The office is empty and so quiet it feels like everything's fallen asleep - apart from me and my cup of tea - and once I've cleared my desk and finished playing this Paul Van Dyk mix at ASBO volume, I too am going to be packing up and clearing off home until the start of January.
I've been in office now for a smidge under five months, and it's been nothing short of a whirlwind ride - there have been late nights, lots of hard work, dangling from trees, "ideas theft" from other students' unions around the country, awards, tears, new ground broken, relationships made and un-made, shouting, hugging and even the occasional drink.
Scattered around my desk are piles of to-dos scrawled hurriedly on the back of yellow post-it notes. These probably total less than 10% of my overall pile of "things I must do two weeks ago or the world comes to an end", and even if I could clone myself over Christmas and not sleep, I wouldn't be able to complete everything I need to.
Still, this year has been, this far at least, an incredible learning experience. I've been more stressed and grumpy than I've ever been, and spent more money on bills and less on my social life - now a distance memory - than ever before, but I wouldn't change the majority of it for the world.
Last night over a beer, the conversation wandered onto the forthcoming Sabbatical elections, which pretty much kick off as soon as we come back in the New Year. We agreed that one of the hardest things any election candidate has to get their heads around is the fact that, as a Sabb, you're a trustee of the Union charity first - taking on all the responsibilities and duties that go with that role - and a president/sports officer/support officer/meeja whore/etc second.
What this boils down to is having to modify your thinking a little... Ok, a lot: when it comes to making important decisions about the future of the Union, as the Sabb team each year is tasked with doing to make sure the Union continues to provide a democratic and student-focused service, you have to have your "trustee hat" on.
For me, this year, this has already brought me a couple of sleepless nights where I've had to make decisions which call into question whether it's more important to put my trustee's responsibilities first, or my media responsibilities. Without going into detail (for I fear I may be taken outside and shot... Ok, maybe not shot...) I hope I made the right calls, but sometimes the only person who can be sure your decision was the right one is you, especially if the rest of the world happens to think you're the devil incarnate for making the choice you made, because they don't understand your reasoning.
I know the other sabbs this year have also faced some tough decisions they never expected to have to make, and possibly the second hardest part of being a Sabb is going from higher education - where you have lecturers and course mates to guide you to making The Right Decision - into a role where the future isn't planned, the decisions aren't clear, and the "right" answer is only right if you believe in it, commit to it, and do the hard work which your particular decision entails to make it happen.
This rambling monologue seems to be circling a potential problem - as a former maths teacher of mine put it, "always show your workings"; it's all too easy to fall into the trap of making decisions which affect students as a Sabb team without explaining to the student body why the decision was made on their behalf, and what factors were taken into account. In fact, it's all too easy to completely miss telling students that a decision has been made by the Sabb Exec which affects them!
This year, we've made some major inroads into further developing regular lines of communication between the Sabbs and students, making it easier and more beneficial for students to take note of and get involved in what the Union has been doing. We have the newspaper, a greater presence on two of the major online communities - Facebook and Flickr, and we've also been working on bolstering our content online, in print and on the radio.
It's important to stress that none of this means that communications in previous years have been seriously lacking, or that previous Sabbatical execs have failed to communicate with students - the Union has a rich and varied history of finding ways of developing a conversation with its students each year, and this year is no different.
Media isn't the only way that the Union listens to and talks to its membership, but if we can continue with current trends, the Union's (largely student-led) media has the ability to get students involved who - much like myself while I was a student - would never pick up a copy of Pugwash, tune in to Pure FM, or visit UPSU.net unless they (a) could get something free, or (b) had a gun held against their heads.
As always, getting into the consciousness of students isn't a science, so we have to continually find ways of catching the attention of Portsmouth's students over the din of coursework, friends, Facebook (damn you, Facebook!! :o), a social life, and the myriad other things all competing for a slice of each student's thinking time.
In all of this, it's important not to put the cart before the horse: each year, the Sabbatical Exec must embrace their Union media, providing a constant stream of information from "what have I done today?" to detailed reports and explanations on decisions being taken by the sabb team members, why they're spending their time debating them, and why.
As a Students' Union, we know how important it is to not only broadcast information to students, but to have an open and frank conversation with the student body, too. The Sabb team are publicly accountable for the actions they take, and should always feel that their work is under scrutiny - although I should add that this doesn't mean we should feel we're under suspicion.
Everything we do should be justifiable, and we should always go to great lengths to explain what it is that we're doing and why, even if Joe Student's initial reaction to hearing that the Sabb team have decided to do x, y and z is to call us a bunch of idiots because the decision seems unbelievably daft.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. All I came here to say was this: the last few months have been very busy, very hard, very enlightening and I wouldn't change them for the world. The Union is doing many great things, but we as a Sabb exec must make sure we don't lose sight of the need to maintain a dialogue with the student body through whatever means we can. We're not doing too badly at the moment, but that doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels, either, and if you have any ideas on how we can give students more involvement in their Union, just get in touch!
If you're reading this and considering running for office in the Sabb elections this year, I sincerely hope you go for it. Have a look at the Sabbs' pages to find out about each of our roles, read the Union Council meeting minutes to find out what's been going on over the last five years, browse our back-issues of Pugwash and Pugwash News to get up to speed on the Union and everything it stands for (and read more about the Union here, too), and don't be afraid to come into the Sabb office any time for a chat (or, failing that, e-mail us).
Even if you run in the elections and don't get in, you'll still have made it through one of the most testing and intense experiences you can have while you're a student. That said, it's also one of the most enjoyable and worthwhile experiences you can go through. If you need any further reassurance, the campaigning period is only two weeks out of your life, and you'll have the Easter holidays to catch up on any coursework you might have let slip a bit (but don't let your lecturers know that!).