In the late 1990’s I was a guest for dinner at High Table at Oxford University’s Worcester College. My host was the Provost, Richard Smethurst.
Each of Oxford’s colleges has a High Table in its dining hall. It is a table on a raised platform at the far end of the hall that is reserved for the college’s dons and their guests. The rest of the hall has tables for the students on the floor of the hall. Many English novels set in Oxford or Cambridge have High Table scenes.
On the evening of the dinner I reported to one of Worcester’s Senior Common Rooms, which are rooms exclusively reserved for the dons’ communal gatherings. I was given an academic gown for the evening to wear over my business suit, shirt and tie.
We then marched to the dining hall, and upon our entry all of the students rose. We then proceeded to the High Table and our assigned seats. One of the students said grace (in Latin). Then everyone sat down, and service of the meal began.
The food that evening was excellent, and I said to the Provost that the food was much better than what we had when we sat at the other tables as students. Richard agreed, but said that the students’ food that night also was excellent. He explained that after Worcester had become a coeducational college (long after Richard and I were students), the father of the one of the female students was her dinner guest and was appalled at the poor quality of the food. The next day he made a special gift to Worcester to finance better food for the students once a month. (Once again I wish that I had kept a journal so that I could faithfully report exactly what was served for dinner that night.)
Once the meal was finished, everyone at the High Table rose and marched out of the dining hall while the students stood in homage. We repaired to another Senior Common Room. There snuff was passed around. I did not take any. We also were served port or sauterne wine. I imbibed the port.
The evening was not over. Another Senior Common Room was the next destination. Now it was coffee, brandy and cigars. I did not smoke, but had coffee and brandy.
It was a very pleasant to experience dinner at High Table after so many meals as a student for two years at Worcester seated at the other tables. (Again, if only I had a journal, I could decorate this essay with the details of the witty conversations that evening.)
 See Post: Oxford in New York City (May 27, 2011) (retirement dinner for Richard Smethurst.)