From Chapter 8
The afternoon bell sounded with a disappointed clang across the turrets and battlements of Botolf College. It was the tintinnabulation of a bell which had long ago lost the will to carry on and was only going through the motions for the sake of routine. Even the starlings directly under the eaves of the bell tower didn’t bother to open an eye for the dull toll, students in their rooms barely registered it and most members of staff couldn’t be woken by the peel of twenty Big Bens next to their shell-like ears.
Throughout its history Botolf had a lax attitude to timetables. Morning lectures were rare and those that were scheduled were done so more out of optimistic ambition than professional fortitude. Down in the kitchens the house chef had made and thrown away breakfast as was his habit every day. He immediately began lunch which was unofficially the first meal of the day for almost everyone, the menu having varied little in five-hundred years: swans, peafowl, boar, partridge, stork, rabbit, cranes, larks, linnets were all still on the bill of fare at Botolf. As with many of their other activities some underhanded methods had to be used to obtain the College’s traditional dishes, Botolf’s grounds men were not so much poachers turned gamekeepers as the other way round.
As the chef conducted his underlings in a time-honoured battle with several live swans (the outcome of which was not always a foregone conclusion) the cleaning staff, or Madam Marie as she was known, was adding a final polish to the balustrades of the grand staircase. Botolf prided itself on first appearances; any potential student arriving with their parents would be impressed by the Great Entrance Hall, the Dining Rooms and the Grand Cantilever Staircase winding its way up through the heart of the old house, and too late the student who has enrolled and paid their year’s fee in advance (no refunds) realises that the clean polished surfaces of the front rooms are just a veneer over the dirt encrusted chambers of the rest of the house.
Even Madam Marie, who has been employed in Botolf longer than any Bursar has been alive, does not enter the uncharted paths of the Library or the lost corridors of the Department of Medieval Thought.
James Philips stood behind his new office door. He’d been there for ten minutes now and had made several aborted attempts at opening it. He had of course given lectures before, Oxford had employed him temporarily to fill in for some professor on a sabbatical treasure hunt in the vaults of the Vatican and he had presented his PhD findings to illustrious audiences in Yale, Chicago (where he first met Liz) and the British Museum, but Botolf was different, Botolf was very different indeed.