A and I are old grade school friends from our days in Washington D.C. We fell out of touch at the beginning of our sophomore year of high school and actually ran into each other on the street while both of us were studying abroad at Oxford University. She spent her whole term time as a part of Oriel College and became involved in the student life by attending formal balls, bops, and integrating herself in the Oriel squash and rowing teams. I was a part of New College, so naturally I was curious as to the particular traditions of Oriel College and how they differed with New.
A: As you know any sport revolves heavily around the varsity match. This is the Oxford vs. Cambridge competition where you have to show your true pride, but we have races and competition between the colleges themselves. I played squash and rowed for Oriel.
L: Is there anything special with these races?
A: Yes, oh my god! So we have two major races: summer 8s and bumps. If you become head of the river you get to burn a boat and celebrate. While I was there, our men’s first 8 won bumps and paraded an old wooden boat from our boathouse (coxswain sitting in the boat of course). We were chanting Oriel and other things that supported our victory. Sometimes we would sing crazy spirited songs until we get to the main quad. There we smash the boat to pieces and have a three course dinner. The two first 8s eat at high table, while the rest of the crews have to sing for their dinner. You start with the lowest boat and the boat songs adapt what happens during the race to a more personalized experience. I think we did My Bumps instead of My Humps. After dinner, the provost lights the boat on fire post a small speech and the winning crew jumps over it.
L: It’s funny that you mention this because I have a good friend who was a coxswain at Pembroke and they have the same ritual except they light the boat on fire right away and then have a crazy dinner.
A: There’s surprisingly a lot of crossover between Oxford and Cambridge with tradition, but I like this one in particular because it creates a sort of community and you get to light an old boat on fire!