Vive la France!

I would like, if I may, to take you… on… a strange journey.

A journey of a compulsory MBA evening language class. Held outside the warm womblike environment of our beloved business school, of cool corridors and sensible layouts. Into, so to speak, foreign territory.

I’d thought the class was in the b-school itself; the room designation (B*.**) was in the business school’s logical room format. You never get lost in the Modernist cubes and circles of WBS; just aim down a corridor and count along. Sadly, the rest of the campus isn’t like that; an American pal had pre-warned me about Humanities, but I’d brushed away her warnings without a care.


The journey starts with that worst of all B-movie decisions: to split up. Two African girls of the quartet gathered in the lobby have an errand to run, so I pair up with K** and depart speaking the Line You Must Never Say in a Horror Movie:

“We’ll meet you over there!”

After all, the actual venue is mere minutes away, in the next building or so, according to our vague directions. How hard can it be to find it?

8 buildings, 22 doors, and 57 corridors later, we make a terrible discovery… of which more later.

OK, OK, so it wasn’t really 57 corridors we explored trying to find a blasted French class. (It couldn’t have been more than 52.) But know this: we spent nearly a WHOLE HOUR traipsing around campus trying to find mythical room B*.**. This is how it went.

Our journey begins in the Ramphal quadrangle I know well: it’s a shortcut to parts of central campus. We don’t start getting nervous until we’ve tried all four entrances and NO ONE knows of any room starting with B. We leave. And re-enter through another door. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This building is built like Meccano: about 12 interconnected long arms with relatively few connecting doors between wings, and it’s a bit too easy to get disoriented. The Lurking Horror comes to mind again.

OK, tramp down University Road, enter the Library, sort of, which we do several times over the next hour since our first set of directions start there. Of course, being an individual room buried in a building, the French room IS NOT A PART OF THE LANGUAGE CENTRE so everyone we ask about Languages directs us THERE instead.

The Language Centre is a strange kind of place, more like a ‘proper’ University: peeling paint and faded brickwork, back to the last great wave of British college-building in the 60s. And, of course, it’s not where we’re supposed to be. There’s a 67, a 52, but nothing with f***ing B*.** in the title. Will our heroes make it out alive? Tune in next week!

At this point, K** is starting to believe my claims about being bad at directions.

We leave and re-orient within Ramphal. My phone rings anonymously. It’s B***, one of the African girls supposedly bringing up the rear, in reality now far ahead of us. “We’re in the Business School Lounge. Bye!”

What the FUCK are they doing in the Business School Lounge? That’s where we’ve just come from!!! Oh well, one problem at a time.

We try the Library again, but entering through an upper floor this time. Well, it’s in the right place, damnit; can it really be so wrong to trust a map?

I call another known participant of the class. Oooops; a slurred voice comes online: she’s sick in bed and I’ve woken her up. Is there ANYTHING else I can do tonight to piss off African women?!!!

Momentarily, we consider the Chemistry building, but that’d be one mix-up too many; it might prove explosive; something just smells bad about that decision. (OK, enough chemistry jokes already.)

Our search pattern has now broadened – from rooms, to corridors, now it’s just buildings where the rooms have a B in the title. We attempt Psychology (“Where Reason and Intelligence are Found” – not tonight they’re bloody not!) and then think better of it.

Everyone knows Social Science is easy, so we head into there. It turns out to be a morass of abstruse corners and impenetrable labyrinths. We re-emerge into the cold night air some time later with relief.

We then plunge into various Humanities blocks. Now I have an American friend who knows these corridors well, and she’d warned me it’s like a rabbit warren in there; stupidly I’d failed to heed her warnings. Actually, rabbit warren is kind of polite. It’s like a fucking termite mound!

K** asks a passing undergrad. We’re ready to believe she knows where the French lessons are, given that she’s wearing a sweatshirt with an Eiffel Tower logo. (OK, at this stage we’re clutching at straws… we’ve asked some 5 extremely polite people yet not one has really been able to help.)

And then we have a brainwave. A map taped to a door on an upper floor shows a room – several corridors away – one pre-decimal-point digit removed from the one we want. We reason, if we can find THAT room and then find some stairs leading down, the room we want will logically be directly below it.

A final push along 6 corridors and a flight of stairs. And, unbelievably, it works. *.32… *.33… *.39… We stumble upon room B*.**. An hour late.

Where there’s a sign on the door: “MBA French class, this room was pre-booked so we have moved to A*.**.”

Which is where we started our journey, 50 minutes previously. Back at the Business School.

In a sense, I’ve been right all along. But for entirely the wrong reason.

It’s now 55 minutes after the class began.

Sacre bleu!

When we emerge via a nearby door at the end of the corridor – which we’d approached from a totally different direction – we learn that, indeed, it’s quite close to the Business School, although through shortcuts of gates and paths rather than along the main campus thoroughfares.

At which point, we collapse in laughter and decide, in true French style, to say “f**k it” and go for a glass of wine instead.

Vive la France!