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RT's Honorary Doctorate at the University of Aberdeen, Part I
7/8/2011 (updated 7/8/2011)

Please provide a short narrative of the OBE Investiture and Honorary Doctorate Degree ceremonies.

Nancy wrote a fairly full account of the day at the Palace, which I don't have too much to add to, so I'll concentrate on Aberdeen.

The corner of Scotland around Aberdeen is very important to me, and I've been spending some time up there every year for the last 40 years. This is a farming and fishing community with unbroken traditions, and is the greatest repository of traditional song in Britain. Hence my excitement about being honoured by the University, which has a great folklore department, and a fantastic archive.


On the left, Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice Chancellor. Right, Professor Chris Gane, Sponsor.


Aberdeen has a very traditional graduation ceremony, much of which is conducted in Latin, and which may be little changed since its foundation in 1485 - the ceremonial robes seem to be basically Tudor. I processed into the hall with the faculty, took my seat on the platform, and was called early in the proceedings to receive an Honorary Doctorate. The thing about ceremony is - it rather makes you quake in your boots. If someone sent you such an honour in the post, you might think lightly of it, but to go through the whole ritual turns it into something quite extraordinary, and I did feel quite overwhelmed. Thankfully I did not have to give a speech, but it was thought more appropriate if I sang something, and I chose 1952 Vincent Black Lightning as being uptempo, story-telling, and closely related to the ballad traditions of the area (and a chance to show off on the guitar). This seemed to go down pretty well. We applauded the wonderful graduates in literature and languages (this was one of 12 ceremonies this month) and went off to lunch at the Vice Chancellor's house.

Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice Chancellor, and his wife Jane, are extraordinary people, and they laid on a great spread. I loved meeting their 2 boys, whose ages I'll have to guess as about 11 and about 15. How do you breed kids to be so polite and intelligent? Their mother was an Olympic hurdler, and the youngest boy is already signed to Manchester United!

After lunch. We had all our Christmases come at once. Myself, Nancy and son Jack were taken on a tour of the Cruickshank Botanical Garden on campus, one of my favourite things to do, followed by a tour of the Zoology Museum, which was quite stunning, and then the Library, which just knocked our socks off. They had laid out 20 or 30 books which a little birdie thought we might be interested in - the original charter of the school, a Hebrew Bible from the 15th century (which Dr. Johnson had admired when he visited the library) a woman's illustrated prayer book, also 15th century, which was so vividly coloured it looked brand new, very early books on herbs and botany, a book illustrated by Eric Ravilious, and a selection of folk music collectors' notebooks, which was the Holy Grail, and which I hope to get another look at in the future.

Next day was the Graduation dinner, with all the Honorary Graduates, heads of Faculty, and City dignitaries, and a good excuse to get the kilt on. My son was seated next to the Head of Admissions, and something has put it in his head to spend at least a semester at Aberdeen!

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