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DOCTOR SPOONER: THE GROWTH OF A LEGEND
s£racs, and all the rest of it. And then one day he had gone out for
a long walk with his wife, who, by the way, was a handsome woman,
considerably bigger than he was, and they hadn't come back for
lunch. People were getting anxious, when at last he turned up.
Asked what had happened, he said: cc Oh, we had a very remarkable
experience. We went far up the valley, right out of sight of the hotel,
and as we turned a corner, we found ourselves completely surrounded
by erotic blacks." He meant, of course, erratic blocks—the big
boulders left standing about after being transported by an ice-sheet.
Then there is one so obviously made up that I need not labour
the fact. It is also so subtle, or perhaps I should say so improbable,
.that many people don't think it funny at all. The story was that he
went into an optician's shop in Oxford and asked for a signifying
glass. The optician said: "Excuse me, I didn't quite understand?"
"Oh, just an ordinary signifying glass." "I'm afraid we don't stock
them: could we write to London for one?" "Oh, no, it doesn't
magnify, it doesn't magnify" . . .
The legend grew in other ways too. I remember the story of a
Scotsman being shown round Oxford by a don friend of his. He
was always asking what everything cost and what such-and-such a
position was worth. He having thus discovered the salaries of the
Master of Balliol, the Rector of Exeter, the Dean of Christ Church, the
Warden of Wadham, and so on, his friend saw Spooncr and pointed
him out—this was in the days before he became Warden—and said:
"Look, there goes the albino of New College." "Very interesting,"
said the Scot; " and what may the Albinoship of New College be
Spooner naturally knew of his reputation, though apparently he
was not conscious of any of his actual lapses at the time that he
made them. I think perhaps the greatest applause he ever got was
once at a college Gaudy, when past members of the college come up
for a reunion. He concluded one of his charming little speeches
with the words: ee And now I suppose I'd better sit down, or I might
be saying—er—one of those things."
To wind up, I will tell one of his real utterances which I had direct
from a distinguished historian who overheard it. Spooner after his
retirement—though retired, of course he was still called Warden by
everybody—had invited to some New College celebration the Head
of another college where the title of the Head is President. The
President was late—and everyone was waiting rather impatiently.
At last in he came. Spooner was standing with his back to the door,
and the President strode up to him, clapped him on the shoulder and