stereotypes

Colleges: if they were shoes

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MERTON

A hard-working, reliable high-achiever, consistently at the top of the Norrington table, Merton is the archetypal Oxford college and so in shoes would be the classic Oxford lace-up brogue.  Traditional well-made English high performer with a dash of fancy decoration, elegant and good-looking with a timeless touch of class, the staying power of both Merton and the brogue maintains their peerless reputations as top players in their field.

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WADHAM

The indie monarch of Oxford, Wadham would be a pair of Doc Marten boots.  Unisex, extremely popular and now universally acknowledged as the right-on footwear of choice for the cool kids, Wadham and Docs are possibly now in danger of looking so self-consciously trendy they could be verging on passé.

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KEBLE

Popular, casual vans in monochrome chequerboard reflect the distinctive brickwork of Keble and its sporty, fun-loving nature, yet are still attractive and adaptable enough to match the glamour of formal in the splendid dining hall, the resident artworks in the chapel or the rigours of a night in the space-age college bar.

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ST HUGH’S

A little bit preppy yet endearingly straightforward, eclectic and welcoming, St Hugh’s would be a pair of loafers.  Down-to-earth and practical, everyone feels at home here but patent leather in navy, bottle-green or maroon and pony-skin uppers topped with tassels give these stylish classics a quirky twist to match the off-beat and definitely over-the-top nature of this college.

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WORCESTER

Out on a limb, slightly odd, a bit of a pastiche and they shouldn’t work but actually they do, cork wedges epitomise Worcester which has a modest frontage belying a sunken quad and its own lake for goodness’ sake.  Objectively they sound wrong and they might be a bit impractical on some occasions but they do look great, and it’s all about the visual at Worcester.

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ORIEL

Final bastion of male privilege and supremacy as the last college to admit women, Oriel’s reputation for stern masculinity could only be matched by a thigh-high dominatrix or military riding boot in shiny black with metal-tipped heels for that irresistible reproachful click-clacking sound.

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ST HILDA’S

Free and easy, open and airy, St Hilda’s coveted position by the river, its generous lawns and its reputation for relaxed inclusiveness evoke the light touch of the flip-flop, and in turn reflect the open nature and sunshine connotations of everyone’s favourite summer slip-on.

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ST CATZ

The Scandinavians love their clogs.  Versatile and hard-wearing, they appear at the beach, in the garden, to and from the sauna.  Eco-friendly credentials  and their quirky organic design endear them to wearers, not least for the ease in which they slip on and off.  Quietly cheeky but secure in their own identify and confident of their ability, Scandi clogs are surely the podiatric embodiment of St Catz and its iconic Danish design.

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CHRIST CHURCH

The Christ Church shoe would reflect its fundamentally conservative nature, but also the stunning glamour of its architecture and setting; so it would be a high-heeled court, but with the racy undercurrent of a distinctive Louboutin red sole and maybe a peep-toe or sparkling embellishments to add even more panache.

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BALLIOL

Genuinely egalitarian, relaxed and a little bit earnest,  Balliol is well-known for accommodating and encouraging serious political high-flyers.  The desert boot equally appeals to a broad spectrum of personalities and views, and serves them well for most eventualities with its no-nonsense flat sole, neutral colours, and versatility from army wear through casual weekend staple with jeans to a smarter look with chinos and a jacket.

 

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Review: Chavs by Owen Jones

‘As with all these things, there is always some elements of truth in what is being said, but they are extrapolated for effect or exaggerated to create a better story from the media’s point of view’. Owen Jones cites this quote to support a core element of his argument – that the media, the inevitably middle class journalists, manipulate certain stories (here he refers to the Shannon Matthews case of 2008) to deprecate the working class. Ironically, in his book ‘Chavs: The demonisation of the working class’, Jones is guilty of the same crime.

He claims that mocking the working class is perhaps the only socially acceptable form of prejudice found in modern society. He begins by recounting a joke made at a friend’s dinner party, “It’s sad that Woolworth’s is closing. Where will the Chavs buy their Christmas presents?” This leads him to ask how it is that the ‘hatred’ of the working class remains socially acceptable. The argument that follows responds to the notion that Britain is now a classless society, but for Jones, the British class system is well intact, with all of society’s hatred, fear and blame directed towards the ‘feral underclass’: the Chavs.

Jones, a twenty-something year old former trade union lobbyist and self-proclaimed ‘lefty’, presents his argument through contrived facts, figures and twisted examples. To give him credit, he does make some interesting, relevant and insightful comments. It is here where my problem arises: his use of unrelated examples frustratingly distract the reader from the essentially valid points. In his attempt to cover a lot of ground, Jones loses sight of what is relevant and what is not.

Despite his success in presenting his argument fairly persuasively, Jones does little to acknowledge that class hatred is more than a one sided social phenomena. While this is understandable given the premise of the book, the views on one side are highlighted, with the equally extreme views on the other side ignored completely. It made it difficult for me to follow what was written without some scepticism. Jones stresses the viewpoint of zealous right-wing politicians for dramatic effect to sell a shocking story, and this does little more than undermine the class issue that he is trying to prove still exists in society. It would have been more beneficial to present this prejudice more realistically, as a process that demeans everyone, with some emphasis on the view that it may demean one class more than another.

Nevertheless, despite his representation of the working class as mere victims, his generalisation of the working class as one singular undivided body and his romanticised depiction of the working class before the Thatcher years, I found ‘Chavs’ to be a highly interesting read. He revives an important historical debate, which, in the light of the summer riots, is of great relevance. Somewhat well-reasoned, amusing and not too demanding – if you are looking for an intelligent and thought-provoking read, ‘Chavs’ fits the bill.

The Difference Between: My Oxford preconceptions and the reality

‘Is catatonic boredom your usual facial expression?’ asked my tutor in our first meeting. This is not how I expected this occasion to go; I used to be the bright-eyed, most enthusiastic pupil at school and yet, looking around the room, I was the only one lacking in head-nodding and fake laughter. Then again, I had not expected to be kidnapped by third years on my first night and taken to an ‘after party’ where I’d be forced to play extremely complicated drinking games. No, sitting in the study of a leading scholar with a splitting headache on my second day of university was not exactly what I’d prepared for.

Needless to say, in glossy prospectuses and formal presentations, the realities of student life are somewhat neglected. You hear the words ‘hard work’ but you don’t expect this to mean every single book for your first essay to be taken out of the college library on the fourth day of Freshers’ Week, meaning you sneak around the desks to see if anybody has abandoned one in the hope that they ‘just forgot to put it back’. Really helpful advice would be some indication that the most valuable skill in your first week of Oxford is being able to recover from a hangover by nine ‘o’ clock in the morning because, it seems, everyone else can…

I had also heard the phrase ‘work hard, play hard’ bandied about by students at open days but had never realised this sometimes means at the same time. Walking past a third year in a club with three drinks in his hand who leans over and slurs ‘I’ve got an exam tomorrow morning, ha ha’ revealed the truth about the mysterious interview process; they’re not looking for someone who works the hardest but someone who can still work the hardest after a night out. It suddenly became clear to me why I’d been chosen over people I considered far intellectually superior to me; as I was handed another Sambuca shot, two of my elder college-members looked at each other and said ‘I think she’s got potential’.

So even if I wasn’t the first to rush to the college library, I learnt quickly that at Oxford there is always another way. In this instance there are at least 99 other libraries to try within a two mile radius, as well as the marvellous creation of the ‘e-book’. My expectation was that everyone would take things very seriously and, looking around the eager faces of the other freshers, this appears to be true. But take a look at the attitude of the second years and I am reassured that this place is not another world of people and expectations at all. The first pearl of wisdom my college dad gave me was ‘History is not a real subject. Politics is not a real subject. I went to four lectures last year, one of which I didn’t make it to, actually, and I got a 2.1’.

Though I still have every expectation that the standard at Oxford will be higher than I could even imagine and the workload even further beyond comprehension, it seems as if, more so than I would’ve thought, people stay in one piece. And they do it with a drink in their hand and a smile on their face.

Georgia Luscombe

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