Tuesday, November 15, 2005

cloisters and closets of oxford

I was at People & Planet's annual chinwag Shared Planet over the weekend, hosted by Oxford Brookes University.

In the 1990s the government decided all the polytechnics should lose the stigma of being seen as some sort of second class option for higher education and join the esteemed ranks of the universities.

As most cities had a poly and a uni, it meant they had to come up with names to differentiate them. One wag of my acquaintance suggested that the polytechnics should be called 'The University of...', and the universities should become 'The Real University of...'.

This wasn't taken up by any of the institutions as far as I know. Instead, they all came up with their own different answers.

In Leicester, they named themselves De Montfort University, after the medieval Jew-slayer Simon De Montfort.

In Liverpool they decided to give students a clear vision of the intellectual heights to which they may aspire by naming themselves John Moores University, after the man who founded Littlewoods department stores and catalogues. I suppose if you're going to get a degree, you might need a nice cardigan to wear while you do it.

North London Polytechnic toyed with the idea of giving students the choice of name, until it became clear that they'd end up being Karl Marx University. Having a degree in philosophy from Karl Marx does have a certain ring to it. Better than a degree in philosophy from John Moores, at any rate.

Newcastle Poly was on course to be City University of Newcatle upon Tyne until they spotted the acronym.

I'm not entirely sure who Oxford Brookes is named after, and I can't quite be arsed to find out.

Universities have long and venerable histories, their belief in learning and intellectual improvement reinforced by the upkeep of age-old traditions. Nowhere can this be more obvious than in comparing the ancient hallowed cloisters of Oxford University with Oxford Brookes University.

I am pleased to report that Oxford Brookes have met the challenge of overcoming the wet-behind-the-ears aspect of their newish university status by honouring tradition. Their Headington Campus toilets have classic graffiti-friendly formica partitioned cubicles.

It's sad to see how many other establishments have foiled the graffiti writer with a move over to stainless steel or tiled walls. I remember being in the bogs at Kings Cross station in the early 1990s where there was a massive 6 or 8 paragraph descriptive and detailed epic from a guy who explained that he'd moved to London and was staying in his uncle's bedsit and was really enjoying wanking while watching his sleeping his uncle's white Y-fronts glowing in the moonlight. It's an experience becoming rarer by the day. (The reading of such things on toilet walls, that is; I wouldn't hazard a statistical guess about the incidence of wanking at uncles).

But at Oxford Brookes this weekend I was pleased to read in just one cubicle 'smell my cheese, you nobber' alongside 'Dolphins are just and kind beings. Gay sharks are evil.' And then, above that foot-high gap before the floor peculiar to toilet cubicle doors, the classic 'beware of gay limbo dancers'.

Honouring intellectual tradition, feeding eager young minds and encouraging them to intelligently express their thoughts and ideas in this way, Oxford Brookes may hold its head as high as the gay limbo dancers bend low.


Anonymous said...

The University is of course named after Trevor 'Bruno' Brookes, the esteemed radio and television personality of the 1908s. That he was chosen for this honour reflects his contribution to the intellectual life of the nation during his tenure as the presenter of the teenage general knowledge quiz 'Beat the Teacher'

scarletharlot69 said...

I've just googled "Bluebell University" and "University of Bluebell"

no sign thereof. alas

got a railway, ice cream (ugh probably non vegan) town,

wouldn't mind a university

I would make a cracking Chancellor

Feel the Love!


Anonymous said...

Littlewoods made their money as a football pool, which, if you jad mentioned it would have made your remark about aspirations even more apt

merrick said...

curious Nick, I didn't know it was named after Bruno Brookes. I had come to suspect it was named after Elkie Brooks. The 'e' was added to signify the Educational aspect of the institution).

Conversely, York University was named after Thom Yorke but dropped the 'e' to show that he was in fact more educated and intelligent than them.

And with a foot in either camp, Warwick University was named after Dionne Warwick, who actually changed her name to Dionne Warwicke for a while after an astrologer said it would put a cosmic balance on her name and make her much more successful. (In point of fact, all the records by Warwicke records bombed and she reverted to Warwick).

zoe said...

geoffrey durhame had shit luck with his magician act until he changed his name, had a university named after him and became the great suprendo... (piff paff poof! was, i believe, his catchphrase)