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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
High above the quad in a third-floor bedroom a man named Antony Henley crouched, waiting for the supper to finish. Tony had collected half the chamber pots in the college. (They used them then, and it is no more than even money they use them now.) In a room directly opposite, another man had collected the other half. A rope hung in a curve from one window to the other. At last the dons appeared under the porch of the hall, chatting only less than boisterously from the champagne. They were in full fig—dinner jackets, long M.A. gowns and mortarboards. They walked down the steps in the wavering light of the bonfire. At that moment a shower of broken crockery fell on their heads. Tony and his friend were sticking the rope ends through the pot handles and letting them slide down the rope two at a time. When they met they broke and fell on the dean, the provost, the bursar, the Goldsmith's reader, a bishop or two and other dignitaries. Big joke. The party went on all night, consuming untold bottles of Pommery and Piper-Heidsieck and much of the movable furniture of the college. At one point, I was told, seven drunken archdeacons danced around the bonfire, a spectacle very likely unmatched since the martyrdom of Ridley and Latimer, who were burned years earlier in Broad Street and from the top of whose Gothic monument the Oxford Alpine Club hangs a chamber pot each year.
The next morning the groans of hangover were decently stifled by the mists in the quad. The scouts were out with rakes and shovels, cleaning away the empties, the shards of crockery and the ashes of the bonfire strewn with the nails and eyelets of the provost's shoes. Antony Henley was haled before the dean, presented with a bill for upward of 150 chamber pots and laughingly fined £l0. Toggers were over. I have never rowed since nor drunk so much champagne.
I was not, so to speak, an oarsman by trade, I was a swimmer. The rowing I had done, while exhausting and in some ways amusing, merely passed the time until the swimming season opened in the third, or Hilary, term. The trouble was I couldn't find anyplace to "go out" for swimming. There was no varsity pool, I discovered. But I heard somewhere that the swimmers used the Merton Street Baths.
The Baths were in a grubby brick building, built long before with what seemed an ecclesiastical intent, for they had long Gothic windows in front. The pool itself, gently steaming in the cold of the building, was a gloomy tank, trapezoidal in shape, and I learned later that it was 25 yards long on one side and exactly 22½ yards long on the other—which made for some tricky finishes in a race. The bathing master said there hadn't been any gentlemen from the varsity near the place in months. He suggested that I see Mr. Pace in Merton College, the club president.
After I had knocked, Pace opened his door six inches, no more.
"Yes?" he said.
"Yes," he said.
"My name is Seager."
"Yes?" he said.