“The Gaudy”

28 Mar

Well, it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve written on this blog. Why? Don’t know really – lack of time? Too much dog training? It might be because it’s a kind of external monologue for my anecdotes and now Tom gets to hear all those in real life instead. I think that’s closer to the truth than the “no time” excuse.

But now I am sitting at home, not quite alone, with a sleeping hound at my feet and some minutes between projects. So here’s an anecdote.

Last weekend I went to what is known as a “gaudy”. Read that nonsensical piece of jargon and guess where it might have come from. Correct, the University of Obscure Terminology itself, aka Oxford.

A “gaudy” is just a college reunion. This time, it was a massive nostalgia-fest for my year and the year below. It was great to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen for several years, or in some cases, since we left uni… to remember those mornings huddled in our dressing gowns trying to decipher our stats questions… our methods for breaking in through the “turnstile”… the manky pigeons that nested on our windowsills… that time James went crazy after watching three days of amoeba footage and make a friend out of a toilet roll…

But it was also decidedly odd. I shouldn’t have been surprised about that, should I?

It was like entering into a previous life to be in college, visiting my friends who were staying the the “beehive” (a 1960s concrete accommodation block with  hexagonal rooms – nice idea but where do you put the furniture?). Making it even more like time travel was the fact that the year below were also walking around. They were the people who you didn’t necessarily know, but would always recognise as they passed by in the background. They were, in essence, the extras in my life. And they were all there – the stars and the extras. Like nothing had changed.

But please – could anything possibly change? In Oxford? Not since at least 1010AD – one the colleges is still on “Oxford time”, not having quite caught up with the newfangled GMT, for heaven’s sake.

So, we dressed in black tie, gathered in an art gallery and sipped some champagne, before proceeding into the 16th century dining hall. My psychology tutor had been made the college Vice-President since I left, so the psychology crew got to sit at the High Table. This is much like sitting at the top table at a wedding – you get served first, and when I was a student, the fellows sitting up there got better food, too. I don’t think we did.

The menu looked ridiculously amazing, but before we could get started, we had to be welcomed. And then someone turned up in a gown and mortar board to give a speech.

In Latin.

Now, I know I’ve been away from Oxford for a while now, but even I didn’t see this coming. The lengthy sung Latin grace, sure. But this guy had written a nice speech about how things were going at the college, how the cricket team was getting on, and what scientific advances had been made by the students…. in Latin. Seriously. It lasted about ten minutes. In our programmes, someone had thoughtfully printed a translation.

A couple of ex-Classics students / snobs tittered in delight at the Latin jokes peppering the speech, but the rest of us looked at each other with raised eyebrows and asked, “Why? Just – why?”

My tutor told me sheepishly that it was a tradition. Of course.

Anyway, the dinner was amazing, the bottomless wine was about 15 years old from the dusty cellar, and somebody managed to find me a decaf coffee when I asked for one. I am not complaining. Thanks, St Johns. But I sat there feeling like some of that pomp and circumstance was just a little bit… childish. And that maybe I had grown out of it.

My friend Hannah sat opposite me with a stunned sort of expression on her face for a while. After the scholar finished his lengthy Latin speech and doffed his mortar board, she whispered: “I’ve just come from doing counselling in Hackney… It’s a bit of a culture shock.”

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