Come back Reggie Perrin

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Though I bang on a fair bit (at least, for a physicist) about books written in Scots, my two favourite comic novels are decidedly English. The copy of Lucky Jim that I have owned since my early 20s is now more sticky-tape than paper. Sometimes I expect to open it only to find the pages are completely blank, the words having been totally eroded through repeated reading.

I came to book two, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs, through the 1970s television series. The arty-farty thing to say now would be that the novel is infinitely superior to the sitcom it spawned, but it isn't. They both have their strengths, though it is in some ways unfortunate that the television programme was so successful.

The ensuing sequels undid a very tidy ending, and gradually became dominated by the catchphrases of the supporting characters. I didn't get where I am today without recognising a sequel which became dominated by catchphrases.

"I didn't get where I am today" belongs, of course, to Reggie's monstrous boss at Sunshine Desserts, the legendary CJ. CJ managed his personnel through intimidation and humiliation. He deliberately bought chairs for his office that made a farting sound when his underlings sat on them. Prone to tortuous mixed metaphors and cliches, he claimed that the latter were "like a red rag to a bull" to him. He was a model for teachers on how not to manage.

And yet it was when on a course that had many good ideas on classroom management that I recently had a CJ moment. We had been hearing of brain function, learning styles, fear of failure and all sorts of sound theory that really is worth knowing about.

It was the brain gym (does that get capitals and a trade mark sign?) that flipped me. We touched our right ears with our left hands then our left ears with our right hands. Then it was hands touching opposite feet. Above the sound of myself quietly singing "That's the way - uh-huh uh-huh I like it, uh-huh uh-huh", I heard and accepted that this helped get both sides of the brain working.

Next, we had to stand in a line. I was between two fellows from the maths department. "Now massage the shoulders of the person in front of you. Turn round and do it again."

Sorry, it's probably a personal failing, but I'm not really comfortable with touchy-feely stuff. "I didn't get where I am today by massaging the shoulders of someone from the maths department," I said to nobody in particular, longing to slump back down into the comfort zone of my non-farting chair.

Gregor Steele also recommends Second From Last in the Sack Race by the same author.

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