‘Come in,’ says Ren.
A sullen-looking student with curly black hair and a black hoodie shuffles into the room, and sits in front of Ren’s desk.
‘What can I do for you… Sebastian, isn’t it?’
‘Seb. I wanda ask about been allowed to miss fis week’s Metaphysics lecture and seminar on Fursday. I fort I should ask because you marked that guy absent who’d been on a ski trip last week, even though he’d told you where he’d been.’
‘I see. And where are you off to?’
‘I’m going to a protest camp?’
‘Yeah. We’re going to learn more effective ways of protesting.’
‘How much are they charging for this?’
‘Six hundred and fifty quid’
‘That’s a lot of money.’
‘Well, we get to network wivv ovva activists as well.’
‘I hope you’re not spending too much of your grant on this. You’ve got to eat.’
‘Here’s the fing. I got the money off my Dad. He works in the city. I told him it’s for a ski trip wivv some of my mates from school. Vere’s supposed to be firteen of us going.’
‘I remember now. You went to Crace School, didn’t you?’
‘It’s pronounced “cray”. The “c” is silent.’
‘How could I forget the pronunciation of dear old Crace School?’
‘It’s not a dear old school, I fink it’s a lot of fascist fugs.’
‘Really? But isn’t your headmaster well-known for his radical views?’
‘Yeah, he’s good. And most of the masters too. But it’s a fascist structure.’
‘Well, perhaps this is not the time to pursue the matter of the structure of Crace School. Do I take it that you want me not to register you as absent for this week?’
‘I can’t do that. You can only be excused for your absence if it’s like a medical issue, or a death in the family, that sort of thing.’
‘But my friend Jonty Forpe represented the University in the UK University Hockey Championships, and he got let off attending classes for vat week.
‘Yes. There is that. The University feels that it has to allow students to miss classes if they are representing the University in sports events. It’s not a decision that goes down well with all academics, but as the student is, in a way, officially representing the University then it’s hard to see how the University could mark that student as absent without authorisation for doing so. Attending a protest camp doesn’t really come under the same category.’
‘Fat doesn’t seem fair to me. Fis is part of my political education.’
Seb’s pronunciation is winding Ren up something chronic, but as bold and reckless as Ren generally is, he isn’t bold or reckless enough to pass comment on the pronunciation of his students. Not even a little bit of advice to Seb along the lines that while Seb is never going to set the world of intellect alight, his deliberate refusal to pronounce the digraph ‘th’ properly makes him look even more fick than he really is. (Or lazy – it’s just so much work, man, to, like, be movin’ ma tongue all the time.)
‘I wouldn’t worry about being marked absent. You don’t have to come to all your classes. Officially, you’re supposed to come to eighty per cent, not counting classes missed for legitimate reasons, which allows you some leeway for improving your extra-curricular skills. And you can usually get away with missing a lot more than that, although officially I’m not supposed to say that. So if you decide not to come to class, then you’ll be marked absent, but you may feel that it’s worth missing this week’s classes for that. That’s your decision, though.’
‘But I’ve missed some classes already fis semester.’
‘How many, exactly?’
‘Er, quida few. Fere was a protest march in London I had to go to.’
‘Yeah, it was about Israel, I fort fat as a University student I had a responsibility to go. Fat’s the fick and fin of it. And fen there was the trip to Amsterdam with the RTS.’
‘The Radical Finkers Society.’
‘I understand. Too much serious protesting makes Jack a dull boy.’
Seb looks at him suspiciously, not sure if Dr Christopher is making fun of him or not.
‘It had been arranged ages ago, so I had to go frew wiv it. But I told Derek – Dr Lucas – about fat and he marked fat one down as an auforised absence.’
‘Did he now? Look, I suggest that you do go to some of your outside activities, but you need to keep the number of them in perspective, and bear in mind that your grades might be affected. I won’t pretend that I didn’t do lots of extra-curricular activities and cut a lot of classes, but I then had to take the hit of my grades being affected. So will you.’
Even as these words are coming out of his mouth Ren is wondering whether it’s wise to be telling students even this sanitised version of his undergraduate career. Seb brightens.
‘So I can frow a lot of classes and still get a good degree?’
‘I didn’t say that exactly. What marks are you getting at the moment?’
‘Mid 2:2. Well, lower-mid 2:2.’
‘So to get a 2:1 you’re going to have to improve significantly, and start getting marks in the mid-to-high 2:1 range at least. Do you think that’s a possibility?’
‘Is it at all likely, though?’
‘Let me fink it frew.’ Seb stays silent for a few moments. ‘To be honest, I fink it’s not going to happen, whevver or not I try. I won’t have any trouble keeping up a 2:2, fo. So why should I try any harder fan I am? My degree’s basically already determined.’
‘If you think like that you might end up with a third.’
‘Probably won’t vo, will I? So fat’s not a fret hanging over me. It’s hard to do 2:1 level work. At least for me it is. But you have to have brain damage to get a fird here. Even when I write a load of rubbish at the last minute on a feory I know nuffing about I still scrape a 2:2. So fanks for the advice, but why I should I bovver trying harder? I’ll just coast frew the year, do what I want, and get my 2:2.’
Ren thinks about various noble speeches he could make to try to convince the young man in front of him, but then decides that with this guy it’s a waste of time. Which is a bit worrying. He’s supposed to get this cynical ten years into the job. Not in his first semester. But he’ll save his his noble speeches for someone who’s worth it. Maybe one will come along eventually.