‘Why’s he calling me Blythe again?’ mutters Zack, flustered and confused, to no-one in particular.
Walter always calls Zack ‘Blythe’ because there used to be an exactly similar pinguedinous American postgrad in the department before Zack arrived called Blythe Tubshaw, and Walter’s ageing memory centres cannot permanently register the change in personnel due to the qualitative identity between the two goateed, maladriot anti-American Americans.
‘He thinks you’re the ghost of his dead son,’ whispers a bum-fuzzled Ren, who’s thinks he’s being hilarious, to Zack. ‘His son Blythe drank rat poison one night by mistake which Walter left out in a Lucozade bottle, and ever since then he’s haunted Walter’s office. Although only when Walter is trying to sort out admissions.’
‘I don’t understand what this is,’ says Zack.
‘You see, Blythe doesn’t want any new young people in Walter’s life, probably because he thinks he should be the one young person in Walter’s life. Although possibly it’s because he wants to save them from drinking more of Walter’s rat poison.’
‘What is this?’ Zack shouts. ‘Are you trying to be funny?’
‘You want funny?’ says Ren, giggling. ‘This is funny.’ He goes to the corner of the room and gets his satchel, and starts to rifle through it. ‘Where is it?’ he mutters theatrically.
‘What are you looking for?’ shouts Zack eventually.
‘Your last annual PhD progress report,’ says Ren.
‘You bastard,’ says Zack in a strangled voice. Possibly he’s trying to do an English accent. ‘You think that’s funny? This is funny.’ Zack sticks two fingers up at Ren, in his best English finger accent, and storms off.
‘For fuck’s sake, I’m just joking, Zack,’ Ren yells after Zack, but Zack is off.
‘Shit,’ says Ren. ‘I’m too drunk to even gently tease a postgrad.’
‘It wasn’t exactly gentle teasing,’ says Aaron Bach, another postgraduate. Aaron is a Christian hippy who wears clothes made out of burlap bags to indicate his humbleness.
‘I know, that’s what I’m saying,’ says Ren. ‘It was a failed attempt at gentle teasing. Failed by reason of drunkenness. A common enough reason for failed degrees, failed marriages, failed attempts at intercourse, and failed attempts at teasing.’
‘It doesn’t help that Walter still calls him “Blythe”’ says a postgrad called Camilla Fortescue.
‘Yeah,’ says Ren, opening another bottle, ‘and now Walter’s nowhere to be seen, so we’ll forget to tell Walter not to call Zack “Blythe” until the next time he calls Zack “Blythe”’.
‘It’s not clear that Zack isn’t just Blythe with a new haircut,’ says Rowan Loder, another spiritually-minded hippy postgraduate. Unlike Aaron, though, Rowan is not a Christian, and unlike Aaron he is not above cracking a few jokes at the expense of his fellow postgrads.
‘Derek really went off on one today, didn’t he?’ says Bartek Sokolsky a Polish postgraduate, after noticing that Huey, Dewey and Louis are not listening in, and Bill Porterfield has gone. Bartek recapitulates his native country’s history by changing his political opinions wildly from day to day. Yesterday he was a Communist, but a few days before that he had been a Randian. ‘What brought that on?’
‘Leftists like public intimidation,’ says Ren. ‘Helps with the social ostracism. You’ll have to learn that if you want to be a Communist.’
‘I’m not a Communist any more’ says Bartek. ‘Now I’m a syndicalist.’
‘Economic syndicalism, or anarcho-syndicalism?’ says Ren. ‘Presumably not national syndicalism?’
‘What’s the difference?’ says Bartek.
‘I could tell you,’ says Ren, ‘but then I’d have to kill myself. Anyway, what’s made Derek extra pissed-off with Compton is that Compton made it clear to the department and to Derek that he would not be rescuing them from Derek skipping out on his exam marking again. Compton’s really the only one who can mark Derek’s exams these days, so if Compton won’t do it, then Derek can’t sneak off to Paris and leave Compton to save the ship from sinking, as he has done for the last two years in a row.’
‘Lecturers are allowed to just not do their exam marking?’ says Bartek. ‘Really?’
‘No, they’re definitely not allowed to do that. But somehow Derek has done it regularly, and has gotten away with it. This year it was made clear to him by Grant, who has just about had enough of him, that this was not on, and that he would face disciplinary action if he did it again. So Derek is in a bad mood.’
The postgrads are marvelling at this gossip. Ren belatedly realises that he is being unwise in drunkenly sharing so much departmental dirt with the postgrads in so public a way. He looks at his watch.
‘I’d better go,’ he says. He doesn’t say where he’s going. It’s only to the student bar to meet Miles, but he doesn’t want any of the department’s postgrads tagging along when he’s this drunk. Miles, at least, doesn’t mind him being a drunken fuckwit, as long as he’s amusing.
Ren takes the unfinished bottle of wine with him, swigging it as he goes. He’s walking past the University’s statue of Engels when a figure gets up from behind it. ‘Hey Ren,’ it says.
Ren is bewildered when the figure turns out to be Derek.
‘Derek?’ he says, like he’s just discovered a long-lost schoolfriend living as a tramp.
‘Can I have a drinky-poo?’ says Derek.
Ren nods and passes him the bottle.
‘I kind of expected you to be…’
‘Whad?’ says Derek.
‘Well, unconscious, mainly,’ says Ren. Or locked up, he thinks. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Just going home, thaz all. Taking a while though. Can’t remember the besd route to take.’
‘Where do you live again?’
‘No, lizzen. Lizzen me.’
‘Compden’s an absolude fugger. Absolude hunerd cent fugger. So fashisd thad he’d have us all gilled.’
‘Oh come on Derek, that’s absurd.’
‘No, he is, really. He’s a Dory gunt through and through. You’re all right dough, Ren,’ Derek says, slapping Ren on the back. ‘I lige you. You sdill have promise. Bud you’ve godda ged away from Comden. Heze ebil.’
Ren tries to take the bottle back from Derek.
‘Why are you taging my boddle?’
‘Just wanted a drink, Derek. Is that all right?’
‘Courze id’s all ride,’ says Derek. ‘Ged id in you, boy.’
Ren takes a drink.
‘Nod doo much though,’ says Derek, taking it back. ‘You’re a good guy, Ren. We all lige you. But why do you lige that creep?’
‘He’s not a creep. He’s a good guy who just has very different political opinions than you.’
‘He can’t be a good guy when he says whad he says. Deregulation. Freedom. More flexibilzity for employers. Bollogs. All code words for screwing the worgers.’
‘You seem to agree with him when it comes to some of the more modern and progressive aspects of the left, though. Feminism. Racism. Queer Studies. Postmodernism. That sort of thing.’
‘Gorze. All just bullshid broughd in to drain more power to da lefd. Don’t agree with it, but idza good polidigal tagtig. Bud id undermines druth and science and jusdice, so izza bad idea long-derm.’
‘Look, I gotta go.’
‘No, Ren, I haben’t finished. We godda thingk of a way to screw that bastard over.’
‘Fucking hell, Derek, you’re the one sounding like a fascist.’
‘Gotta fight fire wid fire. Destroy him before he destroys us.’
‘Go home and get some sleep Derek. You’re raving.’
Ren makes to take the bottle back from Derek.
‘Ged your own fugging boddle,’ yells Derek. He stumbles away with it. ‘Ged fugging Comden to get you a fugging boddle if you think he’s so bruddy great.’
Derek goes off singing a song about the struggle carrying on. Possibly it’s The Internationale, but Ren’s interest in Communism hasn’t yet extended to much of a knowledge of its musical works.
When Ren gets to the bar he finds that Miles is pretty drunk too, Miles having been to the Psychology department’s equivalent end-of-academic-year wine-and-cheese party.
Ren tells Miles about Derek’s behaviour. Miles hasn’t got anything equivalent to amuse Ren with.
‘You know,’ says Ren, ‘I think there’s another reason again why Derek hates Compton.’
‘Derek is jealous of Compton because Compton is now the one who’s young, relatively speaking, and good-looking and charming, which Derek still wishes he was.’
‘Wouldn’t that apply to virtually three-quarters of the faculty as against the remaining quarter?’
‘No, because most academics are not, and never have been, charismatic and good-looking.’
‘Present company excepted, of course,’ says Miles.
‘That is not for us to judge,’ says Ren. ‘Whatever the mirror tells you. But I hadn’t finished. It’s also because Compton is now the rebel. He’s the one now rebelling against the majority opinion, not Derek. Sure Derek is harder left than most academics, but I don’t think he feels that his opinions mark him out anymore.’
‘So he’s no longer the sexy dissident?’
‘That’s it. As David Stove said, the cruelest fate which can overtake enfant-terribles is to awake and find that their avowed opinions have swept the suburbs. Even railing against the higher-ups doesn’t mark him out any more because everyone does that now, including Compton. The only way that was left for Derek to rebel was to behave badly and do things like not mark his essays or his exams, but that just made him seem like a selfish prick. And now he can’t even do that any more.
‘So he got what he wanted, everyone is now left-wing, and…’
‘And it’s killing him.’