Boyd Tonkin: Excluded and vexed, I fell right down the rabbit hole

No doors ever looked more
barred than the Bodleian's on Monday night.

Share
Related Topics

"It was just like a dream," people say, usually about some minutely-planned red-letter day or wallet-emptying interlude of luxury. But we know what dreams are really like: the bizarre and grandiose surroundings; the nasty surprises; the panic and bewilderment; the public humiliation; the feelings of frustration and powerlessless.

On Monday 2 July, around 8.30pm, a middle-aged man in a suit could be seen acting suspiciously around the firmly closed ancient gates of the Old Bodleian Library in Oxford. Parties of Japanese and American tourists saw him hammer crazily on the stout arched wooden doors, although the library had shut hours before. He made several calls on his mobile, and crossly prodded in some messages. He walked around the building to inspect the other gates, a sort of self-advertising bourgeois burglar hunting for another means of ingress.

Then he returned to the Great Gate, and thumped again. A passing guide was asked by one of his party about the Bullingdon Club. Could this be one of their sinister plutocratic rituals? Or else, more plausibly, the shoot for the final scene in an episode of Lewis, with that nice, cheery Kevin Whately – or maybe moody, troubled Laurence Fox – just about to leap out of the shadows and arrest the agitated suspect?

Reader, the suspect was me. Inside the library, under the fan-vaulting of the Divinity School, the admirable Caine Prize for African Writing was being awarded. Coming from work in London, I knew that I'd be late. What I didn't know was that, by the time I arrived, the outer gates would have been barred, the porters would have left their lodge, and the guests within would turn off their phones to hear the speeches. After what felt like an age, the speeches ended; phones sprang back into life; the gates swung open to admit me. And the prize? Won by the excellent Rotimi Babatunde from Nigeria: check him out.

In the meantime, dream-logic took over in all its absurdity, its indignity, its compulsive folly partnered by a sense of utter paralysis. That, along with the infantile rage against exclusion and rejection that a barred door – and no doors ever looked more barred than the Bodleian's – can arouse. Later, two Oxford-linked classics came to mind: Hardy's Jude the Obscure, with the college gates slamming in the poor stonemason's face, and (of course) Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Somehow, I lived both in half an hour.

Simon Kelner is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum