Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Penultimate Mango

At my residential College at university we had a very sweet principal who was very correct in speech and behaviour. She also had the mesmerising ability to ask my friends and I to do things in a way that we had absolutely no ability to frame a negative response to her request.

Each week we had a Formal Dinner to which we wore academic gowns over 'suitable' clothing (although an academic gown can cover over a multitude of sins as long as you were sure to don appropriate footwear and drag a comb through your hair - oh, and make certain to hold the open front of the gown together at all times).

Unlike other meals it had a specific starting time and we filed in and stood behind our chairs awaiting Grace, and the tutors (senior residents), principal, and any guests were served by the staff at the High Table (which actually was not in fact any more elevated than the other tables, but tradition dictates that a university college should have a special table called the High Table at which sit the more important personages).

Members of the High Table were also served after dinner mints with their coffee afterwards. The only time in my life that I have regularly drunk coffee was during my two years as a tutor, and only because I love after dinner mints.

Each week there would be some formal elements, such as a speech by a guest; Grace and Returning Thanks; and messages for the student body as a whole.

And at the second last Formal Dinner each term our beloved principal would start the proceedings by carefully intoning "This is The Penultimate Formal Dinner for this term..." before she said Grace.

That's the way I see it in my head - capital 'T', capital 'P', capital 'F', capital 'D'. That was the title of the second last Formal Dinner for the term - "The Penultimate Formal Dinner". For every one of the 20 terms I stayed at college. You could have taken bets on the fact the name would be used, except that you wouldn't get anyone to bet against you.

It's really the only context in which I've ever heard the word 'Penultimate' used. Ever.

We had a church meeting today, following a BBQ lunch to which we were asked to bring either a salad or a desert. I decided to sacrifice some of our last mangoes to treat our friends. Most of them were chopped up and frozen and now I was onto the last crisper-full of fresh ones.

As I selected the second last mango from the crisper to top up my plate I carefully intoned, "This is the Penultimate Mango for this season."

What are the chances that I'd give up my college memories?

... Approximately None.

I'd love to hear any comments from old college chums if you happen to read this post. Or anyone else, really. Comments are great. Just click on the "So-many Comments" below, then write away!


Givinya De Elba said...

Oh! I saw the title of this post, I saw the beginning of your references to Miss M and I knew where you were going! The Penultimate Formal Dinner!

After I recovered from my initial disappointment of not being chosen to be a tutor in my final year at college, I used it in my favour. I chose to skip formal dinner whenever I pleased. This I could do, because not being a tutor meant my presence would not be missed.

I also smugly settled down to watch Friends while my friends were at Tutors' Meetings.


(Thankyou for the gift of your TV, without which I wouldn't have been able to watch Friends.)

Femina said...

I use the word 'penultimate' in conversation (where appropriate, obviously). But of course, I am a geek...

Debbie said...

My kids use penultimate in conversation (they are 1 and 15) but they are the only people I've ever heard use it:)

Long dark hair, blue eyes said...

I never use the word penultimate - so I think you have done well to get it into you post.

Crazy Sister said...

There's a Monty Python sketch with Eric Idle playing Michaelangelo called before the Pope (John Cleese) to explain why his painting of the Last Supper included 24 disciples and a kangaroo, as the Last Supper had only 12 disciples and ONE CHRIST. ("But the fat one balances out the two skinny ones...")

He suggested that perhaps it could be The Penultimate Supper, instead of the last...

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