The Hertford boathouse reeked of beer. The carpet was stained with red frosting from a Hertford-themed cake, and the grill which had been cooking burgers and hot dogs was left wide open with charred buns strewn around the counter. The speakers that had been playing “We are the Champions” and “Timber” were now silent. The whole thing had been a blur: the singing, the dancing, the drinking — even Hertford Principal Will Hutton came and made a quick speech, finishing with “Well f— done!” (Dropping the f-bomb is Hutton’s way of connecting to young people.) It was dark out, and the massive crowd that had recently filled the whole boathouse was now gone. The rowers, some more sober than others, had gone home to get ready for the Torpids dinner, an annual event on the last night of racing that’s held at Hertford Hall. (We would come back the next day to clean everything up.)
In tuxedoes and dinner gowns, we entered the dining hall, which was dimly lit with flickering candles, and sat according to crews. Our coaches joined us as well. (This is really the only chance we get to see them socially outside of practice.) The captains started by making speeches, summarizing the term’s work and describing how their squads performed in the racing. Then, we started eating.
Oxford dinners — and, I’m sure, plenty of other dinners in Britain — have games to accompany the food and drink. There’s “pennying,” in which people try to toss pennies into each other’s glasses. And there’s one called “sconcing” where people stand up, tap a utensil against their glass to quiet the room, then say, “I sconce anyone who…”
and name something. Whoever has done that must stand up and take a swig from their wine glass. Things can get rowdy quickly. But it didn’t end there. After dinner, we all went down to the college bar — each college in Oxford has its own — played some darts, and talked. It was surreal seeing our coaches, who shout at us almost daily, pointing out every minute flaw in our posture, kicking back with us. Of course, we only talked about rowing with them (a systemic problem rowers have is the inability to shut up about their sport. Of course, I’m saying this in the third blog I’ve done about rowing, so there you have it.)
We left the bar and headed to a nightclub called the Purple Turtle. Nearly all pubs in Oxford are named after animals (The Bear, the Eagle and Child, the Lamb and Flag, etc.), satirizing the English’s lack of originality in naming establishments. The place looked like someone bought out a laser tag building and only replaced the bases with bars. The rest was a cavernous space of black lights and neon green, red, and purple paint on the walls. Someone might as well have been shouting, “Green team, return to base,” over a loudspeaker. We danced for a couple of hours and then went home. Next week was 8th week, the last week of term.