My sister is tremendously intelligent- so tremendously intelligent in fact that last Friday she graduated from Cambridge University. So in order to help her celebrate, I set off for Cambridge on the sleeper on Thursday night to attend the ceremony. I never miss the opportunity to drink Prosecco while gawping at fat people in their poshest frocks and students dressed like batman with a furry collar.
My first time on a sleeper train in Britain. I was hoping that someone would be murdered and it could all be solved with the help of a moustachioed Belgian detective, but alas, we arrived in London, I merrily skipped down the road to Kings Cross to get on a train to Cambridge. I’ve been to Cambridge on various occasions before (obviously, because my sister lives there) and drawn pictures there, so if you want to know what it looks like go here: http://jamesalbon.com/2012/10/04/the-deep-south/
Otherwise, here are some people:
We got there, and after recovering from an overnight train, we joined the throng. All the families mill around in a sort of awkward mass, waiting for their offspring to appear. There are those who’ve put in too much effort, including this woman who wore one of those hats that people wear for the Queen’s Garden Party.
There are also people who have made a bizarrely small amount of effort, like this fellow who’d managed to clamber into a suit but was still wearing sneakers.
Perhaps he was letting his hair do the talking. Or his beard. My whole family are Cambridge academics, and the thing I’ve learnt with time is that when Cambridge academics are seen at their incredibly time-hallowed ceremonies they dress like they’re best mates with the Pope, but when they’re doing any actual work or relaxing or anything, they dress like Bill Bryson with a hangover. So that guy, despite the suit-and-sneakers and beard and mad paisley tie, could well have been head of the astrophysics department.
This guy wins though. Moustache, blazer, handkerchief in pocket. That’s what I want to be in about thirty years.
After about half an hour of awkward mingling, the students marched out and were arranged on a rostrum in the rain to have an official photograph taken. Then there was more mingling, and some lunch. I must say that I’m a tremendous fan of big capes and fur collars, and secretly hope they come back into fashion. I have dreams of starting a trend of capes, tights, ruffs and codpieces so as to create a part-graduation, part-Shakespearian-comedy, part-Clockwork Orange sartorial dystopia.
A special mention also has to go to the college porter, who leads the students on their merry way from their college to the Senate, where they graduate. He looks like a Dickensian villain.
So just before the students, we all trooped up to the Senate where the ceremony is held. Again, more students, and also senior staff, who wear a different sort of hat and a different sort of cape, so as to look more like they belong in 15th century Venice.
And then the actual ceremony, which is fairly mad but also fairly quick so I didn’t draw the whole process (my own ceremony in Edinburgh was a gold-leafed school assembly that lasted for three hours or so, this one was much quicker). Basically, this one involved a lot of bowing, a lot of doffing of mortarboards, and a throne.
What happens is that one teacher, in a black robe, stands in front of the phalanx of students waiting at the end of the hall. He extends his hand, palm down, and four students come forward. Each one grabs holds onto a finger while he announces them to a man in a red robe on said throne. And then, one by one, the students go forward, kneel before the chap in red, and he clasps their hands and congratulates them on their successes. It looks like this:
The big one sitting down is the one in red, but I had no colour with me. After this, the students scamper away through the back door where they’re given a certificate, a pat on the back and complimentary goody bag with an inscribed fountain pen, a copy of the alumni magazine, a trophy for heavyweight academia and a packet of smarties. Actually I’m not sure that’s true but then again I didn’t go through the secret door.
There’s one real clincher about the ceremony, though, which I forgot to mention. It was entirely in Latin. Laaaatin. I suppose it made the whole thing more like Renaissance Venice and made the costumes more acceptable- what a tradition! I wish I spoke Latin. I’m not sure the audience were so impressed though.
That was the reaction from the balcony. But still, I had fun. I’d graduate every week if I had the chance.
Afterwards we went for a big meal but I was too tired to draw anything. Well done again to Megan for graduating, and even better she’s going off to Cambridge, Massachusetts in a few weeks to start her postgrad year at Harvard. Like I said, tremendously intelligent. So after all that, my sister and I hopped into our little aeroplane and flew off into the sunset. No really, we did, it looked like this.