Ivory Tower: another episode of our Whitehall based sitcom
On a bench in St James’s park, a man and woman in their 20s sit two meters apart
John: Are we still allowed to do this?
Helen: Have lunch?
John: Meet together in a park
Helen: Is that not allowed anymore?
John: We are from separate households.
Helen: Two houses both alike in dignity. In fair London we set our scene.
Helen: It’s the start of Romeo and Juliet. BEIS and the DfE are like the Montagues and the Capulets.
John: The whats?
Helen: The Jets and the Sharks.
John: American football teams?
Helen: Never mind.
John: Are people from two households still able to meet for lunch?
Helen: I suppose we are both in the Westminster bubble.
John: Very good, I get it now, Romeo and Juliet, that’s Leonardo.
Helen: You think DaVinci wrote Romeo and Juliet?
Helen: Just shoot me.
John: Listen to you Mary bleeding Beard. Didn’t the DfE cut bursaries to arts and humanities teachers this week?
Helen: Not our finest moment.
John: Aren’t the government supposed to be putting more money into schools?
Helen: Only if you want to train for cyber.
John: Train for cyber, the off-world colonies await.
Helen: See, you have read books.
John: Comic books.
Helen: John’s next job could be in cyber, he just doesn’t know it.
John: If he’s unlucky John’s next job could be at the Department for International Trade.
Helen: When did Dominic Cummings become my dad? No, Helen you can’t be a dancer, you must do a real degree, and get a proper job that makes the world a better place.
John: He must be delighted with your present employment.
Helen: He was for a while. After we came up with the tiers policy for shuttering university campuses. He would go around telling his friends, “tiers, that was our Helen’s idea”. He doesn’t say that now.
John: Is the Wirral in tier two or tier three?
Helen: Tier three and now you can’t even cross the border into Wales.
John: It’s not all bad news, then.
Helen: I rue the day I left my tiers paper on the photocopier in the cabinet office.
John: Didn’t your policy have four tiers?
Helen: Apparently, Boris is holding a tier back for when things get even worse.
John: What’s the tiers criteria?
Helen: Bad, Very Bad, Very Very Bad, and Mad Max.
John: Beyond Blunderdome… Do you think we’ll be back to working from home soon?
Helen: It’s alright for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they already work from home.
John: I don’t want to get locked down with my flatmates again. We ran out of clean plates after the first week. By the Saturday, I was eating scrambled egg out of a shoe with a comb.
Helen: You should let Dom know that, he might invite you into Starship command.
John: I was over there the other day.
Helen: How was it?
John: Apparently, most of the crew were at home self-isolating. There were just two guys playing Fortnite on a plasma screen.
Helen: I thought they were having a moon shot.
John: They’d be better off having a flu shot.
Helen: You could have suggested that to Dom. Pubs in tier three can stay open as long as they serve a shot of vaccine with every drink.
John: Does a flu shot constitute a “substantial meal”?
Helen: In some of the pubs I’ve been in, it would be the healthiest thing in there.
John: I think they’d have to serve it with a side salad.
Helen: The Oxford diet.
John: The Astrazeneca combo, more commonly known as the sneezer salad.
Helen: Have you been tested?
John: Every day is a trial in BEIS.
Helen: No, I mean have you taken a Covid test?
John: Twice. I’ve had more things up my nose than some cabinet ministers.
Helen: What happened?
John: First time was just a cold. Second time, I had terrible pains in my chest and was struggling to breath. Turned out it was indigestion.
Helen: My minister is very worried about testing in universities.
John: She’s not still going on about grade inflation?
Helen: No, all those locked-up students.
John: Locked-down students.
John: Are you having to write the guidelines on how to get students home for Christmas?
Helen: Thanks for reminding me. Why don’t you just bring up the death of my childhood pets while you are at it.
John: How are you going to keep all students locked down between 8 and 22 December?
Helen: It’s a bit awkward really.
John: Impossible, I’d say.
Helen: No, I mean, in the same week that Gavin Williamson told vice-chancellors to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, he is proposing to lock up all Jewish students over Hanukkah.
John: I couldn’t believe that letter. “If you have not adopted the definition by Christmas then I will act”. Didn’t someone point out him, that was a bit Christian-y.
Helen: He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out whose naughty and nice.
John: Is that Shakespeare?
Helen: No, that’s definitely DiCaprio.
John: How are you going to get students home for the holidays?
Helen: The problem is not so much getting them home, it’s getting them back in January.
John: I wouldn’t worry, after two weeks at home with their parents they’ll be desperate to get back to self-isolating in single cells.
Helen: It might be the worst idea the government has come up with yet.
John: Are you sure? There’s some quite stiff competition.
Helen: What would you do if you were told you had to stay in your uni dorm for two weeks from 8 December?
John: I would go home on 7 December.
John: Only following my instincts.
Helen: And I can’t mark you down for that.
John: What if your term finishes before 8 December?
Helen: What happens when you release every student in the country onto public transport on 22 December?
John: I don’t think they’ve thought this through.
Helen: Title of my autobiography, volume one, the Whitehall years. Speaking of terrible ideas, how is Arpa going?
John: The Great Egg Race?
John: It was an old TV show in which inventors would be put in a room and given tonnes of equipment and told to make something great before the time ran out. It’s the blueprint for ARPA.
Helen: I was too cool at university to watch that sort of thing.
John: Cool? You spent three years locked in your room reading Laurence Fox and all those guys.
Helen: Laurence Fox? You mean, D.H Lawrence and Virginia Wolf, it’s quite different.
John: We’ve been told to prepare for no-deal.
John: I think they mean it this time. I might get pulled over into business preparation.
Helen: Preparing for what?
John: That’s the problem, no one knows.
Helen: Might as well prepare for cyber.
John: Once Scotland leaves the union, that’s what we can call what’s left of the UK, Cyberia.
Helen: I think the whole country will just be known as Tier 10 by that time.
John: Right, can’t sit here and chat all day. I’ve got to get back and prepare for Allegra Stratton’s induction visit, she wants to get to know all the departments in Whitehall.
Helen: Even work and pensions?
John: Obviously not. I think I’ll get out the lunar rover.
Helen: That hasn’t seen the light of day since you had to keep Sam Gyimah distracted while you wrote the departmental annual report.
John: Not being able to send ministers out to visit university campuses is really begining to hamper our work.
Helen: Yeah, there are a 130 of them. You could guarantee to get rid of them on a Friday for the best bit of three years. Not that they lasted that long.
John: What are you doing this afternoon?
John: The HE taskforce?
Helen: The word “team” has never been used in connection with the HE taskforce.
John: Fancy going for a drink after work? One last time, while we still can.
Helen: From forth the fatal loins of these two foes. A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.
John: Ok, I promise I won’t talk about the UK space programme.
Helen: Never mind. The Red Lion at quarter to six?
John: Just in time for last orders.