I was never taught by him when I was a student. But he is legendary. Gert Peek is a soil science teacher to the bone. He is so nice, he bagged the Teacher of the Year award, and I hear nothing but enthusiastic stories about the man whose soil drill is almost an extra limb by now.
Personally I’ve never even held a soil drill. I stand in for someone in fieldwork now and then, and that’s about it. So the email I got from two students of Landscape Architecture took me by surprise. Gert Peek can’t come this year, they write, so the first-year committee is looking for someone else to give the lecture during the first-year weekend. And my name had come up.
What an honour. A lot of unpaid work too, but I can’t say no to such a flattering request. A short briefing follows, in the Forum.
‘Do you know who I am, actually?’ I ask. ‘No, we looked up your photo.’ I gulp. ‘Well, I’m not a soil scientist,’ I go on. ‘I’m quite happy to come and talk, but I’ll do so from a broader perspective.’ ‘That is fine,’ they said with relief. The content of my lecture doesn’t seem to matter. Disappointed, I ask when and where the weekend is, exactly. ‘Um...’ they say in unison. ‘I’ll send you the plans,’ says one of them, reaching for his mobile phone.
Mildly offended, I cycle back to my office. I give myself a pep talk: it’s very nice that they want a lecture at all, when it’s not compulsory. And that they want to hear a bit more about my subject – and during the weekend at that.
In my office I check my email. I skim through the plans. The lecture is crucial, I read: we absolutely must find a substitute, otherwise we won’t get funding from the university.