‘Same here, ‘says Douglas. ‘I wouldn’t have voted for Michael Foot, but you won’t catch me ever voting for the Conservatives.’
‘I voted for Blair,’ says Miles. ‘As did anyone with any sense.’
‘Indeedly-doodly,’ says Douglas. ‘I certainly don’t want to marry Milton Friedman. Keynes, maybe.’
‘Do you want to marry Milton Friedman, Ren?’ asks Miles.
‘Of course I do, you fucking fools. Milt’s the one man I’d go gay for.’
‘Really? There goes my theory about how you got your job,’ says Miles.
‘That was pure expediency. I just closed my eyes and thought of the pension. And the super-fast internet speed we academics get. Anyway, I’m going to get a T-shirt made up saying “Cum Dumpster for Milt”.’
‘You could borrow Miles’ shirt,’ says Douglas, ‘the one that says “Cum dumpster for Dad”, and cross out the “Dad” and write “Milt” instead.’
‘Well, well, well,’ says Miles, ‘Our northern chemist proves himself an impudent scoundrel.’
‘Impotent?’ says Ren.
‘When I come to your office, Dougy-boy,’ says Miles, ‘and find Beresford Sadler up to his balls in your sigmoid then don’t expect me to keep quiet.’
‘That’s right Douglas, you can expect him to join in,’ says Ren.
‘No prizes for guessing you’re all single,’ says Lily.
‘Well, we lack Jason’s refinement and erudition,’ says Ren. ‘That is to be admitted. Miles, in addition, lacks Douglas’ work ethic, which he has in place of talent, and Douglas lacks the confidence Miles has in asking for sex five minutes into a date.’
‘While Ren lacks Douglas’s tender touch with a vagina,’ says Miles.
‘Plus he has the disadvantage that his chosen field is about two thousand years out of date?’ says Lily.
‘Touche, fair lady,’ says Ren. ‘And touche, cheeky cunt.’
‘Well, those are my middle names,’ says Miles. ‘At least Cunt is. I’m having the Cheeky added by deed poll.’
‘Well, yes, we are all single,’ says Ren. ‘At least, I know I am, and simple induction tells me these two are as well. Pray tell, where does Jason hail from?’
‘Undergrad, Oxford. Postgrad, LSE.’
‘But where does he actually come from? Was he created in a lab?’
‘Surrey. In quite a good five-star lab.’
‘You are a bibacious lot,’ says Ren, noting the near-empty glasses. ‘Time for another round.’
‘It’s my shout,’ says Douglas. ‘Allow me. Plus I need a piss.’
When Douglas comes back with the drinks the sun comes back out. They’re all getting slightly crazed by the booze, banter and general merriment, and the heady but possibly unwarranted feelings of optimism about what lies ahead. They clink glasses in a toast.
‘Hear, hear for Grayvington,’ says Ren. ‘The only place stupid enough to employ us.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ says Douglas. ‘I had offers from Leeds, Glasgow and Durham.’
‘And you chose here? Are you insane? Why?’
‘I come from Leeds, and I want to feel like I’ve escaped it. Glasgow and Durham are too far away. I wanted to live in the south, where London’s not an age away. And Grayvington has a good physics department. And Garrett Slade is here, and I want to work with him.’
‘Economics is good here too,’ says Lily. ‘Is Philosophy not so good?’
‘Well, it’s okay as far as the analytic people go. The big problem with it is that it’s a split department. Lots of Continentalists. And they’re all shitheads. Plus there are some other shitheads as well, like the Head of Department. And Derek The Frog. So the shithead quotient is quite high.’
‘How’s Psychology?’ says Douglas.
‘It’s all right,’ says Miles. ‘Good cognitive people here for me to work with.’
‘I see you also have Lucius Birch,’ says Ren.
‘Who’s he?’ says Douglas.
‘I think I’ve heard of him,’ says Lily.
‘Big social psych guy. Flavour of the month amongst the New Statesman types. Gets his work into the newspapers.’
‘He’s a bit of an arsehole in person, though,’ says Miles.
‘A left-wing darling who’s an arsehole?’ says Ren. ‘That’s unheard of.’
‘He’s left-wing all right. That surprised me. I wasn’t expecting him to be so left-wing in person.’
‘Really?’ says Ren. ‘But all his research somehow, magically, supports left-wing conclusions?’
‘That just the way the research turned out.’
‘Is that so? So he’s Mr. Objective, and the world just happened to turn out to be left-wing?’
‘Well, yes. I don’t think he’s fiddling his data, if that’s what you’re implying.’
‘Who knows what’s he’s up to. But I would trust him about as far as Balderstone would be displaced by a kick up the bum from me. I mean, do you trust Balderstone? The Panopticons? Wetlands? Would you swear an oath that they’re objective and trustworthy?’
‘I guess not.’
‘Hell no,’ says Lily.
‘Hell no squared,’ says Douglas.
‘But they’re in bullshit fields, where you can say any old rubbish,’ says Miles. ‘I’m in Psychology. You can’t fiddle things there. Anything you put out has to go through peer review, where serious people check over your work.’
‘Well…’ says Lily.
‘What?’ says Miles.
‘It has to be said that most people in social psych are left-wing themselves.’
‘But…’ says Miles, trailing off.
‘Ren has a point,’ says Douglas. ‘It’s hard for a referee to sniff out fiddling data unless they start with an attitude of scepticism.’
‘Which they won’t have,’ says Ren. ‘He’s publishing what they want to hear. There’s no-one in that field who has any scepticism at all about that sort of research, so they just wave it on through.’
‘And it’s not necessarily even about fiddling data,’ says Lily. ‘It’s also about how you set things up, the assumptions you have, which may not get properly challenged when all your referees have the same mindset. That’s something we’re reasonably good at in Economics. It’s more mixed politically so there isn’t as much groupthink going on.’
‘No way,’ says Miles. ‘Lucius may be an arse, but he’s not crooked.’
‘Let’s hope for the sake of your department’s reputation that he’s not,’ says Lily.
Miles spots something which allows him to change the subject. ‘Fuck, look who it is.’
They all look around.
‘Who?’ says Douglas.
‘The tooth fairy?’ says Ren.
‘Your secret Latvian wife and three kids?’ says Lily.
‘No, they’re all safely stored away in organ banks,’ says Miles.
‘Including the tooth fairy?’ says Ren.
‘Look over there,’ says Miles, indicating with his head.
‘Jesus,’ says Ren, hastily looking away. ‘You could have warned us. I almost made eye contact. Could have been blinded.’
‘Oh,’ says Douglas. ‘What a pleasant surprise. The cream of our fellow Class of 2000 compatriots.’
Malcom Ascaris and Lenora Helminth are walking out of the bar with some other people, with drinks. They are about to sit down on the grass near the Lorenzos, when they see their TITE rivals out of the corner of their eyes just in time for them all to move on a safer distance away.
‘Who are they with?’ asks Douglas. ‘They all look the same as Malcom and Lenora, only a bit younger.’
‘Judging by the serious but self-satisfied looks they all have on such a lovely Friday afternoon I’d say that probably they’re postgrads from Politics and/or Sociology,’ says Lily.
‘I think the red Marx T-shirt that Mr. Groovy Stubble is wearing would confirm that deduction,’ says Miles.
‘It was an induction, not a deduction,’ says Ren.
‘And to think some people say philosophers are pedants,’ says Miles. ‘How unfair of them.’
‘Do you like it when non-psychologists get psychological terms wrong?’ says Ren, who doesn’t wait for an answer. ‘They are a tomentose lot. Especially the women.’
‘Comatose? Already?’ says Douglas.
‘Tomentose. Hairy,’ says Ren.
At this point a mustachioed man in his early-mid thirties, wearing camouflage trousers and a ‘Smash the State’ shirt, joins Malcom and Lenora’s group.
‘Fucking hell, it’s Tony fucking Shaver,’ says Ren.
‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’ says Miles. ‘I mean, apart from being the obvious saviour of society.’
‘When he’s not being the people’s poet, he’s a lecturer in my department. One of the delightful departmental adornments I was telling you about earlier.’
‘So if he wants to smash the state what would he do if someone goes over and punches him in the snozz?’ says Miles. ‘Call the police?’
‘Oh, he’s no anarchist,’ says Ren. ‘He’s just another hard leftist. They all pretend to be anarchists, because that seems cooler than saying that really you’re a big-state socialist conformist, who’ll ruthlessly prosecute his endless rules using a violent, knock-on-the-door-at-3am enforcement machine. That doesn’t pull as many chicks as saying you’re an “anarchist”. Except for the fat, hairy, angry ones, who want that sort of society too.’
‘People like him sometimes really do act like they want anarchy, though,’ says Lily.
‘Well, they do want temporary anarchy,’ says Ren. ‘That’s an old leftist tactic. And a fascist one too. Temporary anarchy provides them with the opportunity to take over, and then enforce their iron fist. Believe me, any such anarchy will be most fugacious. Look at how Soviet Russia got created. Jesus, I can’t even glare at the fucker, because I have to work with him. Time for more drinks, I think. Miles, will you do the honours this time?’
Miles comes back with drinks, crisps and peanuts. ‘Best to have some food with all this alcohol,’ he says.
‘A packet of crisps isn’t going to do much,’ says Lily.
‘I’ve still got some food in my backpack,’ says Douglas, who rummages around in it, before pulling out a banana.
‘The drunken monkey,’ says Ren.
‘Anyone want a bite?’ asks Douglas, to headshakes.
‘Drunken monkey indeed,’ says Miles. ‘I met a guy at a conference who was telling me about some new theory called the drunken monkey hypothesis.’
‘A theory about Douglas? How very prescient,’ says Lily.
‘It’s the theory that we primates developed a smell, and a taste, for alcohol because alcohol is a pretty reliable indicator of the presence of ripe fruit, because ripe fruit starts to ferment after a while.’
‘That’s true of the student bar,’ says Ren. ‘The young men have noticed the link between the alcohol and the presence of plenty of ripe fruit.’
‘You’re a ripe old fruit yourself,’ says Douglas.
‘Anyway, this theory may not be true,’ says Miles, ‘but it may be worth a grant application. Get funded to investigate why we like alcohol. Ren can be my first test subject.’
‘I’ll volunteer,’ says Lily. ‘if you can get a grant to test taste discrimination in alcohol imbibers.’
‘Sure,’ says Miles, ‘you can be at one end of the discrimination spectrum with your fine wines. Ren can be at the other end with his lager, and his vodka and lemonades.’
‘Let’s just get the University to let us set up our own Institute. The Institute for Advanced Alcohol Research,’ says Lily.
‘We’ve all had that idea,’ says Douglas.
‘I’ll be Professor of Beer Goggles,’ says Ren. ‘Miles can be Reader in Special Brew Studies. Lily can be Professor of Pencil Shavings and Hints of Chocolate. Douglas, Professor of Meths. Professor Douglas Oram, the distinguished creator of a whole new field, Methematics.’
‘Or should it be Methemetics?’ says Douglas.
‘Up to you old boy, it’s your field,’ says Miles.
‘Great. How do we put this plan into action?’ says Lily.
‘We leave the campus soon, for precautionary reasons,’ says Ren, ‘and then we drink copious amounts of alcohol in various hostelries around the city, repeating this procedure on numerous occasions, thus acquiring skills, knowledge and talents that the University and various grant-dispensing bodies will eventually be unable to ignore.’
‘A capital idea,’ says Miles. ‘As long as we can write the application on the back of a beer coaster.’