My gaudy nights
The Oldie Magazine|January 2021
For 50 years, Oxford don Oswyn Murray welcomed back old pupils to his college – except for one in 10 Downing Street
Oswyn Murray

Gaudies are lavish feasts for former students of Oxford colleges, designed to keep them happy and keep donating to their old college.

They are supposed to occur every dozen years or so for each graduate. In my 50 years as a Fellow of Balliol College, I have attended many of them. Once you’re retired, alumni are interested not so much in your replacements as in their old tutors and their own contemporaries. And we still get great enjoyment from meeting our former pupils.

Each gaudy has its own characteristics. At the first gaudy, everyone is young and full of themselves and their brilliant careers inventing Barclaycard or whatever; they also have small children to be excited about.

At the second gaudy, they are more chastened: many of them have lost their jobs, but are full of their new careers selling fridges to Eskimos or doing good works in the charity sector. Some of them have also lost their partners and/or found new ones.

At the third gaudy they have all settled into comfortable middle age, and now of course are proud of their own offspring as future Balliol undergraduates. At the fourth, they are basking in success and thinking of their retirement careers. At the fifth, they are wondering how on earth the college has missed them in choosing its Honorary Fellows. At the sixth, the college provides chairs and the field is narrowing. The seventh happens mostly in heaven.

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