Men clothed in turtleneck sweaters and checkered pattern ties. The scratching of fountain pens recording indecipherable morsels of important sounding information. Sounds of haughty laughter following a well executed witty quip.
No, we're not in the House of Commons. We're in my Origins and Conduct of World War II class. By far the most upperclass white male of my classes.
I walk in once a week to sit around a large, mahogany stained table for two hours, in a room with exposed white painted piping in the ceiling and wall-to-wall bookshelves, discussing topics that would make any self-respecting armchair historian giggle with academic masturbation. Things like: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Czech Crisis, and the Phoney War. Real topics that real men enjoy. I can't even write this post without squinting, leaning slightly forward, and giving each topic its deserved momentary pause of gravitas.
Peering through the thick fog of smoke that has settled in our little room, I can barely make out the figures around me. Seated at the other end of the table, the Humpty Dumptine Churchill puffs a fat cigar and provides color commentary as we, with reckless abandon, tear into Chamberlain's gutlessness and curse French laziness and unthinkable military preparations. Goering, looking like a perverted Buddha, sits delighted and jiggles with morphine-soaked laughter as we expose the idiocy of Ribbentrop. I sit, reluctantly, next to Mussolini (I was late and it was the last seat open) who makes fart noises whenever Churchill rises from his chair, sending mainly himself into fits of phony barrel chested laughter that makes the tassel on his fez hat flop limply about. Stalin and Molotov pass notes in between staggering swigs of Siberian cough syrup. And De Gaulle shouts an awful lot from the back.
Discussions are centered around questions like: Did the Germans have a clear plan for rearmament?
(Side note: In this context, even I say the word "Germans" with a tinge of contempt... "Germans". The hard "G" was a perfect starting consonant to have for an enemy. "The Germans". My medulla oblongatic biological reaction when saying the word is to furrow my eyebrows, squint, and give my head a quick jerk for added emphasis. I honestly don't know if we would have ever had gone to war with the Lithuanians. It just doesn't sound as good. "Germans". Hell, even "Japanese" [or the far superior, from a propagandist's point of view, though infinitely more racist "Japs"] has the hard "G". Fuck war with the Indonesians!)
Questions with little modern relevance. Questions whose answers are buried in "the stacks". Questions that spark a memory of a little known quote from Hitler, recorded secretly by a secretary, that sends waves of High-Register Staccato Academic Laughter Snorts throughout the room.
The HRSALS ("hersals") are usually in response to the most disgusting and inhuman of quotes or paraphrases. We snort our surprise and acknowledge the entertainment value over such crackpot ideas as the forced deportation of European Jews to Madagascar, or Stalin's choice phrase that the Non-Aggression Pact was "cemented in blood".
As the room goes warmer from the collective body heat of these aged men (I should note, there are two girls in the class of about 14), worked into an academic frenzy, our time suprisingly expires. We give a round of thanks, collect our pocketwatch chains, waistcoats and umbrellas, and return to the real world.