Last Wednesday just when I was about to finish work, my mate Goldie invited Ian and I to formal hall at Queen’s College, because some other people had pulled out at the last minute (may good karma go to you people whomever you are, thanks for the tickets).
I was slaving away at my publishing job and a lush Cambridge formal hall was just what I felt like. I rode like the wind over to Queen’s and we sat down to a great meal in Queen’s Old Hall – one of the most gorgeous halls I’ve seen yet. I’ve been to a few formal halls now but clearly I have a lot to learn, because about five minutes into the three course meal I got pennyed. Wikipedia can give you the details but essentially it meant I had to scull the whole glass of wine. Luckily it was a very small glass, because I was then subjected to a pennying attack. People were very generous with their wine, which I appreciate – but as soon as it was refilled I was pennyed again. I tried in vain to protect my glass, covering it with my hand and even the butter dish, but as soon as I took a sip and forgot about it – plop, I was hit again.
Needless to say, it was very funny for everyone else but I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dessert, or much else between about 8 and 10.
Even though it was a weeknight and I’m beavering away in an office again during the day, in my post-pennied state when Goldie suggested we all go punting in the dark I thought it was a brilliant idea. So Ian and I dashed down the Spar and grabbed some beers, and a bunch of us punted along the Cam in the still dark. It was stunning. Cambridge was quiet, apart from Goldie’s drunken singing and our occasional laughter.
The water slapped gently on the side of the boat as we passed ancient colleges, dim apart from the odd lit stained-glass window. The occasional white swan passed like a ghost. We snaked through the dark green gardens, eerily empty. Quayside, normally busy with spruiking punt workers and tourists milling about, was silent, the boardwalk lit like an empty stage.
It’s a Cambridge I’ve never experienced before, which I won’t forget.
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