Words: government, adj.

THIS IS a government warning. Even now, Oxford echoes to a spree in which the high intelligence of the academic inhabitants has been more than matched by the native cunning of a group of itinerant Irish pedlars. They cajole people into having unnecessary work done, and then do it sloppily. (F.R. Leavis would have said that this is, of course, the city's modus operandi.)

The Donne scholar Helen Gardner somehow managed to free herself from a preoccupation with that year's Nemo to haggle, and achieved a lower rate than that paid out by her fellow victims, but it was still too much for the services of a man who styled himself, persuasively, as "a government plasterer" - technically true: he had picked up the rudiments of the trade in gaol.

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