In London you are never more than 12 feet away from a rat, or so the popular legend has it. I don't mean the two-legged variety that can lurk in the corner of an underground carriage or a faculty common room. No, I am thinking narrowly, of quad-footed vermin. At the beginning of the academic year rude evidence of their presence confronted a Goldsmiths student as she strolled through the back streets of south London. A rat had been freshly ironed into the asphalt by a superior creature with four wheels.
The shriek of this first year student - whom I had just had the pleasure of teaching - drew my attention. I scurried up the street to see the evidence for myself. The vertically challenged beast was a pretty unpleasant sight. The stain on the road gave weight - if not depth - to the urban myth that these monsters are among us at every turn.
A strange sense of responsibility to the new students is strongly felt. Perhaps the dread on their faces reminds me of my own initial encounter with the College as an 18-year-old. Whatever the reason, I feel a strong impulse to do something that pre-empts a repeat. So, off I go to the porter's lodge in search of a plan. "There's a dead rat in Laurie Grove that's been splattered all over the road." Mick, the head porter, shrugs his shoulders,
"There's nothin' we can do about it."
"Well, do you have a shovel?"
"Yeah, there's one 'round the back."
He returns with a tool that has been left - perhaps predictably - by a building contractor who hasn't returned to finish a job. He hands over the large shovel that is coloured with a green patina by what builders call affectionately 'muck'.
It must have been a bizarre spectacle. An hour ago I had been proselytising from the lectern about the merits of the 'sociological imagination'. And now here I was wandering around the college wielding a large shovel for no apparent reason. I bump into a couple of students from the morning's lecture who look bemused. "We're building the universities of the future," I explain and get a cheap laugh in return. This is only half a joke. The realities of packing more students into the same lecture rooms, the financial constraints on higher education are causing a real accommodation crisis. Perhaps a bit of academic self-build is not such a bad idea!
Returning to the crime scene I see that someone has placed a prawn cocktail crisp packet over the cadaver of the ex-rat, maybe out of respect. The shovel is put to work. With cringing application and eyes averted, the task of extra-curricular housekeeping is completed and the rat is entombed in a