Fresh-faced students have traversed the corridors of Oxford University since 1249, but how will the institution take to the class of 1971 and, more importantly, how will they take to Oxford? The Observer Magazine finds out. The young adolescent who has not been prepped his whole life (for it is inevitably a chap) to expect an Oxford education will find on arrival that he goes ‘up’ to Oxford and ‘down’ again, and the Thames will continue to run through the city except that it is called Isis, and is home to ‘gut-busting boat races called Torpids’.
Treated with contempt by most of his elders for the vast majority of his pubescent life, he will find he now has a college servant who will call him ‘sir’. Proctors will doff their hats at him and noticeboards refer to him as a ‘gentleman’.
Some dons’ specialisms are so niche that they will religiously deliver lectures to an empty room – with the exception of one unexpected module recalled fondly by journalist Michael Wynn Jones (Oxford alumnus and spouse of Delia Smith): ‘A course in early classical Greek vase paintings attracted enormous support one year, but only because word got around that the Spartans had been dab hands at pornography.’
Despite the spires, cap doffing and occasional window smashing, Wynn Jones concludes that the Oxonian experience is not dissimilar to that of the average undergraduate. ‘Acres of morning stretch ahead of him, as he lies in bed wondering whether to get up before lunch or after, because his tutor had sympathised with his cock-and-bull story about walking into a lamppost.’
This could be 1249, 1971 or me in 2013 lying in bed while friends throw stones at my window to see if I’m dead or alive. Regardless, it appears the university experience remains universally unchanged, and by that I mean a hazy flurry of drinking, sleeping and doing a very modest amount of work.