“The morning always has a way of creeping up on me and peeking in my bedroom windows. The sunrise is such a pervert.”
For the past few months I have spent many of my weekends in Bristol, a place that I love for far more than just the fact that my favourite person lives there. It’s a city that has a lot to recommend it – great coffee, liberal vibes, inordinate numbers of fashionable young people – but the thing that I have enjoyed most during my visits of late has been watching the sun rise over the city from the top of Whiteladies Road. The view from the attic flat in Clifton where I stay is a stunner; a perfect vista over this undulating city built by some idiot who clearly didn’t own a bicycle. On clear mornings it’s impossible to resist leaning out the window to drink in the city skyline spread out in pastel pinks and blues. The skylight frames a view that stretches right out over the roofs and smoking chimney stacks to the rolling horizon under a crisp and streaky sky, interrupted only by tiny clouds of birds and my own breath.
I’ve always been a terrible morning person, but getting to wake up with someone I adore and squares of sunlight at the end of the bed certainly gives one a reason to get up and do the day.
Although it was bucketing it down on Saturday as I left Oxford to start my hols, it has always pained me that the academic calendar means we don’t get to experience the city in high summer. Oxford is made for summer sun, even if official guidelines direct us to secrete ourselves away from it in dark and dusty libraries; golden evenings in the centre make me fall in love with the city again and again, and I’ve managed to take more rolls of film in the last two weeks of term than in the whole of the preceding eight months – a solid indicator of joyful existence. Here are some joyous things to do under gorgeous Oxford summer sunshine.
Despite years of practice and family-ruining rows on my grandma’s lawn I still manage to be terrible at both tactic and technique in this most upper middle-class of sports. New College has a great little croquet lawn in its front quad, over-looked by the porters and any curious freshaz who want to peer down from their rooms and witness everyone’s sporting triumphs(failures). During my first summer in Oxford I enthusiastically entered into inter-collegiate cuppers croquet with an American friend who had never touched a mallet before; he still managed to wipe the floor with me and all the other Englishmen, which I suppose is a rather damning summary of our national sporting character, and also of croquet. But however futile in athletic terms it stands that bashing a ball around the college croquet lawn is a very entertaining way to spend the remains of a summer afternoon – especially when things get heated and someone kicks over a hoop. (Alright I admit I have yet to witness this at Oxford. My family is very competitive.)
Most Oxford colleges own a number of punts that their students can rent free of charge. New College’s vessels may not be as swish as Magdalen’s or indeed as roomy as Hertford’s, but they’re conveniently placed in a boathouse just off of our sports’ grounds and they get the job done – I mean presumably. When one is competent. The only time I have managed to go punting we made it about 100m from our starting point, got attacked by more branches and bushes than Harry in the Triwizard maze, and one of our number fell in… But as a means to an end of picnicking on a grassy riverside knoll surrounded by daisies and inquisitive ducklings, it does do the trick.
Getting all fancy and enjoying a 12 hour extravaganza of food and fun in a centuries old setting is an essential part of the Oxford summer experience, one that I wrote more about here.
Soaking up the sun in beautiful surroundings
Every city I have chosen to park myself within so far has been a beautiful one, lucky for me. Growing up in London was a convenient starting point, four months in Paris and then five in Burghausen, but Oxford arguably tops them all in general loveliness. Being able to laze an evening away in a setting as glorious as New College gardens, a stone’s throw away from our bedrooms, is a luxury afforded to students at very few other universities and one that we do not waste. Whether it be eating ice-cream in Magdalen’s back quad or chatting in Christ Church’s egregiously extensive grounds, even the most boring conversational partner’s company is improved by these surroundings; unless you’re at St Anne’s. Soz.
Over lent a friend of mine decided that instead of depriving herself of something she liked during the run-up to Easter she would instead try something new every day. She managed to make so much of the project (aided by the fact that she lives in Paris, sigh), that I thought I would liven up the start of this boring term of finals doom and gloom by doing something I’ve never done before, every day of May. To start the month off with a bang, today I experienced Oxford’s traditional May Day celebrations – something I entirely missed in my first year as my party stamina just does not stretch to drinking and dancing all night and then standing in the rain until half 6 in the morning.
May Day in Oxford is a mix of traditions old and new. Clubs that normally shut at 2am keep their doors open until past daybreak, kebab vans run right through the night and at 6am the Magdalen Choir sings madrigals from the top of their college tower. I did not go out this time round due to a combination of apathy and essay, but a housemate and I dragged ourselves into the drizzle at half 5 to go and investigate the morning proceedings. I have to say that the thing I found most surprising was the sheer number of people willing to wrench themselves from their beds at such an ungodly hour (or power right through from dusk until dawn) to indulge in tradition. Magdalen Bridge was closed off, and the high street rammed full of people, food stalls and G&Ds balloons; there were keenos from the countryside dressed up as pagan spring welcomers, students scattered across rooftops and hanging out of windowsills, and a more concentrated density of Oxford Brookes students than I’ve ever seen outside of a Fuzzy Ducks night. Everyone gathered beneath Magdalen’s tower to await the singing, and there was something vaguely touching about people old and young, drunk and sober, local and rural crowded together for an event that hasn’t changed much in five centuries (story of Oxford amiright?). Admittedly nowadays the singing is blared out through speakers – my tutor told me that back in his day if the wind was unfavourable there was no chance of hearing a single note – but the effect was vaguely magical nonetheless. It was over within a few minutes and everyone wended their way back into the centre or crawled home to Cowley, whilst the marching bands and Morris Dancers roused the rest of Oxford.
The practice of students recklessly hurling themselves off Magdalen Bridge into the Cherwell below is also something of a modern May Day phenomenon, although fortunately I didn’t witness any attempts today – the river is only about 2 foot deep and jumpers rarely escape unscathed. The practice only became popular in the 1970s despite self-righteous claims of “ancient tradition”, butit did make me think about the patchwork of old and new that makes up our Oxford today. So I enjoyed May Day festivities, but before we get too culturally superior let’s not forget what I was doing this time last year in Bavaria.