Oxbridge and in particular its dramatic societies (most notably, Cambridge Footlights) have long been tarnished with accusations of dubious sexual activities. Last night I had my first cross-dressing experience. I had been giving a talk at the retirement celebration for my former Ph.D. advisors, Jan Atkinson and Ol Braddick hosted in Magdalen college. Naturally, being the hip trendy wannabe science communicator, I have long abandonned shirts and ties and prefer Italian jackets and simple black t-shirts. This was not a problem for the banquet that evening as the audience that attended the celebration were mostly vision scientists who are famously devoid of any fashion sense.
The next day I stayed on in Magdalen to finally meet up with the wonderful Christine Legare and Harvey Whitehouse. I have been following Christine’s work and career for sometime and discovered she has just co-authored a big grant that will free her up from teaching at the University of Texas for three years – that is a rare feat in these lean economic days. She works on children’s rituals and imitation. With Harvey, they are planning an inter-disciplinary study of the development of ritual, the archaeological evidence for early ritual in Turkey and a whole bunch of other interesting stuff. So I was really eager to meet Harvey for the dinner that he had planned that evening. However, the problem was that we were to be dining in college again but not in the big banquet hall. Rather, I was a guest at the Fellows table in the cosy oak-lined dinner room reserved for only the really important people and Master of Magdalen. The first thing Harvey asked me on meeting with a slight frown was, “Did I have a shirt and tie?”
Clearly my very expensive John Varvatos designer jacket and exclusive “Evolution” black t-shirt of a human skull from the NY Soho store of the same name was not going to be acceptable. “No problem,” said Harvey – a man who seems not to be unnerved by problems, “You can borrow some of my clothes. I’ll cycle home and pick them up.” Ten minutes later, he was back with a suit, shirt and tie.
Normally, I would not agree to wearing another man’s clothing. I feel uncomfortable about it for all the reasons you know well that I have talked about throughout this blog. But as Harvey was well and truly still alive and not a sadistic killer from what I know, I soon settled. I am still not sure about that kipper tie though. I think he did that deliberately to upstage me…. though I did tease him about the lipstick and mascara I told him I found in his inside pocket!