Some striking observations on student life from Norman Longmate’s book Oxford Triumphant (London: Phoenix House, 1954). The book is based largely on Longmate’s own experiences as a student at the university in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
On the timeless phenomenon of inattentiveness in lectures:
At one lecture on Aristotle’s Politics, ‘the man on my right was composing a sonnet and the man opposite was busily sketching the profile of the girl next to him, while she was much more conscious of his interest than she was of the contents of the lecture. Beside me sat an undergraduate who was the only person in the room showing any signs of concentration, and, on peeping closer, I realized that he was filling in a football pools coupon.’ (p. 35)
On student ‘rowdyism’:
‘Every writer on pre-war Oxford mentions this abuse; it is clear from their accounts that no peaceful citizen of the city was safe from attack by drunken and often brutal undergraduates. It was a recognized recreation of some members of the university to visit certain cinemas and thrust lighted fireworks down the backs of the dresses of the women in the rows in front …. One author, discussing Oxford restaurants, found it necessary to include the warning that visitors attending them should take large quantities of newspapers to spread over their clothes, since inevitably during the meal undergraduates would begin to pelt each other and the public with plates of food. The rowdy, it seems, held Oxford as his own, and timid proctors and studious undergraduates went alike in terror of him.’ (p. 75)
On the Bump Suppers held by college rowing eights:
‘When the meal is over they will start on a tour of destruction of the college. Anyone foolish enough to have left his outer door unlocked (or, in Oxford parlance, “his oak unsported”) will have his room wrecked, his furniture heaped together, his pictures smashed, his books torn or, if it be a wet night, flung out into the rain …. Often the dons themselves are partly to blame for such behaviour. I heard of one Dean leading a mob of undergraduates in a pitched battle in the college grounds and of another who, seeing long strips of toilet paper flapping in the breeze in the college garden, said that he liked to see it there.’ (pp. 79-80)