right. Proceed through the building turning Left and continuing through the corridor to exit the building via the Chemistry main doors. Turn right on exiting the Chemistry Building and follow the wooden fencing 10 – 15 metres before following it left and continuing on the pathway. At the end of the wooden fencing, proceed forwards on the pathway until you reach grass. At this point you may turn left down some stairs if you are able to do so. This will take you in to County South Quad where you may access the Spine via either cut-through. If unable to take the stairs, turn right and follow the pathway, keeping to the left which will lead you to the County South PDR’s (Private Dining Rooms). Proceed through the doors which will lead to the Lounge restaurant in County South Quad. Bowland Quad Route: Proceed from the North Spine, back through either cut-through in to Bowland Quad. Once in the Quad, turn right and follow the pathway route towards the Welcome Centre. Once you have navigated the Quad, cut-through the building by turning right and proceeding to the Welcome Centre at the top of Bowland Avenue. Join the pathway on Bowland Avenue on the North side and follow the road until you reach Great Hall Square. Once you reach Great Hall Square, the route through Great Hall Square to reach Great Hall Court (County Diner etc.) is clear as usual. Please note that access is closed from County South Laundrette to the Bowland North entrance of the North Spine. County South Laundrette is out of use. The nearest launderette to this location is County Main.

11th April: Edwards Roberts Court will be shut from 8am Thursday 12th to 6pm Friday 13th April. Access to the ramp and the Deli will be restricted.

13th April: From Monday 16th April, the cut-through from Bowland North Quad to the North Spine will close for the duration of Summer Term, in addition to existing closures in the area. An alteration to the existing closure along the North Spine, between FASS and Bowland North will prevent pedestrian access from the North Spine in to Bowland North Quad. Access to the Bowland Building remains available from Bowland North Quad but a diversion is necessary to gain access from the Spine. Heading North on the Spine, the steps to the right leading to Chemistry remain open, the diverted route from there is across the bottom of John Creed avenue entering back towards the spine by the back of the Private Dining Rooms (County South). The accessible diversion route will remain; up the ramp in Physics Garden, through the Faraday building into the Chemistry building, across the bottom of John Creed Avenue, joining the same route.

1st May: The main entrance of the Faraday building will be closed, however, the current diverted route will remain accessible through Physics Garden. A pedestrian route along the North Spine is in place via a set of steps up to Chemistry. Please note this is not a wheelchair accessible route. Alternatively, for travel to the Great Hall and County College, an accessible route is available through Bowland Quad.

11th May: During the works, a diverted route will be signposted through the Learning Zone in to Bowland Quad. The cut-through adjacent to Blackwell’s Bookshop is open and leads to the North Spine. Access to the ATM at Santander will not be accessible during these works however; all retail outlets will remain open and accessible via the diverted route. The diverted accessible route to FASS and beyond remains in place through Physics Garden, in to the Faraday Complex and out of the main entrance to the Chemistry building.

Also 11th May: New handrails will be installed in Great Hall Court […] The ramp in this area will need to be altered as part of the works and as a result will be out of use for the duration of the works […] An accessible diversion has been put in place to mitigate the impact of the ramp closure.

25th May: Over the next 4-6 weeks, a series of phased works will be carried out to the South Spine between the Science and Technology building and Engineering building. The first phase of works shall be conducted over the next 10 days to the ramp adjacent to the pond in Engineering Square. Drainage is being installed to the ramp and as such will be closed for the duration of the works. An accessible diversion is in place through the Science and Technology building, although please be aware that the building closes at 9pm each night and reopens at 7:30 a.m. each morning. Fylde Quad to Engineering, Science and Technology, LUMS and beyond: Leaving the South Spine from Furness College Court, turn left in to Fylde Quad (at the top of the ramp at Engineering Square). Continue through Fylde Quad being cautious of planters and pillars within the Quad. When through the quad, turn right heading towards the rear entrance of Science and Technology. (A pathway leads half right through the courtyard). Enter the Science and Technology building keeping to the left and head towards the exit on the opposite side of the foyer. Use the left hand doors to exit, as the right hand doors are closed-off. Upon exiting the Science and Technology building, keep the fence line to your right hand side, follow the fence line left, turning back on yourself to head towards the Engineering building or continue down the Spine to reach the Management School and beyond. The steps alongside the ramp are still open for pedestrian access but are set to close from Monday 4th June. It is planned that at this point the ramp will open in order to maintain the thoroughfare. Please allow extra time to navigate this diversion.

29th May: The Science and Technology building will be kept open 24 hours a day between now and the 6th June to allow for the accessible diversion to be maintained during the closure of the ramp in engineering Square.

30th May: The lift near the entrance to the library will be out of order for up to two weeks. This is the only lift that accesses the upper part of C floor, so affects the Postgraduate study area and ISS training rooms.


How difficult is it to lay some paving stones? Some members of the subtext collective have some domestic experience in this sort of activity. Patios have been laid without too many problems. So if this is actually your job of work, laying some paving stones as a professional contractor should be a ‘walk in the park’ or a perambulation along the spine. You would think. However, news has reached subtext that down the south end of campus, staff have witnessed the exact same set of paving stones being dug up and re-laid three times. Not quite comparable but the thought of delivering the same lecture three times until you got it ‘right’ would incur some disciplinary action – or perhaps not!


Another SCAN piece that caught our eye (SCAN’s news reportage has been good this year, hasn’t it?) was the report that significant parts of the unfaltering spine refurbishment have been ditched to speed up the process. Notably, the ‘Wetlands Bridge’ project opposite the Charles Carter building has been dropped so that the contractors can focus on finishing the vital stuff (y’know, things that allow you to take a linear route from one place to another on a consistent basis) in time for Michaelmas term. We did say this would be the best strategy (subtext 158, 154, passim ad nauseam) about a thousand times, but what do we know?

SCAN’s report can be found here: http://scan.lusu.co.uk/index.php/2018/05/14/spine-shortened-wetlands-area-ditched/


We’ve become so accustomed to the building work that perhaps we no longer see the effect of closing the roads and byways through the campus on those who aren’t so used to it. In particular, we greet closures of the access points to the University as normal. They aren’t. Memo to anyone who might be involved: the drive up to the University is a big selling point for the University, as anyone who has ever run an Open Day will tell you. Which is why we’re totally screwed when we close the road on Open Days. Maybe do it on one of the other three hundred and fifty-odd days available?

While the TV screen in Alexandra Square isn’t a vanity project to rank with the BorisBridge, it nevertheless ticks many of the same boxes. It has little utility and even less point, but it is large, striking and expensive. Leaving aside the fact that its position means that you can only see it from about 25% of the Square, what function does it serve, beyond giving visitors on Open Days something to remember us by? Meanwhile, there appears to be a screen that is almost as big but on wheels just sitting on the ground floor of the FASS building, with an even bigger box next to it. Is this part of the new ‘Resigned to the Spine’ plan, intended to be trundled up and down bearing well-meaning, inspirational messages like ‘THE SPINE HAS ALWAYS BEEN UNDER CONSTRUCTION’?

We note that one of the signs puffing the Spine renovation (no missus, it’ll be worth it, really, hang in there, sunlit uplands, only two more years of this to go, free pies for all, truly, it’ll be great, honest) promises the provision of ‘cutting edge space’. As opposed, we assume, to open space, deep space, hyperspace, safe space… What is this phrase supposed to evoke? We suspect that most people would settle for a space that was flat underfoot and had something overhead to keep the rain off, with maybe a nice picture on the wall. We also suspect that someone sold the University the idea of the giant TV by promising that it would make the Square ‘cutting edge’.

We’ve said our two penn’orth over the last months about the Spine renovation, so we thought we’d wait until it was finished before discussing it properly. (Oh, all right then, just one thought… is it perhaps just a tiny bit… big? Attached to the side of a Russian naval dockyard it’d be just grand, but… Ok, let’s wait and see.) But, there’s no harm in revisiting the question of what the County College folk have done to deserve a fifty yard run through the rain. Wheelchair users now have to cover the best part of 100 yards. Someone will sue.


Dear subtext,

Xin chúc mừng, to the writer of the Saigon evacuation piece!  Actually stayed at my desk to finish reading it, guffawing all the way!

Keep it up, colleagues

Jackie H


In springtime, thoughts turn to matters horticultural, and the Physics Garden appears to be the subject of a rethink.

Recently, the terrace of sunken troughs, which had sat empty for most of spring 2017, was filled with earth and plants in preparation for an open day. Between then and now, the area sat untended, and an interesting range of weeds and wildflowers spread forth to supplement the decorative plants. Sadly, all of the growth was ripped out and replaced with officially approved flowers prior to the next graduation ceremony, and this unorthodox slash and replace version of gardening has been repeated for each open day / graduation until now. Following a recent full excavation back to the original concrete, subtext is delighted to note that some species have now been installed which not only might actually survive the Lancastrian climate, but if used in cooking could even turn basic student grub into something resembling food!


Even though the idea of ‘quiet period’ has long been a running-joke, albeit one that students can get a double fine for disrupting, Michaela Masci’s letter (see letters, below) has evoked fond memories of days gone by.

subtext 52 (6/5/09): ‘Despite it being the ‘quiet period’ within college residences, a private wedding reception was booked into Pendle College Bar for Saturday 18th April. Unfortunately, the event deteriorated into a brawl by the end of the evening.’

subtext 105 (16/5/13): ‘… such building work might better have been reserved for, oooh, say, any of the 48 weeks of the year which are not officially designated – by the University – as ‘Quiet Weeks’ for revision…’

subtext 119 (8/5/14): ‘The helpdesk contact details should be particularly useful for those who live in County Main, where once again there is substantial (and noisy) building work taking place in the so-called ‘Quiet Weeks’.’

subtext 134 (28/5/15): ‘… once again Facilities are stressing the urgency of building works continuing, quiet period or no quiet period. Many students will no doubt feel a great deal of resentment at their liability to receive a hefty fine from their Dean for noise, while those pesky lawnmowers and multi-million pound building projects get off scot free.’

Subtext 149 (9/6/16): ‘Last week saw the official opening of the new University Library, an event joyously celebrated by the University’s great and good. [Students were] presumably wondering why a fairly noisy event was taking place in the quietest part of campus during its busiest period. If students party on campus during exam ‘Quiet Period’ they’re treated to a double fine by the deanery. Not that we’d suggest any double standards are at play.’

Same time next year?


Dear subtext,

In 2005/6 when I (as HoD) was trying to support an appeal by a female member of admin who had been downgraded by the job review that was supposed to bring equivalence to roles, I looked  through the internal telephone directory at the names of people who occupied similar grade roles that had not been downgraded. They were almost all male names and employed in University House roles. In departments where the pay was lower, the names were mostly female. The justification was that centralised roles undertook tasks that gained more points, mostly because they undertook centralised tasks!!

My observations were insufficient to challenge the gender neutrality of the job/pay review at that time. I’m pleased to see that gender pay differences is now more valued as an indicator of equality and fairness.

Bob Sapey



Dear subtext,

The so-called Gender Pay Gap is, in fact, a Sex Pay Gap and the efforts that the university are suggesting around maternity and childcare are woefully inadequate, the latter mainly consisting of signposting things that are already available (though in the case of preschool childcare, pretty inadequate – it’s impossible, for example, to get additional hours/days at the Preschool Centre if asked to work extra time by one’s department).

The pay gap is in place way before we have children. Women are less mobile due to tending to have professional partners (while men are more likely to have partners in more portable and less professional jobs, since men earn more than their partners across society). Lancaster could make it easier for women to take a job if they have a professional partner, and advertise this. We could make it more flexible to, for example, take a sabbatical or a non-sabbatical career break so partners can move temporarily together. I had a big struggle when I wanted to take two terms’ sabbatical because it was the right time for my husband and me – he’d just been made redundant but apparently ‘we don’t do that in Psychology, we only take a full year’. One male colleague on hearing this said ‘oh I suppose my wife just gave up her job when I went on sabbatical’.

Women have more other caring responsibilities, not just children. My husband and I needed to stay locally for a number of years – at a time when other colleagues were getting promoted by moving jobs – because my husband’s mother was elderly and needed care. Few men help with care of their mother in law because that’s not what they’ve been taught since childhood.

Travel for work is often impossible for women with caring responsibilities – I couldn’t really travel for the first couple of years after we had children and the only reason I can now is because my husband’s work has become more flexible, not my job (he’s gone part time through choice but also his employer has pushed and enabled working from home a lot more. There’s been no change at all in the help Lancaster has given and no substantial change in the availability of childcare). Even a full day travel is impossible for me (London and back in a day for example) if I’m relying on outside childcare. This means not only could I not go to conferences at first but I also couldn’t go to e.g. a government meeting or grant meeting.

Because of Lancaster’s location, talented postgrads who want to stay in the area have to move into a professional services job – there are few commutable academic jobs if you don’t get one in Lancaster. This is more likely to affect women – men just move for work, while women stay put with, as I’ve said, a professional partner, non-childcare responsibilities or children.

Women have always been taught (since birth and, these days, before) that they are supposed to be less assertive. Obviously if you’ve managed to get a job in academia, you must have managed to push yourself forward to some extent. We recently had an excellent small workshop on promotion for women but previously the University has run workshops where at one a female professor just told us ‘it’s easy to be a professor, you just have to publish a lot and get grants’ (I can hear the hollow laughter of men and women echoing round campus!) and at another senior women just said ‘oh I’ve never experienced any discrimination’.

From the moment the doctor says ‘It’s a girl!’ or ‘It’s a boy!’ society treats us differently – our sex determines what gender roles society thinks we should take, following a partner as a trailing spouse, not speaking up to creepy supervisors, not putting ourselves forward for keynotes and promotions, taking on caring responsibilities for older and younger people – and that in turn determines how much we are paid.

Katie Alcock



Dear subtext,

I concur with your evaluation of the Gender Pay Report.

I have received an ex-gratia payment of £1000, but I was told not to tell anyone that I’d received it. Apparently it might upset those who hadn’t got one. It felt cheapening at the time. No celebration there, then.

I sent my son to the Pre-School centre 25 years ago – it hasn’t been useful to me since. Indeed, its convenience has probably been instrumental in keeping people (possibly men as well as women) working at Lancaster longer than they reasonably should. At any rate, this and other childcare services, despite their longevity, do not seem to have had the impact on the career ladder of women in the past that the report bandies for the future.

Regarding the report itself, the graphs show annoying blue blocks (men) suffocating the beige (?) women at all levels of the organisation. Even in print there’s no level playing field.  The SS 1-5 ladies’ block is so small the corresponding number has to fit outside it, faintly out of step.

I’d sign this letter, but as the informal NDA mentioned above is probably still in force, I am, yours truly, Anon.

Name supplied


Dear subtext,

Noise!!! I have quite an interesting and long story to tell, of which I will spare you the details, about men drilling under my window ledge in Bowland North, me contacting Keith Douglas in Facilities as suggested by them, Keith assuring me on the phone that he had asked them to stop and schedule the noisy drilling 8-9 the following days, the men telling me that they could not take orders from him, and so on and so forth…

Drilling that shakes the floor and deafens your ears is great, especially if accompanied by shouting, swearing, bad singing, plus various types of machinery moving around, beeping, etc…

Never mind my work, but what about the students who are trying to do oral examinations, attend seminars, revise, talk to tutors, etc…

I just wonder whether, like last year, there will actually be noise during written examinations just outside the exam rooms…

Thinking of it, I wrote a similar comment in May 2015, and I thought about writing more every year since then…

Michela Masci

Department of Languages and Cultures


Dear subtext,

My own recollection of the Jim Bowen performance, which was in approximately 1997 or 1998 and which I witnessed, is not particularly close to the account given in subtext 176. He performed in the Bowland quadrangle, not the bar, on a stage set up for the extrav that evening, for which he provided an opening act. The JCR President was on the stage with him and was the only one present who appeared to find it amusing, although he admitted afterwards that in fact he had not been listening to Bowen’s act! That consisted almost entirely of racist anti-immigrant ‘jokes’. These might have been suitable for a 1960s white audience or a BNP convention, but were totally wrong in the context of a multi-racial audience of intelligent students, as he should have anticipated. It was a crass and stupid choice of content.

He was not booed off the stage (the Bowland students were much too polite for that), but there was no laughter and much audible muttering and cat-calling. Bowen clearly realised his act was going down very badly and cut the performance rather abruptly short and left the stage hurriedly. One of the audience threw a half glassful of beer at him as Bowen passed by, splashing the leather jacket the ‘comedian’ was wearing. He was very annoyed by this and asked me, as the College Principal in attendance, for the cost of having his jacket cleaned. I refused, telling him that his choice of subject matter was so clearly unsuitable and provocative that he should have expected even more of an adverse response and that he was lucky to get away with only that much damage. This was not well received, but we heard no more from him.

Ian Saunders


Dear subtext,

Regarding the picture on the university home page (see letter in subtext 176) – it must have been taken some time ago, since that area of the spine has been enclosed within steel barriers for what seems a lifetime but is probably about a year.

Olwen Poulter

Research and Enterprise Services


The construction work on campus continues to be a logistical and auditory nightmare for staff and students alike. Many tutors have complained about the ‘bomb shelter experience’, but while most of us can find ways to get away from the noise, let us spare a thought for the poor souls who have slunk off to do some transcribing, only to find that they can barely hear their interviews over the sound of machinery on their dictaphones.


The bomb shelter simulator or marathon man experience continues apace. subtext ponders that it might be the case that senior management have sensed a ‘good day to bury (or should that be dig up, retile, dig up again, and make lots of noise with a jackhammer) bad news’ moment. The opportunities presented by the strike (i.e. empty lecture theatres and seminar rooms) have provided senior management a fortuitous moment to instruct construction workers to bang on with doing what they have been doing with added gusto. Rumours have reached the subtext warehouse that students have witnessed a noticeable increase in the banging and crashing in a variety of places on campus. Whether management have seized the moment, or it is just a coincidence, it is still the case that a building site is not the place to undertake any form of educational encounter.


The bomb shelter experience has morphed into the ‘Marathon Man’ experience in some areas of campus. Instead of the room shaking and dust gently falling on participants’ heads, students are treated to an intermittent high pitched drilling noise that is both deafening and painful. All reminiscent of the famous scene from the 1976 movie ‘Marathon Man’, directed by John Schlesinger, in which the baddie, played by Laurence Olivier, tortures the goodie, played by Dustin Hoffman, by drilling into his tooth while repeatedly asking: ‘Is it safe?’

That scene is often described as one of the most frightening sequences in film. The experience in the teaching room, whilst not frightening, was unpleasant and certainly did not feel safe.


The bomb shelter experience continues to be a popular ride for students and staff alike, leading in some cases to sessions being abandoned or students and lecturers wandering around in search of another teaching venue, traipsing off like a raggle-taggle bunch of travellers vainly looking for a home. subtext understands that the delays surrounding the spine renovation have meant that this particular project has ‘run into’ other building work that was already scheduled – the domino effect causing further inconvenience. Apparently the blame for all this disruption and chaos lies at the door of one particular contractor who did not grasp the complexity and scale of the spine project. A series of ‘cock-ups’ and sheer incompetence by this one firm has meant we have been living and working in a building site with no foreseeable end. Such incompetence should result in the contractor being asked to leave the site with their contract terminated forthwith. Apparently not – they are still here and the terms of their contract mean we have to live with this team of bodgers. It would be interesting to know who signed off on this – if he’s still here!


The other week LU Text informed us of planned ‘canopy work’ outside Fylde:

‘From Monday 30th October, a section of canopy which has been installed to the Fylde Building along the South Spine will be worked on. Completion of these works is planned for Friday 3rd November. Noise disruption is expected in the immediate area. External work at Fylde will take place during the times of 7.30am–4.30pm Monday to Friday and 9am-4pm Saturday and Sunday.’

Teaching staff may remember to warn students that they will be subject to the bomb shelter experience (see subtext 167) – the room may shake every few minutes accompanied by loud bangs and crashes and you may be gently showered with dust from the ceiling. Teaching staff may remember to tell students, but the intermittent nature of the thumps and the level of noise does not stop them, and indeed the member of teaching staff (understandably) ‘jumping’ and/or squealing.

What LU Text did not warn those of us teaching on the ground floor of the Charles Carter building was that a large generator would be making so much noise that you could hardly hear yourself think, let alone shout loud enough so the students could hear you.


The ‘bomb shelter experience’ currently being enjoyed by the unlucky souls studying in Fylde lecture theatres reminded us of the recent experience involving a high-altitude glass walkway high in the East Taihang Mountains near Handan City in China. Glass-bottom bridges are the latest tourist craze in China. This particular bridge hangs over 3,800 feet in the air, affixed to the mountainside, and has as its newest feature sensor technology which creates the illusion that the bridge is going to shatter under the weight of those walking on it. To enhance this effect, bits of actual broken glass were placed under the sturdy glass floor, and video screens displayed fake cracks in the glass as people pass over it. This is all done without any warning. Not surprisingly this has created a social media storm, with thousands posting negative comments accusing the organisers of being cruel and even dangerous, with the possibility that it might give someone a heart attack. Whilst not on the same level, bangs and crashes loud enough to make students ‘jump’ and squeal will undoubtedly generate negative comment in the NSS and PTES later this year.


The University continues to resemble a building site, as rumours continue to circulate about a completion date – the latest word to reach the subtext warehouse is sometime in September 2018. Over the summer it felt like scaffolding was covering most surfaces, which not only messed with Lancaster’s ‘Italian village on a hill’ vibe (yeah right!) but also made it exceedingly difficult for wheelchair users to get around. And of course nobody tells you what the purpose of the scaffolding is and you have no idea what is going to happen until the scaffolders  have gone and the work people arrive with their various (very noisy) pieces of kit. The east side of Bowland North just before term started was completely covered by scaffolding, which was then enclosed by vast sheets of white polythene then heat treated with some form of blow-lamp. This of course cut all light from the offices so folk had to turn their lights on during the day to get any work done, with no word as to why. A few days later all was revealed – the work people were sand-blasting the building. Cue various corridors filling up with fine dust particles and folk spluttering and wondering what the hell was going on. The cause turned out to be a colleague leaving a window open (no reason why s/he shouldn’t), and the disabled toilet on that floor having a window that could not close. The result: a disabled toilet covered in a fine layer of stone dust unable to be used until the cleaners arrived the following day.

Following complaints from staff, an email arrived from the Managing Building Surveyor pledging to wet down the external wall prior to commencing further grinding out works, as well as to check that all windows were closed. And finally, a request that people who have offices could refrain from opening their windows for the day. NOW you tell us…


As the summer drizzles to a close and we all look forward to getting our teeth into the new term (or at least limping through until Christmas), I am drawn to speculate on the impact of our Spine redevelopment. The last vestiges of the 60’s dream are to be found standing forlornly in dripping peninsulas of wood and tar around Alexandra square.  Being able to walk the length of the campus without the elements taking their toll on clothing and spirits is no more.

So, what replaces it? The new spine covering is more modern. It lets in more light (because there is less of it), and it is certainly airier. The brutal winter winds of Lancaster will have no problems reaching places that previously they were unable to penetrate. As the campus fills up, with the new term getting into full swing, it is the author’s belief that an amusing new spectacle will be enjoyed by all who are safely observing from inside a building. We might even write papers on it – ‘Darwinian theory in practice: survival of the fittest at Lancaster University’.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that there is a nice equation that could be written which describes the relationship between the reduced surface area of the new covering on the Spine, the increase in height and the reduced area of dry ground to be found beneath. It could be further developed to introduce wind-speed and direction in combination with precipitation so that we can be better informed on how far up an individual’s legs the rain will reach on windy days compared to calm ones. The distance that the individual is forced to walk from the wall will certainly correlate with the relative dampness experienced. I am not qualified to write such an equation, but even to my layman’s brain it is clear that on a blustery, wet day in Lancaster most people are going to get wet legs.

At this point my whimsical mind wanders off into imagining the scene; older staff being pushed out into the rain by younger, fitter campus residents intent on protecting their £50 hair-dos and expensive footwear,  the oldsters’ pitiful cries of ‘Don’t you know who I am’ quickly lost in the swirling vortex of a November day. University executives will quickly learn that meetings must be arranged close to home so that they can  prevent the crease dropping out of their trousers below the knee. Alternatively, a rash of new posts as ‘Red Flag Assistant’ might be seen – staff employed to walk ahead of said executives, clearing the path closest to the wall and preserving their sartorial elegance. In short, survival of the fittest. Things do not look well for yours truly.

So, having accepted that I am not particularly fit, or  having sufficient standing to merit my own Red Flag Assistant, I am driven to rely on my cunning and guile. In considering the problem I have had to determine my own position in the Darwinian pecking order. Whilst not fit, I am capable of brutality in the face of wet clothing. Though not important, I can shout in a manner that might confuse more easily cowed individuals into assuming that I am important and that it is my RFA’s day off. On that basis I think my position under the covering is probably mid-stream. Probably dry above the waist, but squarely in wet-leg territory.

With that in mind, prototype designs for half-length waterproof over-trousers are already completed. These may be slipped on over the footwear and are held in place above the knee by strap or elastic, depending upon the wearer’s preference. Donned before a walk down the campus, these will protect the mid-stream wearer from the crease disaster, and can be easily and discreetly removed upon reaching your destination. Sales will be limited and availability will be restricted to those neither fit nor important. It’s only fair.