Office of the Dean: St Andrew’s College, King George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 3TD
The College, an affiliate of the University of Edinburgh, is a research institution specialising in the Humanities and the Physical Sciences. Known to irreverent staff as MacAll Souls from its similarity to its Oxford twin, it has no undergraduates; only Postgrads and Research Fellows who complement the permanent Academic Staff.
The Dean is assisted, betimes, by the Bursar, Warden, the Prebendary and the Bedellus who sit on the ' Estaitis ', an ancient Scots word for Council, dating back to the Foundation by the Queen in 1562.
HIGH SUMMER in Edinburgh; the Jetstream (about which the Government seems utterly powerless) normally sweeps in over the Shetlands, but this year has been abducted south by the French. The thing counteracts the normal stratospheric conveyer-belt that brings in an endless succession of Atlantic Depressions with attendant daily dumping of downpours. Fed up with this, I consulted our tropospherologist Dr Liu Hsien Wu, as to what we might do about this: “Buy new umblella; world weather machine mathematicarry chaotic” was the initial response. I then firmly reminded him that his supercomputer, bought at vast expense and capable of 3.4 trillion calculations per second could surely find the answer. Two days later and innumerable calculations later, that answer came. It was astonishing. Just as the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific was found to be due to a butterfly flapping its wings in Madagascar - so Dr Wu has found that the wettest Edinburgh Summer for a century was actually caused by an ape falling out of a tree in the Congo. Fascinating. I called the Edinburgh Zoo and suggested the creature be brought here to experience the consequences of its imbalance (I don’t think they quite got the connection.)
Meanwhile, rain or shine, the hurricane of the Festival Fringe sweeps across the city, while The Trams débâcle has moved on. With Princes St, now open after a year, York Place is now closed for a year, thus turning upmarket Heriot Row in to a Freeway, to the manifest displeasure of its residents. The Parliament is mercifully in recess and so also, in a sense is this College. Many of the Staff are still away on vacation, disrupting conferences or pursuing research projects (or sex objects) abroad, while we play host to several Fringe events, two alarmingly described as ‘New Comedy’ We shall see... Our Bedellus, Mr. McEachran and our Clerk of Works (appropriately Mr Clarke) accompany me each Summer on ‘vacation rounds.’ In these, we inspect the absent Fellows’ Rooms, marvelling at the things we find; especially those illustrating the extra-curricular interests and obsessions of some of the brightest minds in the country.
A scrabbling noise in Dr. Ragworth’s wardrobe proved to be an enraged Mustela putorius or common ferret wearing a collar inscribed, curiously, “Property of Stockbridge Golf Club”, while entry to Prof. von Schlacht’s suite was delayed by the usual boobytrap - this time a spring-loaded launcher complete with deceased pigeon. In general, however, the old place seems to be in reasonable structural health though the same can’t be said of our dear Walter Cremaster. His post-structural critique of political semiotics in Kiev has led, I hear, to his arrest by the Committee of Public Safety. The very thought of a court appearance with Dr Cremaster and a Kievan State Prosecutor going at it post-structurally before a Ukrainian M’Lud, conveys pleasure to a degree which religion is powerless to bestow.
Speaking of degrees, I had a most disagreeable note this week from the President of the University, rejecting my proposal of a LL.D.(honoris causa) for Henry McMerrie on the grounds that he, McMerrie, is dead. I see no reason why this engineering genius, architect of EDMeT, the City’s new and long overdue Metro, should not be honoured, albeit post-mortem. The reason, I bet, was a noisy and fume-laden Metro airshaft breaking surface in the President’s private garden. This is part of his on-campus Offices and Residence, known privately to us Deans as the TZ. This stands for Twilight Zone and takes its name from the classic US televisual series, each episode of which began with Rod Sterling’s sonorous baritone intoning, ‘There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This we call the Twilight Zone…
He was right! There is such a Zone and it’s right here. In the President’s TZ, reality ends; up is down; more is less, more or less; where the paranormal, the dystopian, the kafkaesque come as standard. That’s the irresistible sensation after five minutes with the President. So, alas, poor Harry McMerrie’s ghost will have to haunt the EdMet tunnels and up the flues make moan, (Hon.) degreeless for eternity.
The Royal garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse was its usual wondrous self, the proceedings enlivened by the stately parade of the Royal Company of Archers and, as we heard later, the sensational recovery of a pair of what are known in Glasgow as ‘wallies.’ After the party there was discovered, in a large bush, a complete set of NHS false teeth firmly embedded in a Holyrood cream bun. Some pursy burgess must have sunk them in the confection with a lively surmise, only to find their withdrawal a different matter… One can only imagine his subsequent conversation with the Queen’s consort:
D of E: Come Far?
D of E: Excellent. Here with a partner?
D of E: Really? – she must be a good age now…
Incidentally, the Duke completed his term of office as Chancellor of the University some time ago. He was succeeded in the role by his splendid daughter the Princess Royal who now combines it with the Presidency of the Scottish Rugby Union, though which will give her more heart-stopping moments is debateable...