Many of the societies at Southdown put weekly or monthly bulletins on the noticeboards, and they weren't all political. But SUCSOC seemed to come from a different dimension. Who were these people who spent their university days cultivating cacti and succulents? One was called Tim and another Julian. Every bulletin ended with the words: If you'd like to know more about SUCSOC, please see Tim or Julian. There were no surnames or other contact details. From other entries in the bulletins I guessed that one was the secretary, the other the chair, and they were both science students of some kind, as there were occasional mentions of the labs. Next week Julian will be showing us slides of his holiday in Malta was followed by Unfotunately Julian was not able to show us slides of his holiday in Malta, due to an attack of the "dreaded lurgi"!! Many thanks to Wing Commander Jimmy Woods of the Easthaven Succulent Club, who gallantly stepped into the breach with a repeat of his popular talk on "My Favourite Succulents". And so it continued, page after scrappily photocopied page: A mamillaria table, Next Tuesday is Propagation Evening - make sure you turn up at the lab in plenty of time!!, Little known uses of opuntia, 33 things you didn't know about epiphytes, At last, the long awaited showing of Julian's holday slides! And then the report the next week: due to a malfunction of the heat lamps we were unable to hold our propagation evening... many thanks to Wing Commander Jimmy Woods. We hope Julian will be feeling better next week.
'It's a front,' Rob said, when I asked him about in the pub one evening. 'I imagine if you looked up the various species you'd find that most of them are being cultivated for their psychotropic properties.'
'But what about Jimmy Woods? He doesn't sound like the sort of person who'd have anything to do with drugs.'
'That's the front, Daniel. They put him in to dupe the Drug Squad, so that no one will find out about what's going on under the heat lamps in the labs. He doesn't exist, of course.'
'Who doesn't exist?' Imogen said, looking up from the cigarette she was rolling.
'I don't think any of it exists,' I said. 'They don't sound real. I mean, can you imagine, week after week, whatever they're doing gets cancelled and replaced by a talk from Jimmy Woods of the Easthaven Club? The same talk? Wouldn't they stop turning up at some point?'
'What I want to know,' Rob continued, his concentration apparently entirely taken up with a beermat that he kept resting on the edge of the table so that he could flip it into the air with the backs of his fingers and then catch it with the same hand, 'is do you ever listen when Linda Fiske talks about literary theory? Because it's all there, Daniel, the play of the signifier, the death of the author, indeterminacy, and so on and so forth. There is nothing outside the text, Daniel, not Jimmy Woods, not the Easthaven Club or SUCSOC or Tim and Julian, nothing. First of all - ' flip, catch - 'first of all, Daniel, you have to get your head round that, and then you have to go one further. My glass is empty, has anyone noticed? There must be something that can be done about that. First you get your head round the fact that the SUCSOC bulletins are a signifier without a signified, a purely fictive text if you like, and then you go one further and say after all maybe they are at least as real as you are. Because I haven't been doing this subject long, but as far as I can see the main point of it is that there is no reality. There's certainly no beer.'
'That's a metonymy,' Imogen said. 'Or is it a synecdoche. The container for the thing contained.'
'Where beer is concerned,' Rob said, 'I seem to be an essentialist.'