Formal dinners appear commonplace in St Andrews. Every week there seems to be the chance to drop £40 on a society dinner or £60 that might buy you dinner and a ball. This Monday night the difference was not just the price, at a remarkable £25, but also the crowd as it catered exclusively to the postgraduates of St Andrews. We are vastly outnumbered, so understandably big events so far, such as Freshers’ Week and Opening Ball, have been primarily targeted at new undergraduates. Finally, there was something just for us.
At 7pm sharp(ish), more than a hundred of my fellow postgrads gathered at The Scores Hotel. Greeted with a glass of Prosecco, we were squeezed into the bar area where the limited space not only encouraged but demanded that we mingle. The men had scrubbed up well. Although there were none of the encouraged kilts, there was a vast array of tuxes with even a few postgraduate robes floating around to instill the air of formality. To my disappointment the majority of females had taken a more liberal approach to black tie. Apart from a couple of traditional German dirndls, most outfits seemed more suited to a night in the Lizard than a formal dinner. Nonetheless we had soon established enough of a group to occupy a table, and we took our seats in the dining room with the evening swinging back to the formal event I had envisaged.
Dinner started with an appetiser of entertainment. As my first experience of a St Andrews’ famous a cappella group, the Alleycats did not disappoint. From a Beyoncé song to my personal favourite, a cover of ‘Home’ (by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros), they really impressed. The applause was still lingering when the next ‘event’ arrived: the all important food. Caeser salad, chicken chasseur and sticky toffee pudding complete with a crucial and generous glass of wine, and finally coffee and fudge to follow. It seemed like a good haul. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no follow up for the Alleycats, and we ate only to the buzz of conversation, which at my table consisted of praise for the sticky toffee pudding and the culinary artist that created it.
The rest of the evening’s entertainment consisted of short informal speeches. For me this was not the highlight, and I was relieved that they truly were ‘short’ speeches. Not only did the speakers differ substantially from those advertised online, they also proved hard to follow. Provost Verity Brown was up first, and there seemed some confusion as to the crowd she was addressing. To her credit though she definitely accomplished a few laughs and managed to impart some sound life advice such as ‘in the event of a fire remember to run’. I’m sure doling out good advice is in the Provost job description. We also heard from the university radio in what should really be described as casual recruitment and promotion rather than an engaging speech. By this point it was the extra bottles of wine we had purchased that kept my group at the table rather than the stimulating speeches.
So was it worth it? In a word, yes. For sensitive student pockets, £25 seemed a reasonable trade for three courses and an evening’s entertainment. The lack of background music and the unstructured speeches was outweighed by the good food, the brilliant Alleycats, and the chance to get (quite) dressed up and socialise with fellow postgraduates. The Postgraduate Society succeeded in Fresher’s Week by filling the gaps in the postgraduate social calendar and encouraging ‘networking’ among our own, and they have done it once again. The only thing I do hope they take on board is that there is sometimes a delicate quality versus quantity balance. They may have managed to strike the right balance when it came to food but were less successful in the entertainment portion of the evening.