Last week the three of us took the train up to Oxford. We stayed in the Visiting Fellow’s snug one bedroom apartment at Corpus Christi College, curling up in front of the fireplace during the crisp cold evenings. Early on Thursday morning we had a tour guide from Oxbridge tours take us on a personalised walk through the colleges. It was really fascinating, so different compared to my university experience in Australia, from the climate to the buildings to to the admission procedure to the academic structures.
Our guide Jonathan emphasised that Oxford is more a collection of colleges rather than a single unified entitiy. A student must be accepted into a specific college to take classes. Although the lectures and the final exams are shared between all students, the individual tuition and tutors are each determined by the college of the student. There are large and small colleges, right-wing and left-wing, modern and ancient. As I read through the history book that was left in our apartment, I learnt that Corpus Christi College was founded in 1352. New rules in 1573 required that Latin was spoken at all times, on the pain of being beaten at the buttery hatch. In 1906, in order to bring in more funding, the admittance policy is broadened to include lay students, not just clergy. In 1960 women were allowed into the college to dine, and in 1983 the college admitted its first female matriculates, causing quite a furore.
Jonathan told us of some of the hundreds of academic traditions. Academic dress is worn during dinners, during exams, during chappel, during progress reports, and during formal lectures. Students are often given a white carnation by friends to wear in their buttonhole for their first exam and a red for the final exam of the semester. If one does very well during ones exams, one wears a fancier academic dress the next semester. Interestingly, we were told that when professors attend graduation ceremonies, they wear the academic dress of Oxford, not of their alma mater, a practise that is very different from most everywhere else.
I was scolded by a custodian for entering Christ Church through the exit, and ate at The Bear on Bear Lane. We visited The Eagle and Child pub where J. R. R. “Tollers” Tolkien, C. S. “Jack” Lewis, and other members of the Inklings read their work out loud to each other. We had lunch at the Turf Tavern, where Australian ex-Prime Minister and Rhodes Scholar set the 1953 world record for drinking a yard glass (1.4 litres) of ale in 11 seconds. We finished up of exploration of Oxford by walking through many of the areas used in the filming of Harry Potter, including the grand stair-well, the dining room, and the the cloisters at New College where an ersatz Mad Eye Moody transfigured Draco Malfoy into a ferret.