Diary of a Man of Letters


Hunting for bargains in an antiquarian bookstore, I came across a diary bound in buckram and penned in German. The year was 1891.  An entry for the 2nd day of October - translated by a teacher friend - ought to prove a comfort for all you parents of laidback sons.




I had to be firm with the lady.

Not least because she was dogged, but persisted in presenting at the worst imaginable moment: the college under siege with an influx of foreign students – two of them women.  An unforeseen change of staff, Swartz having succumbed to a bout of diphtheria; Bettinelli carried off to an asylum for the insane – crying out about the pig half-man, noise, battle, and fighting in the sky. 

Poor old Betti.  Nostradamus on the brain.

 But back to the lady.

I had noticed her crossing the forecourt, and knew from the thrust of her jaw she had received my missive and felt aggrieved. 

I waited till she knocked and entered the room before taking my stand at the side of my desk. Then, chin cocked, hands behind my back, I militantly began an address distinguished for its lack of ambiguity.

“Pray, madam, have a seat.  You will appreciate tutorials are under way, and being understaffed, I am sorely pressed for time.  I will hasten therefore to the point.  I am sorry to have to reiterate – we cannot hold on to your son.  Not alone is he mentally sluggish, his behavior is anti-social.

“I have had a note from your husband expressing surprise and wishing to know in what respect your son is disruptive.  Your son - and this I cannot over-emphasize - is not disruptive as such.  The very opposite is the case.  He is silent to the point of being taciturn.  Questions put to him are left unanswered.  He has a way of staring that chills the blood.  The arts, sciences, sports, technology - anything you wish to name - are matters to him of supreme unimportance. 

“Our motto, as you know, is to turn information into knowledge and knowledge into practice.  The only time your son has ever smiled was at mention of this motto.  I speak, as you might imagine, more in sorrow than in anger.  We hold no grudge against your son.

“But as we in this academy have standards to maintain, and do not envisage improvement, we have no choice but to send him down. You might, if you wish, apply to the Polytechnic.  But I would not count on his being accepted. 

“You ask have we any other suggestions?   As it happens, we do.  Considering his apathy and inability to interact or make decisions, something not overly taxing, where he isn’t called upon to speak.  Farm laboring, say.  Hotel or factory work. 

“I am sorry, Mrs Einstein, if that upsets you.  The problem is, that for higher education one needs something to work on. And when it comes to having to think, that is where Albert falls down”.