I didn’t get into Oxford. Entirely my own fault. I should never have told the don who asked me about history books that I liked Philippa Gregory. He was after something by Gibbon, I suspect, not a novel with a heaving Tudor bosom on the front cover.
So, I went to university elsewhere, but for years put up with friends banging on about their Brideshead-style escapades. “Do you remember the time that Peregrine and Kipper tipped the entire contents of Bumble’s bedroom into the quad?” “Yes, but that wasn’t as hilarious as the time Stinker made me wear a dead fish around my neck after my finals. Har har har!”
Well, nearly 20 years later, I’m delighted to say I did get in, and to Christ Church, of all places. True, it was only for one night. But that still counts. It definitely counts.
I needed a place to stay for the city’s recent literary festival and came across a website that allows you to book university rooms when they’re not being used by brainy students. So, that’s what I reserved: a smallish room in Christ Church with twin beds for a friend and me, accessed via a twisting stone staircase off the magnificent “Tom Quad”, originally conceived by Cardinal Wolsey (I remember him from the Philippa Gregory books).
Checking in was the first highlight. “ ’Scuse me,” I said, pushing through the gaggle of tourists standing in the stone archway off the high street, gawping at the college. They probably think I’m studying here, I thought proudly, and assume I’m some sort of genius.
This genius seemed doubtful when I forgot the porter’s instructions and tried to use the wrong key to get into my room, but eventually I found it, overlooking a pretty avenue of poplars that led to the river. There was also a fridge, Christ Church-branded teabags and a “bathroom welcome pack” on a pile of towels at the end of my bed that included a condom and a toothbrush. Just joking. It contained soap and shampoo. The whole place felt like an extremely posh B&B, and how much lovelier, how much more authentic and interesting, to stay in a hallowed college room than some boring corporate hotel. I’ve never visited a Travelodge that has any Wren architecture, for instance.
Best of all was breakfast in the hall the following morning, swallowed as the cathedral bells rang out. This is the room used as the set for the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter films: long banquet tables lit by low lamps, portraits in oils, stained-glass windows, beamed ceiling. It is a ludicrously grand place in which to eat a fried egg. Needless to say, I made it down five minutes before breakfast finished, so had to ask for more toast and coffee while avoiding the furious stares of various lord chancellors and archbishops in wigs glaring at me from the paintings as if I should never have been allowed in.
Look out for Her Majesty racing round in her new Queen-mobile
They were probably right. Late the previous evening, after dinner with a friend who’d been speaking at the festival, I’d tottered back to the college and pulled off my heeled boots as soon as I reached the Christ Church entrance, because my feet hurt. I’ve no idea what the porter made of me as I wove across the quad in my socks, but I’m sure he’s seen worse.
And the winner is… everyone who gets a £110,000 goody bag
Oscar goody bags are a perennial source of fascination for me. How extraordinary that such an overblown, self-satisfied ceremony isn’t enough in itself, and that nominees must also be given party bags stuffed with holiday offers and plastic-surgery vouchers. Proof that nobody is immune to a giveaway, I guess, which is comforting in its way. Not even Dame Judi Dench would say no to a free moisturiser. Last weekend’s bags were worth about £110,000 and the best inclusion was a 100 sq ft patch of Scotland. I promise I’m not making this up. It was from one of those slightly dubious companies that flog plots of land and titles, which means all nominees now own a soggy bit of Glencoe and can technically style themselves as lord or lady of Glencoe. Consolation for those who didn’t win, eh, Lord Cumberbatch and Lady Kidman?