Celebrations in St Andrews
The event of the week for me was going to St Andrews to get an honorary degree in rather more glitzy company than, I suspect, I deserve to be mixing in. No false modesty here, let me assure you. The chief honorand was Hillary Clinton who gave the speech at the “awards ceremony”.
It was a rather special ceremony, in fact, as it was marking the 600th anniversary of the university. So, in addition to some Clinton good sense on world geo-politics, and safe cookers for the developing world (is it really the case that unsafe cookers and cooking fires kill more people every year than malaria?), there was plenty of tribute paid to the university itself and Scottish educational traditions.
But she was just the tip of the intellectual iceberg.
Also getting degrees were Natalie Zemon Davis (one of my favourite of all historians), Rowan Williams (one of my favourite archbishops), Judith Butler, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Jane Goodall, Marilyn Strathern, Tims Gowers and Berners-Lee, and a whole gallery more. Closest thing to being at a dinner party with the combined Order of Merit that I can imagine
It was fun for me for all kinds of reasons. For a start, to my shame, I never been to St Andrews before and hadn't actually realised how beautiful it is (including the very beach where they raced in Chariots of Fire). Then I
got to meet my mates in the School of
Classics there (and Stephen Halliwell did a great, and deliciously, head-explandingly generous,
speech about me). There was also the pleasure of being part of a rather long
but brilliantly choreographed and nicely good humoured day of processions and
ceremonial. It included plenty of (slightly predictable) jokes about the
ex-archbishop having married two of St Andrew’s
better known alums (Wills and
Kate); while Jane Goodall and her “laureator” gave a magnificent
impersonation of a pair of chimps saying “hello” – followed by more jokes about “primates”, human and animal. (I suspect this all sounds a bit feeble in cold type, but in the midst of all the rather splendid flummery it was actually very funny.)
But in fact what I guess I shall remember most vividly is the
amazing costume of it all. The chancellor
(Menzies Campbell) was gorgeously attired in a black gown with gold brocade (and matching mortar board -- stands out in the pic above), the vice-chancellor had a similar silver one. And we honorary graduands were dressed up in the most flattering cassocks (even if a touch Hogwarty) that I have ever come across – each with buttons colour coded according to the degree were getting.
A good time was, in short, had by all. Sadly I couldn’t stay for the lectures, events and fireworks on the Saturday – as I had to board the sleeper south again, for more travels, about which you'll shortly hear.
But thanks to everyone at St Andrews who made it all such fun.
Here, just in case you dont quite believe me is Hillary Clinton, and underneath a smart young piper!