May 21

Let me tell you a story to illustrate the strangeness of the human mind.

When I left school I worked full time as a trainee at BHP Steelworks in Newcastle, and went to uni part time studying Electrical Engineering. I mostly went to lectures at night, but trainees also got eight hours study leave each week, so I went to day lectures and tutorials where possible.

One of the subjects I did in first year was called Maths I. It was split into four branches of mathematics: calculus, statistics, something called “algebra & analysis”, and one other which I forget. The head lecturer was a Professor Smrz. I am still not sure how to pronounce his vowel-less last name, but I think it’s probably something like “smertz”. (I was careful to never say it in his presence, in case I got it wrong.) He was a bit of a strange character, Eastern European, extremely serious, and scary as hell to a disinterested first year student.

In March of my first year at uni I crashed my car, so was temporarily without transport. Because of this I missed a couple of Maths I tutorials. We had been warned that if we missed more than a certain percentage of classes we would fail the course. At the time I worked out I could miss three and still be OK. This gives you some indication as to how seriously I took my studies back then.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, I had just bought a lovely, red 1979 Toyota Corolla. It was a rainy Friday afternoon and I was leaving BHP to attend a 2pm Maths tute. I simply couldn’t face going to uni to sit in a room and listen to Professor Smrz drone on for two hours. I did a quick calculation, figured I had missed two tutes already, and thus had one up my sleeve. So I nicked off into Newcastle and went record shopping. That day I bought a second-hand vinyl copy of Animals by Pink Floyd at Rice’s Bookshop on Hunter St.

As I drove home, I started to get a nagging feeling. I began to wonder if I had miscalculated the number of tutorials I had missed. I rushed into my bedroom, dug out the Maths I notes and flicked through the course calendar. Sure enough, I had screwed up. I had now missed four tutes, enough to get myself booted from the course.

I fretted all weekend. Being kicked out of Maths I would mean a fail grade, which could potentially lose me my traineeship at BHP. Not necessarily a bad thing in hindsight, but at the time it was a scary prospect. The following Monday I raced to uni and explained the situation to Professor Smrz. He was not especially interested in my excuses, and I realise now that I was the kind of apathetic student that lecturers hate, but I begged and pleaded and he gave me another chance. The rest is history!

Since then whenever I get out Pink Floyd’s Animals to give it a spin I get a morbid feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I can picture myself sitting in my bedroom, staring down the barrel of a life of poverty and homelessness, all because of this record. I find it amazing that a simple object like a record cover can bring on physical symptoms of fear more than twenty years after the initial event.

In case you’re wondering, I scraped through Maths I with a Pass.

2 Responses

  1. MsJaye Says:

    “I get a morbid feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I can picture myself sitting in my bedroom, staring down the barrel of a life of poverty and homelessness…”

    Probably a rather good match for the lyrical sentiments put forth by Mr Waters on the album in question. “Stone… stone… tone… one… one…” :)

  2. snubian Says:

    It’s enough to induce a Pictish rant.