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By James McKean
You would have thought that those lucky enough to get into the world’s most prestigious university would be a contented lot. But, as hundreds of Freshers are about to find out, we can be a discontented bunch. Here’s the first part of a selection of some of Oxford’s principal gripes, crudely shackled to the alphabet.
“Can you tell me where the University is?” “Is the Radcliffe Camera pre-war?” “Did the Queen go to Queen’s?” OK, it’s a stereotype, but of the hordes of visitors that block our streets and haemorrhage our corridors, one nationality seems to have a particular penchant for asking stupid questions in irritating accents. And, no, Chad from Texas, just because I’m a speccy nerd in a gown, that doesn’t make me Harry Potter…
The members of the Bullingdon Club might be a semi-mythical lot that most of us will never encounter, but if one factor above all has damaged the University’s reputation, it must be the tales of their flowerpot throwing, restaurant smashing, tailcoated rampages. And then, of course, there’s the question of their antics in government…
Ah, how quaint Radcliffe Square’s golden pebbles look as they catch the first light of dawn. But try walking across them in anything less than ski boots and they will turn your feet to pâté. Hot coals offer a far more comfortable podiatric experience.
All universities have deadlines, surely? But few throw them about with such reckless abandon. It’s much like the helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now, with the students as hapless Vietnamese villagers diving for cover, and the tutors indiscriminately machine-gunning essays and worksheets into their midst. Well, perhaps not, but forcing us to study in Freshers’ Week is surely flouting some sort of human right.
Once again, not unique to the Dreaming Spires, but we do assessments with particular savagery. Prelims, collections, finals… It’s almost impossible to walk past the Exam Schools in late Trinity without passing someone consumed with tears or regret, and only students in a handful of subjects can take their places here for granted.
Alright, alright, that’s not strictly its name, but fitting gripes to letters is harder than it looks, OK? Anyway, you know what I mean. Gowns are a hassle, bowties are uncomfortable, and no-one seems to have any idea whether or not we are allowed to wear the mortarboard. Once the novelty wears off, sub-fusc is just Latin for public humiliation.
I’ve seen documentaries about famine and disaster that are less depressing than this underground corridor of mental mutilation. Imagine Hitler’s bunker, but with more studies of the social conditions of the early modern Silesian peasantry. There’s no signal, no conversation, just you and the gnawing whir of air conditioning.
Every college has one. Skulking in corridors planning cunning election strategies, plotting and scheming, knocking off opponents (probably) and counting the days until they can rule the world. Just don’t engage them in conversation. “Hi!” “Vote for me. Get your friends to vote for me. Get your grandparents to vote for me. Get your pet African land snail to vote for me. Get that bloke who sold you a panini three days ago to vote for me. Get the panini to vote for me, too.’
The scariest moment in your Oxford career is when you realise that you can’t spend your entire life living off Student Finance England. There’s a real world out there. A world without medieval quads and Latin graces. A world where the fact you can say “Great Odin’s raven” in six different dead languages counts for nothing. The vicious struggle to scoop up internships and sell your soul marks the bursting of this beautiful bubble.
Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day. Give a man a computer, and he suddenly becomes convinced that his every word is gospel. From his dingy bedroom, he lambasts politicians and corrects economists, saving the lowland gorilla and combating child labour. His student rag might have a readership of five, including himself and his mum, but he doesn’t care. He is the voice of Oxford, the new Charlie Brooker, Marat reborn. His writing might be shoddy and littered with errors, plunging into hyperbole and offensiveness in pursuit of cheap laughs, but he doesn’t care. Don’t you hate those hypocrites?
For some reason, Keble College has become a byword in Oxford for an architectural facepalm. Called “the ugliest building in the world”, and picked apart brick by brick by societies calling for its demolition, its pedigree is not one to be envied. This has always struck me as odd; if we are going to be snobs, there seem to be quite a few colleges beginning with the word ‘St’ that are far more offensive to the eye.
Some might be slightly surprised to discover that there are any lads at all in a place like Oxford, but it seems there are, and they’re not shying away from controversy. Whether clashing over meat-free meals in Wadham, running an agony column in this very paper, or just studying really hard as Worcester’s Library Lads, they put the ‘lad’ in Lad Cam. Allegations of misogyny aside, most people just find it a tad taxing when every sentence ends with the word ‘banter’.
Few experiences combine shame, pain and general inconvenience in such a delicate blend as moving in and out of your room at the limits of term. Bludgeoned by a hangover from the night before, struggling with Sisyphean loads, the only distraction comes from the tourists gaping as you stagger to your parents’ car, leaving a trail of pants in your wake.
Stay tuned for part two, which will follow as soon as I can think of something beginning with ‘Z’…