The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Oxford
Douglas Adams (author of “the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) once described a fictitious Cambridge University Professor in his excellent book, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”:
“…..small, roundish, and moved with an ungainly restlessness, like a number of elderly squirrels trying to escape from a sack. His own age was on the older side of completely indeterminate. If you picked a number at random, he was probably older than that…..Certainly his face was heavily lined, and the small amount of hair that escaped from under his red woollen skiing hat was thin, white, and had very much its own ideas about how it wished to arrange itself…….(taking off his coat) was complicated….by the necessity first of taking off his professional gown, and then putting it back on again once his coat was off, then of stuffing his hat in his coat pocket, then wondering where he’d put his scarf, and then of realising that he hadn’t brought it…..”
Despite the fact that this professor was from “the other place”, and, the lack of red skiing hat in real life (or as real as life could be in the smokey, sherry filled, oak panelled walls of an Oxford college), Douglas could have been describing my former tutor of Modern History from the Queen’s College Oxford, Dr Alastair Parker, RIP.
Dr Parker used to search through the many piles of papers and essays for marking for many a minute, grumbling to himself, looking for his spectacles……while all the time his spectacles would be on the top of his head.
He would look totally bemused when the telephone rang, as if wondering where the sound was coming from. It was one of those old-fashioned telephones. He would carefully lift the earpiece to his ear. He would bend down to the mouth piece. And, in a voice reminiscent of Prince Charles (but educated) he would quietly say “Yeeees?”
He would charm the pants of young, pretty female undergraduates…..some would say, quite literally, allegedly. Note this extract from his obituary: “He was a handsome and rather dashing figure, attracted by women and attractive to them. ”
And, while he tolerated my lack of application while teaching me dull periods of British History, he totally captivated my attention during my specialism “British Foreign and Domestic Policy 1935 – 1939”. While he forgave my pro-Chamberlain tendencies at a time when the consensus was rather anti-appeasement, I am not sure that I was a huge influence on his later, successful book – Chamberlain and Appeasement: British policy and the coming of the Second World War (1993). He was my personal Professor Dumbledore.
In contrast, there was my other History Tutor, Blair. Rowan Atkinson, an old member of Queen’s College, describes his comedy character, Mr Bean, as a “child in a grown man’s body”. He could have been talking about Professor John Blair, who tried to teach me, well anything, about Anglo-Saxon England, with only partial success. In contrast to the dapper Dr Parker, Blair was like a rabbit trapped in a car’s headlights. He would scurry and mince through the corridors of college a la Mr Bean with his elbows stuck to his torso and his forearms and hands flapping around like, well, a girl running. He would be pursued by shouts of “Blaiiiiir!” from unseen assailants.
You got the sense that this accomplished academic had never visited the real world. This was rather unfortunate as he was also a Moral Tutor – someone who was supposed to help undergraduates with their worries and woes. Some of the female students used to invent problems with their sex lives just to watch him squirm. And squirm he did.
Entry filed under: Oxford. Tags: appeasement, chamberlain, dirk gently's holistic detective agency, douglas adams, dumbledore, hitch hiker's guide to the galaxy, modern history, mr bean, oxford university, queen's college, rowan atkinson, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.