The Dean and Shuttlecocks

The Dean’s Diaries

Prof David Purdie

                  St Andrew’s College
Edinburgh EH1 3TD

[The College is a research institution, specialising in the Humanities and the Physical sciences. Known to irreverent staff as MacAll Souls from its similarity to its Oxford twin, it has no undergraduates; only Postgrads and Research Fellows who complement the permanent Academic Staff.
 The Dean is assisted, and betimes thwarted, by the Bursar, the Prebendary and the Bedellus who sit on the ‘ Estaitis ‘, an ancient Scots word for Council, dating back to the Foundation by the Queen in 1562]

With most of the Staff and Fellows on vacation, the College is mercifully quiescent – only the terminally obsessed (and terminally funded) keeping the place active while the world gawps at the Olympics.  However, on that very subject there was a wonderful debate in the SCR (Senior Common Room) yesterday.
It was all about the rustication of a bunch of Chinese and Korean Badminton players who had been sacked and expelled from the Games – for trying to win! Apparently they were playing each other in a match where the Winners would have to face world-class opponents such as Indonesia – while the Losers would only get Ruritania or similar, and a sleigh-ride into the Final. Anyway, enter our Professor of Philosophy plus a gang of his fellow Platonists and Aristotelians attending a Summer Seminar here.  The issue was; given that the Strategy was to get to the Final and hence a chance of Gold, were the Tactics (throwing the game) valid?  Apparently both teams banged their serves consistently into the net, or sent the shuttlecock hurtling wide into the stands, to the evident and noisy irritation of persons who had paid good money to watch. The debate raged on splendidly for ours with the Aristotelian pragmatists saying that the players were quite right to keep ‘Eyes on the Prize’ i.e. the Gold Medal in the Final – while the Platonic idealists said that there was a higher ‘Form’ of Badminton in the ethereal empyrean spaces where throwing the game was strictly uncool.
Our Professor of Greek being present, we then got a blast of Ancient Hellenic rectitude to the effect that, stuff the Platonic ideal, the Olympic ideal was in the motto; Altior ,Citior, Fotrtior ,which sounded more like Latin to me.
‘This,’ boomed  Aeneas, meant ‘Higher, Faster and Stronger’ – and not , as in that notorious Badminton game:  Wider, Slower – and Wilier. The end of the argument was, as usual, a truce in disagreement and that the End may, or may not, have justified the Means. Anyway, the company arose in amity and departed to High Table to dine and sink their differences in industrial quantities of my best College Claret.

Incidentally, this debâcle  or perhaps shuttlecockup , shows clearly the trouble one can get into by having Pools. Eheu! Had only the Olympic Badminton event modelled itself on the Edinburgh University Golf Club’s annual match-play tournament, the McWhammel Trophy for the B——ing of Bogey, this would never have happened. Here, in the oldest academic sports competition of all, there is posted up on the left of a sheet, a list of hackers, grouped in pairs. They meet on the field of honour – usually Bruntsfield or Mortonhall – and it’s literally a knockout, with only one emerging bloodied but unbending, having literally hacked into the next round. Deliberately losing golf matches is unknown because there are no pools;  anyway, the cost of driving into a neighbouring field or, worse, into the rough at Muirfield, would be colossal. I myself was at Muirfield, scene of the 2013 Open Championship, last week. I have never seen such a hayfield as surrounds that magnificent course. It was reported that several members had lost not only their balls, but complete sets of clubs, incautiously set down in the rough – and even that two Members were still unaccounted for, a week after the last Competition.

Meanwhile, the Festival Fringe has burst upon Edinburgh; thousands of spectators attending hundreds of Venues, three of them in this College. Two of the ‘Shows’ being staged here are labelled, ominously, as ‘New Humour.’ I shall attend a performance of each to ensure that no licentious conduct, moral relativism, or grammatical depravity intrudes within upon our ancient walls.
I am also attending two performance mounted by Members of my Staff – and for the same reasons…
The Diary will report, next week, my observations thereon.