In the curious alternative universe of Jasper fforde, the two worlds of literature and life are strangely mutually permeable: it is possible for a real-world person to become trapped in a poem by Wordsworth, or for a work of fiction to make a bid for the dubious freedom of reality, and individuals of the second kind are called Pagerunners (check out jasperfforde.com, or buy one of the books, should you wish to know more). We are inclined increasingly to wonder whether Mr fforde might be right all along: this thought has been particularly prompted by the Northern Professor’s interactions with the Gyrovague of X****** Abbey. The man who put the Vague into Gyrovague. The only Benedictine with a mobile phone. Just to put these sobriquets into context – the Rule of St Benedict, which is one of the more alarmingly permanent pieces of writing in the history of Western culture, was written in the sixth century (and is a model of good sense and psychological insight, incidentally). At the end, there is a dark little essay on types of individual who might be seen as in one sense or another, letting the side down: one such is the Gyrovague, or Roving Monk. Members of other orders may, if they choose, gallop across the tundra to succour outcast Siberian lepers, or go white-water rafting in Katmandu, but a Benedictine takes vows of poverty, chastity, and stability. As you may remember from the Canterbury Tales, Benedict sums up his views on gyrovagues by declaring that a monk out of his cloister is like a fish out of water. You may also remember that the cast of the Canterbury Tales featured a jolly monk who hadn’t a lot of time for St Benedict’s views on stabilitas, and there would appear to be Benedictines to this day who have difficulty with that bit. The Northern Professor has been involved with organising a conference at X******; his contact within that august body (if contact is quite the word I want), being the Gyrovague. There have been teensy problemettes in getting hold of him; there has been Ascot, of course, and he is having to go off and be made a Knight of Malta. This conference is supposed to be happening in about a fortnight’s time, and all kinds of vastly important people are involved. During the last phone call, the Gyrovague seemed to have something on his mind. ‘I do just hope’, he said, ‘that nobody has got at Dom Placid’. Dom Placid being the guestmaster. It would seem that the Gyrovague has not yet mentioned to him that he, the Gyrovague that is, has committed the monastery to giving its hospitality to a couple of dozen people in really not the very far distant future at all. Better start praying. But light suddenly dawned. How is it possible, we asked ourselves, that a man in his position (he was, for some time, headmaster of X*******’s school) can have such a lack of grasp on practicalities? Then the answer came in a flash of inspiration. He is a Pagerunner out of H.R. Benson, or possibly from a discarded early novel by Evelyn Waugh.