I was a spy once upon a time. I had a stick for a gun. And my shifts were strict – 15 minutes at 10.35 every morning, Monday to Friday.
It was hardly James Bond stuff back in my day, admittedly. More like a good version of Spooks. But boy, I enjoyed my time as Agent Hunter.
I was seven. And my mate Liam played the part of baddie in the playground of Roseberry Infant School.
Roles were reversed at lunch time, so I know what it’s like on both sides.
It’s a bit surprising, then, that I wasn’t the first person national security services approached during an alleged recruitment drive round our campus recently.
Anywhere between ‘zero and 10’ lecturers and students at our uni have been asked to spy on their peers, says Black Students’ councillor Munsif Mufalil.
Not exactly panic time. But naturally, the handful who were grabbed by men in macs wearing those comedy glasses-and-moustache combos were left a little startled.
I mean, it’s not every day someone slips you a thick brown envelope in exchange for listening in on Computer Science and Aerospace Engineering seminars.
I guess that’d be enough to frighten any student from the faculties of Arts and Humanities or Social Science.
But surely some students accepted their cash-coated advances? If only up to 10 people have reported being approached, we can assume that just as many said yes.
Alarming news, presumably, for anyone looking at a future with al-Qaeda. Take a look around you. That fella with the shit beard and thick-rimmed glasses. Has he got peep holes in that broadsheet newspaper?
It’s hard to fathom why Britain’s top intelligence agents need to call on the help of 18-25-year-olds whose most telling experience of subterfuge is a pimps-and-hoes fancy dress bar crawl.
For most of us, spying on fellow students in our spare time is an added pressure we could do without at the moment. At a time of the year when deadlines loom demanding word counts of 7,000 plus, the last thing I need is the burden of compiling a dossier on my neighbours or classmates.
I hope I’m not a suspect. Not least for the sake of the person who would’ve had the misfortune of following my life over the past month or so. There was one week when a five-minute walk to the Euro Spar in Broomhill for some mushrooms was considered a highlight.
It’s important now that the Union does all it can to help put its students at ease. Unfortunately, they probably hadn’t anticipated the ‘threat’ of anti-terrorism when preparing their budget for the next academic year. So forget snipers patrolling on top of the Hicks Building, or wire fences surrounding the Bar One beer garden.
Instead, councillor Mufalil, who brought the spying scandal to the attention of Union Council last week, says he’ll settle for a motion to be added to the Union’s constitution.
That means he wants his fellow councillors to agree spy scouts have no place recruiting students here, before scribbling it down on a document only the most dedicated Union councillors can be arsed to read. Quite a statement.
It’s a slightly presumptuous motion though. Because, while the weeks preceding second semester exams is hardly an ideal time to get involved in such a demanding part-time job, now is hardly the time for students to be ruling out alternative career options.
Okay, so there’s one or two ethical questions to ponder before you agree to become a spy.
But not nearly as many as you’d have to consider before filling out an application for the BAE Systems graduate scheme.
Terrorism, of course, is no laughing matter.
Just ask Paul Chambers, a bloke who was arrested by South Yorkshire Police earlier this year after he joked about blowing up Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport on Twitter.
It’s easy for me to say the Western world is over-sensitive to suspected terrorism. I was more worried about my History homework on 9/11.
And being from a small town in the North East of England, the 7/7 attacks in London would’ve felt just as far away had they been in Vanuatu.
We were reminded only last weekend of the existing threat of terrorism after the failed Times Square car bomb.
But it was the failed bombing of the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight last Christmas Day which brought Britain’s vigilance under renewed scrutiny.
The bomber, Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, studied in London for three years on a legitimate student visa.
And there are legitimate worries the system could be exploited by other wannabee terrorists in the mould of Abdulmutallab.
But spying on campus at the University of Sheffield? I’d hope there were more elaborate plans in place for combating terrorism in Britain.
If not, I’d better give my old mate Liam a ring.