Ingratitude, thy name is Vladimir Lebedev! My boss is oddly unimpressed with news of my prospective coup:
“So, let me get this straight, Alex … you got it into your head to ring Bill Clinton?”
“Well, he rang me, actually.”
“… and you asked him for some money. How much money, exactly?”
“I didn’t mention an exact figure.”
“Did you mention a rough figure?”
“I may have done …” I sense that all resistance is futile. “I may have suggested something in the low seven figures.”
“A million dollars? Are you insane?”
“I meant pounds, actually. Think what a difference it could make to the college finances!”
“Think? Did you not think at all, Alex? Did it not occur to you that the idea of approaching the President might not have already been considered by the Development Office?”
“I suppose ….”
“There have been discussions at the highest possible level. It is a matter of extreme delicacy. It is not a matter of a cold call from the office junior. Because that’s all you are, Alex, a probationer on trial.”
“There’s no mention of a ‘discussion’ on our database and no sign of even a modest contribution so far. Perhaps I just got lucky? Perhaps this just happened to be the moment when he was ready to pay his dues?”
“His dues?” Lebedev almost spits out the words. “There are no dues. Mr Clinton was here for a few short months back in the late sixties …”
“Two years, surely?”
“One academic year. The second year was purely …”
“Hypothetical? A draft-dodge?”
“… a year spent broadening his horizons in Paris and across Europe.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve been reading his autobiography. Vital background research, I hope you’ll agree?”
Lebedev takes a deep breath.
“So how have you left it with Mr Clinton?”
“I think he wants to talk to me about it. In person.”
“That would be very awkward. We do not have the budget to send you to America for a chat.”
“No, he’s coming to the USPGA golf day!”
“He’s doing what!?”
Perhaps I should explain that the USPGA is the Univ Society Peripatetic Golf Association, an informal association for old members of the college convening at a variety of scenic locations across England. It is the more senior of the two USPGAs by about forty years (average age of the players, that is). We have considered suing the rival American upstart USPGA for exploiting our distinguished acronym but that’s not really our style.
Ours is the USPGA which upholds the true values of the sport. No shoddy professionalism sullies our travails on some of England’s finest golf courses. For us, the five-foot gimme is a normal part of the game – there is no need to prove oneself over so short a range, is there? Most of us would qualify for a telegram from the queen if we were ever to break a hundred. Yet most USPGA members cling to superannuated handicaps of 18 or 24 like badges of honour, clear proof that they could play the game back in 1962, whatever the evidence now.
Despite their advanced age, our members frown on buggies and take great pride in traipsing round all eighteen holes, pulled along by their motorised trolleys, sometimes in a shade under five hours. It’s just as well that we have (usually) found a golf club which will conveniently retain its lunchtime kitchen staff till 4 p.m. And by six we will finally be ready to applaud the bandits who have made off with the prizes by the devious expedient of actually playing somewhere near their stated handicap.
Bill Clinton has been invited to every one of the USPGA meetings over the last fifteen years so his first appearance is long overdue. And I am the only person at the Development Office with the slightest interest in golf.
“I think he just wants to explore a few options with me while enjoying the fabulous scenery of Frilford Heath golf course,” I explain patiently. “If he says he doesn’t want to contribute, what harm has been done?”
“You’ve absolutely no idea, have you?”
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Have you any sense of how much security is involved in a presidential visit?”
“That’s his affair. I haven’t invited him for formal dinner in Hall. I mean, I haven’t not invited him. It just didn’t come up. I expect he travels pretty much incognito these days. It’s his wife who is the important one ….”
“Alex, I’m not sure you have really quite understood your role in this organisation. The college did not give you authorization for any of this nonsense. I’d also like to ask you what caused those bruises and cuts on your face?”
“What? That’s nothing … I just had a slight incident while driving.”
“Yes, I did hear something along those lines. You wrote off your Fiat on some country lane ….”
“The weather was atrocious. One of the tyres burst.”
“Had you been drinking?”
I am momentarily taken back by the sheer effrontery of the question.
“I don’t think that’s any of your business. I am not known for …”
“Had you been drinking?”
“Yes! OK, are you satisfied? The fact that I had consumed a pint of beer earlier in the evening is neither here nor there.”
“If you are to work for this college, you need to remember that your behaviour should be beyond reproach at all times. Please consider this as a formal warning.”
“Look, I’m not some snotty-nosed student. You can’t send me down for gross moral turpitude!”
“No, but I am your boss. Think on it, Alex …”