With the second week now beginning, it was full steam ahead in Balliol College yesterday: the different classes are approaching the time at which they will have to hand in final essays and give their presentations, and everybody is very aware of it.
In Medicine, the students preparing for entrance exams and applications are practising writing personal statements, and have in addition been given the task of researching one subject from a choice of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease. In the Film Academy, students were aided by the presence of a visiting actress— and in the evening, many students elected to forswear the raft of activities available in favour of more hours spent at the desk.
The activities available were, however, fantastic. In Balliol College, students welcomed the arrival of a hands-on exhibition of birds of prey, with a brilliant collection of birds from across the globe and across species. Several birds had (relative, at least, to those of other birds) claims to celebrity: a Verreaux’s eagle-owl, peculiar for its human-like pink eyelids, had ‘met’ James May of Top Gear fame; an eagle had appeared on Game of Thrones. There was a host of fascinating creatures. Students cooed over the fluffiness of a little baby owl, and were impressed and somewhat startled by the sudden opening of the grumpy-looking Tawny Frogmouth Owl’s mouth, revealing a huge yellow throat. Sahara, an owl from Africa, was enormous; and Stephen Flavin, the programme director, was buffeted by the wings of a similarly large bird held behind him.
Falconry, and the keeping of birds of prey, has historically been something considered cultured, reserved for nobility. The theatre, by contrast, was at that point viewed as something relatively coarse: but it was to the theatre, in a far from coarse location, that other students went in the same evening. A production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was held in the grounds of Wadham College, and in the falling twilight it was captivating. An adaptation transplanted in history to the time of Mussolini’s war-embroiled Italy, the play buzzed with the energy of its cast. The comic moments were deeply amusing, and the poignant instances of war and romance were not hindered by the laughter of moments before and after.