We have had a complicated and strenuous few days. The Greatest Living Shakespearean had announced his intention of joining us on Saturday, which caused a good deal of domestic anxiety, since as yet we do not have an extension and therefore, still have no central heating, and he suffers from the cold. Friday’s entertainments included buying an electric blanket, not too easy at this time of year. However, about three hours before he arrived on Saturday, the weather turned warm and sunny, and the sun continued to beam down till about an hour before his departure, so there hasn’t been a problem. We felt on the whole this was a waste of a good allegory, but since the weekend’s other problems included the writing of a formal poem for a university occasion, we also felt we were allegoried out for the time being. On Monday, however, we were required for a graduation ceremony, so we had to climb into good clothes and go to work. The University takes these rather seriously, as it should. This being Scotland, the pre-ceremony hanging about is enlivened by a piper, and impromptu outbreaks of dancing on the lawn among the under ten community. We meanwhile go off and get into our ceremonial kit, which is quite a thing. Apart from academic robes in many colours unknown to nature, the sacrists are in gold-laced frock coats with tricornes, and carry the university maces at the front of the procession, and on this occasion, we also had the Provost, the Sherriff and other local dignitaries: the Provost and other City dignitaries have red broadcloth robes with brown fur tippets, which must have seemed like a jolly good idea at many a cold Council meeting in the seventeenth century, but must’ve been something beyond a joke on Monday since it was one of the warmest days of the year. The Sherriff, who rose to the dignity of a full bottomed wig and black-laced frock coat (the different centuries in which these ceremonial garments became fossilized has a certain interest of its own), was accompanied by another macebearer in a scarlet tailcoat, who looked very splendid indeed. Once the Chancellor had been got into his ceremonial garments (bands of gold lace on black ribbed silk) we set off in procession behind the sacrists, and make a grand formal entrance. The actual process of graduation has a slightly agricultural flavour, not unlike dipping sheep. The students flounder gawkily up a flight of steps, one at a time, and when they get to the top a sacrist seizes them, puts them in front of the Chancellor, who bops them on the head with a ceremonial cap, deftly invests them with an appropriate academic hood, and with a firm though not unkindly push, sends them clattering, beaming, off down another flight of stairs and back to their seats. When we all made it back out again, there was the usual merry scene on the lawn: the mums and grans contingent looking like a mixed flowerbed, a variety of highly implausible tartans (there must be some reason why individuals from the subcontinent who feel impelled to don the kilt choose to come out in purple but I can’t think what it might be), and, due to the vagaries of current fashion, a strong impression that a significant proportion of the sisters-and-girlfriends had inadvertently forgotten to put a skirt on. When we finally made it back to the country to cook dinner for the Greatest Living Shakespearean, we discovered that someone had turned up and poured the concrete floor for the new extension so at last there is progress. And amazing to state, the Rough Cats refrained from the traditional jape of running through it before it set, so it hasn’t even got dear little pawprints on it.

4 Responses to “Gaudeamus”

  1. The Other German guest Says:

    So many things I love about this post, the colors, the clothes, the tradition. Most of all I think the Greatest Living Shakespearean which I hadn’t heard of before.

  2. Jane Says:

    The G.L.S. appears most summers, though sometimes we meet elsewhere. We’ve known each other for about fifteen years (author of, e.g., The Illusion of Power, Impersonations).

  3. the northern gentleman Says:

    The ‘dresses’ were, as you seem to suggest, microscopic this year.

  4. Jane Says:

    Yes, indeed: what I would on the whole call tunics. Plus six inch heels. I’m not convinced that this is a good look on anyone, even a supermodel.

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