Pudding Is Not Dessert

So, with classes over, I'm on a trip to England, and am in Oxford now, staying in style in a guest room at a college, that, for the sake of anonymity, I will call only "the Latin for the thing the piece of bread turns into after the priest mumbles incantations over it." On second thought, that's a bit unwieldy, so let's just say the College-that-shall-not-be-named. I'm here doing research, but thanks to the good graces of a colleague I am staying in his college and, after doing a talk in the department last night, was treated to dinner in style with the President and Fellows of the College-that-shall-not-be-named last night.

The only reason we were not required to dine in full academic regalia (well, gowns) was that the Hall (designed, I am told, by the same chap who did Hampton Court) was in use by Undergraduates Celebrating the End of Term, so instead we ate in some sort of "senior common room" rooms, a multi-course dinner that included a duck course, a fish course, a lamb course, and a pudding course. (My vegetarian stomach managed for the sake of politeness to get down some duck, but could not handle the rack of lamb, and so I contented myself with vegetables, which fortunately--contrary to what they say about England--were available in abundance.) We also had silver flagons of water that, in a reversal of the usual joke, it took me a while to understand were for drinking and not for finger-washing.

Two different seating arrangements were posted in advance, one for dinner and one for dessert. (Goatdog would call it a mixer. In fact, it did require me to mix quite extensively with a retired lawyer and her husband, a materials scientist. This gave me the opportunity to declare that Great Britain giving a billion--or whatever--pounds to the European Union was not as bad as giving them to Halliburton. I wonder if one is expected to abstain from political discussions in such settings?)

So when the Baked Alaska came and we still hadn't moved, I asked whether the second seating arrangement had been dispensed with. Oh no, I was told, this isn't dessert, it's pudding! So we retired to the common room to wait for the table to be re-set in the new arrangement. When we returned there was fruit, there were chocolates, and there were four glasses set at every place: one for water, one for claret, one for port and one for Sauternes.

The penchant for alcohol is not reserved for the dons; the Undergraduates Celebrating the End of Term, when they finally had to leave the Hall, turned up on the roof outside my window at 2:30 in the morning.

So I then overslept my alarm and woke only an hour before I had to get to a meeting to look at the archival materials that are the subject of my trip. I manage to get there on time, and had a productive day, more productive than I could really have imagined. So that's good. I managed to find wireless access and got some other details taken care of, including responding to a student who asked to switch to Pass/Fail in my class unless I could guarantee her an A or A-. Sigh.

Oxford at Christmastime (or almost) is a consumer paradise--not exactly what I expected. I can't help noticing that the nice pedestrian streets with all the fancy shops are fully equipped with anti-homeless benches that make it impossible for anyone to sleep on them.

The cafe I'm in is closing, so this is all for this dispatch.


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