Unusual Uses for Olive Oil: A Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainment Novel (4)

( 6 )

Overview

Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due—a quest which has the tendency to go hilariously astray.
 
In Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, von Igelfeld experiences a series of new adventures.  First, he finds that his academic rival Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer ...
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Unusual Uses for Olive Oil: A Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainment Novel (4)

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Overview

Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due—a quest which has the tendency to go hilariously astray.
 
In Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, von Igelfeld experiences a series of new adventures.  First, he finds that his academic rival Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer has been winning undeserved recognition, a situation that must be addressed. Then von Igelfeld stumbles toward a romance with Frau Benz, a charming widow who owns her very own Schloss and a fleet of handsome cars—that is, until a faux pas lands him on the curb. Later, while on the annual student study retreat in the Alps, von Igelfeld fearlessly plunges 3000 feet into mountaineering history, and turns his survival into the subject of inspirational lectures. Finally, at a dinner party, he is the only kind soul who can aid an unfortunate dachshund whose sticky wheels are in need of lubrication.
 
Alexander McCall Smith’s Professor von Igelfeld is his most wonderfully maddening, ridiculous, and utterly inspired comic creation.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Yvonne Zipp
The von Igelfeld stories don't so much delve into philosophy as fling their main character into mayhem. He's a literary Mr. Magoo…this collection…is as delightfully silly as the main character is pompous…The von Igelfeld books lack the warmth of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. But McCall Smith calls them "entertainments," and…the stories provide that in spades.
Publishers Weekly
Prolific serial novelist Smith (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) gently pokes fun at academia and its professoriate with this slapstick-y, deadpan-lite fourth installment of the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. The socially inept Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is shocked when Professor Unterholzer, an oft- jealous rival who blames von Igelfeld for crippling his dachshund, is shortlisted for a prestigious, well-endowed prize. Believing a mistake has occurred, von Igelfeld makes an accusation of nepotism, sure that an unusual nose structure is proof of a familial connection. A hopeful romance with Frau Benz, a Schloss-owning heiress, grows tenuous as a result of an embarrassing faux pas; although Smith slyly allows von Igelfeld's moth-ravaged suit and scissor-cut sleeves to pass for curious and endearing. The professor is hoodwinked by students he chaperones to a Bavarian retreat and, later, when he slips and has a near-death plunge of three thousand feet off an Alpine summit, he is ironically hailed "an unlikely hero," resulting in tabloid-style fame. Von Igelfeld's foibles are many and his misfortunes ridiculous-trying to help at a dinner party leads to a messy encounter with olive oil and a lame dachshund-yet Smith makes him dignified and subtle, a cleverly scripted sympathetic hero.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Delightfully silly.... [von Igelfeld is a literary Mr. Magoo." --The Washington Post

"Filled with comic characters, all academics of a particularly stripe. . . . McCall Smith has the same gift that John Mortimer has in making boring conversations hilarious—the atmosphere in the Institute of Romance Philology’s coffee room is very like the one-upmanship and backbiting in Horace Rumpole’s chambers. Academia can be a hoot, and this series proves it."
   --Booklist

"Professor von Igelfeld is a comic gem. . . . McCall Smith skewers the pomposity of academic pretension with an irresistible, deadpan insouciance."
    --BlogCritics

Acclaim for the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series

"A comedic jewel... [At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances] attains a level of sublime nonsense reminiscent of Woody Allen's Bananas." --The New York Times

“In the halls of academe, a setting fraught with ego-driven battles for power and prestige [McCall Smith] has rendered yet another one-of-a-kind character: the bumbling but brilliant Dr. Mortiz-Maria von Igelfeld . . . . [a] deftly rendered trilogy [with] endearingly eccentric characters.” —Chicago Sun-Times

Kirkus Reviews
Prolific McCall Smith, who's unaccountably neglected Professor Dr. Dr. (honoris causa) (mult.) Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld ever since the trilogy that ended with At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (2004), presents five more adventures for the eminent but clueless philologist. "Adventures" is a relative term, for von Igelfeld's life, like Kant's, is so regulated that the slightest departure from his normal routine or the comfort zone circumscribed by his advanced but recondite knowledge of Portuguese irregular verbs can be traumatic. Merely reading over an announcement that Professor Dr. Dr. Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer, his incomparably less-celebrated colleague in Regensburg's Institute of Romance Philology, has been shortlisted for an award is enough to launch him in an unaccustomed direction--this time to Berlin, where he asks the Director of the Leonhardt Stiftung as delicately as he can whether there might possibly have been some mistake among the nominating committee. Subsequent episodes bring von Igelfeld together with Kitty Benz, the well-heeled widow to whom his colleague Professor Dr. Dr. Florianus Prinzel and his wife, Ophelia, are bent on introducing him, and then to an intimate lunch with Frau Benz at Schloss Dunkelberg, the modest home that features a ceiling painted with a scene depicting her late husband's entrance to heaven. Although this episode (spoiler alert) leaves von Igelfeld as unmarried as ever, he undergoes a different and utterly unexpected sort of change when he takes a group of graduate students on a study trip to an Alpine retreat--an experience that makes him a celebrity invited to give an after-dinner talk to a gathering of Hamburg businessmen in the final (for now) story. Gently but invincibly obtuse, von Igelfeld is too much an elephantine cartoon to inspire the love readers have given Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie.
Library Journal
In these three novellas, Smith (The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency) introduces a new character, Dr. Moriz-Maria von Igelfeld, a professor of romance philology whose most noted (and only) book is Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Other recurring characters include von Igelfeld's colleagues at the Institute of Romance Philology, Dr. Florianus Prinzel and Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer. Von Igelfeld continuously tries to prove to himself and others that he is the absolute best in his field and as such he should be shown the utmost respect. This often results in the most humorous situations, as things do not go according to plan. In Portuguese Irregular Verbs, von Igelfeld gets Dr. Prinzel involved in a duel, which results in the loss of the tip of Prinzel's nose. In The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, Dr. Unterholzer's beloved pet dachshund is left with only one leg after von Igelfeld, mistaken for a veterinarian, amputates the other three. And in At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, von Igelfeld becomes involved in academic intrigue at Cambridge and a little misadventure in Colombia. This delightful head-in-the-clouds professor will enthrall the author's many fans. Recommended for most popular fiction collections.-Karen Core, Kent Dist. Lib., Grand Rapids, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307279897
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 179,921
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is also the author of the No. I Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He lives in Scotland.

Biography

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1.

Surprising? Astonishing? No, it was more than that, far more – it was shocking, quite nakedly schrecklich. Professor Dr Dr (honoris causa) (mult.) Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, author of that definitive, twelve-hundred page scholarly work, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, was cautious in his choice of words, but there were times when one really had no alternative but to resort to a strong term such as shocking. And this, he thought, was one such occasion. It was ganz, erstaunlich shocking.
 
The news in question was conveyed in the pages of a journal that normally did little to disturb anybody’s equanimity. The editors of the sedate, indeed thoroughly fusty, dusty, crusty Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie, a quarterly journal of linguistic affairs, would have been surprised to hear of any reader so much as raising an eyebrow over its contents. And certainly they would have been astonished to see one of their better-known readers, such as Professor von Igelfeld, sitting up in his chair and actually changing colour, reddening in his case, as he studied the small item tucked away in the news section of the review. It was not even the lead news item, but was at the bottom of the page, a mere paragraph, reporting on the announcement of the shortlist for a recently endowed academic prize. This prize, set up with funds left by a Munich industrialist of bookish tastes, was for the most distinguished work of scholarship – an article or a full-length monograph – on the subject of the heritage and structure of the Romance languages. What could possibly be controversial about that?
 
It was not the fact that the prize had been established that shocked von Igelfeld, rather it was the composition of the shortlist. There were three names there, all known to him, one very much so. As far as Professor J. G. K. L. Singh was concerned, von Igelfeld had no objection at all to his heading the list. Over the years he had had various dealings with Professor Singh, exchanging letters at regular intervals, and he had become quite fond of him. Certainly he did not agree with the rather unkind nickname that some scholars had given the celebrated Indian philologist– the Great Bore of Chandigarh – indeed, von Igelfeld did not agree with nicknames at all, thinking them puerile and unhelpful. His own name, which meant hedgehog-field in German, had resulted in his some- times being the butt of schoolboyish references, masquerading as humour, but of course he had always risen above such nonsense. It was true that Professor Singh was perhaps a little on the tedious side – indeed, he might well have been quite incontrovertibly so – but that was no excuse for calling him the Great Bore of Chandigarh. The British – ridiculous people! – and the Americans were the worst, he had noticed, when it came to this sort of thing, with the British being by a long chalk the more serious offenders. They saw humour where absolutely none existed, and it seemed to matter little how elevated they were – their jokes often being at the same time unintelligible and silly. Professor Thomas Simpson of Oxford, for example, a major figure in the study of vowel shifts, had referred to Professor Singh by this sobriquet and had remained silent in the face of von Igelfeld’s protest that perhaps not everyone found Professor Singh boring. And he was no longer at Chandigarh anyway, von Igelfeld pointed out, which made the nickname out of date.
 
‘He has been translated to Delhi,’ von Igelfeld said. ‘So the reference to Chandigarh is potentially misleading. You must be careful not to mislead, Herr Professor Dr Simpson.’
 
This comment had been made in the coffee break at the annual World Philology Congress in Paris, and later that day, as the delegates were enjoying a glass of wine prior to the conference dinner, von Igelfeld had overheard Professor Simpson saying to a group of Australian delegates, ‘I’m not sure if the Hedgehog gets it half the time.’ He had moved away, and the flippant English professor had been quite unaware that his remark had been intercepted by its victim. A few minutes later, though, he found himself standing next to Professor Simpson at the board on which the table placements had been posted. Von Igelfeld was relieved to find that he was sitting nowhere near the condescending Oxonian, and he had turned to him with the remark, ‘You will be happy, I think, to find that you are not sitting next to a hedgehog. They can be prickly (prickelnd), you know.’
 
It was a devastating shaft of wit, but it brought forth no response from its target, who appeared not to have heard. ‘What did you say, von Igelfeld?’ he asked.
 
Von Igelfeld hesitated. It was difficult to serve a dish of revenge twice within the same minute. ‘I said that hedgehogs can be prickelnd if you sit next to them.’
 
Professor Simpson looked at him with amusement. ‘I would never sit on a hedgehog if I were you,’ he remarked airily. ‘Not very comfortable, as surely you, of all people, should know! But my dear chap, you must excuse me. I’m at the top table, you see, and I must get up there before the rank and file clutter the place up.’
 
If he rather welcomed the inclusion of Professor J. G. K. L. Singh’s name on the list, he did not feel that way about the next name, which was that of Professor Antonio Capobianco of the University of Parma. He knew Capobianco slightly, and found his work slender and unconvincing. Two years ago the Parmese had written a book on the subjunctive in seventeenth-century Italian, a book that von Igelfeld had reviewed in polite but unambiguously dismissive terms in the Zeitschrift, almost, but not quite, describing it as scholarly ephemera. He would certainly not have chosen Capobianco had he been a judge, but at the same time he could understand that there might have been political reasons for including him on the list. It was nice to put Italians on lists – they so appreciated it; Italians, von Igelfeld was convinced, had a profound need to be loved by others and consequently were always reassured to see their names appear on any list. He had even heard that they tended to get upset if they were left off negative lists – such as those that ranked the most corrupt countries in the world. ‘But we lead the world in corruption,’ one Italian prime minister had been said to complain. ‘How can they put us below Mali?’ So there could be little doubt but that Capobianco would be very pleased to see himself on this shortlist and would presumably make every effort to bribe the judges to decide in his favour – or, if he did not, some of his friends and relatives could be expected to do so on his behalf. But he would never win.
 
But then there was the third name, and that was where enthusiasm and mild irritation were succeeded by outrage. Professor Dr Dr Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer, the journal announced, had been nominated on the basis of his work on Portuguese verbs – work which enjoyed a considerable reputation not only in Germany but throughout the world. His research has put Regensburg’s Institute of Romance Philology on the map, the journal concluded, and deservedly so. This makes him a very strong candidate for the award of this prize.
 
It was difficult to know where to begin. Unterholzer had been von Igelfeld’s colleague for a considerable time. Their relationship was not a simple one, as there had been a number of issues over the years – none of them von Igelfeld’s fault, of course – because of which the friendship between them, if one could call it that, had been strained. Most notably there had been the incident of Unterholzer’s dog, the unfortunate dachshund, Walter, or Dr Walter Unterholzer, as the Librarian, Herr Huber, had so wittily called him. This dog had lost three of his legs in circumstances for which Unterholzer blamed von Igelfeld, and the poor animal was now obliged to get about on a prosthetic appliance involving three small wheels. Walter had, some years previously, disgraced himself by coming across and eating a small collection of bones. These bones had not been intended for consumption by dogs, rather they were sacred relics of particular interest to the Coptic church, being the bones – or some of them – of the late Bishop of Myra, none other than St Nicholas. Thereafter, Walter had become an object of veneration within the Coptic church as he had consumed holy relics and was therefore, in a sense, a reliquary, even if an ambulant one. He had enjoyed a brief period of veneration in a church, occupying a small gilded kennel before which pilgrims would kneel. Unfortunately, many pilgrims expressed surprise at the barking sounds which emerged from this kennel–reliquary, and so in the end Walter was restored to his original owners, the Unterholzers.
 
Von Igelfeld’s responsibility for Walter’s unfortunate injury had led to ill-feeling, but even putting that casus belli aside, there had also been numerous occasions on which Unterholzer had sought to obtain some advantage over von Igelfeld. Some of these were minor – and could be forgiven – but others were of such a serious nature as to remain a stumbling block in the way of normal relations. One thing was clear, though – that von Igelfeld was the better scholar. Unterholzer had written his own book on Portuguese subjunctives years ago, a minor insubstantial book, which had concentrated only on a few modal verbs. Certainly that work was not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and indeed never was, at least by von Igelfeld, who always made sure that he left a gap, a silence, between any uttering of the names of his own book and Unterholzer’s.
 
It was the glaring disparity between their respective contributions to Romance philology that made this announcement so hurtful. If anybody’s work had put Regensburg on the map, it was his, von Igelfeld’s, that had done so. A few people abroad might have heard of Unterholzer, von Igelfeld conceded, but they would not necessarily know him for his work. They might have seen him at conferences, perhaps, where they surely would have noticed, and perhaps even discussed, Unterholzer’s rather vulgar nose; not the nose of a scholar, thought von Igelfeld. Or they might have come across a reference to Unterholzer’s book while looking for something more substantial, such as Portuguese Irregular Verbs itself. But they would certainly not have bothered to sit down and read Unterholzer’s observations on modal verbs.
 
So why, then, had Unterholzer been shortlisted for what was, after all, a rather generous prize of fifty thousand euros? As von Igelfeld was thinking of this outrage, he was joined in the coffee room by the Institute’s librarian, Herr Huber.
 
‘Anything interesting in the Zeitschrift?’ asked the Librarian. ‘I haven’t read the latest issue yet. It’s on my desk, of course, but I’ve been terribly busy over the last few days, what with my aunt not being quite as well as she might be, poor soul.’
 
The Librarian lost no opportunity to mention his aunt, a resident of a nursing home on the outer fringes of the city. This aunt, who enjoyed bad health, was the subject of long monologues by the Librarian, who laboured under the impression that his work colleagues were interested in endless details of her complaints and afflictions.
 
‘No, she has not been all that well,’ mused the Librarian, quite forgetting the question he had just put to von Igelfeld. ‘She has blood pressure, you know. I did tell you that, didn’t I? Yes, I think I must have. She’s had it for a long time.’
 
‘Everybody has blood pressure, Herr Huber,’ said von Igelfeld cuttingly. ‘If one did not, then one’s blood would simply stay where it was, rather than going round the body. Your aunt would not last long without blood pressure, I can assure you. Nor would you, for that matter.’
 
This last remark was an aside, but even as he uttered it, von Igelfeld wondered whether the Librarian had, in fact, much blood pressure. There were some people who gave the impression of having a great deal of blood coursing through their veins – robust and ruddy people who moved decisively and energetically. Then there were those who were pallid, and slow in their movements; people through whose veins the blood must move sluggishly, at best, with only the pressure expected of a half-inflated bicycle tyre. The Librarian belonged in that group, von Igelfeld thought.
 
Herr Huber laughed. ‘Oh, I know that. I meant to say that she has the wrong sort of blood pressure. It’s either too high, or too low. I can’t remember which. And there is one sort of pill for high blood pressure and another for low. You have to be terribly careful, you know. If you took the pill for high blood pressure and your blood pressure was really too low, then I’m not sure what would happen. Heaven forfend that anything like that should happen to my aunt, of course!’
 
‘Indeed,’ said von Igelfeld. ‘That would be a most unfortunate occurrence.’
 
‘Of course, these days pills are made in different colours and shapes,’ the Librarian went on. ‘One of the nurses said that most pills used to be white, which could lead to bad mistakes in their administration. Now they are different colours and have markings on them.’ He paused to take a sip of his coffee. ‘She – my aunt, that is – used to have a large red pill that she had to take before she was settled for the night. Sometimes I was there when they gave it to her. She called it “my red pill” and I once asked her, “What is that pill for, Aunt?” and she said, “I am not sure. It is my red pill and I have been taking it for a long time. Perhaps it is meant to turn me red.”’

Von Igelfeld stared glassy-eyed at the Librarian. ‘And did she turn red, Herr Huber?’

The Librarian laughed. ‘No, that’s the funny thing. She took that red pill for years, always saying that it was intended to turn her red, and I thought she was just joking. Then when I said to the doctor, “I see that you have prescribed a pill to turn my aunt red!” he answered, “That’s right.”’
 
Von Igelfeld said nothing.
 
‘And the funny thing,’ continued the Librarian, ‘was that the red pill was for anaemia. It was iron, you see. And if she had not taken it, she would have appeared very pale. So the pill really was intended to turn her red.’
 
Von Igelfeld pursed his lips. ‘Your aunt’s affairs are of great interest, Herr Huber,’ he said. ‘But will you forgive me if I return to the question you asked me when you came in? You asked me whether there was anything of interest in the Zeitschrift. I would like to answer that question now, if I may.’

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

EINS

THE PRINCIPLES OF TENNIS

Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld often reflected on how fortunate he was to be exactly who he was, and nobody else. When one paused to think of who one might have been had the accident of birth not happened precisely as it did, then, well, one could be quite frankly appalled. Take his colleague Professor Dr Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, for instance. Firstly, there was the name: to be called Detlev was a misfortune, but to add that ridiculous Mozartian pretension to it, and then to culminate in Unterholzer was to gild a turnip. But if one then considered Unterholzer's general circumstances, then Pelion was surely piled upon Ossa. Unterholzer had the double misfortune of coming from an obscure potato-growing area somewhere, a place completely without consequence, and of being burdened in this life with a large and inelegant nose. This, of course, was not something for which he could be blamed, but one might certainly criticise him, thought von Igelfeld, for carrying his nose in the way he did. A difficult nose, which can afflict anybody, may be kept in the background by a modest disposition of the head; Unterholzer, by contrast, thrust his nose forward shamelessly, as might an anteater, with the result that it was the first thing one saw when he appeared anywhere. It was exactly the wrong thing to do if one had a nose like that.

The von Igelfeld nose, by contrast, was entirely appropriate. It was not small, but then a small nose is perhaps as much of a misfortune as a large nose, lending the wearer an appearance of pettiness or even irrelevance. Von Igelfeld's nose tended slightly to the aquiline, which wascompletely becoming for the scion of so distinguished a family. The von Igelfeld name was an honourable one: Igel meant hedgehog in German, and von Igelfeld, therefore, was hedgehogfield, an irreproachable territorial reference that was reflected in the family coat of arms — a hedgehog recumbent upon a background of vert. Unterholzer, of course, might snigger at the hedgehog, but what could he do but snigger, given that he had no armorial claims, whatever his pretensions in that direction might be.

But even if von Igelfeld was relieved that he was not Unterholzer, then he had to admit to himself that he would have been perfectly happy to have been Professor Dr Dr (honoris causa) Florianus Prinzel, another colleague at the Institute of Romance Philology. Prinzel was a fine man and a considerable scholar, whom von Igelfeld had met when they were both students, and whom he had long unconditionally admired. Prinzel was the athlete-poet; von Igelfeld the scholar--well, scholar-scholar one would probably have to say. If von Igelfeld had been asked to stipulate a Platonic von Igelfeld, an ideal template for all von Igelfelds, then he would have chosen Prinzel for this without the slightest hesitation.

Of the three professors, von Igelfeld was undoubtedly the most distinguished. He was the author of a seminal work on Romance philology, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, a work of such majesty that it dwarfed all other books in the field. It was a lengthy book of almost twelve hundred pages, and was the result of years of research into the etymology and vagaries of Portuguese verbs. It had been well received — not that there had ever been the slightest doubt about that — and indeed one reviewer had simply written, 'There is nothing more to be said on this subject. Nothing.' Von Igelfeld had taken this compliment in the spirit in which it had been intended, but there was in his view a great deal more to be said, largely by way of exposition of some of the more obscure or controversial points touched upon in the book, and for many years he continued to say it. This was mostly done at conferences, where von Igelfeld's papers on Portuguese irregular verbs were often the highlight of proceedings. Not that this eminence always bore the fruit that might be expected: unfortunately it was Prinzel, not von Igelfeld, who had received the honorary doctorate from the University of Palermo, and many people, including von Igelfeld, thought that this might be a case of mistaken identity. After all, from the viewpoint of the fairly diminutive Sicilian professors who bestowed the honour, three tall Germans might have been difficult to tell apart. These doubts, however, were never aired, as that would have been a breach of civility and a threat to the friendship. But just as the doubts were never mentioned, neither was the honorary doctorate.

At the Annual Congress of Romance Philology in Zürich, the three professors decided to stay in a small village on the edge of the lake. There was an excellent train which took them into the city each morning for the meeting, and in the evening they could even return by the regular boat, which called at the jetty no more than five minutes from the hotel. It was altogether a much more satisfactory arrangement than staying in Zürich itself, surrounded by banks and expensive watch shops. As von Igelfeld remarked to the others: 'Have you noticed how Zürich ticks? Klummit, klummit, ding! I could never sleep in such a town.'

The Hotel Carl-Gustav, in which the three professors stayed, was a large old-fashioned establishment, much favoured by families from Zürich who wanted to get away, but not too far away. Anxious bankers, into whose very bones the Swiss work ethic had penetrated, stayed there for their holidays. It was highly convenient for them, as they could tell their wives they were going for a walk in the hotel grounds and then slip off to the railway station and be in their offices in Zürich within twenty minutes. They could then return two hours later, to pretend that they had been in the woods or at the lakeside; whereas in reality they had been accepting deposits and discounting bills of exchange. In this way, certain Zürich financiers had acquired the reputation of never going on holiday at all, which filled their rivals with feelings of dread and guilt.

Prinzel had arrived first, and taken the best room, the one with the uninterrupted view of the lake. He had felt slightly uneasy about this, as it was a room which should really have gone to von Igelfeld, who always got the best of everything on the strength of Portuguese Irregular Verbs. For this reason Prinzel was careful not to mention the view and contrived to keep von Igelfeld out of his room so he could not see it for himself. Unterholzer, who always got the worst of what was on offer, had a slightly gloomy room at the side of the hotel, above the dining room, and his view was that of the hotel tennis court.

'I look out on to the tennis court,' he announced one evening as the three gathered for a glass of mineral water on the hotel terrace.

'Ah!' said von Igelfeld. 'And have you seen people playing on this tennis court?'

'I saw four Italian guests using it,' said Prinzel. 'They played a very energetic game until one of them appeared to have a heart attack and they stopped.'

The three professors contemplated this remarkable story for a few moments. Even here, in these perfect surroundings, where everything was so safe, so assured, mortality could not be kept at bay. The Swiss could guarantee everything, could coordinate anything — but ultimately mortality was no respecter of timetables.

Then Prinzel had an idea. Tennis did not look too difficult; the long summer evening stretched out before them, and the court, since the sudden departure of the Italians, was empty.

'We could, perhaps, have a game of tennis ourselves,' he suggested.

The others looked at him.

'I've never played,' said von Igelfeld.

'Nor I,' said Unterholzer. 'Chess, yes. Tennis, no.'

'But that's no reason not to play,' von Igelfeld added quickly. 'Tennis, like any activity, can be mastered if one knows the principles behind it. In that respect it must be like language. The understanding of simple rules produces an understanding of a language. What could be simpler?'

Unterholzer and Prinzel agreed, and Prinzel was despatched to speak to the manager of the hotel to find out whether tennis equipment, and a book of the rules of tennis, could be borrowed. The manager was somewhat surprised at the request for the book, but in an old hotel most things can be found and he eventually came up with an ancient dog-eared handbook from the games cupboard. This was The Rules of Lawn Tennis by Captain Geoffrey Pembleton BA (Cantab.), tennis Blue, sometime county champion of Cambridgeshire; and published in 1923, before the tie-breaker was invented.

Armed with Pembleton's treatise, described by von Igelfeld, to the amusement of the others, as 'this great work of Cambridge scholarship', the three professors strode confidently on to the court. Captain Pembleton had thoughtfully included several chapters describing tennis technique, and here all the major strokes were illustrated with little dotted diagrams showing the movement of the arms and the disposition of the body.

It took no more than ten minutes for von Igelfeld and Prinzel to feel sufficiently confident to begin a game. Unterholzer sat on a chair at the end of the net, and declared himself the umpire. The first service, naturally, was taken by von Igelfeld, who raised his racquet in the air as recommended by Captain Pembleton, and hit the ball in the direction of Prinzel.

The tennis service is not a simple matter, and unfortunately von Igelfeld did not manage to get any of his serves over the net. Everything was a double fault.

'Love 15; Love 30; Love 40; Game to Professor Dr Prinzel!' called out Unterholzer. 'Professor Dr Prinzel to serve!'

Prinzel, who had been waiting patiently to return von Igelfeld's serve, his feet positioned in exactly the way advised by Captain Pembleton, now quickly consulted the book to refresh his memory. Then, throwing the tennis ball high into the air, he brought his racquet down with convincing force and drove the ball into the net. Undeterred, he tried again, and again after that, but the score remained obstinately one-sided.

'Love 15; Love 30; Love 40; Game to Professor Dr von Igelfeld!' Unterholzer intoned. 'Professor Dr von Igelfeld to serve!'

And so it continued, as the number of games mounted up. Neither player ever succeeded in winning a game other than by the default of the server. At several points the ball managed to get across the net, and on one or two occasions it was even returned; but this was never enough to result in the server's winning a game. Unterholzer continued to call out the score and attracted an occasional sharp glance from von Igelfeld, who eventually suggested that the Rules of Lawn Tennis be consulted to see who should win in such circumstances.

Unfortunately there appeared to be no answer. Captain Pembleton merely said that after six games had been won by one player this was a victory — provided that such a player was at least two games ahead of his opponent. If he was not in such a position, then the match must continue until such a lead was established. The problem with this, though, was that von Igelfeld and Prinzel, never winning a service, could never be more than one game ahead of each other.

This awkward, seemingly irresoluble difficulty seemed to all of them to be a gross flaw in the theoretical structure of the game.

'This is quite ridiculous,' snorted von Igelfeld. 'A game must have a winner — everybody knows that — and yet this . . . this stupid book makes no provision for moderate players like ourselves!'

'I agree,' said Prinzel, tossing down his racquet. 'Unterholzer, what about you?'

'I'm not interested in playing such a flawed game,' said Unterholzer, with a dismissive gesture towards The Rules of Lawn Tennis. 'So much for Cambridge!'

They trooped off the tennis court, not noticing the faces draw back rapidly from the windows. Rarely had the Hotel Carl-Gustav provided such entertainment for its guests.

'Well,' said Prinzel. 'I'm rather hot after all that sport. I could do with a swim.'

'A good idea,' said von Igelfeld. 'Perhaps we should do that.'

'Do you swim?' asked Unterholzer, rather surprised by the sudden burst of physical activity.

'Not in practice,' said von Igelfeld. 'But it has never looked difficult to me. One merely extends the arms in the appropriate motion and then retracts them, thereby propelling the body through the water.'

'That's quite correct,' said Prinzel. 'I've seen it done many times. In fact, this morning some of the other guests were doing it from the hotel jetty. We could borrow swimming costumes from the manager.'

'Then let's all go and swim,' said von Igelfeld, enthusiastically. 'Dinner's not for another hour or so, and it would refresh us all,' adding, with a glance at Unterholzer, 'players and otherwise.'

The waters were cool and inviting. Out on the lake, the elegant white yachts dipped their tall sails in the breeze from the mountains. From where they stood on the jetty, the three professors could, by craning their necks, see the point where Jung in his study had pondered our collective dreams. As von Igelfeld had pointed out, swimming was simple, in theory.

Inside the Hotel Carl-Gustav, the watching guests waited, breathless in their anticipation.
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    Always delightful Alwas Ys Always delughtful

    His books ae

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    Wonderful

    Another in this especially humorous series - wish a new one arrived each year - Prof Von E and his colleagues are wonderful

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2013

    As witty and charming as the rest of this series

    As witty and charming as the rest of this series

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    Posted December 19, 2013

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    Posted January 25, 2013

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