Papa Bouilloire: The Dinner

Through this august portal were we to pass for our dinner with the Don and the Dean of the Cathedral. That we did not end up in the gutter (bottom left) was a great mercy.
Through this august portal were we to pass for our dinner with the Don and the Dean of the Cathedral. That we did not end up in the gutter (bottom left) was a great mercy.

In which we at last eat our dinner!

With a feeling of dread and perspiration already darkening my under arms we set out for our great dinner. Would we be allowed to pass through the gates? What unexpected cutlery would we be required to use? How exactly did one address a Dean of the Cathedral? “Your Deanship?” “Your Cathedra”? I had of course seen asparagus tongs and marrow spoons in antique catalogues but did not know how to manipulate them. And what was the difference between a hock glass and an ordinary white wine glass? If any? The Horror! The Horror!

The Don, as charming and urbane as ever stood waiting at the iron gates and ushered us through after a quick conversation with a bowler hatted porter of extreme deference.

Just one of the many sitting rooms at Christchurch for the enjoyment of the Dons. Note the Assyrian antiquity on the wall.
Just one of the many sitting rooms at Christchurch for the enjoyment of the Dons. Note the Assyrian antiquity on the wall.

As we were but an intimate group of four, rather than dine in the great hall, The Don had arranged for the meal to be served in the private dining room where the table only seemed to sit about 20. Prior to dinner we went into another charming sitting room that screamed Queen Anne and were relieved to see a tray, covered in a variety of sparkling cut crystal decanters and filled with a wide array of dark amber fluids of which we were bid to help ourselves. My Esteemed Colleague (hereafter known as MEC) and I rapidly downed several glasses of excellent sherry to calm our nerves. I was delighted to find that the Bristol Cream was served in a shaft and globe decanter the exact match to the one we use at home and that the bottle labels were undoubtedly plate whereas ours are hallmarked. But I digress.

At this point the Dean entered and turned out to be a friendly and indulgent gentleman who remained tolerantly interested in our feeble attempts at conversation throughout the evening. He was responsible for all the choirs at Christchurch. MEC did his best to engage his musical interest, relating his favourite story of how he taught the child of one of the members of “Queen” at an exclusive school in London. In a desperate attempt to top this I related a story about a flaxen haired beauty that travelled about Perth with her own custom built harpsichord and who had played for us when my old choir performed “The Messiah” many years before. The Dean said something mildly sarcastic about summer schools, referred to Oxford as a theme park, and implied that the flaxen haired harpsichordist might have been one and the same as the hippy musician friend that MEC had referred to while demonstrating his talents as a raconteur.

Dinner was delicious and thankfully devoid of any problematic cutlery. The Don had kindly forwarded us the menu and each dish was a masterpiece. And well it should have been given that their chef was awarded a Michelin Star. He used to be the chef at Trinity but moved to Christchurch after the college offered him a charming cottage in the College grounds. The Don said that Trinity claimed that they had poached their chef, at which point I replied, “Not poached, coddled.” which I thought most epigrammatic of me.

A delicious salmon fillet was followed by a crème caramel that cleverly incorporated popping candy. I resisted the temptation all throughout dinner to turn over the salt cellar to look at the bottom and check for hallmarks and to steal any of the solid silver cutlery, which I thought showed great restraint.

After the discreet serving staff cleared the table The Don took us back into the sitting room where the “night tray” with new and exotic decanters had magically appeared and MEC and I drank some excellent port and madeira and The Don his usual glass of water (pure academia being intoxicating enough for his fine mind). The Dean bid us a polite and firm farewell and The Don insisted on walking us home.

Alas no photographs are extant to record this Belshazzar’s feast as I knew that it was probably a trifle crass to ask the Dean, “Would your Holiness mind just standing here behind the solid silver cruet for just a teensy moment? Say cheese? Thank you your Graciousness.”

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