Sunday, April 07, 2002

Yesterday, I caught the train up from London to Cambridge to attend a banquet at St John's college, where I completed a Ph.D. a few years back. It was nice to catch up with friends I hadn't seen for a while, and to go through the whole ritual of a formal dinner: a candlelit dinner in a 500 year old dining hall, graces in Latin before the meal, wise (but possibly quite eccentric) men and women sitting at the high table and so forth. If you grow up with a certain sort of English life, I believe you attend this sort of dinner a lot: at public school, at Oxbridge, when qualifying to be a barrister. For me, coming from Australia, Cambridge is my only real experience of it.

What is interesting of course is that we now have another point of reference. A banquet in Cambridge is almost exactly like a banquet in Harry Potter, except that the candles do not actually fly in the air. Also, I suspect that Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not drink quite as much wine as I had last night, and possibly end up feeling somewhat better than I did this morning. The ancient, funny eccentric school is one of the cliches of English life. JK Rowling did not attend that kind of school or university herself, but that somehow doesn't matter. She could still draw the picture easily enough. However, I must assure everyone that the cliche is quite real.

And of course there is the peculiar fact that to get to Cambridge, the ancient, funny, eccentric university, you go to King's Cross station, and you board a train on platform 9. This is believed to be a complete coincidence.

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