In this first exclusive excerpt from his averagely awaited memoirs, Slightly Mollified reveals how a spell trouble-shooting for UCD’s President in late 2009 took him far away from his usual Belfield haunts
The chill of an October evening seems all too distant in the warm fug of a tenth-floor Fleet Street office. When you’re up this high, the blaring of London’s evening traffic seems so faded as to be almost a gentle backing track; like a record with the volume turned down to its lowest level.
That’s what the sub-editor’s diary says so eloquently, anyway, and I’d be inclined to believe him as I idly flip through the notebook pages. He seems an intelligent man. Or at least he seemed an intelligent man before Marty slipped him the old Chloroform handkerchief in the ante room outside. I’m not too sure just how intelligent he’ll still be if – when – he wakes up. Glancing over at Marty, I’m none too convinced he got his sums right when he was mixing the chemicals back in Belgrove. Ah, well; back to the business at hand.
Sitting before us, the editor of the Times Higher Education supplement looks like he’s paying rapt attention to the two Irishmen who’ve suddenly bundled in to his office on a Thursday evening. He would do, though, because his arms are neatly pinioned to his reclining chair by the plastic gardening ties I picked up as an afterthought when we were on our way to the ferry that morning.
He’s stalling for time now, and I don’t like it. Marty might be content to sit there like a grinning simpleton all evening, but I have other plans for the night. A contact says they can guarantee me admission to rehearsals for Strictly Come Dancing down at the BBC’s Television Centre if I can get there before 8.00. Looking at my watch, I see that it’s 7.15 already. No, I don’t like this at all.
Leaping to my feet, I begin to pace around the room. The THE supremo watches me intently, his eyes like saucers above the gaffer tape we’d helped ourselves to from Services the other day. He’s nervous now.
“For the last time”, he begins, his voice muffled, “I’ve told you two that it’s not as simple as me just phoning the printers and telling them to change the rankin…”
I cut him off, in my best, booming, Kieran Allen-mass-meeting voice. We’re running short of time here. It’s time to go for the rough stuff.
Crossing over to stand close to The Times’ man on the spot, I slowly unroll my UCD scarf. The little metallic studs I had gotten Mummy to spend the other night sewing into the wool glint evilly in the light from the desk lamp between us.
“I’m running out of patience”, I growl in the most intimidating voice a former University Observer hack can muster. “Don’t make me go for the nuclear option here…”
The Ed’s eyes strain even wider.
“Please… there really is nothing I can do for you gentlemen”, the muffled voice comes again.
I sigh. “We’re going to have to do a little bit better than that.”
As the English journalist squirmed, my mind drifted slowly back. How on earth had it come to this?
It was a crisp September morning at the start of term when I first got the call. First thing in the morning, to be precise. I’d woken up and groggily reached out to feel the shape beside me in the bed.
It felt hairy… and leathery. Doubting even my ability to let the side down that badly after a night’s debauchery in Harcourt Street, I opened my eyes properly to see the horse’s head that had been left neatly propped up on my pillow during the night.
“What on earth?”
I blinked, and then flicked my phone on to dial the 716 number that had been scrawled on the Post-it stapled on to the late Dobbins’ forehead.
He answered at the first ring. I shivered slightly as I heard those unmistakeable, Executive tones flood through the receiver.
“Ah, Mollified!”, he began, sounding unnaturally cheerful.
“Mr President”, I gulped, nervously.
“Really hope you don’t mind my little, ahhh… unorthodox manner of getting in contact, young man. Have to play to the stereotype, you know. Don’t worry for a second about the nag, it was already dead. I had four of the muscle monkeys from Pulse haul it over to the Tierney Building from Veterinary last night. Quite the mess, slicing a horse’s head off indoors, actually, you’d be surprised… Anyway, I need you for a special mission.”
“Me, Mr President?”, I asked in surprise.
“Yes”, he replied, “we need a student representative to assist us with a University trip to the UK. It’s a matter of… errrr… well, one might say persuasion.”
“Persuasion…”, I repeated, the doubt showing clearly in my voice.
“Precisely, Mollified, precisely. We need a student to accompany our Vice-President for Students on a deputation to London. It’s a matter of the utmost importance. The student that goes will have to be representative of exactly the kind of young mind that UCD produces these days.”
“But, Mr President”, I butted in, “I’m a lazy, apathetic, waster who rarely attends lectures, consumes alcohol at a debilitating rate, and has generally spent the past two years trying to coast through a State-funded opportunity of higher education with the absolute minimum of effort.”
“Exactly!”, he announced, triumphantly. “So are you free early in October?”
And so back to the present. In front of me, the editor is visibly wilting at the prospect of what’s to come.
“You had your chance to oblige us”, I remind him. “This is your fault from here on in.”
“Please”, he begs. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
“Oh, no”, I reply, a malicious gleam in my eye. “I have much worse than that in store for you.”
I gesture to my colleague sitting beside me.
“Dr Butler; if you’d like to commence?”
Marty rises up on his haunches, visibly brimming with excitement now that his moment has come. He clears his throat and begins.
“Martin’s the name! Let me just tell you about the cross-campus and cross-community opportunities offered by the UCD Community Musical…”
I back quickly out of the office and close the door behind me. I’m a hard man, but even I don’t want to see this. Five minutes later, there’s an audible thump from inside the room.
I walk quickly back in to see the editor banging his head against his desk in sheer, abject despair.
“No more”, he gasps, in between sobs. “You can have it, just please, no more.”
Excellent. I silence Marty with a wave of my hand and pass the authorisation sheet across the table for the editor to sign.
“#89 in the table should do nicely, thanks”, I add helpfully.
Two minutes later, and Marty and I are exiting the building in to the cool evening air of London, leaving a broken man behind us.
Ah, well. You can’t make an omelette, I think happily, as I anticipate watching Alesha at work later on…