Culture Music

A Bridge Too Few

Queuing is what I miss the most. That is terribly English of me, but I am terribly English. Oxford nightclub queues are one of the few human collective experiences so far spared the tedious gaze of the sociologists.

They come in all different kinds. The Park End scrum on an ABBA night, where one is jostled and pushed by St John’s boys and Balliol girls desperate for their next hit of disco. The Bridge snake, where conversations and flirtations struck up from one row to the next are rudely interrupted by the continued slither around. There’s the Plush wobble where one stands in solidarity in a wee-stained alleyway by the Union. It is only slightly worse than the Fever throng betwixt Tesco’s and Five Guys – the Syclla and Charybydis of the cash-strapped, booze-fuelled, hormone-fuelled Oxford student’s Friday night.

As hot beds of social interaction – from two minute romances via drunken brawls to the sort of deep and meaningful conversations that can only happen after three bottles of gin mixed with limoncello – they are as much a part of the average Oxford experience as lectures, matriculation and a battered copy of Brideshead Revisited.

There is even the illicit thrill of trying to get around them. Whether sneaking into Bridge through Anuba or blagging your way into a college BOP with nothing but a doctored Bod Card and the liquid courage of The King’s Arms, subverting the bald and bulky authority of the bouncers is always a joy. In short, the nightclub queue is an essential part of life in Oxford – and one we have been cruelly deprived of for the last few months.

Nightclubs are uniquely ill-suited to a global pandemic. Their business model is to fill themselves with sweaty, drunk, young people in very close contact jigging about to a tuneless R’n’B thrum. As the major objective of most clubgoers is either to move about as much as possible, or to get into very, very close contact with a member of the same or opposite sex, the thought of nightclubs reopening must give Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty cold sweats. But I wouldn’t want to speculate about their sex lives.

Nevertheless, it’ll be nightclubs that reopen last. Some reports suggest if all these vaccines go well, we might see them back by June next year. But Covid deadlines do have a habit of slipping. Even if we see them reopened on a limited, group-of-six basis from the start of December, and even if Dishi Rishi is even more liberal with the national credit card than he has been so far, it’ll surely be the case that not every club will make it through the next few months. It has already been three quarters of a year since any of us were enduring the hacking and hedonism of the average Bridge Thursday; with every passing day, the prospect of another gets ever further away. 

Imagine it: months and months more with no downing of VKs at the Fever bar, or spilling jaegarbombs down the tops of menacing-looking Teddy Hall boys. No adrenaline-fuelled attempts at misremembering the lyrics to Mr Brightside; no opportunities of waking up in bed with either a soul-shattering hangover or someone you can’t quite remember the name of. Probably both.

This isn’t just desperate, booze-hungry, sex-starved, musically inept hedonism. Clubbing is an essential part of the Oxford ecosystem, a way for us to release that pent-up frustration at essays, tutors and problem sheets. Structuring your life around pres at 10 and going out 12 makes adapting to the student lifestyle easy. Security in the knowledge that you will have the chance to mingle and moan in the Bridge smoking area in a few short hours has made getting through the last 1000 words of an essay infinitely easier. I fear for those freshers who have been ending their days in the library, rather than dolled up to their nines and lumbering along Cornmarket. How dull life must be without it.

Dull, but better.

I’m a dull man, I expect. I can’t tell you much about Picasso, or quote Keats, or sustain a conversation about the New York Dolls. I cannot dance, will never get a Blue and have an irritating cut on my nose where I was hit by a giant rubber duck over the summer. This dullness doesn’t extend to a taste for corduroy and cardigans – well, not yet – but if one looks back and thinks you could only generate excitement at the bottom of a VK or on the cheese floor of Park End, then you must be a fundamentally dull person. Going to a nightclub is like gorging yourself on chocolate – fun in the short-term, but leaves you feeling strangely unmoved and sickly afterwards. 

We may enjoy going out every night to fill our bodies full of Vodka and adrenaline, but it is the human movements that make a nightclub night, not the mindless activity. Those little social interactions that stay with you when the dreadful music and hangovers have gone. A former amour spotted on the Bridge staircase, walking away after another failed attempt to stich things up. An argument in the Park End queue on the inequities of Thatcherism, followed by a night of silliness that would have surely got the Iron Lady’s knickers in a twist. The unique thrill of realising how much two friends love each other by how they look at each other on the Fever dance floor.

These, dear reader, are the things that make a night out. It is these human moments we are missing, not the music, dancing and all the rest of it. In that respect, the loss of nightclubs is no different from any other form of social interaction of which this pandemic has robbed us.

Nevertheless, life without nightclubs has been surprisingly productive. Fewer hangovers and more free evenings have meant I’ve been far more effective at using my time. Earlier to bed, more opportunity to read – I’m currently on Lolita, and finding it terrifying – and more opportunity to watch appalling television with my set partner.

Most importantly, it has reminded me why I came to Oxford: to study. Again, that must sound terribly dull, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like learning things. I think I’ve rather neglected that so far, in the interests of hedonistic indulgence. Going cold turkey has been an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities. Nightclubbing never factored into my calculations about coming to here. I’d got most of my information on the city from Morse and Endeavour. I was expecting more murders, old Jags and policemen with drinking problems. I’ve found depressingly little of any, but nightclubbing is not a worthwhile alternative.

As much as I might miss them, I probably won’t be first in the queue when the nightclubs reopen. Lockdown has shown us there is much more to life in Oxford – and Lolita won’t read itself.