17 December 2009

Tea with girls

A story existed, in the happy days when Oxford had Men's colleges and Women's colleges, of a group of women undergraduates gossiping at a hen-party - one girl from each of the women's colleges. In dashes another girl, with the news "I've just met a man!"

How each young lady replies reveals the alleged preoccupations which ruled in each of their colleges. The Somerville girl asks "What is he reading? Is he a Scholar?". The undegraduate from LMH: "Who's his father? Is he in the House of Lords?". The one from St Hugh's: "What does he play? Is he a Blue?" From St Hilda's - a practical lot of girls there- "Where is he?" But lastly, because she seems to lack the same sense of urgency as the rest of them, the St Anne's undergraduate drawls: "I've already had him to tea".

The time when you walked out to a women's college for Tea with a delightful frisson within you! [Sorry, bishop Trautmannnn, that sentence has no main verb. Neither does the next.] Not least because the ratio of women to men was 1:7 (according to rumour, at Cambridge it was 1:9, which is why most of the heterosexual males applied to Oxford.). From four o'clockish, if you were lucky, that could mean two and a half hours of gentle, tentative verbal interaction and exploration until you did a quick sprint back to your own college, splashed some water, dived into your gown, and hurried down to Hall for Dinner.

Not that you would then gossip with your friends about the pleasures of the afternoon. That would be a sconceable offence. "Williams, would you present my compliments to the Senior Scholar; and I desire to sconce Mr Smith for talking about a lady". The sconce, the silver quart tankard full of beer, would arrive*; either Mr Smith could drink it all in one draft (draught?), holding the tankard with only one hand, and then, if he kept it down, the man who had sconced him had the cost of the beer put on to his battels; or Smith could just drink some, and then pass it on for all to do likewise, and the cost went on to his own battels.
Whatever is Fr H driving at? Concludes tomorrow.

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*You could appeal to High Table against the Senior Scholar's verdict, but the written appeal had to be in Latin, and dons took their time replying.

3 comments:

Michael McDonough said...

Fr. H,

I love this post. Sounds like Oxford has prepared you well for any opposition from burocrats with designs on foiling the Personal Ordinariates.

Now, what if that first young lady had rushed in and cried "I just met a man named Maria!"*

*Song and lyric by Leonard Bernstein.

Gwig Loes said...

Latin sconce appeals -yes; and at my college you could appeal in Greek or Hebrew too. Once successfully did the latter. The Revd D.E.H.Whiteley (fellow and chaplain, fine Pauline scholar) was on the High Table that evening, and it worked. I've since discovered he was a staunch supporter of the Modern Churchmen's Union!

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Years before Ed Sanders, Whiteley got Paul on Justification right. Too often forgotten nowadays.