SUPERBLY DECADENT

There is something superbly decadent about reading in peace, in the comfort of a warm room, especially on a Saturday afternoon. The book has its merits and its in-built decadence too, if you read it that way. I think you are meant to as an integral part of its semi-light-hearted storyline, involving as it does, a behind-the-scenes caricature of the way academics functioned in their work, privately and socially.

The book is one I am skimming large chunks, chunks that are of not much import to me. The missing tracts do not weaken the flow of the stories woven into more stories. Skimming has helped me keep track of an awful lot of characters – too many – a large proportion of whom, I may well have long forgotten. There’s nothing worse than trawling back and forth amongst the pages, even the chapters, to remind yourself who a particular character was or is.

I am fascinated by the reminders of working practices long gone. The book is dated, very dated. For me, it is part of its charm. Roneo documents abound, Xerox machines are regularly used, sit up and beg, bash-it typewriters could keep their typists really hard at work. RSI was unheard of then. It was the time when electronic typing machines were just creeping into the office environment. There are main frame computers, there is programme development busily linking into individual machines in a laboratory; a mini network in its earliest form.

You have to book a transmission line, or more likely, several of them, to arrange an Antipodean broadcast. That must also have been the time of black and white visual broadcasting.

Descriptions of vehicles crop up, at the time, state of the art, probably now part of a rust heap, with the odd one preserved by an enthusiast.

Here, there are description of airline booking desks, staff assistance, flying experiences of yesteryear; the passengers and what they do in their smoking or non-smoking cabin seats. In contrast, elsewhere, some plebs sink in overcrowded leisure trip rowing boats.

The contextualising of characters in the Amsterdam red light district, a district that would be pretty familiar today, though described here, thirty or more years ago. In a couple or three years, will it still be recognisable from the author’s description, who knows?

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