Yesterday the Northern Professor and I did something I have always wanted to do — we chose images for a set of postcards. How often have I gone round a gallery and subsequently sulked in the shop, wailing, ‘why do they never make postcards of the really interesting things?’ I had the most fun I expect ever to have in a University, and we found some lovely things — a picture of a Scots College student in the eighteenth century, the most wonderful handcoloured engraving of a hippeastrum, and a woodcut of Tam O’Shanter with a very sexy Cutty Sark and a devil playing the bagpipes, among others. And we got to play in the stacks, scuffing around on the floor with sixteenth-century Atlases.
Today, by contrast, the Professor, the Greatest Living Renaissance Scholar and Dr Biswell have tootled off to Cromarty, leaving me in charge of my Gamekeeper, a taciturn Yorkshireman and a Tonka Toy. The Gamekeeper came up with a wizard wheeze for transforming our swamp into a trout pond. To his ill concealed astonishment, we said ‘Okay. Make it happen’. He has been on the premises, transported with joy, since about eight o’clock this morning. An enormous orange machine, a bit like a Diplodocus with caterpillar tracks, is in the middle of the swamp, while Anthony from Yorkshire deftly redirects huge amounts of mud from one play to another. The dogs, of course, are entirely covered in mud, they keep slipping off to paddle in the slurry and get shouted at all over again. I have to say, it is all happening with extraordinary dispatch; when the Aesthetes return from Cromarty, they will find that the Occasional Oasis Supply Association has been at work, and we pretty well have a pond, albeit in a state of scraped, bare mud. The Gamekeeper reports that the most extraordinary things have turned up in mud in the course of the morning, including a cast-iron bedstead. On the subject of the Gamekeeper, he has his GCSEs — and I am pleased to say he got the second top mark for both English and History, in which we tutored him, which is not bad for a chap who has spent his schooldays being described as ‘ineducable’. How hard were they trying, one wonders?
Mrs Grey, meanwhile, just to add texture, has embarked on a vole pogrom of terrific proportions; she must have caught a dozen in the course of the morning, and is clearly very pleased with herself — she keeps reappearing from somewhere or other, ululating in muffled triumph through a mouthful of something limp, brown and furry. I do hope she slows down, we had a mounting pile of corpses at my study door till Miss Best friend ate them, and I am a little concerned at the strain on her digestion.