Dr Tim Bradshaw, Fellow and Tutor in Christian Doctrine, Regents Park College ponders the arrival of autumn

Oxford marks the coming of autumn by the St Giles Fair, assembled heroically overnight, it springs up on Sunday morning and provides a wonderland of kitsch and deliberately tawdry colourful rides and stalls, a candyfloss counter culture to the establishment intellectualism of the University. The foundations to many of the rides often seem to be pretty medieval blocks of wood on which metal feet for the heavy equipment stand, and never look like collapsing despite their low tech appearance. The carnival atmosphere builds through the day, the thump of the music gets louder and in the evening the squeals of delight by the joy riders set the mood. There are rides, sweets, games for all ages. This is fun for all who care to come along and part with their cash, some of which is rumoured to go to the coffers of a wealthy college. On Tuesday night all the rides and razamataz is taken down, packed into the lorries, and gone by Wednesday morning, an amazing logistical effort by all concerned. Oxford’s theatre of emotional exuberance comes and goes, in radical difference to the supposedly pure academic culture of the colleges and University.

After that Oxford is thronged by Open Day school students and often their parents, flocking in to see what is taught, how the colleges feel, how tutors and student welcome teams shape up, what the Faculties have to offer. This must be a boom time for the parking authorities, swooping down on unsuspecting visitors parking in the wrong places and paying a hefty price if they didn’t use the park and ride service. The student welcome teams are usually brilliant at making the visitors feel at home, showing them round, encouraging them to apply, sharing the experience of being the customers of the courses. Oxford’s students are indeed probably the best advert for the University and especially in banishing the image of posh aloofness.

Mid September also sees the graduation ceremonies bringing in proud mums and dads to watch their offspring go through that formal and still popular quasi medieval ceremony at the Sheldonian, almost an ordination in feel, as graduating students ceremonially complete their studies and move out into the wider world of work, hopefully with a sense of retaining the bond with their colleges and University. Graduating students will have come to Open Days, applied and been accepted through the system of interviews in the depths of December, become integrated into colleges and courses, with final exams and essays after three years. Induction, compression, explosion, exhaust, the old description of the petrol engine, is not quite an apt analogy, but these graduating students have indeed coped with pressure of work and become self-winding employees for any profession. They have had to research and write many essays, face reasoned criticism, learn from that and improve over their three years of study. They no doubt are exhausted after these three years, but surely enriched and shaped into people who can take on all sorts of tasks. The moment when undergraduates finish their last final exam in the Summer and their friends merrily ‘trash’ them with colourful foam, flour, eggs, and other food substances, is that carnival of the emotional exuberance which the St Giles brings in the Autumn – all that effort poured into answering questions, the learning gained during the three years of study, has been finished and joyous revelry can break out – although Proctorial admonitions are always close at hand, attempting to prevent pure anarchy on the streets, even going on to Facebook to garner evidence of unseemly behaviour.

Hard disciplined work, when completed, demands celebration and exhilaration, and student life will always reflect this need for the non intellectual side of our natures to have expression. Fun is part of life, or should be. Which takes us back to the St Giles Fair and all it offers!