Part of him longed for a time before the major strands of thought that pushed forward modern history had seemingly converged, neutralising their individual conceptual thrusts. Back then, he thought to himself, works like this inspired young people to get involved in changing history. Now, his own peers from that golden age had taken their place in the halls of power, and any commentator worth his salt could see that these people were the same as any other governing party, wallowing in the excess of power that comes with gaining a place in the world’s ruling elite.
Judging by the tired eyed, yawning faces of his current crop of undergraduates, he doubted that any of his students had enough gumption to construct a basic critique of neo-conservative thinking, let alone form a solid, electable political party based on firm liberal socialist values. Frankly, he considered, who could blame them? Why would they be interested in changing the world when they had I-pods, facebook, Ugg boots and the activities of celebrities to keep their myopic minds busy? The children of Thatcher had been groomed to worship commodity, and it would take more than his hackneyed approach to teaching history to stem that tide.
Hillier drew in a testing breath, holding it in his lungs for as long as he could. The years of late night studying, when he had sat alone drinking coffee and smoking continental cigarettes, had given his respiratory system the feel of a spluttering motor engine. Inflamed bronchioles became agitated as he drew oxygen into his chest, creating a scraping sensation akin to fresh sandpaper being rubbed across the cartilage which held the delicate system together. The body, he mused, was merely a transitory shell. All the world’s major religions asserted this belief, and as his date with mortality drew ever closer, he had grown more inclined to take an interest in the spiritual.
A car alarm, droning away in the staff car park, which his faculty office overlooked, had been triggered, presumably by a cabal of testosterone fuelled, rugby shirted young men, making their way through what was supposed to be a staff access only area after their mid morning Business Studies class in too boisterous a manner. This was a common occurrence at the University, where gangs of kids, delirious on the promise of an afternoon of state funded laziness, often bashed their way through the cars of the staff members in an attempt to get away from the gentrified exterior of the 1960’s building as rapidly as they could. The incessant, high pitched droning, tempted Hillier out of his existential stupor and he reluctantly clicked on his Outlook Express calendar to check his afternoon schedule, which was mercifully free from the rigours of teaching.
He now faced a lonely afternoon of research, which he thought might be best utilised preparing a lesson plan for one of next year’s new modules on the rise of fundamentalism in the post millennial world. As much as Hillier appreciated the Dean’s efforts to incorporate this strand into the Modern History syllabus, he couldn’t help feeling that this was a subject best left to the theologists, particularly as now he was in the twilight of his career it was unfair to lumber him with a subject so alive.
The disillusioned academic brought up the Google homepage and reluctantly reached for his spiral bound notepad. No need to consult real books, he thought to himself. If most of my students prepare their coursework by appropriating the thoughts of others from essays published online, then it was only right that the taught elements of their study should originate from a similar source. Go with the flow he resolved, embrace the new.
A timid, half heartened knock on his office door roused Hillier from his pyrrhic preparations.
“Enter” he bellowed, minimising the Russian pornography he had brought up a half hour ago, whilst absorbed in a particularly bleak vortex of lust. Since the breakdown of his marriage several years earlier, his libido had revolved around these websites, which filled his mind with unrealistic desires, and the cheapening images of the women who feature in them.
The door creaked open, and in slipped a young woman of around 22 years old. He tried to place the woman’s face but to no avail. He was inclined to think she was one of his undergraduates, but he was at a loss trying to remember her name. Two decades or more of trotting out the same lectures to deaf ears had jaded his ability to link names to faces. For a split second they stared at each other like small children peering into a television set, trying to make sense of something they are unlikely to understand.
“I’ve come to ask for some help with my dissertation”, said the girl.
“Sure”, replied Hillier, “It’s good timing as I am free from teaching this afternoon”, he said, with a hint of bitterness in his statement. Since the mis-allocation of funding to more vocational subjects became the dominant norm in academic life, snapshots of fleeting bonding with undergraduates had become as extinct am act as listening to Exile on Main Street through bargain basement hi-fi equipment.
The girl fumbled around inside of an ugly, oversized handbag, the type of vessel you would see trawled around by drunken, underdressed women on Leicester Square hen nights. Hillier consulted his database of third year undergraduates. Polly Barnes, Jenny Harvey, Alison Readman, Katherine Oswald. None of the names fitted her face. In the temporary conversational stalemate, Hillier resolved to wait until the girl’s work was put before him, then he would be able to take her name straight from the document without appearing to be ignorant.
In the seconds before the girl produced a USB memory stick, presumably containing another half-baked, plagiaristic attempt at producing a worthy piece of independant research, Hillier sized up the girl’s physical appearance. She wore black leggings and a denim miniskirt, perhaps an inch or two above knee height, brown suede boots and a dark blue hooded top which he assumed displayed some kind of lettering on the back. Her clothing affiliated her to a certain tribe of female student. Keen to be popular, often at the expense of their studies. Willing to neglect intellectual development in order to advance their reputation in other fields. Wreckless drinking, snaring the best looking guys, imposing a blanket of control over their transient lovers. For some, Dr Hillier resolved, getting into University was now a passport to diluting your individuality, participating in some organised sport, and getting laid.
Hillier inserted the USB stick into the slot on his Mac. As he waited for the on screen prompt, he offered a sideways glance at the girl. In the half light of the cloudy late afternoon, her dyed blonde hair shimmered with a promiscuous electricity. He felt a twinge of excitement in his dormant cock. He shifted his eyes, briefly connecting with hers. They were a deep brown colour, glinting with youth and vitality. His mind was cast back over thirty years to when he had met Gill, his ex-wife. A surge of sexually charged hatred rose inside him, as ink black clouds passed across the sun outside, altering the tone of the moment.
The monitor distracted the doctor and he focused his wandering mind on the word document in front of him;
The Port Huron Statement and the rise of the New Left – participatory democracy in 1960’s America