When they were seated, and after a long pause, the man spoke to the King. ‘My cat is mortal.’
The King, being a sensitive observer of his subjects, knew this was more complaint than statement of fact. The man continued almost inaudibly ‘this is unacceptable.’
The King answered ‘indeed.’
‘And what then’, the man asked expectantly, ‘are the limits of your power?’
‘In this regard,’ said the King, ‘my powers are of no value at all… at all.’
‘Indeed’, said the man.
‘indeed’, said the Queen.
‘indeed’, said the city of the dead.
[From the 4th book in the unpublished and unwritten Oxford Noir series: The King and the Queen City.]
Respect des fonds had no temporal limit at the archives. Everyone knew that there were divine punishments for researchers who made their own ‘inclusions’ in the files. The young doctoral student who thought to deploy paperclips to keep his place in a particularly dense bundle of recorda learned that there were more immediate punishments for the most wicked. The archivist was pragmatic and impatient and perhaps agnostic.
[more from the unpublished and unloved Oxford Noir]
As he listened to the Warden address the fellows, the words of Sir John Port drifted to mind:
“Every idiot is a fool, not having discretion. But not every fool is an idiot.”*
* This, and the title, come to Oxford Noir, by way of Sir J. H. Baker, ed. The Notebook of Sir John Port, Selden Society vol. 102 (London: Selden Society, 1986), 131.
‘Men skilled of their hands’, is what Malory called them. But in this current academic job market, selection committees had little interest in that partcular skill set. Better to leave those works off the CV. Besides, men skilled of their hands followed a rather different model for peer review.
(more from Oxford Noir).
The porter had suddenly turned chatty. Perhaps he was bored. More likely he was taking a measure of the new fellow.
‘So why St Andrews? If you don’t mind me asking. Must seem very dull here compared to Oxford.’
‘Oh, that’s fine by me’ I said ‘too many tourists in Oxford. Hard to get any work done.’
‘Plenty of tourists here as well,’ the porter corrected me, ‘at least in the summer.’
That was true, but the difference for me was hard to explain without self-incrimination or unhelpful vagueness. You could weed those numbers tourist numbers down a little, given the circumstances, but those same efforts employed in Oxford hardly made a dent. More certain methods were not my style.
‘Yes,’ I said finally, ‘but I am no fan of golf, so the tourists can have the links, and stay out of my way.’
The porter smiled. He thought that was a perfectly sensible plan.
(more fragments from the Oxford Noir series. This time, the equally obscure and forgetable Nails for St Andrew’s Cross).
The inscription, probably a bronze plaque, had been stolen long ago. No-one seemed to remember the name of the occupant, and no-one visited that particular corner of the cemetery any more.
‘Such a shame, to be ignored for so long.’ He sighed painfully.
‘I envy you. We can trade places. I will get so much work done.’
[more fragments from Oxford Noir]