Cromore College is selling off Tarnknocka, the President’s official residence in Coleraine’s leafy Sandelmount suburb. According to reports, the move has been adopted as an austerity measure by the leadership of the famous institution, which rates 97th in the UK’s scale of 112 third-level universities on the Guardian HE scale (though 45th in very different calibration of the the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008). A spokesman said: “No one realises how hard the recession has bitten on campus. True, profit margins are at their highest ever, but last year the chief executive’s Lexus had to be traded in for a second-hand Daimler. Things can hardly get any worse.” (Formerly known as a university, Cromore became a business corporation several years ago.)
Meanwhile it is rumoured that the Barnie Dickett, the homeless President, will be moving into the College’s Senior Common Room, a spacious apartment with celebrated views of the Bann estuary. This is seen as freeing up part of his 240K salary – the fifth highest for such a post in the United Kingdom – to support his charity work. A well-known philanthropist, the VC has a special fondness for animals and keeps a mongrel who lives entirely on scraps from his master’s table. As a token of his affection for his Irish subjects he has named the dog Nelly – no relation to P. D. O’Nelly, the director of Physical Resources at Cromore.
Barnie Dickett cut his teeth as a renowned corporation man with a successful pamphlet-series entitled “How to be a stake-holder and not get shafted” and “How to make sure the other guy gets staked and you end up holding all the money”. His forthcoming public lecture is entitled, “I got a stake, you got a stake, let’s go out and stake someone together”. Ticket prices at the Ulster Hall have just overtaken the Garth Brooks sell-out in Dublin.
According to Higher-Ed. pundits, his pumped-up salary is compensation for quitting home-comforts on the mainland when he came to bestow the benefits of corporate culture in Ulster. He has previously preached the stake-holding faith in his trademark whisper in Salford, Cambridge, and in Canada, and now whispers on several advisory and government bodies in Northern Ireland.
In recognition of his sacrifice in coming to North-West Ulster, clerical authorities are considering establishing an feast-day to mark the date of his first arrival here in 1990. The small boat in which he fled a troubled past in England is preserved in the Portaferry Aquarium. It is anticipated that St. Barnie’s Day will be celebrated annually on 16 December, the date when he successfully banished the last remaining druids from their Common Room at Cromore. His professional progress has been remarkably rapid since.
In 2004 he was appointed Acting President of Cromore College after the overthrow of Reginald Kenmacca, an event known widely as the Regicide. The Presidency was confirmed two years later. Respected observers have spoken of him as the “new broom” – prickly and stiff – while others, including those who are making the bid for his canonisation, are calling him their patron saint.
Born in Huntington – a birthplace he shares with Oliver Cromwell – Dickett acquired his taste for the wrecking-ball at Salford University, a “highly challenged” campus in a region of the English midlands known as Lesser Manchester. As a good meritocrat, he considers himself “egalitarian” and looks upon corporate promotion as the mainspring of modern society in so far as society can be said to exist at all. All other forms of association he regards as elitist, even when they are expressly communitarian.
In practice this means that he respects those above him, chums with those on the same rung, politely tolerates those beneath him on the promotion ladder and ignores any other mode or condition of social life whatsoever. That is why irregular formations such as the elected officers of the Senior Common Room are treated with all the contempt that a Puritan would bring to bear on a Cavalier in the English Civil War. It is not only in Irish minds that history lives on well past its self-by date.
Professor Dickett’s house-moving plans – however noble in intention – are not entirely trouble-free. For many years the SCR has been the preserve of teachers, students and staff who enjoy socialising at that scenic and easily-accessible location. Now its Management Committee has received instructions to pack up and leave during the Christmas vacation.
With its own bar licence and a long tradition of hosting groups such as the Poetry Society and the Bridge Club, the loss of the Senior Common Room will be keenly felt by many staff and students. Not to mention all those employees, academic and others, who will have to find alternative lunch-spot when the excellent sandwich bar currently run by the SCR is replaced by a University money-spinner.
Not everyone will shed a tear when the last pint has been pulled at UU’s oldest social institution. One executive was heard to say: “Who’s gonna miss the Senior Common Room? Only layabouts use it. We don’t need their sort in the New Ireland.” This is thought to be allusion to the previous President and his chronies who routinely propped up the bar at the six o’clock shift in the SCR.
Universally known as “Reggie”, the last President was a shape-changing alchemist who recognised the time was ripe for an indigenous capo in Northern academic life – an academic counterpart of Sean “Bricks” Quinn in Northern Irish industry. During his period of tenure he changed his post from Vice-Chancellor to President and altered his shape from square to round – apparently not round enough for round-head Dickett).
For all his failings, Reggie has gone down in history as the first President who was not parachuted into Co. Derry/Londonderry by the government in power in London. Next in line for that distinction is the present Cromore Provost, Ms. Deedee O’Horra. Unhappily for Reggie, his home-grown interpretation of leadership – with more than a nod to Charley Heehaw down Mexico way – didn’t suit his associates at all. As Professor Dickett was heard to say in a different context, “History shows that tyrannies don’t last.”
Reggie’s gang of three has now been scattered to the winds – a cautionary tale for any suit propping up a common-room bar in these tee-total times. The video of his Reggie’s bodily removal from campus by the Goonan Brothers, acting on behalf of the incoming adminstration, is among the most popular Youtube clips in Nothern Ireland.
In retrospect, the Regicide looks inevitable, if actually triggered by the neural effects of high-level hydrocarbon chains applied to the academic cerebellum. It would be wrong however to assume that the regicides don’t know fine wines when they sniff them, or that they were unacquainted with the SCR and its festive spirit in earlier times.
What is known for certain is that the plan to overthrow Kenmacca was hatched at an off-campus watering-hole. The Plough Inn in Hillsborough is the chief candidate, followed by Cushy Glen in the hills behind Coleraine. Rumours that Kenmacca’s mortal remains were buried in a secret location on Murder Hole Road in that vicinity are greatly exaggerated and his larger-than-life personage has been spotted in the Bush Hotel and Tescos among other up-market venues.
When the current President takes up his new abode in the space “formerly occupied by the former Senior Common Room” – as an administrative spokesman put it some of the existing SCR fittings will be retained and refurbished, among them the tidy kitchen area behind the present bar, paid for at the membership’s expense. Who will get the full-size snooker table is a moot question but since snooker has been banned by the present administration it is expected to be “repurposed”. Slate makes good gravestones.
Meanwhile the drinking licence associated with the Senior Common Room from time immemorial will be replaced by another to be jointly held by the University with its new “catering partner”, Charley Boy, Ltd – or Limited Charley Boy, as others style the company. This is seen as a smart move since the caterers cannot hold a licence on the campus solo unless the property is leased to them, which the University is less likely to do than in case the lover-affair breaks down leading to alimony. It is also feared that Charley Boy would jilt his bride if deprived of the profi to be reaped from the population of steady drinkers known to haunt the campus after hours.
Informed observers regard the bar licence as a dowry in the romantic match between Charley Boy and the University of Ulster. Although the marriage was formalised in private, photo rights are believed to have been sold to Hustler and will appear on a top shelf near you shortly. (Lady Isabel Barnett has been resurrected to oversee the etiquette and table placements.)
It seems, however, that the parties to be united may have jumped the gun since Charley Boy has already mounted a jobs promotion in the “Spine” area of campus and is thought to have mounted Barnie at about the same time. A stained sheet was hung from the Vice-Chancellor’s suite in the wake of the incident while a clandestine video went for sale in the public toilets on Railway Street under the evocative title Prima Nocta – and another copy with Irish subtitles under the title An Cead Oíche.
Breaking news suggest that a power struggle has now broken out over the panoramic premises at Cromore. Apparently representatives of the People’s Republic of China, who have already staked a sizeable claim to the Faculty of Arts, have tabled a rival bid for the Common Room in relation to a previously-agreed plan for a joint-degree between the Mao Zedung University and the Bannside campus. Chinese students will be taught English on the Cromore campus with work experience in the University Spar Shop where they will be asked to follow simple instructions such as “Red yoy oot thon wee ban an’ gie o’er yeer gurnin.”
Famed for its ancient civilisation and latter-day empire-building, the Chinese have recently added Ulster to their global portfolio. To judge by the banner flapping over the Kung Fu Institute in the Faculty of Arts, they have no intention of abandoning their investment in the Emerald Isle. At first thought to say “We shall not trade the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of Africa” in Chinese, it now known that the banner says “Happy Christmas, Turkeys”.
A maverick web site on China’s internet has even hinted that the Asian giant is planning to use the SCR as a Reception Area for incoming students from the land of Confucius. Meanwhile the patio outside has already been “repurposed” as a heliport for Cromore Executives travelling to the China on DEL-funded junkets.
In related development, the University is planning a series of high-quality cultural events in conjunction with the Tourist Board of Northern Ireland. Throughout the summer a series of beauty competitions will be run off in the refurbished Common Room. Rumour has it that, in view of his consistent kow-towing to foreign potentates, Barnie Dickett is a shoo-in for the “Host with the Mostest” award this year, while his Public Relations Officer has already taken the “Most Glamorous Professional” prize in a competition run by the Belfast Telegraph’s. Looking ahead, dog-fanciers are touting P. D. O’Nelly for a rosette at Crufts in autumn – all credit due to his handler Jemmie “Locks” Cutler.
At the acceptance ceremony, the President said, “Putting Cromore College solidly on the map of Higher Education in Northern Ireland is the chief aim of my administration.” To grasp the scale of their achievements, you can’t do better than to take a look at the campus on Bing Maps. There you’ll meet with a lonely a shopping cart where the campus ought to be, along with a lane leading to the “Science Research Park” and a flag for the “University Halt”. As poet Shelley said, “All around the colossal Spar the lone and level fields stretch far away.”
Maybe it’s time to give Microsoft a seat on the University Council!
In a late development, a group of students have just occupied the SCR to publicise the plight of their Vice-Chancellor. The plan is to raise enough funds to prevent his eviction from Tarnknoca by running rings around the Goonan Brothers – a daring stunt which has seen the Common Room bar-takings rise by 200% since the sit-in began. Failing that, they hope to convert the architectural gem where the childless Vice-Chancellor keeps his Hornby train-set into a leisure centre for players at the top table in the University Poker Game.
If they succeed it is thought that the SCR may reopen as the sociable resort for lecturers, postgraduates and undergraduates, much as it did before the closure. On leaving the campus, our reporter received a peck on the cheek from Provost O’Horra. “Please don’t tell Michael D. Higgins about all this – he wouldn’t understand why I have to wreck a democratic movement.” It is hard to disappoint such a fine lady, especially since she was brave enough to confront the students in their lair. Considering the pros and cons of the SCR closure, it’s more likely that the students who will emerge as the real heroes.