This is Oxford: May Morning

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There are all sorts of things everyone who goes to Oxford should do once. Some of them aren’t printable even on an adult site like this. Others will need to wait for a future Tommy West book. But as it’s the end of April, one seems particularly apt for a mention now.

May Morning.

It’s an extraordinary thing, really. One of those traditions you’d swear was an urban legend if it wasn’t on the news (wait till I talk about the time ceremony – you’ll put up thousands it’s a spoof but it isn’t – I’ve been to one).

The reason you see May Morning in the news is the “tradition” of jumping off Magdalen Bridge, something drunken students used to think was a bonzo wheeze, has been banned for the past 6 years whilst the bridge was closed but is back this year (spread betting on the number who end up in the JR’s casualty department after jumping?).

But the centre of May Morning is the dawn chorus. Literally. At around 6 am, Magdalen College choirboys stand on the tower of Magdalen College and sing the traditional Hymnus Eucharisticus.

Around that centre there is a whole panoply of activities. The night before is prime College Ball time, with black-tied revellers making their shambolic way towards Magdalen at festivities’ end (that all makes it sound rather 12th Night/Louis XVI doesn’t it? Which I guess it is). And on the way, on Cornmarket, the Broad, and most of all the High Street, those revellers and the thousands (yes, thousands) joining them must fight their way through the usual mix of beyond-the-fringe street entertainment – jugglers, bubble-men, becostumed troubadours – and the next time it’s not a weekend, some guy with a beard reading poetry.

The other great tradition on May Morning is the boozy breakfast (OK, for many in Oxford that’s a daily tradition). Pubs and cafes in the centre of Oxford all open early (if they close at all overnight) and serve massive breakfasts accompanied by the full gamut of alcohol.

My May Morning experience was back in 1990, when I was an eager 1st year wanting to launch myself into the spirit. I also rarely got to bed before 4am so what was an extra two hours? Lectures the following morning were a write off. Many lectures were a write-off though, so it was a small price to pay to say I went. The person I went with was my now wife. We stayed awake all night drinking coffee and heading down there. I don’t remember any of the rest of our year pulling the all-nighter. Even back then we were the ones who went one further.

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~ by danholloway on April 28, 2011.

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