Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
* * *
Alexander McCall Smith is also the author of the No. 1 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.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs
At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances
Unusual Uses for Olive Oil
. 1 L
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
The Double Comfort Safari Club
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
The Great Cake Mystery
The Sunday Philosophy Club
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
The Right Attitude to Rain
The Careful Use of Compliments
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday
The Lost Art of Gratitude
The Charming Quirks of Others
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds
44 Scotland Street
Love over Scotland
The World According to Bertie
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
The Importance of Being Seven
The Dog Who Came in from the Cold
A Conspiracy of Friends
La’s Orchestra Saves the World
The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales from Africa
FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, DECEMBER
Copyright © 2011 by Alexander McCall Smith
Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Iain McIntosh
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Little, Brown, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group, an Hachette UK Company, London, in 2011.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data McCall Smith, Alexander, 1948–
Unusual uses for olive oil / by Alexander McCall Smith; illustrations by Iain McIntosh. —1st Anchor Books ed.
1. Igelfeld, Moritz-Maria von (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. College teachers—Fiction. 3. Philologists—Fiction.
4. College stories. I. McIntosh, Iain. II. Title.
Author photograph © Chris Watt
Cover illustrations © Iain McIntosh
Surprising? Astonishing? No, it was more than that, far more – it was shocking, quite nakedly
. Professor Dr Dr (
) 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
. And this, he thought, was one such occasion. It was
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
in German, had resulted in his sometimes 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
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 (
), 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
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
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
, almost, but not quite, describing it as
. 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
?’ 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.