The Corpus Christi tortoise fair will be taking place this Sunday, one of the most highly anticipated events on the Oxford calendar. Every year, all the tortoises residing in Oxford colleges come out to compete in the tortoise race, the main event of the fair, each making a run (or rather a meander) for victory.
It was in Trinity Term 1974 when Steve Brand, a student at Corpus Christi and a representative of RAG, decided to organise a tortoise race between a few of the Oxford colleges, including Somerville and Oriel. Blue Peter also got involved and entered their tortoise, Freda, into the race. Corpus Christi received quite a fright, however, the day before the race when their college tortoise, Christie, was reported missing. To everyone’s relief, Christie was found safe and sound in the Cloisters Quad the next day. With regard to the race itself, the Pelican Record of 1974 relates: “Christie, obviously off form after a harrowing night, came third after 21 grueling minutes and 40 seconds.”
Lily Aaronovitch, the current tortoise keeper of Corpus Christi, appears confident about this year. She says Corpus’ tortoises, Foxe and Oldham, are “very much in love and this has distracted them in the past. Odds should be good for Foxe but also for them having intercourse during the race.”
Another entrant for the race this year is Sampras, Christ Church’s tortoise. Kishan Koria, the tortoise keeper at Christ Church, says of Sampras: “An understated intellectual colossus (with an IQ of 160+) it has been rumoured that Aesop’s fable was indeed based on Sampras, as was Lewis Carroll’s academic paper on logic ‘What the Tortoise Said to Achilles’.” Kishan adds: “He has been inspired by the Olympics towards a victory for the College who are right behind him.”
This year’s competition promises to be tough, with all reptilian entrants training hard for this one occasion. Philip Brooks, the tortoise keeper of University College, says of their tortoise Percy: “He…hibernates in a Budweiser fridge each year; after 3 months he emerges well rested and a little bit drunk.” Though Percy has not yet won before, Philip says “there’s an extremely high chance of him winning this year due to the training regime he has been undertaking; he’s the first in at Iffley gym in the morning and the last to leave.”
One new entry is St. Peter’s tortoise, Aristurtle. The college’s tortoise keeper, Madeleine Herbert, says: “He is very unlikely to win – I had him on the lawn at St Peter’s to practise the other day and he mainly just sat there, and then walked in a very slow circle.” But she continues: “He is very cute though, so I think he will win hearts if not the race!”
Joining Foxe, Oldham, Sampras, Percy and Aristurtle will be the aged Emmanuelle from Regent’s Park (rumoured to be over a hundred years old), the two newcomers Archibald and Theodore from Wadham, and Zoom and Shelley from Worcester college. Having won last year, Zoom is definitely one to watch. Teddy Hall have entered one of their students who will come dressed as a tortoise and compete with the tortoises by trying to eat a whole lettuce before any of them can reach the finish lettuce. The last, but notable, addition to this year’s tortoise fair is Magdalen College School’s terrapin called George.
All proceeds from the Corpus tortoise fair will be going to Helen and Douglas House, a hospice caring for children and youths with terminal illnesses.