‘Hey, there’s Garrett from your department, Douglas,’ says Ren.
‘Just in time for your round, Garrett,’ says Douglas.
‘Bugger,’ says Garrett, who goes off, and then comes back with more drinks.
‘How’s that twat of a head of your department going, Garrett?’ says Miles.
‘Beresford?’ says Garrett. ‘Still a twat.’
‘Taking twatness to new places?’ says Ren.
‘He’s a pioneer,’ says Douglas. ‘He discovers places that you didn’t think anyone could be a twat in, and somehow he manages it.’
‘Perhaps he’s built a time machine, and he goes back in time to study his past behaviour,’ says Ren. ‘He observes himself being a twat, and he thinks, that was pretty good, but I could have been even more of twat had I done such-and-such. So he goes back again, replaces his former past self with a new past self, and does the such-and-such instead.’
‘I think he’s just a natural,’ says Garrett.
‘What have you been up to then, Garrett?’ says Miles.
‘I’m writing a book examining global warming from the perspective of a physicist. Not much in it, as far as I can see.’
‘Really?’ says Lily. ‘Isn’t global warming settled fact now?’
‘It’s nothing of the sort,’ says Garrett. ‘Nothing stands up to scrutiny. You should see the dodgy tree ring data. And the computer models that give you a hockey stick whatever data you enter. The constant manipulation of the temperature records. The refusal to release raw data so that other people can analyse it. It’s about as solid as the Nazi’s world ice theory.’
‘You can’t publish that,’ says Miles. ‘You’ll be crucified.’
‘Nonsense,’ says Garrett. ‘It’ll be objective science. No scientist can object to that.’
‘You’re very wide-eyed,’ says Ren. ‘I admire you and I’m not saying don’t do it, I’d like to see it published, but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself in for. It’ll be the end of your career.’
‘But I’m not a right-winger who’s saying this because he wants unrestricted capitalism.’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ says Ren.
‘I’ve been a member of the Labour party all my life,’ says Garrett, ignoring Ren, ‘that’s no secret, so I’m still on the right side. This will be about science, not politics.’
‘The fact that you said “the right side” is the reason why you should be scared,’ says Ren. ‘Publish it because you’re brave, great. But I hope you’re not going to publish it because you’re an innocent fawn.’
‘You don’t give working scientists enough credit, Ren. You spend too much time looking at all these weirdo scientists when you do your philosophy of science. The rest of us normal scientists can make decisions without politics getting in the way.’
‘Global warming is mostly about politics, Garrett, rather than science. Why do you think it is that the global warming theory, which as you say evaporates under serious scrutiny, has become the mandatory opinion?’
‘Well, we’ll see. I’m not scared.’
‘Nice knowing you,’ says Ren, shaking Garrett’s hand. ‘Finally an Arts guy can say to a Science guy that you need to practise saying “Do you want fries with that?”’
‘Can you get another round Garrett, before you lose all your money?’ says Miles.
‘No, if I’m to be poor, as you seem to think, then you can get the round in.’
A few rounds later on, the sun makes a surprise late burst for record books, and even a blinking Malcom and his Politics stablemates come outside. A toast is made to the end of the teaching for the semester, and to the sun. A bet is held on whether Malcom will shrivel up and die as the rays of the sun hit him. Toasts are made to three of them getting through their probation. A toast is made to Ren for not getting sacked for not doing the TITE. A toast is made to Garrett and his book and his bravery/stupidity. A couple of nearby female Psych students with glowing faces try to lasso Miles with their halos. (This is metaphorical talk; they aren’t wearing fancy-dress.) Gay Jay turns up for one drink, but the student bar isn’t a place he wants to be once teaching has finished, so he doesn’t stay long.
Then the cosmic architect spills some toner across the sky while changing the celestial laser printer’s cartridge. One moment the sun was centre-stage, threatening a spring sunburn for anyone who didn’t respect her, the next moment the electric light bulbs around the bar entrance seem very bright in the gloom.
Despite his incessant talking Ren starts to become abstracted from the scene. He feels himself being drawn back, watching the outside bar scene from a distance, and then his mind is gradually drawn upwards. He can see all of the academics and students of Grayvington at their end-of-term parties all over Baron Heights, and in the surrounding student suburbs, and in Tinfields in the inner city.
He goes higher still, and across the country he sees, lit up, all the University cities and towns. He sees all the University parties that are happening tonight across the land, all full of academics and students drinking and talking in the chipboard student bars and the uncleanable student houses and the soft-lit, tasteful academic homes. There’s Deadly Hedley, the Beagle, trying to get a handsome young male graduate student away from the Longford Philosophy department’s party. There’s Jason at the LSE, boring a bunch of grad students by going on about EU economic policy. (Unfortunately for Ren the female grad student who was thinking of seducing Jason tonight has now changed her mind.) There’s the Grayvington Radical Thinkers Society party, full of students doing nothing but admonishing one another for their wrongthought. There’s Millicent, admonishing herself, as she fends off the advances of a lesbian colleague, for her failure to embrace more correct modes of being. And then admonishing herself some more for her thought that maybe if the colleague was better-looking she might be tempted. There’s Ken and Halberd mingling as normal at a social psych party – they have had to renounce any association with Ren in order to be accepted back into their social psych milieu (their integrity only goes so far.) There’s some cute female Psychology students in a corner at a student party talking and giggling about Miles’s arse, and giving their ratings for the sexual attractiveness of the other male Psychology lecturers. There’s Mika, one of Ren’s old Oxford MCR sparring partners, hosting a party for some fellow thought-dodgers as they plan new ways to protest against the greatest threat to humanity in the modern world: Israel. There’s Violet Wells, at home for the summer break, all alone, who’s swapped staring at the dirty ceiling in her tiny college room for staring at the clean ceiling in her much larger bedroom at her parent’s place. There’s Fitzroy Donleavy, a vague young Philosophy lecturer who Ren knows from conferences, smoking dope and trying to make his ideas understood to his fellow smokers. There’s the TV don Helena Bosquet in her SCR, having a little drinks party where right-thinking members of the TV industry are introduced to right-thinking members of the academy. There’s Lucius Birch, no longer in academia – the story is that he’s become a backroom boy for a mental health charity – drinking at home alone and plotting his revenge on Ren. There’s the VC, Niall Raven, and his gorgeous but bored wife Dymphia, hosting a party at Cathradean Hall for some other VCs, and promising Pro-VCs, and New Labour politicians, and a few Conservatives who are more at home in this company than in their own party. Dymphia is wondering whether any of the guests are worth seducing – there are so many rooms there that Niall would never find her even if he got suspicious and went looking.
Ren wonders how many there are in those parties who are like him. And how many other Garretts are there, prepared to go against the grain on modern shibboleths like global warming? What will happen when Garrett’s book comes out? What will Grayvington be revealed to be like, once the heretic self-exposes? Even in his four years here he can see that Grayvington is becoming even more left-wing. The leftism is of the corporate, progressive type, a smoothed-over type of Cultural Marxism, but it’s still leftism, and dissent from the party line is being gradually squeezed out, like air bubbles trapped behind a sticker of the University being pushed towards the edges with a University purchase card. He gives it ten years – ten years, or maybe fifteen – until the cultural left gets a complete stranglehold on the Universities, as well as more of a grip on society, and individual political opinions are stamped upon. Conquest’s Second Law of Politics has it that every institution that is not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. That even seems to apply even to institutions that are explicitly right-wing, so left-leaning places like Universities have no chance. Especially Grayvington, with its ruthless New Labour Vice Chancellor, and its sixties expansion departments with their corridors of posters with fists and slogans on them, and its unhappy students who resent the fact that it’s only Grayvington they get to complain about, rather than Oxford or Cambridge.
Until then, though, Ren is content to drift. He drifts through the air from imaginary party to imaginary party, listening in on the conversations, in the same way that the general direction of his life is drifting. For the time being he lets the imaginary astral winds blow him about however they will, while he absent-mindedly fondles the almost-conscious belief that this state of intoxicated pleasure can last for decades while his body and mind stay young and unchanging.
He remains in this trance-like state for an age, until his consciousness spreads out so far that it eventually becomes indistinguishable from unconsciousness, and the tenuous control it has over his body finally breaks. Miles and Douglas take his body – for all they know it may be his former body – via taxi, to Miles’ place, where it is deposited on the floor while Miles and Douglas put on some music and drink whisky. Before they get so drunk that their minds follow Ren’s path, they put a pillow under his head, and a bottle of water next to him, in readiness for his rude awakening tomorrow. For his scattered motes of consciousness will eventually regroup, and will eventually re-animate his creaking, reluctant corpse, and thrust him back into the fray.