Last Friday, 6th September, was the Orieladelphians Dinner, the 39th of its kind, organised by Ranulph. It was the first of its kind for which I had to travel from Cornwall rather than Surrey. Clearly I was going to go by train. Years of experience have taught me that driving the morning after an Orieladelphians Dinner is not a good thing. It’s not even legal. No, there’s no special Orieladelphian driving laws been passed; it’s just the application of good old drink-driving ones. In addition, taking the train is cheaper and quicker than driving myself to Oxford, especially with a senior railcard.
I realised I didn’t have a senior railcard. I applied for it online and it arrived the next day. Remarkable. The next decision was how to get to Bodmin Parkway station. I could catch the hourly 555 bus from right outside our house, but it is carefully timed to arrive at Bodmin Parkway 50 minutes before the train departs, or ten minutes after, if you care to think about it that way. Diana had an appointment so couldn’t drive me there. I eventually worked out I could drive myself in the other car, pay for two days parking (the princely sum of £2.60) and have the car available to drive myself home – the extra hours on the train being sufficient, I reckoned, to up the levels of blood in my alcohol stream to a legal level.
I bought my tickets online and collected them from the ticket machine at Bodmin Parkway when taking daughter’s friend to the station a few days later. On Friday morning, I set out in the little car, allowing time for getting caught behind tractors (Cornwall is a proper agricultural county and this time of year you have to expect tractors). I parked and used my phone to pay for two days parking. It was too far from the end of the car park to walk to the ticket machine, buy the ticket, walk back to the car to display it and walk again to the station platform with my luggage.
Chatting to a uniformed gent from the Bodmin and Wenford (steam) railway who had set up shop on the platform I learned that my reserved seat, being in Coach D, would have its own TV screen. Possibly in consequence, Coach D was very full, with most seats reserved, and I had to cast out someone from my seat. She tried to tell me it wasn’t reserved, and indeed there was no reservation ticket on the seat, but I had my receipt and she had to go. I found the reservation ticket torn in two on the floor a few minutes later.
The most interesting thing on the TV was the journey map, that told where you were in real time. The system was obviously lifted wholesale from one used on airlines, because it also showed the speed and altitude. Altitude? On a train? I want my trains to remain on the ground, thank you very much.
The seat next to mine was reserved from Plymouth. A guy duly got on at Plymouth, put his bags on the rack and sat down. Just before Exeter, he got up to “get a cup of tea” and I didn’t see him again. I assume he changed his mind about the tea and went for a meal in the dining car all the way to Paddington instead. It was pleasant to have no one next to me, but I did have to keep fending off people who wanted to sit there.
After tracking alongside the M5 for a good few miles, going easily past the cars speeding in the outside lanes, the railway ran inland and alongside the Kennet and Avon canal, where we would no doubt have easily passed the narrow boats, had there been any. I changed at Reading and arrived in Oxford in the mid-afternoon.
The dinner itself was 7 for 7.30 pm. I decided that this year, after flouting tradition with a white tuxedo and yellow bow tie and cummerbund the previous two years, I would be the epitome of sober respectability in unremarkable black dinner suit and black tie. This was remarked upon. “Don’t you normally wear a horrible mustard tie?” they said. “Not this year,” I said. “I am the epitome of sober respectability this year.” (These might not have been the actual words used.)
At pre-dinner drinks, only two of our usual guests arrived, Gill the former Steward who let us back into the college in the early years, and Syd the former SCR Butler. Neil thought that Ernest, the former Provost, had been ill. There were nine Orieladelphians present, the nine survivors, since Edward’s death earlier in the year: Ranulph (president, at the head of the table), Paul, Neil, Thomas, Christopher, Steve (next president), Peter, Ashley and me. Five extra places were laid. We always have the extra places laid but we don’t always have them laid with bread rolls.
The dinner was good. I remember especially the broad beans, about eight of them arranged in a straight line between the meat (loin of lamb) and the other vegetables (confit potatoes and crushed minted peas). My late father, a broad bean afficionado, would have been greatly disappointed by the quantity. The wine was excellent. I remember especially the Montbazillac pudding wine. At least, I do when jogged by the printed menu, a copy of which I liberated, as usual.
After dinner, we adjourned to the small SCR and I found myself in a seat altogether too close to the occasional table with the brandy bottle on it. At some point I left to go to bed. I have no idea what time it was. I have no real recollection of leaving the SCR, but I did get to my room and I did go to bed. Perhaps fortunately, I had a ground floor room.
During the night, I woke up needing a pee. There was a nice convenient en-suite shower room and loo. I drank a couple of cups of water, this being a good thing, I thought, to deal with alcohol in excess. I found myself sitting on the floor of the shower room, not at all sure how I’d got there – certainly there was no conscious decision on my part to sit down. I returned to bed.
My alarm went off at 8:15, which gave me enough time to get in to breakfast. My head ached a bit, but not in a hangovery sort of way. I put my hand to it and found encrusted blood. I looked at my pillow and found small blood stains. I tried to wash out the encrusted blood and it came away, to be replaced with fresh blood. I wasn’t bleeding badly, though. Clearly, I deduced, I had done more than merely sit down on the shower room floor, but what, exactly? I dressed and went to breakfast.
The lady behind the counter insisted on giving me two of everything – fried eggs, sausages, rashers of bacon – but I couldn’t eat it all. This was a hangover symptom, but I didn’t feel particularly bad in any other way. My stomach wasn’t queasy, I didn’t have a pounding head, I just didn’t feel like eating much. Rosie noticed. “What have you done to your head?” she said. “I think I must have fallen over,” I said. Ashley thought that this was quite likely. “You did leave the room sideways last night,” was his considered medical opinion.
After breakfast I went back to my room to pack. Sitting on the loo, I saw a red smear on the tiles about a foot up from the floor. So that’s where I went down, I concluded. It was in a nice clear area, under the shower. No protruding radiators or towel rails, just a smooth tiled wall. This was in several ways fortunate. I cleaned the blood off and checked out.
I met Ellie for coffee at Oxford station. She had the coffee, I didn’t bother. I did buy a tuna sandwich, in case of feeling hungry at lunchtime, and as I bent down to put it in my bag, she noticed the blood, which I had to explain, somewhat shamefacedly. Back home, Diana was suitably sympathetic (i.e. just enough, without going overboard, given the self-inflicted nature of the injury) and Tris was outraged by the thought of her father behaving more outrageously than herself. It wasn’t until Saturday night that I noticed the tender spot on the back of my head and Sunday morning the bruises on my elbows, fleshing out the picture, as you might say.
So much for sober respectability. Next Orieladelphians, I’m wearing a clown suit.