Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas in College

DR MCBRIDE: Can’t it wait until later? I really need to finish this critical analysis of that late Beethoven quartet which…
PROFESSOR DEELEY: We don’t have time, McBride. You know the date, I take it?
DM: Of course. it’s the 4th. Why?
PD: Yes, the 4th of December. They’ll be here in a couple of weeks.
DM: But this Beethoven score – I’m so close to finalising it. That b minor viola shift…
PD: I know the feeling only too well, McBride. I felt exactly the same about what was to be my definitive article on Tolstoy’s debt to Victor Hugo. But there are other considerations. We must be realistic. We need to get ready.
DM: Damn. Every year it’s the same. Every year I vow I’ll move to some respectable provincial university. But I never do.
PD: And why would you? There’s Oxbridge, us, and the rest are nowhere.
DM: I know that. But every Christmas, with all the damned tourists, the carols, that absurd charity pantomime. It’s so demeaning.
PD: Tradition, McBride. And, of course, economics. They bring the dollars, we deck the halls with holly, ivy, mistletoe and dress up like munchkins. It’s a small price to pay for 11 months of academic freedom.
DM: Professor Deeley, I have a PhD. I’ve published monographs on atonal shifts in Bartok.
PD: And your point is? Remember that you’re speaking to the editor of two volumes of Dostoevsky’s correspondence.
DM: I know. I remember the reviews of it. An outstanding piece of work.
PD: Thank you.
DM: But also, in and of itself, a confirmation that we should not need to do this … these Christmas things. They’re demeaning.
PD: It’s what people expect. Who are you this year?
DM: I’m sorry?
PD: In the … performance.
DM: Oh. Er ... Father John.
PD: Ah, showering reprobation from the pulpit.
DM: That’s the cross I bear this year. What about you?
PD: Well…
DM: You’re not driving the sleigh again, are you?
PD: No, I…
DM: You’re Joseph.
PD: No.
DM: Not Mary, surely?
PD: Er…
DM: Professor Deeley, you seem reluctant to divulge it. Is it something shameful?
PD: Not exactly. I’m … I’m the beau.
DM: The beau?
PD: Yes. Under the mistletoe.
DM: I know where the bloody beau goes.
PD: Please, McBride.
DM: And who’s the belle this year?
PD: Holly Devere.
DM: Holly Devere? The 4th year medic? The one who does lap-dancing in the Union?
PD: I believe so.
DM: You bastard. I’ve been after her for a month.
PD: Don’t you think I know that? Everybody does. It’s damned embarrassing. Bad enough having to canoodle with a student without knowing she’s … well, not mine. I didn’t choose her.
DM: Maybe not, but you’ll be doing the canoodling with her. You bastard. That should’ve been me.
PD: Has it occurred to you that perhaps they wanted a beau who wouldn’t be a laughing stock?
DM: A laughing stock?
PD: Oh come, McBride, you may not be a linguist but… Beau? Beautiful?
DM: What’s your point?
PD: Nothing of any consequence. Hugo’s theory of the grotesque. Inner beauty is what counts. You may resemble Quasimodo but I don’t doubt that, inside, you also have his capacity for love, compassion ...
DM: You patronising bastard.
At which point, we leave the Professor of European Literature and his colleague from the music department to settle their academic differences with a mixture of vitriolic abstractions and playground taunts, but with no danger of any physical contact. Their Holly-induced enmity will, in due course, lead to McBride penning a stinging refutation of Deeley’s interpretation of Beowulf. Deeley, in turn, will use his influence to ensure that McBride never gets to be the beau. And the tourists will be beguiled by a pantomime which affirms the old enduring values.
So happy Christmas to you all and…
God bless us, every one!

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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Welcome to the Benighted Kingdom

A while ago, I asked for comments on a satirical piece I was including in a series of short stories. It was about the clichés that attach to various nationalities. Joe, the creator of an online role-playing game, went visiting the various geographical locations in the game and here’s what the bit about the USA became:

"Joe found this herd mentality interesting and spent some time acclimatising in various places. His frequent trips to the Americas made him wonder whether it had been wise to give residents so much freedom to adapt the in-world environment to suit their own preferences. Each state he visited proclaimed its pride in being part of the USA and yet the differences between them were so extreme that he began to wonder what ‘United’ meant. The south thought the north was populated by effete homosexuals while the north failed to understand the semantic lapses that led their southern counterparts to confuse the words ‘bride’, ‘groom’ and ‘first cousin’. The western states claimed to be the true representatives of American history, those in the east celebrated a long European ancestry. The only thing that united them was a general agreement that God was American. And, except for a few individuals in Kentucky and Tennessee, every single resident had wonderful teeth."

The reason I quote it here is that, despite my (supposedly) funny insistence on the differences between states, in the international arena they really are UNITED, and all the stronger for it. Americans from all over are proud to chant their allegiance to ‘USA, USA’.

So what? Well, it’s because here in the UK, a tiny minority of our elected ‘leaders’ are braying their triumph at the fact that our Prime Minister (Prime Minister! God help us.) has told the other 26 countries in the EU to eff off. So here we are again, the Britain that seems to think it still has an Empire, that now ‘rules the waves’ with aircraft carriers which have no planes on them, in a position of tremendous power as a minority of one. The rest of Europe will carry on doing the thing Cameron ‘vetoed’ (look the word up, Prime Minister), they’ll at least try to look beyond their own self-interests and their borders and, with luck, they’ll save the Euro, re-emerge as a relevant force in world affairs, and maybe, in some idyllic future, become the USE.

So much for democracy. We didn’t elect a coalition government and we certainly didn’t give a mandate to just 10% of our elected ‘leaders’ to dictate foreign policy. But that’s what we’ve got. Their views on Europe and, more importantly, on Britain, are outdated, irrelevant and harmful. The ‘bulldog’ whose spirit they claim to represent was replaced ages ago by the poodle that George Bush dragged into his adventures like Tintin and Snowy. Don’t get me wrong – Britain still has inner strengths and pride, a history and a present of greatness, but that’s not the Britain that Cameron and his beasts belong to.

It’s all about power, isn’t it? Cameron caved in to please his party’s hard-liners, Clegg, the supposedly pro-European Deputy Prime Minister (Deputy Prime Minister! God help us.) let him get away with it because it’s the only way he can hang on to a cabinet post. Meanwhile, any vestigial power we had as a nation has evaporated. Brilliant, Cameron.

As they put on their earnest, serious faces and tell us it’s for our own good, every single UK citizen is diminished by their insulting, patronising attitudes to diplomacy and to us.

Wait, though. We may not be part of a United States of Europe, but at least we’re a United Kingdom. Oh yeah? Not for much longer. Another consequence of Cameron’s folly may well be that, up here in Scotland, we vote for independence.

Great job, Prime Minister.

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