Slow Weekend

The other weekend was a slow weekend. Not, you understand, because we weren’t doing anything. Rather, because the quite-a-lot that we were doing could only be done slowly.

Diana and I had a weekend away in Oxford. The primary reason for going was the 42nd annual Orieladelphians dinner. Ordinarily I would go up to Oxford on my own. The dinner was founded a long time ago – 42 years, would you believe – with a fixed membership of the chaps, before any of us had wives, and it remains rigidly a dinner for the chaps, though there are only nine of us now.

But the dinner this year fell nicely to help younger daughter Tris move into a new flat with her friend Emily, so Diana came with me and we booked a double room in college and extended our stay by two nights through to the Monday. Since there were two of us travelling, it was cheaper to go by car than train, which I would normally do – to avoid driving home with a hangover, and possibly still over the limit.

Also, it was slightly easier, in the car, to take assorted crockery and cutlery, three chairs and a table, for the new flat.


So we set off at a reasonable time on the Friday morning, heading east on the avoid-Bodmin route. We have nothing against Bodmin as such, but for the last year and a bit there have been road widening works on the A30 there, the immediate effect of which is to narrow the road and cause traffic jams. So we have been going via Camelford, the road through which couldn’t get any narrower and still be called a road.

We planned to use the M5 and M4, but we noticed on the satnav that there were several traffic hold ups on the M5 south of Bristol. Last time I saw that, on my way up to Herefordshire to visit Mum, the delays cost me an hour or more. And on our way home from Herefordshire, the traffic was at a standstill in both directions for several hours due to a woman on bridge. That time we pulled in for an early lunch and waited for the blockage to be resolved, which it was while we ate. Twitter actually came in handy, seeing the Avon and Somerset Police tweeting that they had reopened the M5, and twenty minutes later tweeting that they were trying to get people back in their cars to get moving again!

So I was suspicious of hold-ups on the M5 and took an alternative route via Honiton, Shepton Mallet and Bath. This took about an extra hour. But it was pretty and scenic and all that, plus it was easy to get on an alternative route if there were more hold-ups.

In Oxford, we went first to Tris and Emily’s new flat, which Diana had visited once already. This was good, because the road, Roger Dudman Way, goes alongside the railway line, through what looks like a railway works area, and not at all like a residential road. The road also goes over vicious speed bumps, which Diana hadn’t really taken any notice of on foot, before reaching the university accommodation in which they have their new flat. It took me a few trips over the speed bumps to find the speed at which (most of the time) the car wouldn’t bump and ground. The road is marked with a 10 mph limit, so I reasoned initially that maybe 5 mph would do it. Not slow enough. The right speed turned out to be 2 mph, just enough to lift the wheels over the bump.

There are maybe three car parking spaces at the accommodation blocks, which have just over 400 flats. The spaces are reserved for disabled drivers, so Emily has one, but we pulled in front of her car on double yellow lines, disregarding a notice saying “authorised vehicles only”.

Well, we weren’t parking, we were unloading, which we did, grabbing a reviving cup of tea as we did so, and having done so, we headed for the Seacourt park-and-ride to leave the car while spending the night in Oxford.

After checking in at Oriel Lodge, and being assigned our room, I began to change for dinner and Diana headed back to Tris and Emily’s for a revival of the Double Six Club. Double Six was something that Diana started when the children were small. Each of them chose a course for the meal so that they could have something special at the same time as Daddy did off in Oxford. This time they chose a takeaway from Chutneys, the Indian restaurant in St Michael’s Street.

Meanwhile, back in Oriel, the Orieladelphians Dinner (the 42nd – did I mention that?) was excellent. Thomas, this year’s President, had ordered great food and left the choice of wine to Asefay Abera, the SCR butler, which proved a good move. I remember there being a great discussion about Brexit which ended without concluding, you might say, with no one changing their mind. We had the usual toasts – it occurs to me now that I missed an opportunity to propose a toast to “Life, the Universe and Everything” on this 42nd occasion…

After dinner we moved into the small SCR for (further) drinks, taking care to bring the port and red wine decanters with us on account of not wanting to rush into the brandy too soon. And after brandy we moved, separately, and none too rapidly, to our respective rooms.

Breakfast was served in Hall from 8-9 am. Six of us made it: Thomas, Christopher, Peter, Paul, Mary, Ashley (and Rosie) and me (and Diana). Ranulph has developed the habit of leaving early, before breakfast, for reasons never properly explained. Steve generally misses breakfast. Neil is often at breakfast, but not this year. Diana and I, not having to check out like the rest, collected a few things from our room, such as rainproof coats and the suitcase I had brought my clothes in, now emptied, and headed for the 400 bus to the Seacourt park-and-ride. The bus route winds round and through the building site that is to be the new Westgate Centre, including a long stretch of one-way road now restricted to buses and taxis. The buses and taxis go both ways along this road – not at the same time; that would be silly. The planners have thought of that. The road is controlled by traffic lights, so there can be quite long waits at a red light before the bus can move along again.

We drove back down the Botley Road, slowly, amongst the Saturday morning traffic, and I decided to take Walton Street rather than St Giles to reach Tris’s old place on Woodstock Road. It looks more direct on the map. It is also slower, with speed bumps, and road narrowing – though after Roger Dudman Way, the speed bumps seemed pretty innocuous. Tris was already there, having taken a much shorter pedestrian route from her new flat.

We parked the car and went up to her room, taking with us the empty suitcase and numerous plastic and cardboard boxes for putting things in to move. It’s just the one room, but there was a lot of stuff in there, every cupboard, drawer, shelf, desk and – it seemed – square inch of carpet holding something. We filled the boxes etc and loaded up the boot; I forget whether it was three or four times down and up the lift.

Then it was back to Roger Dudman Way, over the speed bumps with a near fully laden car and into the yellow-lined space in front of Emily’s car. We unloaded and then Diana and I went to park the car somewhere legal while we had lunch. The place Diana had spotted beforehand was Walton Well Road car park, which meant a slow trip back along Walton Street, then down Walton Well Road, past the end of Southmoor Road where Thomas and I had lived in our third year at Oriel, and over the little bridge.

The car park was full of potholes which in the morning rain had filled with water, but there were a couple of spaces left free by people walking their dogs in Port Meadow, and it was cheap for three hours parking. The best thing about it was the foot and cycle path from the car park directly into the far end of Roger Dudman Way, very close to the flat. Which was good, because by now it was chucking it down.

Lunch was left over curries and rice from Chutneys – very pleasant. Then it was back to Woodstock Road and another round of packing and loading and transporting and unpacking. This time we left the car where it was while we had a cup of tea, before venturing out for dinner. We were aiming for “Pomegranates” on Cowley Road, a Lebanese restaurant. We took Emily’s disabled parking card, which didn’t enable us to park in the disabled spaces, because they were full, but did give us free parking. Pomegranates was full, also, so we booked for the following night and found Jin Jin, a Chinese restaurant, which we had been to with Ellie when it was the Oxford Thai. It turned out to be excellent, in both taste and price.

We dropped Emily and Tris off at their flat – more slow driving – and left the car at Seacourt again, getting a late 400 bus back to the High Street and Oriel.

High Table Breakfast Shock Horror!

Breakfast in Oriel on Sunday is 9-10 am, which in theory gave us longer in bed, but in practice it meant that we were in just after it started rather than a bit before it ended. The Hall was emptier than on Saturday, at first, at least.

Diana remarked that everyone observed the hierarchy in Hall, never using high table for breakfast. Then a couple of young people sat down at high table. Then some more young women came in and sat there, and some more, and a couple of older women, until the table was full. Almost at the end, a young woman came in wearing a flimsy bridal veil, the universal symbol of the bride-to-be on her hen party – a fact confirmed by the bottle of lurid blue alcopop that was thrust at her across the table by one of her friends.

A hen party. On high table.

Sunday echoed Saturday. Move another load of Tris’ stuff. Park in Walton Well Road. Lunch. Beginning to master Roger Dudman’s speed bumps.

The final load was a bit different. We had to move Tris’ desk, which meant taking it apart with an Allen key and carrying the top, legs and cross pieces separately down to the car. Then a last check round the room, moving the bed, finding a few more things buried under it, removing the last of the bluetack off the walls and hoovering round so it looked presentable. Then we were off in the car, while Tris took her bike through the Walton Well Road short cut.

When we got to Pomegranates for dinner, we found that booking had not really been necessary; the tables were mostly empty.

After dinner and dropping Tris and Emily off, we returned to Seacourt and discovered (after paying for parking) that the last 400 bus had left at 7.30pm. We thought about driving back into the vicinity of Oriel, but then Diana said there ought to be other buses, so we walked to the Botley Road and found that there were indeed other buses, which would also accept my return ticket, and after fifteen minutes or so, one came.

On Monday morning, there were no breakfast shenanigans, though Asefay was standing on duty in the entrance to Hall. I said hello. A little later he came to where we were sitting and said hello properly. “I didn’t recognise you at first,” he said. I guess that was the absence of DJ and bow tie, which I tend not to wear at breakfast. We checked out, returned to our car and set off for home, via Botley Road Waitrose where we bought some sandwiches for lunch.

All was going well until we were approaching Bridgwater on the M5. Then a couple of blue flashing lights went past us, one on the hard shoulder, the satnav indicated heavy traffic and we saw the vehicles ahead slowing up. Diana (driving) took an executive decision to move into the left hand lane. We came to a halt a bit before a junction, but then kept moving sufficiently to come off at the junction. Other traffic was doing the same, almost all of it keeping right to join the A38. The left lane was clear, so we took that, onto a narrow country lane that seemed to join on to the motorway by accident. The road curved back and under the M5, I mean right under it, was a wide, possibly unofficial, layby. We found we were right by the Bridgwater Canal, with a swing bridge just back along the road and thus a way on to the towpath and, possibly, a nice place to have our sandwiches.

We crossed the bridge and saw a built up mooring outside a pub, so we sat and dangled our feet over the water for our picnic. It would have been very noisy with motorway traffic, if the motorway traffic weren’t stationary.

We finished our sandwiches and went in to the pub for coffee. By this time, the traffic was beginning to move again, so after coffee (and use of the loos) we rejoined the M5 and were on our way. Taking it slow had paid off. The delay, it seemed, had been caused by cows, released from an overturned animal transporter.

The rest of our journey home was uneventful.

The following weekend, elder daughter Ellie came down to Cornwall, not staying with us but with friends at a holiday cottage in Tintagel. She had no problems on the M5 coming down, but on her way home was much delayed on the M5 near Bristol.

You just have to take life slower in the West Country, especially when trying to leave it.

Oriel Forty

It’s all Becque’s fault.

I had it all carefully planned, taking advantage of a happy coincidence of dates: Friday 5th September, the Orieladelphians 40th dinner in Oriel, and Thursday 4th September a community energy conference in Oxford Town Hall. One return trip, three nights B&B in Oriel, sorted.

The community energy conference was PoweringUP, organised jointly by OxFutures, an Oxford based community energy group and DECC, the Department of Energy & Climate Change. It even had an address by the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Edward Davey MP. (That’s enough copying from the agenda – Ed.)

When I spotted that the event was on only the day before the Orieladelphians, it seemed obvious that I should volunteer to go as WREN’s representative, so I booked places at the conference and the awards ceremony following it. (See April 17th blog for more about WREN, or go to the website here – but do come back again.) I also bought my rail ticket, opting for a standard return with flexible trains. That’s flexible trains as in you can choose which one to go on at the time. Most trains are flexible enough to go round bends. This was indeed fortunate, as mere days later I received a doom-laded missive from Stephen, this year’s Orieladelphian president. Young master Becque had booked a holiday in August, carefully avoiding the dinner. Then he changed the date of the holiday, or allowed it to be changed, so that it carefully did not avoid the dinner.

The first reaction – “You’d better book a plane ticket home quickly, before it gets even more expensive” – was replaced by a can-do change to the date. Oriel could do it a week later, could we? It happened that we all could, so we did.

So I came up for the conference and had an enjoyable Thursday talking community energy with representatives of other groups, local authorities and commercial enterprises working in the field. It was the first time I had been in Oxford Town Hall, and hadn’t realised just how big it it is and how splendidly Victorian the main hall. There were some interesting people, so I handed out business cards and got a few back and we ended up in the bar of the St Aldates Tavern sometime around 8 o’clock, where I am sure the talk became even more interesting, if I could only remember it.

My travel plans the following week firmed up when we booked an appointment with a solicitor in Taunton to discuss a legal matter (as you might imagine) and were joined there by number one daughter Ellie, who lives in Oxford, as older readers might remember. So I went home with her on Thursday, had dinner in Atomic Pizza surrounded by old comic book covers (“got that one, and that one, and that one…” to the point of exasperation) and wandered into Oxford centre on the bus next morning.

I arrived at Oriel at about 10 o’clock, expecting to be told that it was too early to check in, and was not disappointed. They would allow me, though, to leave my suitcase in the Lodge. While I was locking it, a woman came in to say that the rooms were all done and ready. “It seems you can check in,” said the porter, so I did. The room overlooked the building site that third quad has become in the latter stages of the refurbishment of the Rhodes Building. The main activity seemed to be digging trenches, though I use the term ‘activity’ advisedly.

On Ellie’s recommendation, I went to the Story Museum on Pembroke Street, which had an exhibition of photographs of authors dressed as a character from their favourite children’s book. The photographs were placed in a setting from the book. So we had Terry Pratchett as (Just) William Brown in the Outlaws’ meeting shed, Michael Rosen as Till Eulenspiegel in a trick location, Benjamin Zephaniah as Anansi the Spider hanging from the ceiling, Frances Hardinge as the Scarlett Pimpernel hidden in a cupboard and so on. You could only see the Borrowers down a microscope and the scene from Narnia was entered through a wardrobe, of course with hanging fur coats. It cost a slightly eye-watering £7.50 to get in, but was a lot of fun. An attendant said that they had had more groups of adults than children.

After lunch at the Bear (an enormously thick sandwich plus salad) (plus a pint) I pottered around a bit, ending up in Blackwell’s, where I found some books for Diana, including Stanza Stones by Simon Armitage (See Culture, 17th September 2013) which contains not only the poems but the story behind them. And lots of photos of Yorkshire.

At seven o’clock, Orieladelphians gathered in the second quad, outside the Senior Common Room. Guests this time comprised Hazel, wife of the former Provost Ernest who sadly died earlier this year, and Syd, a former SCR butler who butled for us at dinners many years ago. Syd (and we) had been concerned that he wouldn’t make it due to ill health, but he was standing there with two sticks, accompanied by his daughter Marina.

The Menu - mostly accurate

The Menu – mostly accurate

The dinner table was laid for our absent friends as well as the nine still-existent chaps. Stephen had done a deal to get SCR wines rather than the Conference ones initially offered, and wisely allowed head butler Asefay to choose them to match the courses. The dinner was excellent, and we will pass over the matter of the Half-Baked Alaska with hardly a mention.

We adjourned to the small SCR for further port and brandy, all except Thomas who adjourned to the small SCR for non-alcoholic beverages. The change of date meant that he had to travel home that night, rather than stay over. He was not downcast, however. As he explained, the change had meant that he could spend the previous Saturday sailing in glorious weather.

After Thomas left, the rest of us got stuck into the port and brandy some more, before leaving for bed at some time after 2.30. Though in fact Ranulph and Ashley stayed up even longer talking. We assembled, most of us, for breakfast in hall (though not Ashley, nor Stephen), and after checking out, moved on to Brown’s cafe in the covered market, for further coffee and tea and in some instances, food.

A few days later, I got an email from Ashley: “Very probably linked to the [inability to get up for breakfast] is the realisation that the residual functioning neurone charged with the task of remembering the provisional date for next year’s dinner has perished. Steve and I think Friday 11 September 2015 … was agreed.” Actually, he was right, because I had managed to get it into my phone calendar and could look it up. Whether my neurones would have been up to the task otherwise, I am less sure.

There Will Be Blood

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.

IMG_0602The 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.

Music, feasting and revelry

Tris had been quite keen to come to this year’s Orieladelphians Friends and Family dinner, but decided (sensibly) that with Important Exams imminent (like, starting the following Wednesday) she didn’t want to interrupt her routine with late night carousing in the Oriel SCR. So, like last year, the Smith contingent comprised me, Diana and Eleanor… Williams.

Diana was already in Oxford so I drove up by myself. The M25, according to the Traffic England website, was congested and had had traffic crawling along for practically the whole day, so I decided to go the alternative route via M4 and A34. This worked well until I reach the Oxford ring road. In fact it worked well round the ring road, until a couple of miles from Headington, when I ran into traffic whilst trying to get to the Thornhill park and ride. But I was in plenty of time and caught the bus, riding up top right at the front so as to peer down into people’s gardens on the way into town.

In Oriel Street, I ran into Patricia, Gaye and Malcolm, who were on their way to tea somewhere. I checked in at the Lodge, found our room (O’Brien Quad, 2 flights of stairs) and arranged to meet Diana at the end of Catte Street by the High. While waiting there, I saw Ashley and Rosie walk by on the other side of the High, but my call went unheard. Diana arrived and we met Ranulph and Thomas, who had been looking at clocks and were by now hurrying to avoid their teas/coffees getting cold.

We changed into party frocks and DJs (who wore what is left as an exercise for the reader) and ambled through to Third Quad and the Music Room for champagne and entertainment. People assembled quite rapidly, a smaller group this year than last, with the sadly unavoidable absence of Edward (see posting of 1st April) and the arbitrary absence of a few friends and family. Beverley was displaying a ring covered in about a month’s output from Kimberley. Neil had proposed and they are to be married later this year. Good news – and I was exaggerating about the “month’s output”. (Or I think I was. Actually, I have no idea what a month’s output from Kimberley looks like.)

Thomas (clarinet) and Malcolm (piano) played a duet. Eleanor arrived at the same time as John (Paul’s friend), waiting for the pause in the music to come in. Thomas and Malcolm played some more and Gaye sang. When they finished, Ranulph disappeared to bring in surprise flowers for Gaye and bottles of champagne for Thomas and Malcolm, only for the call for an encore – the hardy perennial ‘Suite from The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ by Paul Reade – to interrupt his plans. They still got their flowers and champagne, but it wasn’t quite such a surprise.

Diana was perturbed to discover from the programme that the first piece was “for Clarinet and Piano (or Harp)” and the fourth by a 19th century harpist written for “harp and piano duets” with a piano/clarinet version as played here. Was Thomas trying to drop a hint that she should bring her harp to the next dinner?

There was time for more champagne afterwards, one bottle of which turned out to have a nasty taste, and then we went across to the SCR for dinner. Ranulph had chosen an interesting and tasty menu: asparagus spears and quail egg, champagne sorbet, sea bass, the essential meat course – fillet of beef – at its centre (does anyone recall that time we had a large piece of fish instead of meat at an Orieladelphians dinner? No, of course not) and finishing with a blueberry compote. We had the by-now-traditional “men move on after every course” and for this purpose, due to the imbalance of men and women and where he happened to have chosen to sit, Thomas was elected honorary woman. Which he seemed to enjoy.

In the small SCR, to which we moved after dinner, there seemed only spirits to drink, which may account for a lot of things…


Orieladelphians, friends and family in Small SCR (note imperceptible insertion of the author into this picture)

Round midnight, that old jazz classic, Eleanor and Diana took their leave. We escorted Diana back to the O’Brien Quad (the geography of the underpass can be a bit confusing – and, no, it wasn’t the drink: Diana is off booze and has been for a while) and then tried to find an exit from the college for Ellie, but neither of the side gates opened on my key fob (which they had done earlier in the day) and we had to go the long way round via the Lodge. This I blame for Ellie’s missing her bus by seconds and having to get a taxi instead. She texted later to say she was home okay.

I returned to the small SCR and the brandy, until Beverley recommended the bourbon. Conversation was vociferous and vivid – so vivid, in fact, that it obliterated neurons on its way through my brain and I remember nothing of it. Every time, it seems, something gets in the way of my remembering the conversation at Orieladelphian dinners and it is always something different. Inexplicable.

At around three o’clock, things seemed to be winding down and I left for my bed. Imagine my surprise, at breakfast, to discover that things had not, in fact, wound down until much later. There was activity up to at least five thirty, and fallings over, and blood. It seems that I had missed most of the excitement, and trained blog journo that I am, I totally failed to ask any penetrating follow-up questions. This will remain forever an undocumented mystery, though if anyone wants to contribute eye-witness accounts, they are naturally free to add comments to this blog…

The real surprise of course was that, after all this, anyone had made it to breakfast!

Edward Green

I was all set to knock out one of my usual trivial pieces, this time about going on the beach barefoot yesterday (after all, it couldn’t be that cold. Yes, it could) when I got an email from Neil with the sad news that one of our fellow Orieladelphians, Edward, had died suddenly on 22nd March. He’d not long reached 60, which is no age to be dying.

We’re not sure what the cause was – Neil guessed heart attack, which is as good a guess as any at the moment. Immediate reactions from other on-line members included “bloody hell!”, “dreadful shock”, “dismayed”. Diana, when I told her, said she’d miss his conversation at the annual Friends & Family dinner. The next one of those is in less than two weeks, so I imagine it will be a bit subdued – although I’m less sure that Edward would want that.

Edward and I were assigned to share rooms in our first year at Oriel in 1971 and we’ve been friends ever since, despite his becoming a monk of the Order of St. Benedict and my veering away from the C of E to become an atheist.

I shall miss him, too.

Where’s the boathouse?

For various reasons, Diana and I found ourselves wandering around Oxford a couple of weeks ago. We parked at Thornhill Park and Ride on the eastern edge of the city, finding a space even though there had been a sign saying that the car park was full and we should go round the ring road to the northern Park and Ride. We got off the bus in the High and immediately looked for coffee. We bypassed the High Street coffee shops and went to Brown’s in the covered market. I have fond memories of Brown’s, since that is where we used to go for breakfast after Orieladelphian dinners, in the days before we were allowed to stay in college for it. It did an immensely good greasy fry-up, just the thing for a hangover. It also allowed a ten o’clock breakfast, instead of an 8.30 one, just the thing for a hangover. Brown’s is still doing fry-ups, but it was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, so a cup of filter coffee for a reasonable price was just right.

We went from the market to the Broad, looking for the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, and found it next door to the Sheldonian Theatre and opposite Blackwell’s book shop. It’s not a big museum, but does pack a lot in. There are globes and stellar globes, astrolabes, quadrants and all manner of delicate brass astronomical apparatus from unfeasibly early periods. There are clocks, early experiments on electricity and radio and some slide rules from the 17th and 18th centuries. I had used a slide rule at school and university (in the days before electronic calculators, my dear children) and had always assumed it was a relatively recent invention to avoid the use of log tables. I had always assumed wrong.

We had lunch at the restaurant in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and then went for a walk through Christchurch Meadow, where we discovered that the price for entry into Christchurch College, through the Meadow Gate, was exorbitant. As a good Oriel man, whose idea of entry into Christchurch was a post-Bump Supper mass rampage in black tie, I was not going to pay. We walked down to the river (Isis in Oxford, Thames everywhere else) and along the river to a footbridge, which led to the college boathouses. This was the first time in several decades that I had been to this part of Oxford. When I was an undergraduate, and even for a year or two afterwards, the boathouses were the destination of a twice a year pilgrimage to watch the inter-collegiate rowing, known as Torpids and Eights. Oriel was a mighty rowing power. We went head of the river at Torpids in 1972 and held that position until I went down and beyond. The boathouses, at those times, thronged with spectators. It could take half an hour to fight your way up the stairs to the bar to buy a pint, and by the time you’d got back down to the riverside, you’d have drunk it and needed to go back for another. (That was the reason that one year I had to walk away with a pint glass; I just couldn’t get back up the stairs to return it.)

The thing was, returning after so long, I couldn’t remember which precisely the Oriel boathouse was. At first, it looked promising; there were college crests on the first half dozen boathouses, so I walked along looking for Oriel’s, but couldn’t see it. We got to the end boathouse and turned back. I was still looking, in case I’d missed it first time, but I hadn’t. Was it really one of the scruffy-looking ones without a crest?

We walked on round the Meadow, alongside the river Cherwell, with a clear view of Diana’s college, St Hilda’s. We emerged onto the High by the Botanical Gardens and stopped off at the Oxford Rendezvous for afternoon tea, tempted by the array of cakes in the window. From there, we crossed the centre of town to the Ashmolean museum and got lost looking for the modern art. And lost again, later, looking for the exit. And then we went home.

Friends and Family

Orieladelphians Dinner Friday 13th April 2012

The influence that this blog has! Last year, when writing about the Orieladelphians ‘Friends and Family’ dinner and the recital in the music room that preceded it, I remarked that I could never remember what the music was, despite Thomas’ excellent introductions. This provoked a storm of protest – well, one slightly aggrieved email from Thomas, saying I only had to ask. But there was more. For this year’s pre-dinner recital, there was an entire programme, with notes on each piece, and the words of the songs. So that tree you saw being cut down to make paper – that was my fault.

Music Programme Notes

The ‘usual’ piece was not part of the programme, but was demanded, and played, as an encore. Since it wasn’t listed, I still can’t remember… Just joking, Thomas, put down that bazooka: ‘Suite from The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ by Paul Reade.

Also after last year’s blog, elder daughter Eleanor said that if younger daughter Tris didn’t want to come, she would like to. So this year, she did. Her husband Joe would also have been welcome, but since he is an anti-vegetarian, a large proportion of the food at formal dinners is off limits and he generally doesn’t think it worthwhile.

There were 23 people, the largest number we have had, beating by one the 22 who came to the Music Room inauguration dinner. Any larger and we will be in danger of exceeding the capacity of the Senior Common Room to accommodate us, and then where would we be? Last year, by coincidence, there were equal numbers of men and women. This year, men exceeded women – in number, that is, I make no other claims – making it harder to work out who should move places between courses, and how far. But not impossible. We discovered a workable solution involving the esoteric concept of the “bloke-space”, i.e. all the blokes stand up and move to the next chair vacated by another bloke standing.

There were more young people this year, too. Not only Eleanor, but also Thomas’ daughter Elizabeth, Ranulph’s niece Alicia and neighbour Kevin, and Edward’s guest David. The food was good, including ham, rabbit, hake, cranberry, venison, star anise, rum, shortbread and cheese (to pick words not quite at random from the menu). The drink was good, too: champagne in the music room, white wine, red wine, deshert wine, port, bran- bran- brandy, more por, fall over. But not before escorting Eleanor to the taxi rank at Carfax. No, I didn’t actually fall over. I pace myself better these days. Thanks, Ranulph, for once again organising the event.

We were the only group in breakfast, apart from a couple of people who quite soon left us in splendid isolation. A fried breakfast is necessary after a dinner like that. It was a pity that the conveyor belt on the toaster ran a little fast. Once through left the bread warm and floppy. Twice through and you had a large biscuit with decorative black edges.

After vacating our room and handing in the keys, Diana and I wandered through Oxford to the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers. We were due at Eleanor’s for lunch, but had strict (and understandable) instructions not to arrive before 11.00, so killed time in a serious educational and instructional manner. It was actually a Smith family gathering at Eleanor’s, with my mother, sister and sister-in-law visiting from Bromyard to see her new house (reaction: favourable). They arrived just after we did, with impeccable timing, exactly as mugs of tea were emerging from the kitchen.

Lunch was very pleasant. Ellie had a Mexican theme with fajitas followed by apple strudel – well, half a Mexican theme. Half an Austrian. By this time, I was starting to worry about my waist-band, but not very much. The food tasted too good. We all left about mid-afternoon and headed for home.

I’m not sure I recall what we had for supper that evening – something slight and unmemorable.

Bloody Good Dinner

Original post: Friday, 30th September 2011

There are troubling signs that this blog is evolving into being all about dinners and lunches – six of the last twelve postings [if you care to go back and look at the archive on my old site]. Well, you can’t fight evolution – here’s number seven out of thirteen.

It was the Orieladelphians 37th annual dinner on 2nd September, a Friday, as they all are. Christopher was the President. He had contacted me a few weeks earlier, in my self-appointed capacity as keeper of the archives (or to put it another way, as Steve of course did, “Kevin, you ought to get out more”) to check what the menus had been over the last couple of years, so as not to repeat them. This shows admirable conscientiousness, paying attention to the details that no one actually notices. No one remembers what we eat from one year to the next. Even I have to look it up, on the menu cards I purloin (no longer surreptitiously, since everyone now knows I do it) from the table each year.

I have objective proof of this. One year we had exactly the same food as the year before and no one realised. I only spotted it some time afterwards when I was filing the menu card. And no one cared. “Bloody good dinner!” we all said, both times. The only dinner that we all remember, that we never let Neil forget, is the one where he decided to have a large and splendid piece of fish, but no meat course. The dawning horrified realisation that after the fish knives and forks at the place settings were only pudding and cheese implements, swiftly followed by the production of the actual pudding, rather than something meaty, made an indelible impression on all present. Though it is the absence of the meat that is remembered, not the food that we ate. There is even some debate about the fish itself – turbot? halibut? No one has tried anything that experimental again.

There is a sameness about the annual dinners that is reassuring. The same ten people turn up, and they are largely each the same people as they were the year before, changing gradually as many years pass. There are five regular guests who join us for the pre-dinner drinks. Weather permitting, we all meet on Second Quad lawn outside the SCR. This year we were standing right behind a notice saying something to the effect of: “Do not go on the grass.” Ha! That notice is not for us! We stood right there on the green stuff.

Last year, Neil caused a stir by wearing a white jacket (see archive blog entry  for 10th September 2010 “OOGs”). This year I took my own white jacket as well as the black, and since the day was hot and summery, in contrast to the week, indeed weeks, preceding it, I decided to wear it, with barely a comment at all. As we stood on the grass with our champagne, word filtered through that Judge Neil would be late. He was on the M1 somewhere North of Nottingham, stuck in traffic. He arrived at around 9 o’clock with some excuse about having been given the wrong case to try, the four day case rather than the three day case, meaning he couldn’t leave Durham until late. Anyway, the staff had saved him most of the meal and he worked his way through it while we drank port.

In the course of dinner, it emerged that long-missing original member, John Chettoe, is still alive. The linguists of our year, of whom Christopher was one, decided at the Gaudy to have a reunion themselves and tracked down the aforementioned Chettoe. He came to the first few of our dinners, then declined one, then stopped responding to our invitations. So we stopped trying and ejected him from membership. Occasional stories would surface. He had joined GCHQ. He was a spy. He had been abducted by the Soviets. He had gone over to the Soviets. It turns out that he had joined GCHQ, but as for the rest, probably not. (Unless – perhaps joining GCHQ was just a cover story…)

We adjourned to the Small SCR, snaffling the remaining port and bottled water to go with the coffee and brandy and whatever else was in there. Several people got very pissed. At the end, it was just Neil and I and we discovered it was about 3 a.m. I hadn’t pulled that late a night at the Orieladelphians for twenty-five years or more!

We both made it into breakfast, though. And it was a bloody good dinner.