I read Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night at a tender age, maybe about twelve, long before I'd ever visited Oxford. I knew nothing, really, about the city or the university and I was rather baffled by a 'love story with detective interruptions' as it was described. I judge it more generously now, although it's definitely not my favourite Sayers. And now, at long last, I've attended a Gaudy of my own, for the very first time.
This was last Friday, when Balliol College (Lord Peter Wimsey's alma mater, as it happens) held a Gaudy for the matriculation years of 1972-76 - five years of students, almost half a century on. I suspected it might be my last chance to attend one of these infrequent events, so I decided to go. And I'm very glad I did.
It was a thought-provoking experience, to say the least. One of the challenges, of course, was to recognise the long-haired students who were now well-upholstered men in their sixties, often with little or no hair. And yes, they were all men: Balliol went mixed-sex just after I left, rather like my grammar school, so I missed out on a more rounded education twice! But happily, various wives and partners were in attendance.
I knew it was going to be a memorable occasion when, as I was checking in at the porter's lodge, a Geordie voice behind me urged the porter to instruct me not to have late night visitors in my room and not to play my Dionne Warwick records all night. This was Tony, a guy I'd not seen since 1977, other than to spot him one election night some years ago, as a defeated Green Party candidate. When I told him I'm still a devotee of Dionne, he said he'd expected no less. Chatting to Tony and his partner Sue was one of many highlights of a terrific day which began with refreshments in the Buttery, proceeded with tea with the Master and then a champagne reception, followed by a dinner in the Hall and a very late night having drinks with old friends in the Senior Common Room.
And you can be sure that I'm now wondering about a short story inspired by the occasion. Gaudy Midnight, perhaps?