Trashing is one of those ever-so-slightly dirty words. Like a bunch of things at uni, it’s something you do with your friends now and again, but aren’t likely to tell your parents about. Leaving the picturesque cobbles of Merton Street spread with a sticky layer of Cava-scented shaving foam; parading noisily down the High Street picking silly string out of your hair as normal people try and get on with their days: it’s all just a bit too self-aggrandising, a bit too Oxford. The revelation in this newspaper a couple weeks ago that the University coughs up £25,000 a year to keep the crowds controlled and the streets clean didn’t exactly help the image.
And yet, we do it. Ritualistically, mechanically, we show up on hot Trinity mornings and cover our friends in a strange combination of sticky substances, all the while feeling ever so slightly guilty. Why? Just because we can?
Picture, if you can, your college library over the last few weeks. The place is a war zone. Bony faces, bearing the unmistakable scars of vitamin D deprivation and caffeine overload, snatch desperate 20-minute naps in the drool-pools of overdue books, pages stuck together with the lethal cocktail Galaxy Caramel and sweat. No one showers. No one leaves. The unnecessarily loud wall clocks tick, tick, tick away the minutes: meet the finalists.
After months of migraine-inducingly dull revision schedules, of panicked email exchanges with uninterested tutors, and sleepless nights contemplating your future beyond the castle walls, finals arrive. Over the next few weeks, thousands of students will sit in Exam Schools and write and write like their lives depend on it. Like their futures depend on it. Like their parents are depending on it. And that’s probably because that’s how important these exams feel. Of course, I’m generalising – some people are lucky enough to have the temperament to take finals like they take showers. But if you look around right now, you will see the accumulation of months of anxiety, boredom and tiredness lining the streets of Oxford.
Which is where trashing comes in. What better response to the fear and the worry than shaving foam and silly string? To be able to grin and scream and neck cheap fizz and feel as light and as joyful as a kid at your birthday party; to find in the very silliness and stupidity of being pelted with powder paint the realisation that it was just an essay in a very old building; that life is bigger and richer than difference between a 2.i and a first; that your future is longer and more brilliant than the job offer from Newton Investment; and that your friends are grinning back at you, because they’re bloody proud.
Finalists can come out of Exam Schools jubilant, or exhausted, or utterly crushed. But a few quid a head seems like a small price to pay to help them remember that life goes on after the papers are collected, whatever mark you get.