Unusual uses for olive o.., p.14
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       Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, p.14

           Alexander McCall Smith
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‘I’m sure it was,’ said Ophelia Prinzel. ‘Well done, Moritz-Maria! It will be London next. Then New York.’

  Von Igelfeld smiled. ‘I shall not be accepting any more such invitations,’ he said. ‘Like all of us, I have work to do here in Regensburg.’

  ‘A very noble sentiment, I must say,’ said Prinzel. ‘There is nothing worse than these people who dash about the place shamelessly giving talks. Have they nothing better to do?’

  There were murmurs of agreement from all, and the next subject was broached. This was a discussion of road repairs near the Prinzels’ house. Then they moved on to talk about Venice, and whether it was best to go there in the summer or the winter. Then there was something about a concert that Ophelia had attended recently where she was sure the piano was out of tune. ‘The pianist looked most uncomfortable throughout the performance and at the end he banged the lid shut and swore. I heard him. I was in the front row.’

  ‘That is quite inexcusable,’ said Frau Unterholzer. ‘It does not help to do such things.’

  There was further agreement on this matter, and that took them to the point at which dinner was served. Over the meal, the conversation was congenial, with everybody making an effort to include Aalina in what was said. She proved to be an easy conversationalist, smiling charmingly at anybody who spoke to her and nodding agreement with everything that the host or hostess said. For the rest, she gazed upon Herr Huber with intense pride, not noticing, it appeared, that he told the same story twice, once at the beginning of the meal and once towards the end. This was a story of a man who came from Bonn but moved to Frankfurt, and then went back to Bonn.

  Halfway through the meal, von Igelfeld spilled a small amount of gravy on the cuff of his shirt. Attempts to remove the stain with his table napkin having failed, he asked permission to use the tap in the bathroom for this purpose. ‘I know exactly where it is,’ he said. ‘Please continue for a few minutes without me.’

  He went out into the long, book-lined corridor that led to the bathroom at the back of the house. Halfway down this corridor, sitting strategically on the carpet, was the Unterholzers’ dachshund, the unfortunate Walter, with his three-wheeled prosthetic appliance strapped round his sausage-like stomach. On seeing von Igelfeld approach, Walter rose to his remaining foot and attempted to wheel himself out of the way. He was not fast enough, and von Igelfeld, who was not looking where he was placing his feet, tripped over him.

  The dog gave a yelp and attempted to move further out of the way. Unfortunately this was not possible, as von Igelfeld’s foot had kicked off one of the dog’s wheels. Now unbalanced, the dachshund simply fell on his chest, letting out a whimper as he did so.

  Von Igelfeld looked down at the dog at his feet, its little wheel clearly detached, lying beside him. Bending down, von Igelfeld picked up the wheel and, calming the dog as best he could, attempted to fit it back on the appliance. It was very stiff, and he had to give it a good push before it found its place, but this had the effect of driving all the breath out of the dog, who had to gasp for air.

  The wheel in place, von Igelfeld gave the dog a further push, to see whether all was working correctly. It was not. The wheel that he had replaced now refused to go round at all, so that the dog turned in little circles as he paddled with his remaining leg.

  Von Igelfeld had no difficulty in arriving at a diagnosis: the wheel needed oiling. But how to do that?

  The dog, in the interim, had moved in circles through the kitchen door, and it was in the kitchen that the solution presented itself. Reaching up to the shelf above the sink, von Igelfeld took down a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and dripped a small quantity over the bearings of the non-functioning wheel. Then he tried to ease the wheel by spinning it. Unfortunately he forgot that he was holding an open bottle of olive oil in his other hand, and as he leaned forward he tipped the contents of this bottle all over Walter and the surrounding parts of the kitchen floor.

  Walter, alarmed by being covered with olive oil, let out a howl of protest and ran – in so far as a dog with a prosthetic appliance and three wheels can run – back along the corridor and into the dining room, to seek the succour of his owners.

  Von Igelfeld put the now empty bottle of olive oil back on the shelf, made an unsuccessful attempt to mop up the spillage on the floor, and returned to the dining room. The conversation was still in full swing, although Frau Unterholzer was looking down in puzzlement at the floor beside her chair where Walter, covered in olive oil, was licking at his coat. She glanced up at von Igelfeld and frowned, but he avoided her gaze.

  At the end of the meal, Professor Unterholzer left the table to turn on the coffee-making machine in the kitchen. A moment or two after his departure, there was a loud thud from the kitchen. Frau Unterholzer gasped and hurried from the room, to return a few moments later with her husband, who looked flustered and uncomfortable. They both glared at von Igelfeld.

  ‘My husband slipped,’ said Frau Unterholzer. ‘But he is uninjured.’

  ‘I’m so sorry to hear that,’ said Herr Huber. ‘At my aunt’s nursing home they have these special non-slip floors. You can’t slip on them – it’s just impossible.’

  ‘If one covered them with olive oil, one might,’ said Frau Unterholzer darkly.

  ‘Possibly,’ said Herr Huber. ‘But why would one do a thing like that?’

  The Prinzels had come by car, and they gave von Igelfeld a lift back to his apartment. As they drove through the night, Prinzel said, ‘A very pleasant evening, don’t you think, Herr von Igelfeld?’

  Von Igelfeld looked out of the window; a city looked so different by night; indifferent too. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Very pleasant.’

  Ophelia Prinzel turned to look at von Igelfeld in the rear seat. She was fond of him – and always had been. Poor Moritz-Maria: all alone with nobody to go home to. And there appeared to be oil stains all over the front of his shirt and on the sleeves of his jacket. How strange.

  ‘Are you happy, Moritz-Maria?’ she asked suddenly. She did not know why she asked this; it just seemed to be the question that needed to be asked at the time.

  ‘Happy?’ he asked. ‘Why should I be anything but happy?’

  She shrugged. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘It’s just that the world sometimes seems a bit unkind, doesn’t it? It can be unkind to people who just want to be loved, like everybody else; who just want that – no more, just that.’

  ‘Well, it’s not been unkind to me,’ said von Igelfeld.

  He looked out of the window again, at the passing world – a world of night and loneliness. A world in which there was a place for some but not for all. Did he believe the words that he had just uttered – that the world had not been unkind to him? He tried to believe what he said – he tried – and that, perhaps, sometimes enables us to believe what we wish to be true.

  ‘Yes,’ he muttered, half to Frau Prinzel and half to himself. ‘I have much to be thankful for, as most of us do.’

  ‘That’s true,’ she said, reaching out over the back of the seat to place a comforting hand upon his forearm. She felt the olive oil on the fabric of his sleeve, but did not worry about that, because sympathy – and friendship – can rise above, can negate, the misfortunes that so consistently and so unfairly beset others. Sympathy and friendship can rise above these things – and almost always do.


  “Deftly rendered … [with] endearingly eccentric characters.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times

  Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due—a quest that has a way of going hilariously astray.

  Portuguese Irregular Verbs

  Professor Dr von Igelfeld learns to play tennis and forces a college chum to enter into a duel that results in a nipped nose. Along the way, he takes two ill-fated Italian sojourns, the first merely un
comfortable, the second definitely dangerous.

  Volume 1

  The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs

  Professor Dr Von Igelfeld is mistaken for a veterinarian and not wanting to call attention to the faux pas, begins practicing veterinary medicine without a license. He ends up operating on a friend’s dachshund to dramatic and unfortunate effect.

  Volume 2

  At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances

  Professor Dr von Igelfeld gets caught up in a nasty case of academic intrigue while on sabbatical at Cambridge. When he returns to Regensburg he is confronted with the thrilling news that someone from a foreign embassy has actually checked his masterwork, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, out of the institute’s library, and he gets caught up in intrigue of a different sort on a visit to Bogota, Colombia.

  Volume 3

  Unusual Uses for Olive Oil

  Life is so unfair, and it sends many things to try Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld. There is the undeserved rise of his rival (and owner of a one-legged dachshund), Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, and the condescension of his colleagues with regard to his unmarried state. But when his friend Ophelia Prinzel takes it upon herself to match-make, and duly produces a cheerful heiress with her own Schloss, it appears that the professor’s true worth is about to be recognized.

  Volume 4


  “The literary equivalent of herbal tea and a cozy fire…. McCall Smith’s Scotland [is] well worth future visits.”

  —The New York Times

  The Sunday Philosophy Club

  Isabel Dalhousie is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business—including some that are best left to the police. Filled with endearingly thorny characters and a Scottish atmosphere as thick as a highland mist, The Sunday Philosophy Club is an irresistible pleasure.

  Volume 1

  Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

  While taking care of her niece Cat’s deli, Isabel meets a heart transplant patient who has had some strange experiences in the wake of his surgery. Against the advice of her housekeeper, Isabel is intent on investigating. Matters are further complicated when Cat returns from vacation with a new boyfriend, and Isabel’s fondness for him lands her in another muddle.

  Volume 2

  The Right Attitude to Rain

  When Isabel’s cousin from Dallas arrives in Edinburgh, she introduces Isabel to a bigwig Texan whose young fiancée may just be after his money. Then there’s her niece, Cat, who’s busy falling for a man whom Isabel suspects of being an incorrigible mama’s boy. Isabel is advised to stay out of it all, but the philosophical issues of these matters of the heart prove too tempting for her to resist.

  Volume 3

  The Careful Use of Compliments

  There’s a new little Dalhousie on the scene, and while the arrival of Isabel’s son presents her with the myriad wonders of life, it doesn’t diminish her curiosity about other things. While attending an art auction, she discovers a mystery revealed in one of the paintings, launching her into yet another intriguing investigation.

  Volume 4

  The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

  A doctor’s career has been ruined by allegations of medical fraud and Isabel cannot ignore what may be a miscarriage of justice. Meanwhile, there is her baby, Charlie, who needs looking after; her niece, Cat, who needs someone to mind her deli; and a mysterious composer who has latched on to Jamie, making Isabel decidedly uncomfortable.

  Volume 5

  The Lost Art of Gratitude

  When Minty Auchterlonie takes Isabel into her confidence about the complicated troubles at the investment bank she heads, Isabel finds herself doubting Minty.

  Volume 6

  The Charming Quirks of Others

  Old friends of Isabel’s ask for her help in a rather tricky situation: A successor is being sought for the headmaster position at their alma mater and an anonymous letter has alleged that one of the candidates has a very serious skeleton in their closet.

  Volume 7

  The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

  A visiting Australian philosopher asks for Isabel’s help to find her biological father. Isabel cannot help but oblige, even though she has concerns of her own. Her young son, Charlie, is now walking and talking, and her housekeeper, Grace, regularly attends a spiritualist who has taken to providing advice. And could it finally be time for Jamie and Isabel to get married?

  Volume 8

  The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

  Isabel answers an unexpected appeal from a wealthy Scottish collector, Duncan Munrowe, who has been robbed of a valuable painting. Never one to refuse an appeal, she agrees, and discovers that the thieves may be closer to the owner than he ever would have expected. Isabel also copes with life’s issues, large and small, and finds herself tested as a parent, a philosopher, and a friend.

  Volume 9


  “Will make you feel as though you live in Edinburgh….

  Long live the folks on Scotland Street.”

  —The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)


  All of Alexander McCall Smith’s trademark warmth and wit come into play in this novel chronicling the lives of the residents of a converted Georgian town house in Edinburgh. Complete with colorful characters, love triangles, and even a mysterious art caper, this is an unforgettable portrait of Edinburgh society.

  Volume 1


  The eccentric residents of 44 Scotland Street are back. From the talented six-year-old Bertie, who is forced to arrive in pink overalls for his first day of class, to the self-absorbed Bruce, who contemplates a change of career in between admiring glances in the mirror, there is much in store as fall settles on Edinburgh.

  Volume 2


  From conducting perilous anthropological studies of pirate households to being inadvertently left behind on a school trip to Paris, the wonderful misadventures of the residents of 44 Scotland Street will charm and delight.

  Volume 3


  Pat is forced to deal with the reappearance of Bruce, which has her heart skipping—and not in the most pleasant way. Angus Lordie’s dog, Cyril, has been taken away by the authorities, accused of being a serial biter, and Bertie, the beleaguered Italian-speaking prodigy and saxophonist, now has a little brother, Ulysses, who he hopes will distract his mother, Irene.

  Volume 4


  The Unbearable Lightness of Scones finds Bertie still troubled by his rather overbearing mother, Irene, but seeking his escape in the cub scouts. Matthew is rising to the challenge of married life, while Domenica epitomizes the loneliness of the long-distance intellectual, and Cyril succumbs to the kind of romantic temptation that no dog can resist, creating a small problem, or rather six of them, for his friend and owner, Angus Lordie.

  Volume 5


  Bertie is—finally!—about to turn seven.

  But one afternoon he mislays his meddling mother, Irene, and learns a valuable lesson.

  Angus and Domenica contemplate whether to give in to romance on holiday in Italy, and even usually down-to-earth Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery.

  Volume 6


  “A new cast of characters to love.”

  —Entertainment Weekly


  In London’s hip Pimlico neighborhood, Corduroy Mansions, a block of crumbling brickwork and dormer windows is home to a delightfully eccentric cast of residents including, but not limited to: a wine merchant who desperately hopes his son will move out; a boutique caterer who has designs on the oenophile down the hall; a snarky member of Parliament; and Freddie de la Hay, a vegetarian Pimlico terrier.

  Volume 1

  Freddie de la Hay has been recruited by MI6 to infiltrate a Russian spy ring.

  A pair of New Age operators wants to use Terence Moongrove’s estate as a center for cosmological studies. Literary agent Barbara Ragg represents a man who hangs out with the Abominable Snowman, and the rest of the denizens of the housing block have issues of their own.

  Volume 2


  There’s never a dull moment for the residents of Corduroy Mansions: Berthea Snark is still at work on her scathing biography of her own son; literary agents Rupert Porter and Barbara Ragg are still battling each other; fine-arts graduate Caroline Jarvis is busy blurring the line between friendship and romance; and William French is still worrying that his son, Eddie, may never leave home. But uppermost on everyone’s mind is Freddie de la Hay—William’s faithful terrier (and without a doubt the only dog clever enough to have been recruited by MI6)—who has disappeared while on a mystery tour around the Suffolk countryside.

  Volume 3



  A heartwarming novel about the life-affirming powers of music and companionship during a time of war.

  It is 1939, and Lavender—La to her friends—has fled London for small-town life to avoid German bombs and to escape memories of her shattered marriage. As the war drags on, in need of some diversion and to boost the town’s morale, La organizes an amateur orchestra, drawing musicians from the village and local RAF base, including Feliks, a shy Polish refugee who becomes La’s prized recruit. Does La’s orchestra save the world? The people who come to hear it think so. But what will become of it after the war is over? And what will become of La herself?

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