Lingering over tea and marmite-tinted toast this morning, after hosing my scorched throat with pint after pint of blissful water, I got on to the subjects of doctorates as ordeals. Exams are the rituals that mark our lives, the rights of passage that lead us into adulthood - which is why continuous assessment is for wimps - and doctorates take this to a whole new level. Their function, I opined in a manner which seemed less pompous at the time than it does on reflection, is to grind us down, to flatten us out, to smash us into smithereens so we can pick ourselves up and turn ourselves into new people.
And this ordeal, I said, has all its own rituals. Like supervision.
You know how it works. You appear, embarrassed and ashamed, knock, and shuffle in, greeting your supervisor, and mumbling an apology for not seeing him in however long.
Well, don't worry about, he'll say. You're here now. So. What have you been doing?
And then you'll hang your head, feeling worse than ever, and talk about all the things you'd meant to do, but didn't. The things you tried and gave up, the things you just couldn't cope with, and all the trivial distractions you found so you could avoid doing the very thing that you're here for. You're crap, you're thinking. You're utterly worthless. He must hate you.
And then, after a silence, he'll smile and say, well, that's not quite as bad as it sounds. There are some bits of good in there, and you meant well, at least sometimes. And anyway, this is a chance to make a fresh start. How about you try this, and do this as well, and really, you must avoid that. I know, it's tempting, but it does you no good. But this could be good. You've got the potential to do this, after all. You wouldn't be here otherwise. It'll be okay.
Oh, and one last thing, here's something you should do now. In the library. Now.
And you walk out, and the sun is shining, and the birds are singing, and you want to join them. All is right with the world.
And on the way to the library you think, oh, the others are in the pub, they'll want to know how it went.
And the cycle begins anew.
Supervision as the academic sacrament of reconciliation. I can't wait to tell my supervisor. And my priest.