Nil Desperandum

ada pc


Roll of Honour

List of the Fallen (351)

Giselle Beauregard (Head of Department), buried under patio

Jenny Haniver (2nd-year undergraduate), turned into head over mantelpiece

Ethel from Maryland (new tutee), poisoned by amuse-bouche at tutees’ welcoming party

Penny Whistle (investigative reporter for the Daily Wind Instrument), pushed into the path of the oncoming

Dr Peter Piper (Head of Research), poisoned by macaroon

Susan (Chief Librarian Nexus Officer), squashed by falling tree branch

Union Rep, chargrilled on brazier

Jack Lumber (Head, Trees for Sustainable Universities), burnt in chimney

Obadiah (Janitor), stabbed by Asafetida Lovage

HR Rep, self-defenestrated

Chevalier d’honneur (bronze), Emeritus Professor of French, shot by members of French Department at bow and arrow targets

Department of Russian (2), in balloon punctured by 21-arrow salute marking tragic death of Chevalier d’honneur

Department of Spanish (11), drowned in pedalos when hit by falling balloon

Department of French (15), mass cupcake poisoning when comfort-eating after deaths of colleagues in Modern Languages

Jess (School Manager), held breath for too long while striking

Lucinda (Doppelgänger), fed to the pigs

Unnamed members of staff and students gathered to celebrate appointment of Asafetida Lovage to Happy Burger Chair of Cryptozoology (52, conservative estimate), poisoned by fugu and/or suffocated in dry ice conflagration

Department of Philosophy (8), dematerialized

Brian Berkeley (2nd-year philosophy student), vanished

Vice-Chancellor’s photographer, fed to sharks

Brian Drian (Bursar), served with profiteroles at Lamb Xmas dinner

Father Xmas, Rudolph, Prancer, Dancer, Dasher, Vixen, Cupid, Blitzen, Comet, and Donner (10), shot down by Babykins

Association of Runeologists (211 full members), choked on dragées

Pro-Vice-Chancellors (3), cause of death unknown, ashes held in the Urns

Dr Sigismund Fflloyd (Reader in Psychology), stabbed with knitting needles

Taizhou lacrosse team (12, including goalkeeper, women’s team), drowned in Koi carp pond

Annabelle (Exams Office Rep), flayed by quinlibian

Dr Jade Dragon (CEO of Taizhou), bricked up in mausoleum

Dr Karl Jung (Assistant Professor, Psychology), poisoned by quinine blowpipe

External examiners (3), ejected from top floor of Humanities Lighthouse by John Lewis Trébuchet recliner range

Asafetida Lovage (Daughter of Ser Basil Lovage), vaporised by helicopter blades

Vermilion Scarlet (Synergy Officer), vaporised by helicopter blades

Prof Haldane (Emeritus Professor), fell off bar stool after violent spinning

Professor Ser Basil Agrimony Stevia Lovage (Vice-Chancellor, UWL), spontaneously combusted


List of survivors (29.33)

Professor Mise (Professor of Mathematics, Fine Art and Chinoiserie)

Professor Lucille (Professor of the Play of Light on Domestic Objects)

Lu-Seal (Deputy Under-Janitor, UWL Taizhou)

Dr Nib’s End, Resident Expert in Hermeneutics; part-time purveyor of narrative detanglification devices

Speccy, Dr Ada’s favourite first-year

Cordelia (Chief Cleaner, UWL Central)

Janice (Admin, UWL Taizhou)

Roberta, PhD candidate in Runeology

Jaspyr, SSLC Representative (UWL Central)

May-Ling (SSLC Representative) (UWL Taizhou)

Department of Russian’s dog (.33*)

Sebastian (formerly Vice-Chancellor’s secretary; postgraduate; now Secretary of the Society of Learned Runeologists)

Dr Fu Manchu (Senior Lecturer, Comp. Lit)

Dr Salty Bob (Associate Professor, Cognitive Runeology)

Professor Freya Freyasdottir (Professor, Runeology)

Mo-Mo (2nd-year undergraduate) second-year, discovered writing note in lecture, exiled to Taizhou

Ay-Ling (an underdeveloped character)


Billy ‘the Devil’ Lamb (explosives expert)

Edgar ‘Fop’ Lamb

Pa ‘Safecracker’ Lamb

Great-Uncle Herbert (wanted on 5 continents and master of disguise)

Ma ‘Roast Potatoes’ Lamb

Mary ‘Had a Little’ Lamb

Jo ‘Whiskers’ Lamb

The Twins

Ratty, the family pet for many centuries

Rose Madder Scarlet (Synergy Officer), now Dr Ada’s PA

Darren’s mum

Dr Ada’s unnamed companion, an eminence grise


Missing, Current Whereabouts Unknown (5)

Shiny the Devil Cat

Mouse (吱)

Darren from IT

Dr Ida Lamb

Dr Ada Lamb

Agnus irae

‘Darren!’ I say. ‘But –’

But Darren is looking past me, towards the front of the helicopter.

‘Hello, Ada’, says the pilot.

Dear Reader.

That voice is familiar.

I turn my head.

She looks back at me, regarding me with my own piercing mud-brown eyes. Next to her, in the co-pilot’s seat, is a knitting bag, a Rock-a-matic brochure, an Amazonian blowpipe, a bricklaying receipt from Simon Q. Nutkin, and a bag full of trophies, at the top of which lies my own 1976 Gymkhana cup. On the cup I see that the words ‘Ada Lamb, Winner, Most Promising Pirouette (Dressage)’, have been crudely scratched out and replaced with the words –

‘Ida’, I say. ‘Ida Lamb.’

Ida looks at me.

‘Yes, dear twin, it is I! And it was I, I, all along! I killed Dr Fflloyd, stole the trophies, drowned the lacrosse team, bricked up Jade Dragon, murdered Karl by blowpipe, kidnapped Shiny, and attempted to murder you when you were sipping margeritas by the pool! I was the whispering in the pipework, the face at the window, the creaking rocking chair, the footsteps in the attic late at night! And you never noticed a thing! I am not Great-Uncle Herbert’s great-niece for nothing!’

‘And Asafetida and Miss Scarlet?’ I say.

‘Ah, well, piloting a helicopter is new to me’, says Ida. ‘I may have miscalculated the angle of approach, what with the cruel east wind’.

‘But why, why?’ I say, as custom demands.

Ida gives a hacking laugh.

‘I was always cleverer than you, dear Ada, and madder! What’s more, I have always been, and remain, seven minutes older than you! You had me locked away in the attic by your companion so that you could pursue your academic career unchallenged! Well, those days are over! I have come to claim what is rightfully mine, mine! Darren!’

‘You claim Darren?’ I say.

I look at Darren.

Dear Reader.

Darren has unbuckled his safety belt. He is reaching for something in the overhead compartment.

Dear, dear Reader.

Darren is holding a .25 ACP Beretta, palely.

Dust to Dust

The curtains in the SCR turned out to be highly flammable, dear Reader.

Shiny and I run through the flames.

The ersatz medieval timber beams of the Humanities Lighthouse fall all around us. In the distance we hear trembling booms as the deep fat fryers of the Happy Burger cafeteria ignite.

My colleagues run down the stairs past me.

Shiny and I run in the opposite direction, dear Reader, upwards.

We burst onto the helipad roof. Overhead, the vultures wheel and turn, screaming.

Shiny and I run to the Vice-Chancellor’s private helicopter. I tear open the door. ‘Come, Shiny’, I say. ‘And bring that mouse with you if you must.’

‘Fly!’ I shout to the pilot. ‘Fly north, to the nearest nunnery!’

The helicopter rises. Shiny, 吱 and I peer down at the inferno. Far, far below, I see the pigs break out of the piggery. My colleagues burst from the base of the Humanities Lighthouse mere seconds before it collapses. They flee, squealing and oinking, into the marigold plains.

Taizhou gets smaller and smaller, until it seems but a dream.

‘Goodbye, Taizhou’, I breathe. ‘Goodbye, Fu. Goodbye, Salty Bob. Goodbye, May-ling. Goodbye, Janice. Goodbye, Freya. Au revoir, Prof Mise. Adieu, Lu-Seal. Goodbye, dear Reader. Farewell, Darren –’

‘Hello, Dr Ada’, says Darren, lifting his head from the rear seat of the helicopter.

Ashes to Ashes

Ser Basil is smoking.

No, I do not mean a Havana cigar, dear Reader.

The hem of his pinstripe trousers appears to be smouldering.

A brief, brilliant flame shoots up.

Ser Basil, dear Reader, is spontaneously combusting before my very eyes.

After a while, Lu-Seal appears.

She tuts.

‘I’ll just pop these ashes in here’, she says, picking up an object from her trolley.

It is the fourth Urn, dear Reader.

Lu-Seal sweeps up Ser Basil, puts a lid on him, and writes, ‘1952-2015. Professor Ser Basil Agrimony Stevia Lovage, son of Lupin and Marigold Lovage (Props. Lovage Lettuces Grocery Store), father of Asafetida, dearly beloved Vice-Chancellor, University of the World of Laminate.’

The fourth Urn, dear Reader, has been filled at last.

Rules no. 9 & 10: Never Cross a Vice-Chancellor

‘- bribery of the local newspaper proprietor, hacking of the REF results and the European fly zone, endemic corruption, forgery, embezzlement of research funds, serial encouragement of hoaxing, running up a bar bill at the Happy Burger Happy Wine Bar, neglect of teaching duties, failure to weed the marigold plantations, appointment of unqualified staff, essays marked with no regard for national benchmarking standards, absence of response to external examiners’ recommendations, the state of the piggery –’

‘That’s not me’, I interrupt. ‘That’s the Deputy under-Janitor.’

‘- not to mention any number of seemingly unmotivated deaths and dangling plot lines’, continues Ser Basil, turning red. ‘Do you even know the meaning of the word probity?’

There is a pause, dear Reader, while I think for a moment.*

‘It all amounts to gross dereliction of duty’, Ser Basil continues, turning scarlet. ‘You have dragged the good name of UWL and its Eastern possessions through the mud. I have decided that you are to be de-frocked.’

You may wonder about my reaction to this.

Obviously, dear Reader, I am unmoved.

But wait. Ser Basil’s noble countenance has turned puce. He is frothing at the mouth slightly. There is a strange whiff of sulphur in the air.

Dear Reader.

Something strange is happening.


* Here, dear Reader.

Earl-ay in the Morning

Dear Reader,

I am outside the SCR.

Inside, dear Reader, I hear another bang. I place my ear to the door.

Dear Reader. I hear cries and whoops. There is some sort of party going on.

I push open the door.

There, kneeling before a stout figure in black robes with a filigree lace trim, is Professor Mise. I watch as a tricorn is placed on her head and she is lifted high on the shoulders of Rose Madder, Salty Bob, Fu, Janice, and Darren. Freya is waving a jeroboam of champagne, and there is another bang as the champagne cork flies through the air.

‘Long live our new pro-Vice-Chancellor!’, cries Salty. There are more whoops and tears, and triumphant, ululating singing.

I step into the room, dear Reader.

I clear my throat.

My staff stop carousing, dear Reader, apart from Lu-Seal, who continues to sing the last verse of ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’, holding her mop high in the air while performing the can-can.

Then, as if in slow motion, the figure in the lacy robes turns towards me.

‘Put ’im in the longboat until he’s sober’, trails off Lu-Seal.

Dear Reader.

I incline my head graciously, and advance, my arm outstretched.

‘Welcome’, I say. ‘Dear, dear Ser Basil. What a pleasure it is to see you here at last’.

Dear Basil and I look at each other for a long moment.

‘Give us the room’, he says, not taking his eyes off me.

‘Earl-ay in the morning’, whispers Lu-Seal, as she, Mise, Rose Madder, Fu, Salty, Freya, Janice and Darren shuffle outside, taking their jeroboam with them.

A Big Bang

I am at my desk, admiring the clear blue Taizhou sky, the birds singing in the trees, the clouds like cottonwool, the smoke rising gently from the piggery, and the sight of the helicopter coming in to land.

But enough of the bucolic life, dear Reader. I must fill you in on the Impact Agenda for REF 2020.

It is true, dear Reader, that REF 2014 happened only yesterday. But we cannot dine out forever on our success. No. We must turn our backs on ancient history, as well as classics, languages ancient and modern, philosophy, philology and all forms of the creative arts. We must look to the brighter future. Life will become more jolly, dear comrades Reader.

Never fear, dear Reader. Truly, I have never written anything for which I would have been unable, if asked beforehand, to suggest its potential impact.*

For example, my 30-volume annotated dictionary of Syllabic Runes is used by the dialect coach of a leading fantasy epic TV series. Highlights from my many edited festschriften are often to be found in the latest Waitrose magazine (‘Readers’ recipes’ section). And my recent blog post on entrepreneurialism in HE achieved at least 200 hits, not all of them from the same Taizhou IP address.

You may wish to speak of your research as the slow and painstaking accretion of deep knowledge over many decades, often through an act of solitary contemplation, to enhance the sum of human knowledge and to bring intangible, unquantifiable, and largely unanticipated benefits for the common good. Please dismiss these notions. Impact is what counts.

But I must leave you, dear Reader. There has been a Big Bang outside. I expect it will be poor Prof Haldane,** falling off his bar stool in the SCR yet again.


*I merely quote the head of the AHRC, dear Reader.

**Poor, dear Richard (that’s 1st Viscount Haldane to you).