Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oxford Examination Carnations

Traditions, traditions, Oxford is full of them, but the examination carnations are definitely one of my favorites. Whilst by Oxford standards they are a relatively new tradition, (thought to have originated in the late 1990s), carnations are worn during exam time to signify how far along each student is with their exams.  White carnations are worn for the first exam, red carnations for the last and pink carnations for all the exams in between.  

One suggested reason for this tradition is that students used to place a white carnation in their 
red ink-pots between exams, so by the last exam it was completely red.  

Unlike the strict academic dress called sub fusc, which all students must wear to exams, (another weird and wonderful tradition), carnations are not compulsory, but tradition also states that students must be given the flowers by someone else. Whatever the reason, I hope that this is one tradition that is here to stay - It is so nice to see people all around town buying each other flowers, wishing strangers luck and congratulating those wearing red. 

Where to purchase your carnations
The florists in Oxford sell out extremely quickly during exam time and the price per stem seems to go up every day! Try 'The Garden' or 'Jemini' at the Oxford Covered Market or if you're super organised, (or just plain lazy) you can order online at 'Oxford Carnations,' and have them delivered to your pigeon hole.

Photo: JCM Photos

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Oxford 'Summer Eights' Race Course

Have you made plans for tomorrow? The final day of Summer Eights should be a blast!
Unfortunately, with such a long and winding course it's impossible to catch all of the action, but the following three areas should provide you with the best vantage spots and their fair share of thrills and spills.

The starting area 
The starting area extends all the way from Donnington Bridge, past the Isis Farmhouse to Iffley Lock and is perhaps the only place you'll get to see all thirteen crews row. From here the boats take off in frantic, high-speed pursuits, attempting to make a quick bump and avoid the whole grueling battle while the pack is still tight. It does seem an awfully cruel race when for many, the race is over barely after it's begun, but it's a lot of fun to watch.

Don't get a fright if you're passing the fields beside the Isis Farmhouse -  A cannon is fired twice to give warning of the start (at 5 and 1 minute to go) and to signal the start of the race. 

Linacre M1 crew warming up before the race.

The 'gut'  
Located between Donnington Bridge and the Longbridges Boathouses, this bendy bit of the river causes its fair share of trouble. If you're after some carnage, this is the place for you. Here the river narrows and the current is at its strongest, making a domino-like effect of successive bumps (or concessions) highly likely. One of the crews even had to be rescued here today because it began sinking after a fatal bump!

It's called 'bumps' racing for a reason!


A perfect summer's day

The Longbridges Boat House is located on the southern bank of the Isis and shared by Green Templeton, Hertford, Mansfield, St. Hilda's, St. Catherine's and St. Benet's colleges.

The University College Boat House can also be found on the southern bank of the Thames a little further towards Folly Bridge. It distinguishes itself from the other boat houses with its sleek, architectural design and was opened in 2007 (after arson destroyed the previous 19th century boat house in 1999). Outside students dressed in sub-fusc celebrate their final day of exams.
The finish line 
The finish line sits just below Folly Bridge, within easy cheering distance of most college's boathouses and Christ Church Meadow. This is where most of the spectators gather and whilst the crews will be racing on the opposite side of the river, (what little of them remain), this area provides the best panoramic views of the course, within easy reach of the burgers and Pimms.

Christ Church Meadow and beyond.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oxford rowing jargon

If you're heading out to watch the Summer Eights this week, a quick lesson in rowing lingo 
might come in handy.....I never knew there were crabs in the Isis!
Blades - the 'trophy oars' awarded to crews who 'bump up' every day.

Boatie - Common slang at Oxford and Cambridge for someone who is obsessed with rowing.

Bowside - the right, or starboard side of the boat.

Crab or Catch a crab - a rowing error where the rower is unable to timely remove the oar blade from the water. Whilst in the water, the oar acts as a brake, slowing the boat down. A severe crab 
can even eject a rower out of the shell! Occasionally, in a severe crab, or 'over-the-head crab,' the 
oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her.

Cox - the oar-less crew member who sits in the stern of the boat.

Eights - an inter-collegiate boat race held annually in Trinity term. 

    Erg - a rowing machine used for training.  

    Head of the River - the glorious title given to the winning crew of the first division.

The Isis - another name for the River Thames, a shortened version of it's latin name 'Tamesis'. 

Klaxon - a loud horn used if the racing line becomes completely blocked, if there is someone or something (usually a swan) in the water, or if a severe collision imminent. You'll here the marshal shouting “klaxon klaxon klaxon” over the radio to confirm that the race has been cancelled.

Rating - the number of strokes per minute. 

Sculling - a form of rowing where the rower uses two oars, or 'sculls.' 

Shell - often used to refer to the boat itself.

Spoons - the opposite of blades. A 'booby' prize awarded to rowing crews who are 'bumped down' every day, or to the boat finishing bottom of the river. In theory, such a crews are allowed to paint a wooden spoon in their college colours and write their names on it as a trophy of their 'achievement', or lack there of.   

Stern - the back end of the boat (or shell), where the cox usually sits. 

Stroke - the rower closest to the stern of the boat, responsible for the stroke rate and rhythm. 

Strokeside - the left or port side of the boat. 

Sweep rowing - a form of rowing where each rower handles a single oar. 

Torpids - an inter-collegiate boat race held annually in Hilary term.

Images: Oxford Rowing Colours, 1848.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oxford Summer Eights

It's 'Eights Week' this week and if the sun keeps shining like it has done today, it's set to be an absolute ripper! For those of you who are not yet aware, the Oxford 'Summer Eights' is a rowing event comprising four days racing from Wednesday to Saturday of 5th week in Trinity term. This year Summer Eights will take place from the 23rd to 26th May, so head down to the Isis and join thousands of spectators, as they watch and cheer all the lycra-clad boaties battle it out for glory.

What is 'bumps' racing?
A bumps race is a form of rowing race where a number of boats chase each other in single file, with each boat attempting to catch and "bump" the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind. Bumps racing was adopted in Oxford because the Isis is narrow, making side-by-side racing impossible and is said to have been first devised at Eton College. From here, ex-students carried the race to Oxford and Cambridge.

During Summer Eights, thirteen boats compete in each division and begin the race lined up one behind the other. The starting position of each crew is carefully measured, allowing 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. The cox of each boat must hold a rope, anchored to the bank, to ensure that this position is maintained until the race begins. Once the cannon sounds, the rope is dropped and the boats sprint off in a single file, trying to catch the boat ahead. This makes for a very exciting and competitive race as boats move up the field very quickly. 

Oxford University Rowing Clubs: Blade designs 

'Bumping up'
It is not necessary for the boats to physically touch, (although they often do), the front of the chasing boat need only pass the boat infront. Once a bump has taken place, both crews must stop racing and move to the side of the river, allowing the rest of the division to pass them. Crews who successfully bump the boat in front of them (or 'bump up') exchange starting positions the following day.  (Initial starting positions are determined by where each crew finished the year before). 

'Head of the River'
The ultimate aim of a crew is to become 'Head of the River' (top of the first division), but crews who have successfully 'bumped up' each day are also awarded 'Blades.' These are trophy oars, painted in their college colours with all the names and weights of the successful crew emblazoned on them. Less sought after is the possibility of getting 'spoons', where the crew has been ‘bumped’ every single day. 

Race Times 
23 May     11:55am – 6:45pm,  from Iffley Lock to Folly Bridge
24 May     11:55am – 6:45pm, from Iffley Lock to Folly Bridge
25 May     1:00pm – 4:00pm, from Longbridges to Christchurch Meadow
26 May     10:55am – 5:45pm, from Iffley Lock to Folly Bridge

Note: You'll catch the best rowing between 5-7pm each day and Saturday should not be missed! 

Please remember that I too am new to all of if I've confused any of the rules (or left any out), please enlighten us all in the comments section below!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Oxford Town and Gown 2012

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Town and Gown 10k is just around the corner, so if you haven't registered yet, now is your chance. Visit the Muscular Dystrophy website to register today!

Oxford Town & Gown Sunday 13th May 2012, 10:00am, Parks Road, Oxford


A note to drivers: Unfortunately during race time, there will be a number of road closures 

in the heart of town, so the area is best avoided.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Blenheim Palace Jousting Tournament

Looking for something to do with the kids this weekend? Take your little lords and ladies by the hand and escort them to the Palace! Blenheim Palace that is, for this weekend gallant Knights and their mighty steeds will meet to battle for glory in a spectacular jousting tournament.

Located in Woodstock, just eight miles from Oxford, the Palace will provide a spectacular backdrop for the weekends festivities. Surrounded by over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland, the great lake and beautiful formal gardens, spectators can watch and cheer for their favourite knights, enjoy falconry displays and have-a-go at archery from 11am each day. 

Swords, shields and souvenirs will also be available from a special retail marquee throughout the weekend, so mums and dads be warned - Dress in your finest armour, be on guard and ready to duel!

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Mother's day reminder

'Mothering Sunday' may have come and gone, but 'Mother's day' is just around the corner. 
Don't forget to pop Mum's card in the post this week to make sure it gets there on time!

For last minute, emergency posting and a selection of proper 'Mother's Day 'cards,
check out (They are otherwise very difficult to find at this time of year!)

Happy May Day Oxford!

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