‘I love deadlines,’ said the famously procrastinating author Douglas Adams. ‘I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ Most people need some kind of deadline to concentrate the mind. For the writers on the 1960s satirical TV show That Was the Week, That Was, it was the ticking meter of a taxi cab outside the door. ‘Willis [Hall] and I tended to write our TW3 sketch at the last minute on Friday morning, when the BBC would send round a taxi to whisk it over to Lime Grove for the cast to learn and rehearse for the following evening,’ recalled the late Keith Waterhouse. ‘Sometimes, if inspiration faltered, we would hear the cab meter remorselessly ticking away in the street below even as we wrestled with the final lines. The fashion at the time for sketches without blackout punchlines was put down to the influence of Beyond the Fringe; I am inclined to think it was often more to do with the impatient presence of a cab at the door.’
I have never missed a deadline in my life. It is part of my suffocating eagerness to please. The trouble is, there is always another deadline to replace the one you just made. Sometimes my life feels like one long essay crisis. The modern, managerialist university has no memory: the deadline you just made is replaced by another set of hurdles to leap over. I guess this is how capitalism works: slash and burn, endless, limitless growth. Everyone in universities is now worrying about the looming deadline for the REF [the Research Excellence Framework]. But that will come and go, to be replaced by Year Zero and another set of deadlines. No doubt I will meet all of those as well - like the good, well-behaved, docile little boy that I am.