I have now signed The Book. It is a formal pledge of allegiance toward the University, and every person holding a university office since 1209 has signed it. I am in good company with John Milton, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sylvia Plath, Stephen Hawking, and hundreds of other eminent people. Takes less to get you awed.
I don’t know what I had expected, but it was quite undramatic. I went to The Old Schools, the magnificent building where University administration lies – I’ve been there once already meeting the Academic Secretary. I reported in the reception to a young boy, obviously a student, who had heard vaguely about the expression “sign The Book” but was far from sure exactly what it implied and who was responsible. After a number of phone calls he finally got the right person, who came out to the reception actually carrying The Book. It was formidable and leather-bound, with thick parchment-like paper. In this intimidating volume, I was asked to sign with a cheap ball-point pen.