There must be something about slightly seedy Indian restaurants that lend themselves to niche Oxford traditions. Walking into Jamal’s or Temple Lounge on a Wednesday night is like walking into an alternate universe where it is completely acceptable (and expected) to be unapologetically ‘Oxford Rah’ and have no shame.
I seem to have found myself on a number of crewdates in the last year and a half despite not playing any sports, and they can all only be described as an ‘experience’, for better or for worse. The paradox of crewdates is that at the time, drinking out of shoes, hiding under tables, and watching someone eat a samosa out of their arse-crack seem not raise an eyebrow – yet imagine going for dinner at Pho, only to watch someone give their college wife a lap dance.
Another fundamental question is why are they only ever held at Indian restaurants? And why do we get served food which no one eats bar maybe the bread and hummus when someone inevitably gets too drunk? Crewdates don’t lend themselves to a deep and structured analysis of oxford social politics, however, the relationship between privileged students paying to drink and cause havoc in independent institutions trying to stay in business can only leave something to be desired and is slightly unsettling.
Crewdates are one of the best forms of organised fun that Oxford has to offer. They are an excuse to go out and play silly little boys’ games whilst laughing at others being embarrassed by their friends. Sconces are intended to be embarrassing yet they often border on being weird flexes. The feeling of your eyes rolling back into your head when someone smugly stands and jeers for being called out for doing bits in the biology section of the library is a fundamental emotion that you should expect to experience at least once during the evening.
The overbearing smell of chicken wings, oily curry that only the brace would touch, and an eclectic mix of different types of bread is what makes Temple Lounge feel like home. Although, crewdates are often hit or miss. Sometimes the perfect storm of a bottle of wine, excessive gluten and the promise of meeting new people doesn’t surpass expectation as the sports teams don’t gel. For example, upon attending a crewdate with the Blues rowing team I found myself sat next to someone who was A) old, and B) unbearable. Failing to ask me my name, college, sport (which I didn’t play), or even degree, he proceeded to explain how crewdates worked to me in very slow simple English as if I had just learned to talk. When I asked him how many crewdates he’d been on he said it was his first one. At the end of the same crewdate, another drunken rower rose from his seat to ask ‘Jamal’ (obviously, not his actual name) if we could stay for another twenty minutes. Unsurprisingly, he said no.
Despite the controversy, there is something that makes you feel patriotic towards Oxford at a crewdate. Maybe there’s something in the curry, or maybe it’s the solidarity of knowing that at the end of the day everyone has done deeply embarrassing things, just some more than others. There is also comfort in the fact that no one is likely to remember in the morning, and everyone is far too busy thinking about their own reputation to care about anyone else.
Perhaps I can only speak for myself, but in my entire time as a student here I have never remembered leaving either Jamal’s or Temple Lounge. I just seem to apparate to Park End with no memory of the queue and often no memory of my time there. There is nothing quite like the feeling of hangxiety on a Thursday morning, running to a tutorial bleary eyed and thinking about the consequences of your behaviour from the night before or dying from embarrassment. Despite their contention, crewdates are a fundamental part of the Oxford experience whether you like them or not. They seem to be going nowhere so you might as well lean into the chaos of alcohol fuelled organised fun for a couple of hours on a Wednesday night.