Fellows' Guest Night in college is still a very formal affair, and one of the last bastions of indulgence in these recessive times. The college specialities – Brasenose fondue, Magdalen venison, Christ Church wild fowl, and so on – are less in evidence now, but you can count on several well-lubricated courses followed by adjournment for desert – fruit and sweetmeats, port and Madeira. Some colleges seat you next to someone other than your host at this point, in order to enrich the mixture of conversation – a mixed blessing! Finally, everyone sinks into armchairs for coffee, and (if you can take it) further 'spiritual' refreshment. At New College, since they circulate the port by means of a small horseshoe-shaped railway, it seems likely that they sink earlier than most.
In Eights Week, the college boat clubs race in 'divisions' which start at roughly half-hour intervals, the bottom division, starting about midday, and the first (top) division around 6.00pm. Thirteen crews line up at the start, with about 70 feet between the stern of one boat and the bow of the next. The idea is to bump or pass the boat in front before the crew behind catches up with you. Of course it's more fun (unofficially) to bump them with such momentum that the front of your boat rides up over the back of theirs and sinks it. Meanwhile, the sun (with luck) streams down on strawberries and cream, and it's still very much the style to seek the shade of a boater or parasol. In the past, many colleges had barges moored on the river, but the last of these, belonging to St Catherine's, settled gently on the bottom some years back, during celebrations following a particularly successful week for the college First Eight.
Disagreement between the young and others about the proper time for bedtime (and getting up) is a perennial problem.
A few years ago, the Penultimate Picture Palace was faced with the prospect of stopping its late night films, because of the disturbance caused to the local residents. The films were an essential part of the PPP's operation, and this would have meant eventual closure. The issue was neatly sidestepped by turning it into a cinema club – which anyone could join – which was then not subject to the same regulations as an ordinary cinema. At the same time, efforts were made to ensure that the clientele leave quietly.
In 2004, the PPP did close down, along with Not the Moulin Rouge in Headington (where this editor was accustomed to sinking into an enormous decaying armchair and watching films with an audience of three). Someone with as cunning business plan and a ready wit saw an opening for reviving an East Oxford arthouse cinema, and the Penultimate Picture Palace was susequently proudly reopened as... the Ultimate Picture Palace. And one of Daily Info's staff was the very first to walk through their doorway as a paying customer.
In 2010 the cinema is under new ownership, with piglet pink seats with good legroom and a bar selling fizz by the glass. You can still hear the film in the loo, and if you're tardy at the bar, the projectionist will probably wait for you to take your seats before starting the show. We love it.
Read more about this in the colourful memoirs of the former owner of both cinemas, local radio presenter Bill Heine - aka Heinstein of The Airwaves, or in Daily Info's article about the UPP's history on the occasion of its 100th Birthday in 2011.
Legend has it that in 1675, Cornelius van Tromp, a Dutch admiral and renowned toper, had to be taken back to his lodgings by wheel barrow, after a bibulous evening with some dons (of which college, we know not).
Sconcing could be brought to bear when a college member disapproves of someone's behaviour at table. Sconceable offences included talking at dinner about women, religion or politics (all bad for the digestion) or referring to the portraits hung in hall (which smacks of 'making' conversation).
When the challenge was issued, the college sconce pot was brought, full of (usually) beer, and the offender had to stand on the table and attempt to down it in one go. The amount varied from two pints at Corpus, Oriel or Jesus, up to three and three quarter pints at St John's. if the attempt was successful, the challenger could then be sconced in turn. The final loser paid for the beer.
Though still threatened, sconcing is rarely carried out these days!