Brasenose College manages to be a very down-to-earth and friendly place while at the same time being a strange mix of every Oxbridge stereotype that you've ever met. But no matter how at-home I feel there, one can't help but be struck by the sheer...Brasenosity (it sounds like pomposity) of it. I've struggled to put this feeling into words, so I thought I'd just try and describe a recent day in college and see if you get what I mean. Thus I present the following without further comment.
Thursday evening was the second 'Blurbs' evening, where members of the graduate common room (and even associate members, if they grease the right palms) get together to listen to academic talks given by their fellow members of the college. Traditionally, a Fellow and a graduate student present current research on a shared subject area, but apparently that's optional, as on this occasion one student presented a talk on baby linguistic development and another on prostate cancer, tenuously linked by the concept of 'big data'. What's not optional, this being Oxford, is that generous amounts of wine is provided for the event and that there is an intermission long enough for everyone attending to refill their glasses.
I thought the talks were quite illuminating, but it might have been all the red wine that I consumed.
One reason that Blurbs is such a keenly-anticipated event amongst the graduate students (tickets usually sell out in less than a minute) is that the talks themselves are followed by a High Table dinner. A regular college dinner is served on trays like any school cafeteria. A formal dinner (held three times in a regular week) is three courses (and three very respectable courses, if you ask me), but everyone with eyes knows that the people sitting on High Table gets the good stuff. Since most students don't get many chances to eat with the Fellows at High Table, a chance to have the fancy dinner (at approximately un-fancy prices) is highly valued.
It didn't disappoint. After the traditional college grace (in Latin, of course), entrée was some kind of baked cheese with salad accompanied by a sweet white (the menu says Toasted Cheese Crotin on Toasted Hazelnuts, Beetroot & Red Onion Compote & a Dressed Leaf Salad with 2013 Château Courac Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Blanc), then Fish and seasonal vegetables with a not-so-sweet white (Roasted Brill with Confit Leeks & Baby Spinach, Boulangѐre Potatoes & a Vermouth Sauce with 2007 Chateau Girauton Blanc). For dessert...wait, they don't call it that here... Pudding was some kind of creamy jelly thing in miscellaneous fruit sauce (Rhubard & Ginger Soup with Vanilla Panacotta & an Orange Tuille) [I guess 2/3 guesses weren't bad?].
Pudding normally comes with port, I'm told, so there were a few disappointed faces around the table, but I didn't mind too much. I thought the whole thing was pretty nice, but it might have been all the white wine that I consumed.
After dinner was the common room tradition of 'second desserts', which involves the consumption of copious amounts of fruit, cheese, chocolate and enough port to make up for the dearth at dinner. The event takes place in the Old Library, which stopped housing books at some point in the 1660s, but is still called the Old Library for some reason. It's a very nice wood-panelled room, with the added advantage of having windows that open towards Exeter instead of the Old Quad, allowing air-flow without causing noise to overflow into the college, the sort of thing that gets parties shut down prematurely.
I thought the fruit and chocolate was all pretty enjoyable, but it might have been all the port that I consumed.
Despite the fact that the party was pumping, I abandoned it and headed back to the Brasenose Hall, the site of dinner an hour earlier, now converted into a temporary theatre. Brasenose doesn't have any kind of auditorium (heck, it only has three rooms capable of housing a class of 20) other than the chapel, which seats about 100 on a good day if most of those don't want to see, so any event that needs any kind of capacity ends up in the hall. Tonight the event in question was a musical written by one of the organ scholars called 'Less Milibandles', which promised to riff on the theme of the recent UK election to some recognisable tunes. The benches and windows were filling fast with undergraduates, but we managed to find ourselves some seats in the stalls.
We were well entertained with a long stream of British politics jokes, most of which went completely over my head as someone who has come to the country since the time period in question, but a politics joke is a politics joke and with lines like this, how can you go wrong?
One day more!
Another day, another argument
This never-ending road to Parliament
These men who wish to see me burn
They must not have a second term
One day more!
Given the lack of amplification and the slightly esoteric nature of the subject matter, the whole thing was generally understandable, with baguettes and insults thrown and only a few lines completely muffed, not bad at all for a cast performing on an absolute minimum budget of practice, what with being actual students during an actual term of a university that isn't known for its light workload. Students of all political outlooks left grumbling at the bias of the script, which is a pretty big win for one-off comedy script writers and national news networks alike.
All in all, I had a lot of fun, but it might have been all the flying baguette that I consumed.
Afterwards I headed back to the common room, where I found my fellow members still nursing the remains of the port and talking nonsense, so it ended up being quite the late night. Eventually I made my way home, artificially warm and singing all the way...
At the end of the day a new Parliament's dawning
And the sun in the morning is waiting to rise
Like the waves crash on the sand
They'll be in and out in a second
All the voters in the land
Have been rallied and heckled and beckoned
And there's gonna be taxes to pay
At the end of the day.