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Deirdre Wetherby was not only the confidante, and more, of Kevin Flute, but was also a very conscientious cleaner, responsible for the first and second floor of the Old Moore’s Building which housed, somewhat incongruously, the Department of Mathematics and the Department of History. Two days earlier Deirdre had been tidying the Head of Mathematics’ office and, as you would expect, carefully moved the oddly positioned large screen obscuring the window sill in order to dust. And there it was! Deirdre immediately informed Professor Flute. The VC had been forced to act. Deirdre was right. The Head of Mathematics was no more.
And so it was that on that particular Wednesday morning Rufus Norman, Head of History, and James Crossly, the most senior academic in Mathematics, though he didn’t know that yet, now sat nervously opposite Professor Flute, waiting for him to get to the point.
Meanwhile, Deirdre Wetherby was lovingly dusting a bust of the Vice Chancellor on the far side of the room. Her appearance was almost theatrical, a caricature of a 1940s Mrs Mopp crossed with a 1970s Hilda Ogden, yet a strikingly intelligent and smart woman of a certain age, of modest stature, with curly hair, possibly permed. ‘Can I do you now, sir?’ had never passed her lips, and never would, nor did she have a ‘muriel’ on her wall, and anyone who heard her speak for the first time was immediately shocked by her academic manner and intellect. No ordinary cleaning lady!
‘Well you see,’ said Flute, at long last, ‘Deirdre discovered a pot plant in the Head of Maths office, so he’s immediately been put on gardening leave and will not be returning to the University.’
Rufus laughed out loud. The VC did not.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Crossly.
‘A pot plant, James, like at Woodstock or the Isle of Wight!’ interjected Deirdre from afar.
Crossly looked gobsmacked. Rufus laughed again.
‘So,’ continued Flute, ‘after full consultation with Deirdre, we’ve decided that she will act as cleaner for Mathematics AND History.’
Rufus laughed again at what he perceived as trivia but Crossly understood the implication and nodded, but with great concern.
‘Yes, in the light of events, I have decided to further strengthen the academic credibility of University North by restructuring the departments, as part of my Thrusting Forward agenda you understand. As from today, Dr Rufus Norman is now Head of Mathematics and History, a new and vibrant department with immense potential.’
Rufus looked gobsmacked and went into shock. It was Crossly’s turn to laugh, clearly an error, as he immediately realised when faced with Flute’s fixed stern stare. The VC continued.
‘Deirdre has explained to me the huge potential synergy between your departments and you will immediately validate two new degree programmes, History of Mathematics, very popular elsewhere she assures me, and Mathematics of History. The latter puzzled me at first but.’
‘It’s quite obvious really,’ interrupted Deirdre. ‘For instance, social and economic history could be viewed through econometrics and financial modelling, whilst war and political history would be aligned with game theory and dynamical systems.’
‘Excellent Deirdre!,’ enthused Flute.
The VC was clearly excited. He smiled at his long-time confidante.
‘Since you will now be responsible for cleaning this new and novel department I shall, of course, double your rate of pay to thirteen pounds per hour!’
She grinned coquettishly.
The meeting was at an end and the two academics were sent on their way to take care of business. Kevin Flute had been perfectly aware of the problems in both departments prior to Deirdre’s discovery and the inappropriate behaviour of the former Head of Maths had given him the ideal opportunity to act decisively.
When they got outside the VC’s office, the new Deputy Head of the new Department of Mathematics and History, whispered to his new Head:
‘He’s completely barking you know.’
‘Mmm, you think so?’, replied Rufus Norman. ‘Dangerous times my friend. We need to make this work. Flute can be ruthless. And as for Deirdre Wetherby? As sharp as Excalibur!’