Tuesday, 25 November 2008

HOT: Guest Night, Gray's Inn, High Holborn

An ancient town like London contains many opportunities for a history buff to delve into historic buildings and arcane traditions - but not many people get to dine in one of the Inns of Court. Happily, my friend Duncan is a barrister at Gray's Inn, and throughout the year the Inn opens up their historic dining room so that mere plebians can eat as guests of the members. The night began with Duncan ("Brooks"), Suzanne ("Mrs Brooks") and myself ("Miss Kwok") trooping into the candlelit dark wood carved interior, under the shadow of a screen from the Spanish Armada, and dressed in a gown (barristers) and 'corresponding dark formality' (ladies). Once we'd seated ourselves on one of the long benches, we dived into the brow-furrowing 5 page dining rule book, extracted from the 53-page Gray's Inn Rule Book. Its contents, inter alia: confusing toasting rituals between members of the 'upper mess' and 'lower mess'; the serving of common dishes in order of seniority; and a bizarre standoff where you're not allowed to leave the Hall between grace and the final toast of 'domus', even if you're busting for the loo. The night was capped off by the now-outlawed 'challenges' between the Madame Senior to the Madame Junior and other dobbed-in members, involving debates conducted in dulcet plummy English and singing of 'Big Spender' to the whole Hall whilst standing on a chair. Good fun was had by all but we crept out before we could be accused of opening the port before the allotted time.

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