And Alex Said: Machines

22 November 2002

Column 7: Machines, 22nd November 2002

It was 2.58pm and I was on my way to a Physics tutorial which started at 3pm. I pushed the button for a lift and then waited for 27 minutes until, finally, a lift came that was both heading in the right direction and wasn’t so full that I would likely suffocate.

Twenty minutes later and we’d made it as far as level 9, where everybody else got out, leaving me alone. The doors shut. Then there was a thud. Then a wallop, a bang and a clang, followed by a shudder. Then a kind of wibbly-wobbly boinging motion that doesn’t really have a good word to describe it. The doors opened, and I found myself on level 9½.

Finding all of this rather too odd for a Tuesday afternoon, and seeing as I’d missed my tutorial now anyway, I decided to go down again, but this time I thought it would be a good plan to take the stairs. Heading towards the Physics common room, I couldn’t help but think that things looked a little different to usual.

I’m not sure whether it was the old woman serving gruel from a large cauldron, or the stagecoaches passing outside, or the students sitting around writing with quills onto parchment, but things seemed to be a little more old-fashioned than normal, even for the Physics department.

I sat in the common room on an oak chair, near to some students wearing top hats. Somebody was fighting with what looked like a clockwork coffee machine.

“Please, sir, I want some more,” said the student.

“More what?” said the coffee machine, sounding very much like an old man with a cold.

“Cappuccino please.”

A sneezing sound came from the coffee machine. “That’ll be four guineas, six farthings, two crowns, three pounds, eight groats, five shillings, sixpence ha’penny please.”

The student handed a coin to the machine, which then gave him back his change in a wheelbarrow. Several whirrings could be heard and then an elderly hand reached out to give the student his coffee. He sat down near me.

“Why this coffee, I liken it to a foul broth of intestinal fluids,” he said.

“Pray yes, of that it doth remind me also,” said another student, with a large boil on his nose.

“Verily, for much displeasure hath this coffee brought upon insides”, I replied, which was odd because I don’t normally talk like that.

The student with the boil looked at his pocket watch. “I shall now depart for the typewriter suite, for I must send a letter to my lecturer via carrier pigeon. I have vainly tried to pit myself against a difficult problem sheet,” and he left.

“Away we to the union this fine eve, for a night of idle pleasures?” said a girl to the student with the coffee. He appeared to be itching to get into her corset – or was that just because of the fleas?

I left, to try to find a way back to the twenty-first century.