Readers will be aware of Joseph Ratzinger's explanation of the RISUS PASCHALIS ... in baroque Bavaria, on Easter Morning , the parochus was expected to situate a funny in his homily in the hope of appealing to the sense of humour of the plebs sancta Dei. My Risus Paschalis will come tomorrow morning.
But I feel moved to repeat this evening a Risus, a Iocus Paschalis, passed on to me years ago by an acquaintance of mine of whose death I have only just heard. Professor 'Sammy' Sheppard Frere, Seconds House Lancing 1930-1935, CBE, FSA, FBA, Housemaster of Gibbs, Fellow of All Souls, died on 26 February this year, aged 98, about three weeks after I had given you the following anecdote on my Blog. Cuius animae propitietur Deus.
February 4 2015: Some quite nice sunny weather, recently, fit for strolling across the water meadows of the flood plain and along the Thames. The daffodills have been out for a fortnight now near Sandford Lock. Lots of new molehills; can it be that the little chaps have to scramble above the water table? In the spoil heap of one such tiny excavation, a small piece of coarse red pottery ... what we used to call a sherd ... which, I suppose, must have been deposited, perhaps centuries ago, in a flood.
That little sherd reminded me of a story I heard from 'Sammy' ('Brittania') Frere, sometime member of the Classics Department at Lancing; sometime Fellow of All Souls College Oxford (back in those primitive days before the rise of the modern narrowly focussed "academic" ... before 'Specialisation', when there was so much more hithering and thithering between Common Rooms at Oxbridge and that at Lancing, and indeed between subject and subject). Professor Frere's anecdote concerned Sir Flinders Petrie (another great archaeologist) and Petrie's wife Hilda (ditto). The pair spent their lives excavating in Egypt and Gaza (back in those dangerous days before European Civilisation brought peace, stability and the Arab Spring to the Middle East).
During one such excavation, probably in the 1930s, a youthful member of the team approached Hilda in a state of some very visible embarrassment. "Lady Petrie", he mumbled, red-faced (and a trifle chiastically), "I'm afraid, er, well, we've nearly run out of ... well ... er ... lavatory paper". Her reply:
"Young man, for forty years Sir Flinders and I have used nothing but sherds".