At least my double ticket took me to Cambridge, where I was giving a talk at Clare College. We dined in hall, where they still have a "high table", one foot above the undergraduates' level. We all had to stand while the fellows filed in and what a wondrous sight they made: stooped, bearded, often distracted as if the gong had called them away when they were on the very brink of discovering a cure for heart disease.
I occasionally wonder what happens when a young, ambitious chap becomes a don. Presumably at the age of 24 they are taken off to a special outfitters where they're told, "soon have you looking the part, sir! We'll just glue on this silly-looking beard, and get rid of all that hair on the top of your head. And pebbly 1930s glasses are all the rage now! A nice knobbly stick, sir? And these soft shoes are perfect for shuffling along …"
I suppose that the dons in that short transition stage between graduate student and ancient pedagogue are actually eating at home with their young families. Possibly.
Why the 'possibly'? (And note also the emphasis on 'chaps' here; there are women Fellows in these colleges, although they may well be even less well represented at dinners than they are in the general composition of the Fellowship of many of these colleges.) At home with their young families? That's exactly where some of us are. Others of us are still in the library, in an office marking essays, in a lab doing experiments, or just having a life outside of the college.
I emailed Simon to point out that he might, next time he is in town, come along for lunch. He'd find, I imagine, a rather different crowd and, I think, would see a different face of the university: busy people running between lectures, labs, and supervisions; catching up with friends and gossip; doing college business; moaning about HE policy and the like. Without the gong. In fact, although we often think the best thing to do for visitors and guest is to take them to dinner, it does often give a lop-sided picture of what we're most of us up to most of the time.