Thursday 2 June 2022

Town, Gown and the Rolling Hills

I have had a request to write more about our adventures in May, and so I shall travel back in time to the Order of Malta Ball, before which (as I have written below) we bought Gin-and-Tonics. 

We drank these Gin-and-Tonics in Edinburgh's New Club, to which we had been invited, and the bar was filled with beautiful young things in their gorgeous dresses, or their tailcoats, or their dinner jackets, or their Prince Charlie jackets and sporrans. The Ball was White Tie Optional, I had been given to understand, so I wore white gloves to go with my white gown and my rhinestone headband-tiara. Sadly, I was the only woman in gloves, and friends who saw the photos on Facebook said I looked like the Queen. The Queen is 96, but that's not what they meant. (I hope.)

Our host and hostess arranged for cabs to come to the New Club and whisk us away to the Sheraton Hotel, site of the Malta Ball, but Benedict Ambrose and I had already paid £25 or more to a cabbie to avoid the Rough Bus, so we legged it down Rose Street instead. B.A. was in full Highland rig-out, which met the approval of a tipsy member of the clan drinking on a patio. 

"Up the MacLeans!" he cried. 

Now that I think about it, I too was in full Highland rig-out, as the "national" Highland dancing costume is a white dress, and I was wearing a MacLean sash to go with B.A.'s kilt. At any rate, we were not out of place at the Ball, for many men opted for kilts or tartan trews instead of black trousers and a few women wore tartan sashes. 

The event began with trays of champagne and standing around talking and looking at other peoples' clothes. The Archbishop may have been wearing a ferraiolone--whatever it was, it looked more on the red than the purple side of shades--but I didn't want to stare. Instead I concentrated on not looking as drunk as I felt, our New Club Gin-and-Tonics having been so swiftly followed by Sheraton Hotel champagne. 

Happily for us, we knew a lot of people there, and we were introduced to some of the Bright Young Things who came up from London for the event, although not to the one that bid thousands of pounds on a week's holiday at a lavish beach house in Gozo. I would have liked to have met the BYT in the smart green dress that covered her from neck to toes from the front but exposed the long rectangle of her back. She was very stylish.

Yes, so the Archbishop made a short speech (I think he was the one who spoke about Lebanon, which was one of the beneficiaries of this Ball) and said grace, and then we ate a three course meal, which was good for a hotel banquet, I thought, and during the meal there was the silent auction. I enjoyed this because it involved electronic tablets and large screens on which people's names popped up when they bid on something. I bid on the case of wine our lawyer had donated but lost in the end to someone who is now £190 poorer than he might have been. 

The live auction, which involved week's holidays at this or that dream location (Skye, London, Rome, Gozo), was much too rich for my blood.

After dinner and the auctions there was dancing, but as I had no time to go to the dancing workshop laid on that morning, I preferred to sit at the table and look at the young folk enjoying themselves, like the women over 30 in Georgette Heyer novels. Benedict Ambrose did dance, though, including with pretty BYT up from London. The dancing was mostly of the Scottish variety, but the band also played jazz, which was nice for the swing-dancers. 

We left shortly before the Ball ended and took a cab to---well, the bank machine nearest our house because the cabbie wouldn't take cards and, as I feared, there were feral youths roaming the streets. However, they didn't get us, and all's well that ends well. 

So much for Town. By Gown I mean Cambridge University, where one of my old college chums is now doing her PhD. She lives in a town a short distance from pricey old Cantabrigia, and it was to her town s where I went by train for an extended Victoria Day weekend. My friend has her thesis to write, and I have my Polish to study, so we chatted at meals and on long walks around her town and around glamorous Cambridge where--as I never stop telling people--I lived for a year as a small child. 

The weather was good, we went to Cambridge for Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs (Novus Ordo in Latin, and very startling that was in spots), and we went to "Butch Annie's" for hamburgers.This last strongly reminded us of Toronto. The colleges and chapels and the Fitzwilliam Museum looked roughly the same as they always do--wonderful--although happily last year's reproductions of famous paintings wearing COVID masks are gone. 

What else? We walked dogs, went to restaurants, spoke to her neighbours and went to Anglican Evensong one evening at Ely Cathedral. We talked about the ethics and pitfalls of translation and about her ideal wedding. She lives in a delightful little 18th century semi-detached yellow brick house and plants a profusion of roses in the back garden. The garden backs onto a park and the whole neighbourhood is clamorous with song birds. 

The next weekend, the last weekend in May, B.A. and I went to see friends in Fife. They live in a big 18th farmhouse with 19th century additions and extensive paddocks and gardens and hens and a rooster and pigs. The hills roll all around them; the views are sublime. On Saturday night the entire family and all three of their guests got on their knees and prayed the Rosary together before bed. At all meals, it seemed, the three youngest spoke with great vigour and expertise about liturgical music. Really, it's a sort of Trad Catholic Rivendell, and the next time there is a National Emergency, we will hot foot it there. 

Update: We have bought all our plane tickets for Poland, so B.A. will definitely be spending my last week there with me, and I'm extremely delighted. 

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