Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Morning vs the Rain

Ah, May Morning. A wonderful century-old Oxford tradition. In theory it sounds fantastic: partying up all night, 5am champagne breakfast at the MCR, listening to Magdalen Choir sing from the top of Magdalen Tower as the sun rises over the river, followed by a morning of music and dancing and café-hopping. 

In practice, there is a element which throws everything slightly off-kilter. Hello English rain, I'm looking at you. 

But even 10 days and counting of pouring rain cannot prevent Traditions from happening! (Oh Tradition, the things we do for you.) And as we are responsible graduate students now (ahahaha), we can manage our time properly and squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the 5am breakfast. Or, at least, I heard that some people did. 

Magdalen tower, where Tradition happens. 

In my case, I dutifully trudged along to College on this rainy, dreary and windy morning of May 1st 2012, passing countless drunk and very wet-looking people on my way. I arrived at college and was greeted, by my great surprised, by wide open college gates (they usually close during non-"office" hours)...and a firetruck? Huh. Apparently there has been a recent -- well, recent in Oxford terms so only dating from the last few decades -- tradition of people throwing themselves into the river for May Morning. (I imagine that the alcohol previously consumed has something to do with this, as the water of the Cherwell looks incredibly cold, unpleasant and generally inconclusive towards wading.)

I made my way to our MCR common room, where I was soon joined by a great number more people than I thought would be willing to get up at 5am on a rainy day. Clearly I underestimated the combined attracting power of food (it was a very nice breakfast to be fair), champagne (with strawberries in them!) and a choir singing from the top of a medieval tower at dawn (the poor things didn't seem to have umbrellas). We had a slight moment of confusion when neither of our social secretaries were awake or answering our phone and thus incapable of unlocking the champagne stored away for this occasion, but this was soon resolved when a fellow student insistently knocked on one of the aforementioned social secretaries. (The other one woke up 2 hours late but joined us for a cuppa after the choir had sung and the food been demolished. Good man.)

Tea, smoked salmon bagels and champagne. A true
breakfast of champions, I tell you.

A bunch of cold, wet but happy and well-fed May Morning revelers.

At 5:45am, we then emigrated en masse to a college lawn, where the champagne-guzzling, tea mug-clutching and umbrella-holding bunch of us listened to the sounds of Magdalen Choir blasting from Magdalen Tower. (We did wonder what they did before microphones were invented. Surely the choir cannot have sung that loudly? Or are the acoustics better if one is standing within Magdalen College itself? Ah, another puzzle for the ages.) There were a few songs, a prayer which we caught the bits that the wind generously howled our way, and ringings of church bells that seemed to last forever (it went on for at least twenty minutes!). And, very well, despite the rain, the cold, the dampness seeping through my coat and the frankly ungodly hour -- I admit, it was ridiculously charming. To be standing across the river, huddled with your friends and watching the sunless sky get lighter as choral music makes its way from the top of a beautiful Gothic tower...it's probably an experience that I'll never forget.

Or, at the very least, that I'm not likely to forget until my bones feel warm once again. (C'mon radiator, now is not a good time to be kicking up a fuss!)

As for my continuing haphazard way of going about my ABC of Oxford Oddities, let me then add 'M' for May Morning, misty musical marvels and Magdalen itself, which I might have mentioned before as being typical for being spelled the way it is but pronounced Maud-lin. Oh Oxford. Only you.

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