Authors: Tom Sharpe
Tom Sharpe was born in 1928 and educated at Lancing College and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He did his national service in the Marines before going to South Africa in 1951, where he did social work before teaching in Natal. He had a photographic studio in Pietermaritzburg from 1957 until 1961, and from 1963 to 1972 he was a lecturer in History at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology.
He is the author of sixteen novels, including
Blott on the Landscape
which were serialised on television, and
which was made into a film. In 1986 he was awarded the XXIIIème Grand Prix de l’Humour Noir Xavier Forneret and in 2010 he received the inaugural BBK La Risa de Bilbao Prize. Tom Sharpe died in 2013.
Wilt drove down to Fenland University feeling in a thoroughly bad mood. He’d had a row with his wife, Eva, the previous night about the expense of sending their four daughters to boarding school when, in Wilt’s opinion, they had been doing very well at their old school, the Convent. Eva, however, had been adamant that the quads must stay at the private school.
‘They’ve got to learn good manners and they weren’t doing that at the Convent. And in any case, you swear so often they’ve become quite foul-mouthed and I’m not having it. They’re better off away from home.’
‘If you had to fill in totally useless forms and supposedly teach Computer Studies to the illiterates I’m lumbered with – who actually know far more about
using the bally gadgets than I do – you would swear too,’ Wilt had said, choosing not to point out that since they’d become teenagers the quads’ repertoire of obscenities put his own to shame.
‘I can’t afford to carry on paying for another God knows how many years just so that you can boast to the damn’ neighbours about where your damn’ daughters go to school. Even the Convent was already costing a small fortune, as you well know.’
Altogether it had been a most acrimonious evening. To make matters worse, Wilt had not been exaggerating. His salary really was so small he couldn’t see how he was going to go on paying the boarding-school fees and still maintain the modest standard of living his family presently enjoyed. As merely Head of the so-called Communications Department he was paid less than the heads of academic departments, all retitled Professors when Fenland College of Arts and Technology had been designated a university and, as a result, earning a great deal more than he was. Eva had, of course, made that point several times over during their row.
‘If you’d had the gumption to leave years ago, like Patrick Mottram, you could have got a really decent job with a much better salary in a proper university. But, oh, no, you had to stay on at that stupid technical college because “I’ve got too many good friends there”. Utter rubbish! You’ve No Get Up And Go in you, that’s what you’ve got.’
At that Wilt got up and went. By the time he got back from the pub, resolving to have it out with Eva once and for all, she had given up on him and gone to bed.
But as he drove into the ‘University’ car park the next day, Wilt had to admit to himself that she was right. He ought to have left years ago. He hated the wretched Communications Department and actually could probably number his friends still working there on one finger. He should probably have left Eva too. Come to think of it, he should never have married such an infernally bossy woman in the first place. She never did things by halves: the quads were proof of that.
Wilt’s spirits sank even lower when he thought of his daughters, all four of them exact replicas of his ghastly wife and just as loud and overbearing as she was. No, more loud and overbearing than she was, given the combined effect of their quadruple efforts. All four girls were inexhaustible in their petty squabbling and inter-sororial battles, and he was pretty sure that the demise of his get up and go had pretty much coincided with their arrival.
There had been a moment in their early infancy when, in between the nappies and bottles and the disgusting pap-like baby food Eva insisted on shovelling into them, he had briefly entertained great hopes for his offspring, imagining shining futures ahead of them. But the older they grew the worse their
behaviour became, from torturing the cat to tormenting the neighbours – though pinning anything on any one of them was impossible since they all looked exactly the same. He supposed that at least now they were boarders they were someone else’s problem, although it was a bloody steep price to pay for it.
Wilt cheered up on his arrival when he found a note inside a sealed envelope on his desk. It was from the Chief Administrator, Mr Vark, telling him that his presence was not required at the meeting of the recently created Academic Apportionment Committee. Wilt thanked God he didn’t have to attend. He wasn’t sure he had the patience to sit through another interminable session of paper-shuffling and self-important pronouncements about nothing.
Feeling in a better mood, he went off to check the classrooms but found them largely empty except for a few stray students who were playing on the computers. It was the end of the summer term in a week’s time and with no exams in the offing most of the staff and students saw no point in sticking around. Not that the lazy sods stuck around much in the first place. Wilt was back at his desk, making yet another attempt to sort out the following term’s timetable, when Peter Braintree, the Professor of English, poked his face round the door.
‘Are you coming to Vark’s latest nonsensical gathering, Henry?’ he asked.
‘No, I’m bloody well not. Vark has sent me a note
saying I’m to stay away and for once I’m going to do what he wants.’
‘I don’t blame you. Rotten waste of time. Wish I could get out of it as well, I’ve got stacks of exam papers to mark.’ Braintree paused. ‘I suppose you wouldn’t think of …’
‘No, I wouldn’t,’ Wilt said firmly. ‘Mark your own papers. Can’t you see I’m occupied?’ He waved airily at the timetable in front of him. ‘I’m working out how to fit the Digital Future into Thursday afternoon.’
Braintree had long since given up trying to make sense of any of Wilt’s more obscure remarks. He simply shrugged his shoulders and let the door bang loudly behind him.
Wilt gave up the timetable as a bad job, and for the rest of the morning sat filling in the forms the Administration Department concocted practically every day to justify employing more staff than the ‘University’ had lecturers.
‘Suppose it keeps the sods off the street,’ he muttered to himself, ‘just like having so many so-called students makes the employment figures look far better than they really are.’ He could feel his bad temper returning.
After lunch he sat for an hour in the Staff Room, reading the newspapers piled up there. As usual they were filled with horror stories. A pregnant woman had been stabbed in the back for no apparent reason by a twelve-year-old boy; four louts had kicked an old man
to death in his own garage; and fifteen insane murderers had been released from Broadmoor after five years – presumably because they hadn’t been allowed to kill anyone in that time. And that was in the Daily Times. Wilt tried the Graphic and found it just as sickening. In the end he skipped the political pages, which were full of lies, and decided to go for some air. He went out to the park and was walking round it when he spotted a familiar figure sitting on a bench.
To his surprise Wilt realised it was his old adversary Inspector Flint. He crossed over and sat down beside him.
‘What on earth are you doing here?’ he asked.
‘As a matter of fact, I was sitting here wondering what you were getting up to.’
‘Not a very interesting topic. I should have thought you’d have been concentrating on something more in your line,’ said Wilt.
‘Oh, arresting innocent people perhaps. You’re good at that. Trying to convince yourself that they’re criminals. I know you were certain I was one when I was idiotic enough to dump that beastly inflatable doll down a pile hole, but I was drunk at the time and anyway it was years ago.’
Flint nodded. ‘Quite. Then there was the drug stunt and the terrorist business in Willington Road. You were involved in all those rotten affairs. Not intentionally, I agree, but it’s interesting how you repeatedly seem to
find yourself in the middle of particularly curious situations. There must be something criminal about you for you to get caught up in quite so many nefarious activities, don’t you think?’
‘No, I don’t think. And nor, quite often, do you. Though you’ve got a really fantastic imagination, I’ll grant you that, Inspector.’
‘Not me, Henry. Oh, definitely not me. I’m just quoting your old friend, and my old colleague, Mr Hodge. Superintendent Hodge to you, of course, Wilt. And I can tell you, Mr Hodge still hasn’t forgotten the quagmire you led him into over that drug business … nor has he ever got over it. Speaking frankly, I myself don’t think you could commit a real crime if it was handed you on a plate. You’re a talker, not a doer.’
Wilt sighed. The Inspector was only too damned right. But did everyone have to keep reminding him of how impotent he was?
‘Well, apart from thinking about me, what on earth are you doing sitting out here?’ he asked. ‘Have you retired or something?’
‘Been thinking seriously about that too,’ said Flint. ‘I think I may do. I’m never given anything interesting to do, thanks to that bastard Hodge. He goes and marries the Chief Constable’s daughter, and gets promoted to Superintendent as a result, while I’m desk-bound, filling in forms and doing nothing but paperwork. It’s as boring as hell.’
‘Join the club,’ said Wilt in spite of himself. He hated the expression. ‘I’m doing the same. Forms, agendas, bumf of all sorts … and all I get in return is hell from Eva when I go home because I earn a miserable salary and she insists on our paying a small fortune to send the quads to an expensive boarding school. God alone knows how we’re going to continue doing it.’
They chatted on, grumbling about the economy and politicians in general, and it was some considerable time before Wilt glanced at his watch and realised it was later than he’d thought. He wondered if the Academic Apportionment Committee meeting had ended yet.
He said goodbye to Flint and went back to his office. It was past four o’clock before Braintree stuck his head round the door again, this time with the news that he’d only nipped out for a pee and the committee was still at it hammer and tongs.
‘You were bloody sensible deciding not to go even if Vark would have let you. They’re all having a hell of a row. Mostly the usual topics,’ he said. ‘Anyway I’ll definitely be finished by six. Do you want to hang on for me?’