FFB: Porterhouse Blue – Tom Sharpe

porterhouse_blue_bookI have been thinking about academic novels lately because I am — much as I swore never to do so — working on a roman à clef called Hire Idiots (the topic of which ought to be abundantly clear). I taught Lucky Jim in my senior seminar and enjoyed my students’ reactions to it. I’ve been thinking of re-reading Waugh’s Decline and Fall, but I can’t seem to find it. I’m not sure it’s even possible to write satire anymore as reality outstrips it, but now that I’ve started I want to finish.

I had not read Tom Sharpe’s novel of a fictional college at Cambridge. He’s probably best known for the Wilt novels. There’s no Jim Dixon or Paul Pennyfeather to fasten our sympathies to in this novel: everybody is kind of awful in a cringingly realistic way. There is the poor post graduate student Zipser who commands our pity if not sympathy, but alas, he exits the story rather early on. There are some great comedic scenes.

What’s fun about this book is the horrible way the petty politics quickly ascend to the heights of absurdity as the new Master of Porterhouse arrives and intends to make big changes. In the cyclical nature of politics (which I suppose ought to give us some hope at the moment) this 1974 novel gives us a college of hidebound tradition faced with the liberalising force of a reformer. Sharpe makes all the partisans ridiculous, but not without sympathy. The bullying Master is bullied by his wife (women are either harpies or sexpots if they appear at all, alas), the deaf Chaplain is mostly kind, the put-upon Bursar leaps from frying pan to fire, and the snobby porter has been grossly misused.

Anyone who has been in academia (or academia adjacent) will appreciate the humour here — especially when the score-settling tv host who’s also an alum arrives. Sharpe’s humour mostly rests in good and bad intentions going madly awry. I’ve got the mini-series based on it to watch when I get the time. Some quotes:

‘As far as the College Council is concerned I think that the best policy will be one of…er…amiable inertia.’

‘There’s nothing like prevarication,’ the Dean agreed, ‘I have yet to meet a liberal who can withstand the attrition of prolonged discussion of the inessentials.’ [ouch]

With the experience of hundreds of hours in committees behind him, the Master anticipated the arguments that would be raised against him by the Fellows…It was precisely on such divisions of opinion that he thrived. The original issue would get lost in argument and he would emerge as the arbiter between divided factions.

But first he needed an ally. He ran through the Fellows in search of a weak link.

‘We shall muddy the issue until it is uncertain…If there must be dirt let there be lots of it.’

‘Trouble with you academic wallahs,’ said Sir Cathcart finally…,’is you take things too seriously.’ [cringe]

‘In my opinion genius is by definition a capacity to jump the whole process of taking infinite pains, but then as I say, nobody listens to me.’

There was something perverse about English political attitudes that defeated logic.

His had been an intellectual decision founded on his conviction that if a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, a lot was lethal.

See all the neglected books over at Patti Abbott’s place.

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Under My Skin

A week ago — a momentous time for so many reasons — I whacked my knuckles on the book case in the conference room outside my office at the end of a day meeting students for advisement. I’ve done it before: those of you who know me well will not be surprised. Head in the clouds, absent-minded professor — whatever you want to call it, I end up with odd bruises all the time. And then in a minute or two, it became this lump.

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I did what any normal person does: I sent the picture out on social media asking people if I should be worried. Some alarmed people said YES especially when I posted a video so you could see it in 3D, but most people said just ice it and elevate. I chipped some ice off the frozen-over freezer of our office because you have to improvise at times like this. Later at my friend Angela’s house, she gave me some frozen green beans that worked much better.

Robert got Lagavulin which worked even better with real ice.

The lump went down over the next few days and the bruises took off, lending a bit of colour. It was sore but not awfully so. There were far more painful things happening in the world, so on the whole I figured it could have been worse. See, much better!

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You don’t always know how an injury will affect you: something that didn’t seem all that big a deal might end up being surprisingly painful. Some things you know are going to be bad. Bracing yourself is the only option and it’s not enough because it’s coming at your from every direction. At least with big things you’re not alone: we’re all in that sinking boat and some of us are bailing it out (some are just bailing). There’s some attempts to patch the gaping holes, but there seem to be an inordinate number of folks rushing to the apocalypse.

In the words of Saint Kurt the Vonnegut, so it goes.

They get under our skin. That’s what they want. We inherit different thicknesses; we cultivate other characteristics. I recently did one of those ancestral DNA kits. I had hoped my ancestors would be a little more curious about the world, but they end up being 100% European:

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The Finnish is no surprise; I never thought I had any British/Irish blood so I’m going to claim it’s all Scottish, of course. Balkan and Southern? I’m going to go with Slovenia! But mostly Northern, which surprises no one. I also have 293 Neanderthal variants which is fairly high (higher than 74% of those they tested). What does it mean? Well, among other things:

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So there’s that.

To sum up: it’s a really lousy year for so many reasons for so many of us and things look likely to get worse. Your community will be more important than ever. Be part of them, look out for others, let yourself be looked after especially if you’re not one inclined to do that. Be grateful for every bit of joy that comes your way and if you have it, the reduced tendency to sneeze after eating dark  chocolate.

‘One of the ways to avoid being beaten by the system is to laugh at it.’

Peter Cook

Deliberately Lost SF Classics

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Can they actually be classics if they were deliberately lost? I don’t know, but inspired by Jane Gutter of the Cultural Gutter with all her movie-watching shenanigans, I decided they needed to exist. The hard part was stopping once I started…

Thanks to the Short Humour site for being willing to host my nonsense. Thanks to the Pulp-O-Mizer for the cover mock up.

A snippet to whet your appetite:

LLAMA RIDERS OF THE SEVENTH MOON (1953)

Despite a cast that included several purebred llamas and enthusiastic jockeys, the film failed to take off—perhaps for the same reasons. Rumour had it that producer Alana Perez refused to work the llamas for the grueling shifts that director Jimenez Arlberg demanded, citing the concerns of the Quechua handler of the beasts who claimed they were never used as mounts at all. Indeed throughout the production it is possible to see llamas doing their best to dislodge riders with bucking, rolling and lying down on top of them. By the end of the shoot, the disgusted breeder took off with his llamas and it became necessary to shoot several key scenes with large dogs. It is to the credit of editor Roberta Santiago that in most of the scenes the change is hardly obvious. However, with the majority of the budget spent on acquiring the llamas, the sets were rushed and poorly constructed. In fact during the infamous crater scene, it is possible to glimpse the surprised crew revealed as one panel of the set falls away. Arlberg’s attempts to connect the script to a Ray Bradbury story for publicity purposes backfired when the angry writer sent him a fake vicuña scarf in retort.

Read the rest here.

Short Humour

Giraudoux Secret of successI am generally in need of it; perhaps you are too. After two and a half hours in the dentist chair yesterday, I definitely needed something. So here’s a new bit for that thing with feathers:

Hope

And here are some of the others you may have missed. Thanks always to Swan Morrison and the Short Humour site for supporting my random bits.

Biscuits
On Seeking a Place for a Picnic
Kingsley Amis in the Afterlife
The Flying Seal
Open Letter to the Social Media Pill
The Stages of Fame
Proposal for a New Quiz Show: How to Catch a Millionaire
Tourist Hotels
This is Just to Say
Wicklow Street Lobster Reel

Wicklow Street Lobster Reel

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Wicklow Street Lobster Reel
(commemorating the freeing of the lobsters)
by K. A. Laity

or

what happens on Twitter doesn’t always stay on Twitter:

with thanks to Joe O’Shea.

[The original news story here]

Thanks as always to the lovely Brian at the Short Humour Site!

Winner: 200K Tweets Contest

I have had a read through of the entries and have decided this is the winner:

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Congratulations, @bzztbaa! I will get your details via DM.

All is crazy hereabouts, so Todd, I don’t have a TOA/V write up, but you might list this as the minute I finish grading, I’m going to watch it:

Today: Vonnegut in Schenectady

Vonnegut TalkJoin me at the Schenectady Historical Society’s Mabee Farm at 2pm for a talk about Kurt Vonnegut’s Schenectady years. I talk a lot about Player Piano as well as a bit about Cat’s Cradle and Welcome to the Monkey House. Quite shamelessly I mention Owl Stretching, too and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention So It Goes as well. I hope all the jokes work — how can you go wrong with Vonnegut after all? Part of It Came from Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region, so I look forward to seeing what else is there.

Do note, if you’re coming by boat: The Mabee Farm is located on the south side of the Mohawk River about 1 mile east of Lock E-9 and four miles west of Lock E-8. 

I should have chartered a boat!