Friday 2 May 2008

May Day in Oxford: Beat It

Yesterday was the first of May in Oxford. It was probably the first of May where you live, too, unless you live in North Korea or Turkmenistan, where it's probably called something like Glorious Premiere Spring Dawning of Our Great Infallible Leader.

May Day starts here with pre-pubescent choristers singing from atop the Magdalen College tower. Most Oxford students have partied the previous night and the streets are full of plastered boys in tuxes and swerving barefoot girls in cocktail dresses. The Kelly family cycled to the city center at 6 a.m. to witness the festivities. Magdalen Bridge was closed to stop the morning's other tradition: jumping off it into the river below. In past years there have been icky, Joe Theismanesque injuries caused by the unholy intersection of drunk undergrads, pitiless gravity and shallow water. No one jumped while the bridge was closed and guarded, but soon after it opened and the crowds dispersed, we saw four guys go in. Here's one:

I know that merely by posting this I am encouraging unsafe behavior. But it did look like fun, and the first guy who jumped looked incredibly suave in his soaked dinner jacket:

But then again, anything looks better when done in a tuxedo, even bicycling down the street at 7 a.m. while drinking a pint of beer:

There are much better May Day photos at Sarah Laurence's Blog.

After watching the Morris dancers and the street drummers and the hungover Oxonians, My Lovely Wife and I went to the Beating of the Bounds at St. Michael at the North Gate church. What is the Beating of the Bounds? It's one of those ancient traditions that reminds you of "The Wicker Man" or Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," except with fewer fatalities. My instant video documentary explains everything:

Gargoyle Balinese Fountain of the Week

This fierce, water-spouting fellow was captured by my friend Joyce while on holiday in Bali. A peaceful, contemplative Buddha he ain't.

No time for a BritNews RoundUp this week. That Beating of the Bounds video took me forever to edit and I'm off this morning to a World Press Freedom Day event at the Frontline Club. There's a debate on the motion: "New media is killing journalism." Killing journalism? That's harsh. And will have to say so.

Have a great weekend.


Jo said...

As someone who was simply too exhausted after the early morning wakeup to join you folks for beating the bounds, I really appreciated the video. And was the ivy beer at Lincoln college any good?

Anonymous said...

good work with the film - first of many? What did you cut it in?

Sarah Laurence said...

Awesome - you did catch the jumper! Great shot, and good thing the river was high enough this year to avoid bloody injury. Kids, do NOT try that at home.

Your beating the bounds film was beyond surreal. Only in England could a mob wielding sticks led by a priest scrawling graffiti not raise any eyebrows. I wonder about the bloke manning the security camera. Burning kids with hot coins? Makes you pine for the good old days!

Unknown said...

Bridge jumpers... Heh.

I remember, when I was younger, in the summer we'd go down to the railroad bridge over the C and O Canal and jump off of that into the canal. I just jumped off the deck, but the really daring people jumped off of the framework, or even the top. Stupid move, considering the canal is about 10 feet deep there. Young Men and Beer.

Sometime during the 90's the Park Service put up fences to prevent that.

rpkelly said...

Ken, Ken! How *could* you have missed the earlier, highly-acclaimed "British Cheese Festival"?

Mind you, my personal fave is one he did back in DC, where he dressed up as a historical figure and wandered the streets of DC to see who recognized him ...
(search for "The Jamestown Test")

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the Anthony Hopkins film about CS Lewis, where he took his wife to see all this?

Anonymous said...

Nice work with the camera, although Ken's point is well taken: the absence of any single-sex-marriage jumpers leads me to believe that John must be taking money from the US Department of Education.

BTW I think the suave wet dude is technically not in a dinner jacket (much less a "tuxedo" whatever that is) because his black tie is straight. In England this signifies he is on his way to a funeral. Perhaps of one of his chums, recently deceased in an ale-related drowning.

Old Lady: I remember "Shadowlands" well, although I kept expecting Anthony Hopkins to kill and eat Debra Winger. It had a West End revival last year with Charles Dance that everyone said was brilliant, but I foolishly missed it. Going to London to watch a load of repressed, fusty, Oxford profs seemed like a coals-to-Newcastle affair.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be catching up late John - Ah "The Lottery" that ranks up there with other movies we saw back in school. My other favoriet of that genre is "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge."

You and the family are missing the Annual Right at CLUUC called Spring B, but Spring in Oxford sounds fine as well!

Anonymous said...

Ah, England and its quirky traditions. Ah, naughty, blond Oxford boys in their nice suits. Wish I were there. It's like the thinking girl's answer to a wet t-shirt contest.