Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Death in the family

Professor David M Walker, the man who essentially taught me the law of Scotland, died this past week. Ninety odds. A good innings as they say. In my experience, he was a person of unparalleled ability when it came to analysing a legal problem and reaching the correct conclusion. In the proper sense, a genius. But those who follow the activities of Saga on The Bridge will know that the command of logic does not make a rounded human being. And although he probably didn't ever encounter her, when I first did, the fictional Saga reminded me of no-one so much as the late prof.

The stories I might choose to illustrate this are legion but I will choose but one.

There was once a student who had had just failed one of the professors famously taxative exams in either contract or delict. But having just failed he was offered an oral exam.

Except that by this point the student had secured a Summer job on a North Sea fishing boat. Hard. hard work but also big, big money. Where, in the discharge of that obligation, he was advised by short wave radio of the oral exam awaiting him back in Glasgow. So he persuaded the skipper to put ashore in Fraserburgh or Stonehaven or wherever and got a train through the night back to Glasgow. No doubt reading through as he went "Walker on Delict" or "Walker on Contract" (two volumes) or simply "Walker on the Principles of Scots Private Law". For this was, literally, the man who wrote the book(s).

Except that when, sea sprayed and unslept, the student presented to the professor the next morning he was met with a baleful announcement. "I am sorry to inform you" he was advised "that I reviewed your written paper last night and have concluded that, no matter how well you perform in oral examination, I could not, in all conscience, allow you to pass this exam. Your grasp of the subject is simply inadequate." And with that the student was sent on his way.

Now the point of this story is both for the professor and against him. He knew nothing of how the student had come to be before him, even if he might have been curious as to his slightly salty smell. But, had he known, for all there might have been a degree of apology for the inconvenience caused, there could never have been any question of special consideration in respect of the exam itself.  And that was understood on both sides. Professor Walker set his standards and there was no scope for compassionate exception. On the other hand, the professor must have known that, had the student traveled no further than across Byres Road,  he nonetheless would have spent hours preparing for the ordeal ahead. It would hardly have killed the professor to allow that effort to be put to some (apparent) use, no matter how predetermined the outcome. That might not have been the logical thing to do, if the task was truly hopeless, but it would nonetheless have been the decent thing to do.

Now, why do I tell you that tale? Only because a blog from me on a Sunday night is something you might have come to expect. It might even be deemed to constitute. in the professor's classification, a "unilateral obligation uninduced".

Well, if it is, I propose to default. Partly it is because I had to work today on another one of these grim cases caused not so much by failed relationships as by failed parenting. Partly it is because I am still writing my (great but unfinished) novel. But mainly it is because I am bored with my own main subject: Scottish politics.

See, on both sides, gloating and outragedly responding, do you think a single referendum vote was changed on whether Labour abstained on or voted against a procedural vote in the Parliament last Tuesday? See, on both sides. do you think the support or disapprobation of Vladimir Putin will swing a single vote? See, on both sides, here in the middle of January, while most people are mainly concerned whether their pay will last till the end of the month, do you think anybody is listening to this moronic dialogue about an event still nine months away?

So, Professor Walker. Rest in Peace. For good or ill, nearly forty years on, I don't forget you. The events of this past week however I will have forgotten by next Sunday. And, in relation to these past week's events, I am one of very few people who was even remotely interested in the first place.

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