Last night, Monday night, I got drunk and screamed at people I didn’t know. Unless you’re at a rugby match, this generally isn’t acceptable. Conveniently, I was at a rugby match. I’ve never felt so British in my entire life. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
On Friday morning I hopped on a bus headed to the north of England, a place called The Lake District, for an event that my study abroad program called “Adventure Weekend.” The seven hours I spent on a bus were worth it: I saw the high peaks and red mossy bluffs of Wordsworth’s youth, climbed through the trickling streams that brought water to the fluffy sheep down in the valley; I lodged in an old manor house beside the Derwent, the same lake referenced in Lyrical Ballads, and tried to brave black mold and not get eaten by ghosts. I succeeded on both fronts, and even got to go climbing, an activity I haven’t participated in since I joined a local climbing gym in the fifth grade. My Bar-Mitzvah party was “extreme-sports” themed, and this weekend was all that and more. Nothing says “local” like eating a Cumberland sausage in Cumberland.
Although I didn’t know it when I got on the bus, Adventure Weekend wasn’t just for the IFSA-Butler Oxford students: it was for IFSA-Butler students from all over England. This was why several of my friends from Duke were also there. It was great catching up with them, sharing the natural beauty of the Lake District with them, and drinking with them on Saturday night. I actually didn’t partake in the drinking, as I caught the “freshers flu” the previous week, but the party atmosphere was contagious. We danced and sang and laughed when a girl nearby fell flat on her face (after making sure she was alright, of course). Later in the night, the same clumsy girl asked me for a lighter.
“Doyouavea lighter,” she said.
“Smoking will literally kill you,” I replied. She wasn’t pleased with my answer.
“I said I don’t have a lighter,” I said. “Sorry.”
On the bus ride home the next day, after we figured out the spirit animal of everyone on the bus but before I tried to begin working on a 15 page paper about the occult influences in W B Yeats’s The Tower, my friend Josh casually mentioned that he was going to a rugby game on Monday. Josh was a rugby player and Physics major from Baltimore. Sometimes, because of his fascination with the subject, we called him Neutrino Boy.
“What did you just say?” I asked.
“I’m going to a rugby game,” he said.
“How do I get tickets?” Like punting, drinking at a pub, and sneaking into forbidden parts of the Bodleian library, no trip to Oxford was complete without seeing a rugby match.
“You can have my extra,” he said. I was ecstatic. All that night, even as I broke into the Christ Church meadows to watch the fog rise over the grass, all I could think about was rugby. The next night couldn’t come fast enough. Then it did. I sipped a glass of whisky, put on two coats, and met Josh in an underground pub that smelled of age, oil, and damp wood. Together, we conquered beers and talked about physics, and then made our way to the rugby pitch.
“What is it like?” I asked Josh as we walked. He pulled me back onto the sidewalk.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Just non-stop action. You know the point, right? You have to move the ball from one end of the field to the other.”
“Like football!” I yelled, and he pulled me back onto the sidewalk again.
“Yeah, and each position has a number. That’s what the numbers on the back of the jerseys mean.”
“Exactly. Touchdowns are called trys, and each one is worth 5 points. The equivalent of a field goal is worth 3, and a conversion is worth 2.”
“No. Not at all like hockey. Get back on the sidewalk, you’re going to get hit by a car.”
When we arrived at the pitch, the game had already started. To my great pleasure, the Oxford Blues were ahead of the London Wasps three to nil. I yelled in giddy excitement as a caveman in a blue jersey destroyed the scoring hopes of a smaller, agile player in white, and sighed in sadness as the ball somehow ended up in the hands of another player in white. He too was taken to the ground, but again another white player mysteriously got the ball and the Wasps continued to move their way up field. Then the whistle blew.
“Oh look, a throw-in,” said Josh. I watched with a detective’s curiosity as a white player threw the ball in from out of bounds and multiple players from both sides were launched into the air.
“Like cheerleading,” I whispered, and it was.
In the end, the home team heroes beat the adversarial visitors 30 to nil, a score I was happy to chant as the losers trudged their way off the field. I peed in a bush and reflected on the experience. In a way, I decided, rugby is like football, billiards, and cheerleading, but rugby is also like art: I can look at it, stare at it for hours, scratch my head and scream and stomp my feet, not understand a single thing that’s going on, but love it all the same. It was beautiful.