To any outward eye, his was the ultimate academic success story. The State-educated son of secondary-school teachers arrives in Oxford from London University laden with academic honours and takes up a three-year post awarded him by an ancient, rich, achievement-driven college. His first name, traditionally the property of the English upper classes, derives from a rabble-rousing Methodist prelate of the nineteenth century named Arthur Peregrine of Huddersfield.
In the term-time, when he isn't teaching, he distinguishes himself as a cross-country runner and sportsman. On his spare evenings he helps out in a local youth club. In vacations he conquers difficult peaks and Most Serious climbs. Yet when his college offers him a permanent Fellowship - or to his present soured way of thinking, imprisonment for life - he baulks.
Last term [Perry]had delivered a series of lectures on George Orwell under the title "A Stifled Britain?" and his rhetoric had alarmed him. Would Orwell have believed it possible that the same overfed voices which had haunted him in the 1930s, the same crippling incompetence, addiction to foreign wars and assumptions of entitlement, were happily in place in 2009?
Receiving no response from the blank student faces staring up at him, he had supplied it for himself: no, Orwell would emphatically not have believed it. Or if he had, he would have taken to the streets. He would have smashed some serious glass.
It was a topic he had thrashed out mercilessly with Gail, his long-standing girlfriend, as they lay in her bed after a birthday supper at the flat in Primrose Hill that she had part-inherited from her otherwise penniless father.
"I don't like dons and I don't like being one myself. I don't like academia and if I never have to wear a bloody gown again, I'll feel a free man," he had ranted at the gold-brown hair clustered comfortably on his shoulder.
And receiving no reply beyond a sympathetic purr:
"Hammering on about Byron, Keats and Wordsworth to a bunch of bored undergraduates whose highest ambition is to get a degree, get laid, and get rich? Done it. Been there. Fuck it."
And raising the odds:
"About the only thing that would really keep me in this country is a bloody revolution."
And Gail, a sparky young barrister on the rise, blessed with looks and a quick tongue - sometimes a little too quick for her own comfort as well as Perry's - assured him that no revolution would be complete without him.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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