As Michaelmas comes to an end, it is also the end of my first term as a Corpuscle-turned-Johnian. What better way to test how well I have fared with the transition than to subject myself to Bridgemas John’s style?
Back in my Corpus days, I was amazed every year at the luxury of having three formals a week instead of the standard two to provide enough Christmas dinners for everyone. Seeing John’s provision of a whole week of advent and festive halls (I never quite figured out what the difference is but what can you expect from a simple ex-Corpus girl?) made me feel like a combination of Oliver Twist and a deer caught in the headlights. The way people tend to get a slightly manic glee in their eyes when they realize that I am at John’s and therefore an excellent friend (read: Formal host and May Ball ticket provider) to have, has made me expect individually stuffed turkeys for every diner, Michelin-star chefs lighting up the brandy on Christmas puddings next to our tables, and Christmas crackers distributed by Father Christmas himself (who also just happens to be an ex-Johnian).
However, there was no elf parade welcoming us into hall or even a choir of cherubs. Instead, there was the usual, apparently college-wide hassle and subsequent failure of trying to receive multiple seats together, complete with if-only-looks-could-kill glances from our fellow diners and failed attempts at locating all of my dinner party (although all of this was sweetened somewhat by a welcome glass of mulled wine). The food did not set John’s apart either: the slabs of turkey on the carnivores’ plates looked more generous than the Corpus portions, but the John’s potatoes were definitely dryer than any vegetable I ever ate at Corpus. The Christmas pudding victory goes to John’s, though, with a juicier, spongier consistency than the pre-cut puds I’ve been having at Christmas formals for the past four years. But what united my two colleges was a third wheel: it was my turn to appear awe-inspired with my dinner guest boasting about the chocolate fountain at his (usually dubious) Caius Christmas dinner. So much for the scrumptious Christmas pudding at John’s.
It’s not all lovey-dovey equality between my current and ex colleges even at Bridgemas, though. I still feel like a foreigner when I accidentally refer to John’s Christmas meal as Christmas formal instead of Christmas hall – that is the jargon you get when your college has a buttery for casual dining, reserving the hall for formals (sorry, halls). Also, I manage to miss out on any carol services in college because, despite recurrent reminders, I somehow failed to grasp the concept of having to book tickets to John’s basically professional carols service several weeks earlier – again, the naïve ex-Corpuscle in me is back, assuming to be able to turn up to college chapel minutes before carols kick off and even being allowed to sing along.
I guess the Bridgemas test result is that, a term on, I’m still a bit lost. I have made some improvement, though, now proudly scribbling away with a pen with the inscription “Once a Johnian, always a Johnian” – admittedly wearing my beloved Corpus hoodie. I still cannot answer the big question, Corpus or John’s. But I know where I’d rather not be, and that is Oxford.