Pomp & Circumstances: Coffee with the Archbishop

Extracts from the diary of Percy Bertram Danforth.

Tuesday, 12 November, Michaelmas.

Another day—afternoon, rather. I am hung over from the sherry last night, having slept fitfully on account of Fishnet Girl, whose long, lacy legs dance after me in the darkness. I roll towards the edge of my hobbit-sized bed and stare, dully, past the philosophical works of Herman Hesse and through the latticed windows that can only be opened by five strong, burly men with an aptitude for medieval locks. I slip into my cashmere socks and edge towards the computer in my boxers, towards chapter six of twelve of my dissertation, towards an insurmountable feeling of hopelessness and despair. Once again, it’s raining outside, and my spirits remain damp from the previous Tuesday, when my supervisor cancelled our appointment in favour of coffee with the Archbishop of Canterbury. I found this rather intolerable and self-centred, as I had been diligently pacing outside his door for nearly half an hour, knocking occasionally, and reciting my plan for chapter seven of my dissertation. I suppose this is the price one pays for working with a world-class rhetorician; although he does not exhibit the virtuosity and humility of his subject, he certainly knows a thing or two about the poetry of George Herbert.

Wednesday, 13 Nov. 
A Typical Day: airport security.

I tote my high-caliber plastic University Library bag and enter through the revolving doors of an especially phallic building – designed by a certain Giles Gilbert Scott, maker of the fantastically British red telephone booth. Craning my neck, it occurs to me that the booth is just a miniature of the large, central library tower which leers at the fertile pastures of the surrounding Cambridgeshire lowlands. I edge towards the librarian at the front circulation desk who, goblin-like, examines my card before pressing a button – releasing me from this small, revolving metal cage. Like the airport, I sigh as I reach the security of the upper landing and consider which miserable corner in which to place myself till the end of time – more accurately, the next six hours. Three of those go by, during which time I succeed in booking tickets for next week's formal and choosing some out-of-context quotations for my essay on Quarles' Emblemes. I then proceed to the library canteen, which bears a striking resemblance to a hospital cafeteria. The coffee is low-grade and the food is questionable, and so I settle on a scone with bottled water (anything will do, now that I am here and alone and sleep deprived and full of misery). I rotate my scone ninety degrees and nibble it until it becomes isotropic – satisfying my compulsion for symmetry.

Wednesday, 20:00, MCR.

That dweeb, Derek, is reciting pi again. He's passed the medieval doors, along with his threshold for alcohol tolerance and the five-hundredth digit: the boys behind him chanting as reverently as a monastic choir. Though I am not one to object to pomp and pageantry (when and where it's due), Derek's recital – along with the repercussions of French Postmodernism on our concept of the 'soul' – bores me. Indeed, Derek's charade reminds me of the son of a renowned rhetorician, who at Oxford we used to refer to as 'Boron': a combination of 'boring' and 'moron'. I must confess, I am rather proud of that little neologism, as the boy in question was reading to become a chemist. 'Boron' winged its way, like Chaucer's 'Little Booke', through the College corridors and out the window (rumour has it, it even reached the Deer Park at Magdalene). I was at Christ's of course, studying Divinity, for I have always had an inclination towards things metaphysical.



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