Huddled around broken tables in the decrepit drawing office that served as a lecture theatre back in the day, a lesson in thinking on one’s feet was forced into our heads. At that time it was impossible to know the importance of that moment, or even remotely suspect that it could be a lifesaver in the distant future. There were no flashing light bulbs, no pressmen, no stenographers capturing the moment, no markers denoting the time and space where a life altering truth was uttered.
The occasion was a run of the mill lecture – one of a series on the subject of ‘The Engineer in Society’. We were over a hundred and twenty people crammed into a space once meant for less than fifty. There were blokes straining to listen to the lecturer, others perched on window sills discussing the latest Premiership football results.. and of course blokes milking the opportunity of fraternizing with the especially dengeferous Chemical Engineering girls..
Out of the blue – if my memory serves me right – the Professor, always one for eccentric behaviour, suddenly stopped and asked a question.
What is the answer to every question?
Our very own smarty pants – we called him the prof – rambled on about how there were no absolutes and how everything was relative…. until the real Professor stopped him..
The answer to every question, lads, is it depends he announced. Cue head scratches, confused mumblings and a very visible moment of embarrassment for the lesser prof… If your interrogator is smart, the Professor continued, he would go on to ask what the answer depended on…
Today, seating across the room from the big boss man in the presence of the client I
consult for pretend to advise, I got asked a question I was not expecting. Totally flummoxed, I thought about launching into a spiel intended more to confuse than answer the question posed…. Somehow I remembered the magic answer… It depends….
The big boss man cast a wry smile in my direction…. I wonder if he too had had an inventive Professor back in the day…