The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935
The Picture that Wasn't
The Picture that Wasn't
I have not been able to find out where that picture was shown, or even that there was a picture. But Bill said he saw it, and Bill would not even deceive an examiner, much less a fellow-student who believes in nothing.
He went off to his Term exam, that evening with an expression of quiet confidence in his ability to satisfy the minimum requirements for an honourable failure. When he returned, I thought he looked a little vague. How did the exam, go? I asked. Exam.? said Bill; I've been to the pictures.
He couldn't tell me what pictures or where. All he remembered was the film. Educational film, he said.
I'll say it was. It was entitled "Victoria Sempiterna" and purported to trace the career of a University College from the beginning of time. Cosmic history, you know, said Bill; H. G. Wells stuff and all that—producer had a name like Wells—Brooks, I think—or maybe it was Birks. Comic history, I suggested. No, quite serious, said Bill.
There was a Commentator. Fellow called Mac, said Bill. Mac who? I asked. Damfino, said Bill; all Macs look alike to me. They talk alike, I said. I suppose you can call it talk, said Bill; listen to this.
To ken the true pathos an' sublime o' Veectoria College (said the Commentator, as nearly as Bill could remember), dinna confuse your brains in College classes whaur, as the poet Burruns justly remarks, ye gang in stirks an' come oot stud asses, but kittle up your notions o' auld lang syne an' backward cast your e'en on prospects drear till ye gae tapsalteerie an' in your fancy's flight see naethin' at a', at a', as the poet Burruns puts it wi' unco skill, but only an un-miteegated darrkness, an inspissated gloom, an illimeetable inane brimmin' o'er wi' the founess o' vacuity like the intellec' o' some puir brither in an examination room when November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh, as the poet Burruns onomatopoetically sings, an' in this rudeementary condeetion o' things tak a peek at the Deil wi' business in his hand, as the poet Burruns tactfully describes it, stickin' his smouty phiz wi' eldritch croon intae the holes an' corners o' the wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous nebula o' what was to be the Veectoria University College, an' chucklin' atween unco whiffs o' brunstane, "Wee modest crimson-tipped flow'r, Thou's met me in an evil hour," as the poet Burruns, wi' a deep understandin' o' the vegetable psychology, writes, "but mony a cantie day we'll hae wi' ane anither, for a' that, an' a' that ..." For a' what? I asked of Bill. Search me, said Bill.
You see, said Bill, that was the mysteerious beginnin' o' things, before Veectoria College cam wi' shinin' arrums, to wit, a canteen azure charrged wi' four-X, to cast before the graceless snouts o' homo insipiens the benefits o' hired education. Firrst there was naethin' at a', at a'. Then resoonded a mighty click, like Brookie snappin' his fingers, an' lo, oot o' the unluminous abyss, a blaze chaotic an' liquescent plains o' ever-seethin' fire, in which the elements o' the expandin' universe were elaborated an' raised frae star-seed into embryon orbs, until at last we hae prolific earth life-stored wi' light impregnd, a creeping mass alive wi' shapeless things an' . . . For the love of Mike, I interrupted, cut out that Science Wing stuff and tell me what it's all about. It's the history of the College site, explained Bill; leaving out details, it goes down through Ordovician, Silurian, Triassic, Jurassic, Eocene, Miocene, Pliocene. . . Obscene, Stu-dassic, and Fescennine, I completed. How did you guess? asked Bill. I don't guess, I said; I know. Now look here, Bill, isn't there a song and dance anywhere in this thing? Right at the end of the first part, said Bill, where you see the Old Clay Patch all ready for a site. Over and about it, dancing and singing and sliding up and down rainbows and things, are a crowd of angels. Of what? I yelled. Guardian angels, said Bill; a bit on the dark side, though, it seemed to me. Oh, I said, and did you catch what they were singing? Well, said Bill, it sounded to me like, "Don't it, don't it, look peculiar, wi' naethin' on at a', at a'."
Then, said Bill, you see Queen Victoria signing the Charter of Victoria College. Something wrong there, I said; Victoria College hasn't got a Charter. This picture showed it being signed, sealed, and delivered, said Bill, and it was an historical picture. Maybe that explains it, I said; go on. Well, said Bill, the Queen says, Say, Romilly, maybe folks somewhere think this a chatty lil paper, but it don't look like front-page page 29 stuff to me. It's not, your Majesty, says Romilly; it's the Charter of Victoria University College, Kelburn, N.Z. Now if that ain't too cute, says the Queen; wise me up some on this University racket, buddy—I ain't had no streamlined schooling myself. There's nothing to it, your Majesty, says Romilly, but a guy has to get a lot of it to find out. That's one helluva note, says the Queen; what's the big idea? Keep the poor poor, says Romilly. The poor stiffs, says the Queen; say, Romilly, slip 'em a few Scotch professors to help 'em like parritch. I've got the very guys, says Romilly. Atta, big boy, says the Queen, as she dabs a chunk of P.K. on the locus sigilli.
Then the clishmaclaver starrted, said Bill. Ah, the bonny, bonny days—no like the noo ava—when the winsome wee thing, the bonny, blyth-some, wee Veectoria was firrst builtit, wi' the pibrochs o' John an' Hughie skirlin' oot bauld, an' Tarn o' the sonsie face gently scannin' his fellow man but handin' oot some unco dingin' knocks, an' Scotchie, wha's girn's waur nor his bite, teachin' dowie callants to conceal theirsels as well's they can frae creetical dissection—thon wiz the days, an' strappin' lads an' lassies braw —no like the noo ava—wi' mickle to thole an' mickle to learn, an' healthy minds to sang in-clin'd, forgather'd in munelicht splore, till roof an' rafters a' did dirl, an' tho' forfoughten sair wi' a' the jargon o' the schools an' Latin names for horns an' stools, yet unco proud o' toils obscure an' philosophic reek an' a' that—ey, mon, 'twas a grrand place to get away from, if ye ken what I mean. ... I dinna ken ye at a', ye gowk, I shouted; get on wi' the picture. Wha does the utmost that he can, said Bill, will whyles do mair, as the poet Burruns says—or maybe it was Barnum, I forget which.
Bill's Doric (as he fantastically described it) hindered me from gaining any clear impression of the progress of the College in modern times. As the professors grew older, the students grew younger—so much so that the Council was eventually obliged to supply free milk in the Cafeteria. The Council was very interested in the welfare of the students, according to the account the picture gave of one of its discussions. The Chairman (Mr. Roll Pennyngs) insisted that the interests of the students would be best consulted by excluding them altogether from the College. Mr. Max Friski objected to this attitude on the ground that the first duty of the College was to maintain a readily available supply of cannon fodder. Miss Merry Bursthouse and Mr. I. D. Gambol supported Mr. Friski in the interests of Bashism, but Mr. Ken Sprott said Bashism allowed too much academic freedom for his liking. Mr. Bankerphiz affirmed his profound belief in academic freedom and instanced the Nudist Club which he had sponsored in his student days. Miss K. Hobo strongly denounced the action of a past Council in banning the Nudist Club but admitted that her admiration for anything savouring of paganism might have prejudiced her views. Mr. Alfalfa Batz deplored the anti-Christian tendencies apparent among students and asked the Council to reconsider its decision not to establish a Chair of Theology. Mr. A. H. Trotskney stoutly asserted his agreement with Mr. Batz or with anybody else who might agree with him and said that for two pins he would turn Communist or Buddhist or Somersault or any old thing just to bring the Council to a realization of where its materialistic notions were leading it. Mr. Kingi Barmitzpah asked whether it had come to the ears of the Council that the mean, measly, mealy-mouthed, miserable misers on the Executive of the Students' Association had actually refused to supply Mr. Trotskney with two pins. . . .
The scene changed to the Students' Association, said Bill. Here was conflict. The number of College Clubs had increased until every student past his freshman year was the secretary of one or more (usually more) clubs; and College politics had become a struggle of Club with Club for the control of the Students' Association. The crisis came when the Stud Ass Executive refused the demand of the Letter Rack Club for additional Blues for its members. The Letter Rack Club had only one member (the Secretary) but held the College record for the pomposity and length of its annual reports, which were its only effective activity and invariably appeared in the public press. At a famous meeting of the Students' Association Mr. Charles Blank moved the most famous resolution of his famous career. It ran thus: "That clause 987(351) (x) (ii) (cedd) (917/8) (Q) (.001) of the Constitution be amended (1) by deleting the words 'and' and 'or' wherever they may occur, (2) by substituting for every remaining word the word immediately preceding such word or following it, as the case may be, and vice versa, (3) by omitting all commas, (4) by reversing all full stops, and (5) by deleting the heading ' Amended Amended Amended Amendment of Amended Amendment' and substituting the heading 'Machinery Clause Only'." Observing the meet page 30 ing to be completely stunned by the brilliance of his latest move, Mr. Blank seized the opportunity to execute an equally brilliant coup d'etat by declaring the Students' Association abolished and himself appointed Dictator of Student Affairs. The Blanky Millennium was in sight.
But ha (said Bill), what is this happening away from the meeting? The Freshers have long resented their exclusion from College Tammany (as the Clubs have come to be called) and for some time have been secretly drilling themselves to keep out of step. On this fateful First of April they issue from Weir House in a body, and march upon the Gymnasium. Of a sudden the heavens are filled with shouting and there rains a ghastly duw from the windows and doors of the decrepit old structure as member after member of the Million Cubs is hurled out upon the Ping Pong courts below. Attempting to escape in the disguise of a gas meter, the Dictator is seized; and cheer after cheer arises from the ranks of the Fresh Movement as he emerges from the gym. in the close custody of the bottle-scared heroes, Bilda Burley (charmingly attired in a necklace of cup handles), Bob Bagshot (de-bagged, but honourably concealed in the remains of the coffee urn), and H. R. Child and H. M. Mclnksplotch (with typewriter keys sticking out of their coiffures, giving a very pleasant Tapanese effect). Louder still is the cheering as the advertising board of the New Building Committee, bearing the legend "In the Sweet Bye-and-bye," sails through the air, to shatter upon the ground in a thousand pieces that will never meet again. But pandemonium reigns supreme as a lithe figure is seen to run nimblv up the College flag-pole and nail thereon the Napkin of the Youth Movement. A slight breeze shakes out the pure white folds of.the glorious emblem. The rays of the dying sun tint it red. (Confirmin' ma worrst suspeecions, said Bill.)
But ha (said Bill again), d'ye ken that sinister figure skulkin' amang the tombstanes yander, a weeoin o' deestraction grippit in its han'? "What is the sienifeecance o' the Musket Club." mutters the skellum to himself, "gin it no be to mak the best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft agley?" He taks carefu' aim an' fires. The laddie up the pole pauses in the act o' kissin' his honny han' to the admirin' multeetude belaw an' fa's to the groond, wi' a maist magnifeecent wallop but all kiltit. A close-up reveals the face o' puir Bruikie.
According to the picture, this was the beginning of the era of revolution. With the Building Committee out of the way, there was nothing to hinder the erection of a new Gymnasium. Weir House collapsed about this time (under the strain of a new haka practice or, perhaps, through going dry), and Brook House, as the new Student Building was called, found it necessary to provide residential accommodation. The site was therefore made to include the Ping Pong courts, which were shifted to the roof of the House. It is interesting to learn that Ping Pong did not long retain its popularity. In the privacy of Brook House roof, the players soon fell into the way of playing in bathing costumes. The convenience of this was offset by the fact that passers by could no longer gaze admiringly upon their skins.* The game lost in interest and in due course the roof came to be used as a handy landing place for the auto-gyros of students.
The distinguishing feature of the exterior ornamentation of Brook House was an enormous golden finger and thumb, iridium tipped, which snapped continuously. Underneath this appeared the motto "Move On!"—a perpetual stimulus to progress. It became the custom for residents of Brook House to greet one another by a Fascist salute ending with a click of the finger and thumb. All functions in the House were commenced and finished by the ceremonial turning off for an instant of an electric light switch.
Many more changes took place in the Age of Revolutions than I have the credulity to repeat or space to tell. When the A.S.S.E.S. (Associated Soviet Socialist Empire of Students) was established, the College became affiliated. The immediate outcome was the abolition of the distinction between professor and student. Bill could not tell me how this arrangement worked out. Professors were forbidden to smoke in their studies or else students were allowed to smoke in class—I'm not sure which, he said. He was certain of one point only, that the favourite method of disciplining professors was to make them sit terms exams. A tribunal of Studassars sitting in judgment would solemnly pronounce the sentence: "You shall be taken to the place of examination and there be hanged if you do not sit a stiff terms examination. And may heaven (in the dialerric materialist sense) have mercy on your marks!"page 31
A later generation of students achieved academic freedom in its fullest sense by abolishing University education as an outworn bourgeois survival from an age which regarded intellects as unequal. What reforms later generations might have effected can only be guessed at, for later generations were themselves abolished by birth control. With the disappearance of the young, Victoria University College became an institution that had outlived its usefulness.
In a war started by senile playboys to make the World Unsafe for Soccer a stray shell reduced the noble structure of the College to a forlorn heap of bricks.
The final scene reminded Bill of a piece of sculpture he had once seen. On a heap of books amid the ruins sat an ape, something akin to thoughtfulness furrowing its brow as it contemplated a human skull held in one paw. From the lips of the creature issued the mournful croon, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot . . . "
I still think the picture a bit impossible. But Bill says he saw it. What puzzles me is that Bill obtained 98 per cent, in his Terms exam. If I ever got that much I would waste no time before consulting a psychiatrist. I should have liked to examine that skull the monkey had. Perhaps it was Bill's.
* "Skins" is no doubt a misprint for "skill."—Editor.