‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go home now’

The sergeant major of MetaForum retires

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‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go home now’

Whether MetaForum is your regular study haunt, you've ever thought of taking a short cut through the market hall on your bike, or you have had a sneaky smoke outside the designated zone, at some point in time you must have seen Frans Goossens - and if not, he's certainly seen you. He is retiring this year, but we can't let him go without taking a look back over the years with him. With his glance darting here and there at regular intervals, he talks to Cursor on MS Teams, a medium that is not as convivial as he'd like. “You know how I like to keep an eye on everything - even though I've got you on the line.”

by
photo Bart van Overbeeke

More than five months of last year he spent at home, compelled - like almost everyone else - to do so by the corona measures. By no means a harsh experience for Goossens who - however well he thrives in the customary throng of campus life and however much he sees himself as being a “people person” - also has plenty to occupy him off campus; including the role of carer for his wife Jacqueline and his mother-in-law.

Shortly after the summer he returned to the campus, where transparent screens, floor stickers showing arrows, face masks and other protective gear and routines now call the shots as we go about our daily business. Different, notably quieter, times have descended on this building, where since its re-opening - following a radical makeover - he staffs the central reception desk. He counts himself lucky to be stationed in MetaForum: “There is almost no life at the uni, but here in the library there are always people. I like that.”

For over twenty-one years he has now been working at TU/e, just as long as he once worked at DAF, where he started his career, as a paint sprayer. In 1993 he was made redundant, “together with nearly everyone else when the company went bankrupt”. He switched to working for a security company, which led him to join the security team at Philips. Until his then boss left for the university: “We came with him.”

Not, for the record, that the switch from the auto paint shop to security was a random one. Goossens had been picking up jobs in security for years, police dog handler, for instance; he was no stranger to having snapping dogs hanging off his thickly padded body suit. After more than thirty-five years, he has called time on this work. “The doctor said, ‘You've gotta stop doing it. You're getting older, the hematomas aren't resolving any more. A blood clot like that can easily get stuck somewhere and before you know it you'll be drinking through a straw.’”

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An “interesting profession” is how he describes security. “You meet all sorts of people, in a whole range of different situations and at different times of the day. It's got everything.” That the work also involved working irregular hours, shifts, nights and weekends, is something he's always taken in his stride. “You see, I had free time when other people had to go to work.”

Helping people, that's what it's all about. And I still think it's bloody great

Frans Goossens
Receptionist MetaForum

Nevertheless, aged fifty-five, he was no longer expected “to do nights” and was asked whether he might like to become the MetaForum receptionist. “I loved it then and I still do.” Think of a problem, and in his ten years or so Goossens has no doubt solved it for someone. “As long as I can help people, for me that's what it's all about.” Grinning, he leans in towards the webcam, “And I still think it's bloody great.”

And yes, the job often includes ticking off campus residents and visitors for behavior that contravenes the rules or what's been agreed. Increasingly in English - though in his case with a genuine Scottish turn of phrase, learned from his father with British roots - a language that Goossens, in turn, enjoys passing on to his eleven-year-old grandson. Not that he doesn't have a good command of the Queen's English, as he at once demonstrates in his interview with Cursor, “but that's so long-winded. I like short, sharp and clear.”

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Cycling in the market hall, smoking in places where it is not allowed, leaving trash behind; little or nothing escapes Goossens' notice and he's not slow to let it be known. “This past week a student said to me, ‘Do you know what they call you here? The boss.’” Not bad at all, feels this man in his sixties - quite the opposite, in fact. “I'd like to keep it that way. I am not authoritarian by nature, but when it's necessary, I will put my foot down.”

He laughs again, “They know the score. ‘The grey-haired guy's on duty, let's not smoke here now.’” Grinning, he relates how on several occasions he has let students park their bikes in the market hall at their leisure, then let them take their time coming upstairs, and only then has he reprimanded them, sending them off to a cycle shed beyond the covered plaza. “I always let them walk a good long way first. After that they know: someone is keeping an eye on us.”

They know the score. ‘The grey-haired guy's on duty, let's not smoke here now’

Frans Goossens
Receptionist MetaForum

Key words in Goossens’ ‘student-rearing strategy’: short, straight lines, clear communication and agreements, and constant investment. “Whatever you give, you get back. With students it often doesn't take much to put their noses out of joint. But the art lies in wording and doing things in such a way that, ultimately, both parties derive maximum benefit. In this place, you aren't a lone wolf, you're part of the pack.” And in this respect, by his own account, he has never stopped taking a long hard look at himself. “You always have things you can improve, until you take your last breath - and that works in both your own favor and in your customer's.”

One of his loyal ‘customers’ is study association GEWIS. Their paths crossed regularly when he and they were still in the Main Building (now Atlas), but it has really been since the move to MetaForum that he has built a close bond with them. And it is their members and board who have regularly been on the receiving end of his stern fatherly words: ‘Do your bit, eh, boys. Make sure no complaints reach the ears of the building manager (Johan Lauwers, ed.)’. He laughs again, “Johan is the adjutant here; I'm the sergeant major.” It works, says Goossens. “When GEWIS was still in the Main Building, they were almost always late in leaving the building. Here, we were able to make clear agreements from day one and everything runs just as it should.”

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He has plenty of memories to savor of students who he had dealings with while working in security. Well, some unsavory ones too… He recalls how security was once called to SSRE in the Bunker, where someone had become unwell. “A girl in a red dress was lying on the stairs. She was covered in ‘yesterday's dinner’, shall I say. Could we just take her along to the hospital. I said, ‘Sorry, but when it's a case of Heineken's disease, it's up to you to get her to the hospital.’”

Although his retirement begins officially in July, March 10th - eight days after his 66th birthday - will be his last day on the campus, thanks to leave he has saved up. That will also be his last week at the controls of MetaForum's public address system; his traditional means of reminding people shortly before closing time to pack their bags and leave the building. Routinely in triplicate: fifteen minutes before time, at ten to, and lastly at five to. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go home now.’ For years the same words, spoken with a pronounced Scottish accent, of course. “Someone asked me lately if it was a tape. No, that’s me.

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Video | privécollectie

“Time to go home” - Frans Goossens @ TU/e

Video | privécollectie

When the very last time rolls around, he may very well add a personal note, in honor of his retirement. “And then I'll leave here with a smile on my face.” A smile of satisfaction for what he has experienced as a “golden job at this wonderful uni”, but also happy at the prospect of having more leisure time.

He knows them, those people without hobbies and other activities, those who have lived mainly for their work. But no yawning void awaits Frans; he has plenty to keep him occupied in the days to come. Like the aforementioned care for his wife Jacqueline, to whom he has been married for forty-two years. His two daughters and a grandson. And, we must not forget, his workouts. “People growing, literally; that's all I see around me. But this sergeant major likes to keep fit.”

Patience is a virtue - in my work, but also for a collector

Frans Goossens
Receptionist MetaForum

Soon he will also have more time to pursue his love of the air force and for the impressive collection he has accumulated. Headgear, honors, medals, items of equipment: Goossens is keen to have everything the Royal Netherlands Air Force has used in its history spanning over seventy-five years. As he emphasizes, “There's plenty you can buy, but for me that stuff doesn't have a story. The art lies in acquiring items through meetings, for example via contacts made on the Air Force open days, where for years now I've run a stand.”

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Far from complete is how he describes his collection, “not that I mind. That's why I've still got the drive.” Topping his wish list is Prince Bernhard's uniform, or King Willem-Alexander's. “But they are items that collectors will never get. The Dutch royals, the Oranje-Nassau family, are well protected, none of their items are ever on the market.” And so he would rather set his sights on more realistic targets, like an emblem formerly used by the civil aviation authority “showing a pair of binoculars”. He laughs, “Patience is a virtue - in my work, but also for a collector.”

And, let's not forget, during a pandemic. After all, this whole corona business, ach, it is “just c-r-a-p, obviously,” he says in a whisper. But Goossens, who like his wife is in the high-risk group, is also resigned. “I believe what the government is doing is good, and we follow their instructions. We shop for groceries - you have to eat, don't you? - but I don't need to go skating or into the city. We go with the flow and as soon as it's our turn to be vaccinated, we'll go along together and get it done.”

He remains upbeat. “There really will come a day when we can all just get going again.” And then, hopefully, it will be possible to hold a good farewell party in the bar at GEWIS. “Over the years, we have actually formed a bit of a bond. The students have already said, ‘Frans, we won't just let you slink off.’”

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