Mar. 25th, 2012

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Well that was certainly an experience..

We spent the weekend in Cambridge, mostly visiting one of Chris' friends (Anson) from uni who had stayed around and is now a Fellow of Trinity College. As guests, we got to stay at the college and take part in some of its odd rituals.

Right away, as soon as we were with Anson, we gained the privilege to walk on the lawns, something very much denied to students or tourists. He also was able to borrow a set of keys that opened a lot of doors into normally off limits places. After a stroll past the oldest part of the buildings (throwaway comment, oh yes, that was Newton's room...), we ascended via narrow passages, a ladder, a hanging door and a rickety staircase onto the roof of the library. No actually walkways or anything but from the maintainance door you can edge round to get some great views.

After a wander round the rest of the city (and Selwyn College, where Chris studied), we met in the Parlour at 7.15pm. This room has big comfy chairs, newspapers and a relaxed atomsphere. Normally full of fellows, on a weekend out of term time it was pretty quiet. However, there was free wine or sherry available. At 7.30pm, dressed up rather smartly (although not in academic gowns like the locals), we were introduced to Neil, a 15 years-retired prof. who was the dinner's senior fellow. Right on time, the little procession moved into the great hall and on to the high table. I was about to pull a chair and sit down, but of course it was not so simple so had to wait.

After the sounding of a large gong, grace was said rather lengthily in Latin.Dinner itself was actually fairly normal, just like going to a posh restaurant with very attentive waiters. Had a good chat with a medieval historian who sat next to me. Another gong and some more Latin brought us to what I assumed was the end of the meal.

Oh no...

In fact we headed upstairs to the 'Combination Room' where everyone is supposed to shuffle and 'recombine' to talk to other people. Now this was when the ritual really kicked in . Prof. Neil (by all appearances from Unseen University, and famous for having never used a computer or calculator in his life) explained some, with other bits written on a little guide card.

There can be 3 rounds of drinks, always begun by the head of the table and passed left. This will be port, unless at least 3 people request Claret. The majority vote is binding on the first round only. If the claret runs out, a new bottle will be opened if at least 3 people have not had at least 2 rounds....etc etc. Remembering all this while eating Stilton, fruit and chocolate was quite difficult. On checking the wine card I discovered that the port was from 1985 and the claret from 1986. Naturally I made the most of it...

The fellows who live in the college can do this every night if they like, so not becoming an alcoholic must be quite a challenge! So yeah, an experience of a rather alien culture...

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