I'm talking about the election, by examination, of prize fellows at All Souls, that Oxford centre of the exquisite. Oh, "provided that candidates of sufficient merit present themselves". Plonkers.
The procedure has three parts. The first is a series of 3-hour written exams, including an essay on a one-word topic ("Crevices" this year) and papers on your chosen special subject. This was classical sociology for me, so I had to confront things like "What does contemporary historiography tell us about STDs in 4th century Athens?" The short answer here happens to be the right one, but you have to choose your moments.
The second, for chosen candidates only (including your correspondent), is a viva, where they interrogate you on what you wrote. ("Tell us, Mr Inkspot, what tool would you use if your crevice is not flexible?") I have to say, since false modesty is repellent, that I aced the papers and wiped the floor with them in the viva. I gave them Saussure, I gave them Plato, I gave them Derrida ("Se naitre, ce n'est qu'entrer dans le neant.") Well, possibly it wasn't Derrida, since I had just made it up, but I could get away with it because, it was clear, none of those smug feuilletonistes had read Derrida either.
The third was last night. They invited the surviving candidates to dinner, gave us cherry pie to eat, and judged us on what we did with the pips. Now Beast had made this fabulous suggestion of turning them into anal beads for the Warden, and that was my plan.
Before dinner they gave us champagne, Joseph Perrier '96. This is a small house, but the champagne was just fine. Yeasty rather than grassy, I had lots. The other candidates included a couple of striking young men in Armani. To cope with them, I flashed a twenty at a passing waiter and told him to make sure that they got champagne cocktails rather than straight champagne, and lots of them. He promised that an extra twenty ("for the butler") would ensure it.
And so to dinner. You'll want to know what we had.
Potage des tourterelles. Yes, I know, eating turtles is frowned upon these days, or even illegal, but nobody's told All Souls. They raise them for the table in a private underground aquarium. [Filthy sherry of some kind. I left it alone and had more champagne.]
Tourbot, sauce merluche des branleurs. The fish you get in this country can't touch what you get in Bombay, and this was good without being special. [A boring Chablis. Waiter! More champagne! By now I'd noticed a honeyed taste to the champagne, but I put it down to the sauce, not having full confidence in the kitchens' interpretation of dried codfish. Anyway, I had another glass or two to make sure I still liked it.]
Tournedos Rossini des flaneurs. Properly hung fillet steak, with real foie gras, of course, and cooked to perfection. [Some sort of Crozes Hermitage. I forget what exactly, but, boy, was it good. I filled my boots.]
Tarte aux cerises des suceurs. The cherry pip anal beads were a howling success; they delighted the Warden, to judge by his "Ooh, wait till I show the Dean!" [Ch. Suduiraut '88. I cannot resist Sauternes, and this was delicous.]
Le dessert. Grapes and bananas from the college's own hothouse and cheese from one of its farms. [Ch. Leoville-Las Cases '82 and Graham's '55. Oh my fucking god. The '82 Las Cases has 100 Parker points. Yes, read'em and weep, one hundred, the perfect score, the full monty. And I had heard of, but never encountered, the legendary Graham's. Go and look them up, I can't describe them.]
Today brought a polite note containing the Warden's regrets, etc. So where did it go wrong? Well, another time I wouldn't have stood on the table and used one of the bananas to conduct the company in a rousing chorus of the college song ("His swapping tool of generation..."), but at the moment it seemed so right.
Bastard double-crossing butler. Still, there's always next year.