On Monday, students caught a glimpse of the city in which they now joyfully find themselves, wandering round it a little in a period of free time; on Tuesday, they were fully immersed in Oxford, steeping themselves in its culture, history and traditions.
One group went on a tour of some of Oxford’s great sights: Christ Church College, with its Great Hall made famous by the Harry Potter series; the Bridge of Sighs, delicately spanning the road opposite the Radcliffe Camera; Carfax Tower, rising magnificently above the bustle of the Cornmarket. Other students visited the Botanic Gardens, a site with rather smaller splendour, and splendour of a very different and far more natural sort, but splendour nonetheless.
Alongside the Botanic Gardens flows the River Cherwell, looping under Magdalen Bridge and round the gardens on its way to Christ Church Meadows. Upon this river, had the students in the gardens cast their eye toward it, might have been seen another group of students in Balliol: a group sitting alternately sedately and frantically, aboard a small flotilla of punts, those unwieldy vessels near-unique to the twin university cities of Oxford and Cambridge. Punting, as our students discovered, is an art that appears easy but is in fact far from. The punter, delicately handling the ‘quant’ –that is, the long pole with which the vessel is prodded forwards— must keep their balance while standing on a small board at the back of the boat, all the while carefully and calmly pushing the quant down into the water, to push against the riverbed.
A push in the wrong direction might, as the students discovered for themselves, see the punt lurch unexpectedly into danger— such as into the side of another punt. Too hard a push, meanwhile, might see the quant become stuck in the claggy mud of the riverbed: and at that point, the quanter must choose very quickly between letting it go, to leave their vessel rather embarrassingly propelled by arms dipped into the water like makeshift paddles; trying to yank the quant out of the riverbed, to risk upsetting the punt entirely; or merely holding onto the quant, allowing the boat to slip away and leaving the quanter forlornly stranded above the water.
With all having returned safe and sound, and largely dry, from their various expeditions, dinner was served in the Great Hall before activities in the evening sunshine. With thoughts turning towards the fun to be had on Friday night at the British Festival-themed party, one group made themselves tie-dye shirts and flower crowns; another settled into the academic rhythm at the Homework Club, while elsewhere in Balliol others settled into a very different sort of rhythm in a bongo drumming workshop; and another took themselves to see a very innovative and interactive production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the students were required to find their way from one part of the performance to another.