Image courtesy of “How to be a Sloaney: 8 Steps“
“Sometimes you can never tell who’s the baddie in the movie,” chimed George as Lucija proceeded to tell her story about her mission to audit the national accounts of Greece, five years after the emergency bailout of the country’s finances in the wake of what political economists had come to call, as if it really needed an air of melodrama, the ‘Great Recession’.
“You’re so right, George,” replied Lucija, her bright eyes and intelligent analysis bringing delight to her senior colleague.
“Without a doubt,” thought George, “Lucija can lighten up the dullest Monday morning coffee with her vivacious political insights.”
Just then, Lucija gave the smile that always came to her face when she was about to bring the conversation back to the human plane.
“Varoufakis was made out to be the crook,” she continued “but he was certainly not one of your run-of-the-mill villains.”
During the audit, Lucija had been gratified to have detected only a small number of irregularities in the implementation of the bailout package. She always felt it reflected well on the work of the colleagues who had come before her, to find error rates so low. But as the conversation went on, so it became more apparent that what had impressed her more was the number of illuminating e-mails she had found amongst the humdrum financial files she had to inspect.
“Administrative e-mails in Greece are a lot more vivid and direct than they are in the ERA. You find out directly what the issue is about and learn so much more about the context of the events.”
With what she learnt from the ‘cognitive slippage’ of Greek government officials in the audit’s euphemistic ‘paper trail,’ and what she already knew about the public pranks of Varoufakis – his calling out of Eurozone actors’ dealings and what Wikipedia called his ‘Anglosphere and Keynesian leanings’ – Lucija had acquired a unique insider’s view of what had really happened during the Greek government-debt crisis.
“This is great stuff!” commented George. How he admired Lucija’s capacity to find a well-lit path through the day-to-day ducking and weaving, which made up the very stuff of European financial politics! Lucija was, for him, one of the finest examples of what is good in an administrator in the European Regulatory Authority. She was the eldest daughter of a diplomat who had ten years’ service in the Croatian Embassy in Athens. By circumstance Lucija spoke Greek, now almost perfectly; by education, she spoke near faultless English, French and German; and by birth, she could fraternise in any number of Slavic languages, from Polish to Macedonian.
“A bright, sharp, scrupulously honest, multilingual financial analyst” was how George would describe his favourite colleague. “Just what we need to keep the Euroshow on the road,” he would say, to those who didn’t know her so well.
Sitting in his comfortable, first-class seat in the train on the way back to La Hulpe that night, George was recalling the ‘Varoufakis not-so-bad baddie’ conversation with Lucija that morning. He nodded, knowingly, to himself, noting one more time how often a chance turn of phrase in the workplace would prompt him to broader reflection.
“In how many movies were you the baddie, George?” he muttered to himself, as his inner eye shifted its gaze to Finula, who was sat with him on the sofa at that party, back in those hazy, crazy university days at Cambridge.
George was in the last term of his first year of his economics degree, a resourceful student from a humble background, still finding his way through the ‘thicket of thorns’ that he had later described was undergraduate life in such a prestigious university in the late 1970s.
Finula was a friend of Charles, one of George’s economics pals at King’s. The families of Finula and Charles were close and the two of them had both been to school at Marlborough College, as their ‘By Jove’ accents and trend-setting attire revealed. George and Finula were sat together in the midst of one of Charles’ riotous parties in his ample accommodation in Bodley’s Court, overlooking the River Cam.
Though George and Finula had ended up as the only two at the party who were taking neither drugs nor alcohol, an eventuality which had given them something oddly in common, George found Finula pleasant enough company. She was clearly a well brought up girl, if a little nervous and timid in her manners, but nicely spoken.
George liked her look. She was wearing a fuchsia mohair jumper with sky blue blouse; cropped white slacks; ribbed socks matching the colour of her jumper; and flat blue moccasin shoes, with a petite brass buckle. Her silky blonde hair was held back by a dark blue velvet head band, and a ring of pearls adorned her faintly blotchy neck.
But Finula’s nervous manner was giving George mixed signals. At one moment, she would seem rather unsure of herself, almost self-effacing. The next she would show a flash of audacity and make a direct remark, all of which left George a little unsettled. After all, George wasn’t so practised at chit-chat with girls. He had only had one, three-week relationship with a girl during a Mensa summer school event when he was fifteen. And let’s face it, avoiding the issue of how to deal with women was one of the underlying reasons he had wanted to go to King’s College, still an all-male establishment at the time.
George had initiated the conversation with Finula by asking if she visited often the college, to which she had hesitantly replied, as if somehow ashamed to answer: “Yes, quite,” followed by an uncomfortable silence. The conversation stuttered on.
“And have you seen the magnificent Gothic chapel? It is the finest fan vault in the world,” George had enquired, as if trying to fill the void between them.
“That’s what all King’s men ask,” had come her abrupt response.
Finula eventually opened up a little more on the topic of her reason for being in Cambridge. She was in her second year at the Cambridge Regional College, on the northern edge of town, training to be a nurse.
“Oh, how interesting,” said George, refraining from blurting out that he had never met a nurse before, not even socially. “Have you had a go on a ward, yet?”
Finula explained at some length her adventures during her first placement in the summer. George warmed to the way she referred, with great sensitivity, to the patients she had attended. While the other party goers goofed around, one minute head banging to some non-descript heavy metal music, the next feigning heart break to Rod Stewart’s ‘The first cut is the deepest’, George and Finula were able to carry on with their private conversation, until it came to an abrupt end at 3 a.m. The night warden had appeared at the door and had given the final warning: “Gentlemen, the party has stopped.”
As George stood up to leave, Finula grasped him by the arm, blushing as she asked him: “Couldn’t we meet for a drink this week?”
George, caught quite off guard, answered, keeping his voice low in case he was overheard. He needn’t have worried. The others were way, way out of it. “Er, yes, sure, after my chess club, on Thursday?” The silence from Finula prompted George yet again to fill the space between them. “Er, how about at the Indigo, St Edward’s passage, at 6.30?”
Finula glanced back towards George, her eyes reflecting an odd mixture of fear and confidence. “Yes. Please,” she said.
George’s dedication the following day to his assignment essay on the unlikely topic of ‘Structuration – do individual or social framings shape social reality?’ meant he didn’t think much more at all about Finula, until he met Hancock on the staircase on Monday morning, coming back to his room from breakfast.
“Finula got her claws into you, eh Kenyon?” he quipped, as he turned to disappear down the steps. “I’d take care with that one, if I were you, old chap.”
“Claws?” thought George, trotting up to his room to grapple further with his essay. “But she seems such a shy girl.”
Thursday soon came round but George had already made his plan by then. There was no way he was going to expose himself to being seen with a girl by his chess club mates. So he went, as usual, for the Thursday evening pre-dinner drink in the Eagle in Bene’t Street, but with no intention of staying long.
“Hey guys, I’m skipping formal tonight,” he announced, just before 6.30, knowing full well the others would be going for dinner at college at 7 o’clock. “I need to go back to the library. This structuration essay is a real bummer.”
“Oh, you’re too much, Kenyon” bawled out one of his mates, as he slipped out of the pub, doubling back to the Indigo, tucked half-way down the narrow alleyway formed by St Edward’s Passage.
He stepped into the compact bar, the haze of tobacco smoke slowing down his search for Finula. He passed through to snug room behind and spotted her in the corner, all alone. She gave him what he thought was rather a useless look. But George was once again charmed with how well she was turned out and his voice couldn’t hide his pleasure in seeing her again.
“Been here long?” he asked with a slightly condescending air.
“Well, er, I came straight here,” she replied, somehow avoiding the question. “I’ve never been in this bar before.”
The Indigo was an unusual pub in the area: it was largely frequented by ‘Town folk’, locals, tradesmen, shop girls, workers and secretaries. As one of the ‘Gown’ set from the university, there was always a chance George, and now Finula, would stand out, any intellectual air or posh talk immediately marking out the so-called ‘Class Divide.’