Since Richard had always managed to get on reasonably well with the old fruitcake, he had one day plucked up courage to ask him what, exactly, the Regius Professorship of Chronology was. It had been one of those light summery days when the world seems about to burst with pleasure at simply being itself, and Reg had been in an uncharacteristically forthcoming mood as they had walked over the bridge where the River Cam divided the older parts of the college from the newer.
'Sinecure, my dear fellow, an absolute sinecure,' he had beamed. 'A small amount of money for a very small, or shall we say non-existent, amount of work. That puts me permanently just ahead of the game, which is a comfortable if frugal place to spend your life. I recommend it.'
He leaned over the edge of the bridge and started to point out a particular brick that he found interesting. 'But what sort of study is it supposed to be?' Richard had pursued. 'Is it history? Physics?
'Well,' said Reg, slowly, 'since you're interested, the chair was originally instituted by King George III, who, as you know, entertained a number of amusing notions, including the belief that one of the trees in Windsor Great Park was in fact Frederick the Great.
'It was his own appointment, hence "Regius". His own idea as well, which is somewhat more unusual.'
Sunlight played along the River Cam. People in punts happily shouted at each other to fuck off. Thin natural scientists who had spent months locked away in their rooms growing white and fishlike, emerged blinking into the light. Couples walking along the bank got so excited about the general wonderfulness of it all that they had to pop inside for an hour.
'The poor beleaguered fellow,' Reg continued, 'George III, I mean, was, as you may know, obsessed with time. Filled the palace with clocks. Wound them incessantly. Sometimes would get up in the middle of the night and prowl round the palace in his nightshirt winding clocks.
He was very concerned that time continued to go forward, you see. So many terrible things had occurred in his life that he was terrified that any of them might happen again if time were ever allowed to slip backwards even for a moment. A very understandable fear, especially if you're barking mad, as I'm afraid to say, with the very greatest sympathy for the poor fellow, he undoubtedly was. He appointed me, or rather I should say, my office, this professorship, you understand, the post that I am now privileged to hold to - where was I? Oh yes. He instituted this, er, Chair of Chronology to see if there was any particular reason why one thing happened after another and if there was any way of stopping it. Since the answers to the three questions were, I knew immediately, yes, no, and maybe, I realised I could then take the rest of my career off.'
The nature of Professor Chronotis's studies of chronology is not explained in more detail until close to the end of the novel, but if you read it you'll see that the professor has one or two things in common with your fictitious Dr. Caroline...