We had a very quiet day, with most of the time being spent in washing and drying clothes. Our flat has a VERY small front loading washing machine and front loading dryer. Because of the size of the bin, you can only wash 3 pairs of pants or maybe 5 shirts at a time. The cycle takes almost an hour to run, so washing 4 days of clothes can take an entire day. We did go out to buy groceries and decided to visit Blackwell’s Book Shop as well. Blackwell’s is a very famous and very LARGE store and is such fun to walk through. The building is fairly small, but is continued on lots of levels. We spent most of our time in the basement area which was set up on about 4 or 5 different levels, however it was open so that you could look down into each of the levels below you. It was kind of like a square spiral. Michael bought a book about the Inklings….a group of writers that included J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.
We went to Merton Chapel at 5:45 for their Eucharist service. Once again, it was a very formal, but very worshipful service. When we first started walking across the street to the chapel, we heard the “calling bells” begin….they call worshipers to the service. When we walked into the Ante-chamber (foyer), there were two students ringing the bells. The Chaplain told me later that it was very unusual for church bells to have ropes coming all the way into the church building….normally you would have to climb into the bell tower to ring the bells. We took communion (Eucharist) and this was the first time that we had taken the wine from a communal cup. It was interesting and moving experience.
After the service (and wine afterwards), we joined the Merton College Warden for dinner at “High Table”. In the dining room, the high table is much like our head tables, however, it is literally higher than where the students eat. There were approximately 40 people seated at High Table. As we were going into the room for pre-dinner drinks, I was introduced to another American woman who was there with her husband. She said that she had eaten at High Table before and that “it was an ordeal!!”, and I must say, it was a very long night.
We started out in a room where drinks (white wine and orange juice) was served. After everyone arrived, we moved into the dining room. We were given a seating chart to figure out where we were sitting. I was between a Post-Doctoral Fellow named Simon and a Merton Fellow from Budapest named Bella. Fortunately, I was across the table from Linda (the American woman). Having said that, EVERYONE was very friendly and the table talk was really enjoyable.
When we sat down, there were 4 forks, 3 knives, 2 wine glasses and a water glass at each place. The salad and bread were already there as well and we were soon served white wine (in the smaller of the wine glasses). The salad was an interesting mix of salad-type vegies and was topped with slices of a meat that I couldn’t identify, but was very good. Afterwards, I found out that it was smoked duck!!
Second course was fried trout (organic, of course) served with lime and a caper sauce that tasted much like a tartar sauce. I am not much of a fish lover, but this was wonderful.
Third course was “Steak Rossine”which (I have just found on the internet) are beef tournedos served with a wine sauce and topped with truffles ( a fairly rare type of mushroom) ….we wondered what those frilly, black things on top were. The waiters then came by and served asparagus and minted small potatoes out of silver serving dishes. They would hold the dishes while we tried desperately not to make a mess while putting some of the vegetables on our plates. I would NOT have wanted their jobs. With the main course came the red wine. By the way, you had to stay alert or the waiters would continue to refill your wine glass again and again.
After the main course, we were served Apple Tart with Clotted Cream. Clotted cream (I have just learned), is made by heating high-fat cream to about 190 degrees and then allowing it to cool slowly. It was very thick, almost the consistency of yogurt, but was wonderful on top of the tart.
At this point, we took our napkins (very important) with us and retired to another room for dessert (as if Apple Tart weren’t enough!!). In this room, Linda and I were ushered to one end of a very long table to sit with the most senior Fellow present that night, and who was presiding at the head of the table. He was very friendly and patiently answered all of my questions about the way that the Oxford and Cambridge university systems work. They are quite different from the US, or even from the rest of Britain, as they work on a tutorial system. Students meet several times a week in a group with one other student and one teacher. They have a specific lesson that they are to have prepared and they do most of their learning in this venue. The University also provides larger lectures that are not required, but are highly recommended. Whether they pass or fail is determined by two exams that they take at the end of their 1st year and their final (3rd) year.
The food at the dessert table consisted of chocolates, nuts, and fruit of all kinds. And, of course, there was alcohol…..you could select from a white dessert wine, a rich red wine or Port. There were one of each of these bottles at each end of the table and they were passed clock-wise around the table. At one point, I allowed them to stack up next to me….not realizing that they MUST be passed. My host quickly fixed the problem. Apparently, the Port bottles can only go around the table one time, while the wine bottles can continue around until they are empty.
We then moved into yet another room to have coffee, tea and, you guessed it, more alcohol!!! Most people did not imbibe at this point, but there were various scotches and liqueurs available. I had the opportunity to talk with the Chaplain of Merton Chapel, and found out interesting facts about the church. He invited me to come at any time to take photographs, but encouraged me to come when the sun was shining through the stained glass!!
So, after a 3-1/2 hour dinner, we returned to our house across the street and fell into bed. It was a very enjoyable evening and lots of fun to see how the “other-half” lives.