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“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.”


Token Effort

21 Apr

Sorry to my huge dedicated readership for the long delay in blogging. Let me make it up to you with a report from a delightful almost-recent road trip.

One evening in the Family Home, we were browsing Google maps for stupid place names and were quite delighted to discover that we live a mere hour from:

Ready Token.

I mean, really? So, off we went the next fine Saturday, with high hopes and a bottle of wine in an actual wicker picnic basket.

It wasn’t sunny.

Now, I know that using GPS on a road trip defeats the whole point of getting lost, hungry and despairing of life… but when the destination is an hour away, it’s probably okay. And anyway, the GPS didn’t help.

“You have reached your destination,” it declared. Halfway down a road to nowhere. Any signs? No. Houses? No. One miscellaneous building. Were we in Ready Token? Who’s to say?

We carried on towards what looked like greater civilisation, but the combined wisdom of two GPSes and a map indicated quite strongly that we really must have been in Ready Token before, halfway down that road of nothing.

We got out. There was nothing to see.

Then, finally, we found something. Some sort of manor house or estate with the words ‘Ready Token’ carved into the gateway.

So. This was it, then.

It started to get quite chilly. But you know what, we had driven for an hour to have a picnic in Ready Token, so that is what we did. On the grass verge at the side of the road outside the big house. We wondered if somebody might call the police.

Well, once we’d finished the picnic, we decided to leave. I’ve gotta tell you, there’s not a whole lot more to do in Ready Token. You can stare at some trees, I guess. Or walk down a long, dull B road. But we were too easily bored.

The best moment came as we were getting back into the car. A lone cyclist came pedalling up the deserted road. We glanced at each other. Then did a double take. Then she stopped and came back. Yes, it was one of our friends from Oxford.

“Is this Ready Token? Oh good!” She was cycling back to her hometown. It has to be said, we didn’t really expect to bump into anyone we knew in Gloucestershire’s most obscure (possibly non-existent) village.

“And what are you guys doing here?” We tried to explain that we had purposely driven for an hour to have a picnic in Ready Token, but I’m not sure she quite understood.

Oh, and we didn’t go straight home. Later on, we bought a commemorative thimble from a trout farm.

spoons; skeletons

26 Feb

I think doing strange things reminds me I’m alive.

Strange things I have experienced in the last couple of weeks:

1) Going to see art painted by animals at the Museum of Zoology in London. In fact, it wasn’t the animal art that was the best part. It wasn’t even the fact that you could ‘adopt’ an exhibition, meaning that a jar of preseved pickled moles was proudly sponsored by someone with a sick sense of humour. Topping even that was the museum’s signage.

Who had the job of annotating the exhibitions in this museum? Whoever it was, they were some kind of sarcastic genius. A stuffed flying lemur was displayed with the caption:

“Flying lemur. It is not a lemur and it cannot fly.”

That was it. No further explanation. Just that. This was just about surpassed perhaps the best sign I have ever seen:

“Mole skeleton. It is extemely common for children to think that all skeletons are dinosaurs. This is not the case.”

2) Throwing lots of plastic spoons at a cinema screen. Simon persuded me to go to a screening of The Room – widely acclaimed as one of the worst films ever made by man. Of course it was an ironic screening full of people who love to hate the film. I’ve never before gone into a cinema to be told by the ushers:

“No booze, no american footballs and no metal spoons.”

Oh yes – every time an inexplicable photo of a spoon appears in The Room, that’s your cue to hurl plastic cutlery at the screen, with a cry of “SPOOOOOOOOONS!”. At one point I stood up to let someone out, just as a tidal wave of cutlery hit me in the face.


3) Taking a tourist trip to Slough. It only lasted five minutes, sadly, but by then I think we’d probably seen the highlights. (Roadworks; Tesco Express.)