Gown and grab

November 8, 1996

Outdated, expensive garment it may be, but the academic gown still has some uses - at least if you wish to avoid embarrassment. The tale reaches us of a young academic elected to a fellowship at an Oxbridge college. Not possessing a gown, he pondered on whether to purchase one in advance of the first formal dinner, but decided not to when his attention was drawn to a large pile of ageing garments in the anteroom to the Fellows' Dining Room.

On the appointed day he walked in and made his selection - attracted by its distinctive pattern. During the interminable grace that followed, he noticed one of high table's more senior inmates looking at him curiously. At the end of grace, leaning over to hear the inquisitive veteran, he was greeted with: "Good evening . . . I see from your gown that you're the Bishop of Ely."

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