Cracker by Damian Christie

Oxford Tales

It’s a paradox of the internet that while the world is made so much smaller, it means you know exactly what you’re missing – the Big Day Out with yer mates – while you’re sitting on the other side of the world. I’m listening to bFM’s Big Day Out breakfast coverage on-line, and at a time when I’d usually be packing my survival kit (water, suntan lotion, speedos), instead I’m working out what’s sadder – going to a bar by myself, or yet another movie.

Not that I’m complaining.

I’ve been in Oxford about a week, and it truly is an amazing place. Dozens of colleges all functioning as self-governing bodies within the university. They range in age from the 13th century through to the late twentieth. Most are cloistered, with castle-like walls separating their historic libraries, beautiful chapels, students and fellows from the prying eyes of the unworthy public. Some take undergraduate students, some only post-graduate, and some have no students whatsoever. Yeah, I know.

Here's a good photographic example of a cloistered college - the student-free All Soul's.

The cloistered nature of the colleges means it’s very easy to keep students in, and the public out. Despite Oxford’s rich history and attraction for tourists, most colleges are off limits most of the time, some all of the time, and some only allow entry by admission. As a student I can enter any college grounds and rummage about the mammoth Bodleian Library, but each college’s crown jewels – the library and dining hall – remain off limits to all but their own members.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to sort out how life works for the average Oxford student, if there were such a thing. A warning about the following, it’s based on what I’ve learnt thus far, and there may be many exceptions or mistakes...

Big differences (from what most of us are used to) include the fact undergraduates don’t have exams at the end of each term, or even the end of each year (or at least not any that count). Instead, students’ three years of study are assessed by a series of exams at the end of their degree. Stress, anyone?

Lectures aren’t emphasised; most learning takes place in one-on-one or two-on-one tuition sessions. However with the talent available, you’d be crazy to skip lectures here. The day Russell wrote about Richard Dawkins’ new television series, I saw him cycling past me. Personally, I can’t wait until next week for the first lecture in a series by acclaimed British comedy writer Armando Iannucci (Knowing Me Knowing You, I’m Alan Patridge, and his new political comedy, The Thick Of It).

Still, right now I’m imagining myself plonked on the grass in front of the Magic Numbers.

Wish I was there.