Saturday, March 24, 2001 is one of the days in the annals of Scotch College which will be remembered with both enthusiasm and awe. A summary of the day will probably read simply: 'Dinner on the Main', but behind the bland but challenging description will lie probably one of the most impressive and exhaustive logistical exercises in the history of the College.
The theme of this signal year in the life of Scotch College is 'Celebrating the Vision' and if ever there was an embodiment of the vision, it appeared on that one Saturday night in March. And Vision Splendid it was - in every aspect. Over a week-long period, the hallowed turf of The Main gradually disappeared under a growing cover of floorboards and canvas. Vistas from the Staff Centre were gradually obscured by the soaring marquees, and the excited eyes of restless students could often be found glued to the windows of their classrooms as trucks of equipment, lights, furniture, flowers and even cases of wine appeared to be disgorged into the yawning white palace.
As the evening approached, final arrangements fell into place, the boys (or most of them) left for the weekend, and the magic began to happen. Of the 1851 lucky Scotch Family members who were able to attend the Dinner, who will forget the arrival at the carefully constructed walkway, lined by cadets in full regalia, entertained by the giant Scotch 'tubbies' both outside and inside the marquees? Who will forget the comfortable walk through to the dance area while being escorted by School Prefects and Officers offering delicacies to whet the appetite, and being met by the ever-smiling and superbly competent waiters and waitresses with their trays of drinks? And who, then, will ever forget the impact of that first step into the main dining area, transformed into a heated fairyland palace? The festoons of lights, the mosaics of balloons, the beautifully decorated tables, and the carefully constructed video-displays of Scotch past and present, welcomed the host to what can only be described as 'The Night of Nights'.
As I look through my copy of the Programme, I see all too quickly that space cannot do justice to the scale and achievement of the event. The food was excellent and appeared with remarkable efficiency throughout the evening. The wines and other drinks flowed magically all night, and I had a momentary vision of my own, of the toiling slaves in Lilliput, striving to keep an oversized Gulliver well fed!
But the dining aspect of the evening was, in some ways, the least of it. Throughout the night we were entertained and instructed by the extraordinarily well-informed and erudite Reverend James Forbes, and later by direct descendent Campbell McComas. The flying school gymnasts thrilled the seated diners with their leaps and twists, bringing a feel of a medieval entertainment to the feast.
The stirring Haggis Ceremony did indeed 'lift our hearts up high' while Sir Archibald Glenn's magnificent toast provided that extraordinary link between so many generations of past and present Collegians. Captain of the School, Brendan Ferguson, may well have needed his second glass of champagne after his finely balanced response. He could not have represented the current generation of Scotch Collegians more effectively than he did. Dr Donaldson's wit caused probably the quietest moment in the entire evening as not only did he recall the Irish boy's finest three years in education - at Grade 5! - but also hinted at the possible change of name for the school to Irish College. Five seconds can be a long time of silence in a gathering like this, but the effect was magnificent!
One of the features of the night was the extraordinary excitement across all tables as guests wandered freely and caught up with old schoolmates, friends and colleagues from across the years. At some stages of the evening there were more people milling around than in their seats, and the talking never ceased.
As the evening drew to a close the dance floor glittered with couples enjoying the rhythms of the Matt Hetherington Band, while outside, the weary but happy guests waited patiently for their taxis.
It takes three pages of the programme to list the generous sponsors and organisers of Dinner on the Main. The end result was in every way more than a mere sum of the various parts, but those parts could never have come together without the guiding agency of the Steering Committee. All present can only stand in awe of the remarkable achievements of Louise Ayre, Sarah Bernard, Astrida Cooper, Craig Cooper and Liz Lawrence.
At one stage, when the heavens opened, and the waters began to rise outside our temporary home, someone remarked how wonderful it would be to have a group like this on a 'Titanic' voyage. We were lucky: the great galleon did not sink, or even flounder, and so the night will go down in history very much as 'That Night to Remember'.