Culture

Alison Hall: I don’t miss clubbing.

Image: The entrance to Plush Oxford on a gloomy day.

In her second column, Alison Hall comes to terms with the changes to nightlife wrought by the pandemic.

I don’t think it would be a huge exaggeration to say that most people’s Freshers’ Week experience is far from ideal. I can’t quite shake the memory of entering the Park End cheese floor with an enormous coat tied around my waist, haphazardly bobbing my head along to the Grease soundtrack before retreating to the loos to lament a boy who had ghosted me some months before. Bastard. It really wasn’t the best way to make my debut on the Oxford clubbing scene, so I instead spent most of the rest of the week getting too drunk at pre drinks to make it out and sitting in my new friends’ rooms pretending to know what shoegaze was.

Naturally, I became a seasoned clubber as the weeks went by. In first year, missing a Plush Tuesday was out of the question, and by Trinity term I would manage to sneak in a Bridge Thursday most weeks. I even ventured into the Bullingdon and braved the cavernous depths of Fever, and in doing so learned that Hell itself has velvet walls. I developed a routine – pre drink enough so that I wouldn’t sober up on the walk to the club, knock back a £1 Jagerbomb or two, tear up the dance floor for a bit, retreat to the smoking area to shiver and overshare for half an hour or so, return to a booth for a catchup with someone I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, drop into the toilets to tell the first girl I saw that she was the most ethereally beautiful being I’d seen in my life and that her boyfriend was little more than a parasite, mill about until enough of my friends were tired enough to return home, and wake up with at least three or four Facebook friend requests.

I think about the vivacious eighteen-year-old who would stay in Bully until the lights came on in the wee hours and I don’t recognise her.

However, as I lamented in my last column – I got old. I think about the vivacious eighteen-year-old who would stay in Bully until the lights came on in the wee hours and I don’t recognise her. My transition from a sprightly young ingenue to a miserly curmudgeon between first and second year was admittedly rather tragic – my last summer term was defined by a seemingly endless barrage of intensely messy nights out, whereas this year I balked at the idea of going out more than once a week. Any night out in second year would necessitate at least twelve hours of recovery and self pity afterwards, most of which I would spend doubled over, knocking back ibuprofen like Tic Tacs and wolfing down dry bread to try and settle my stomach. I’m not the party animal I once was, and I have made my peace with that. And let’s be honest – clubbing becomes considerably less fun when one is in a relationship, as much as we all try to kid ourselves into thinking otherwise.

I didn’t think that my trip to Plush in the final week of Hilary would be my last for a very, very long time. I scoffed at my friends who begged me to come out because there was a chance it could be our last opportunity to have a grand old time before this new virus shut everything down – surely they couldn’t close down the clubs. However, as it dawned on me that Covid was really no laughing matter, I realised spending the night submerged in a crowd of sweaty, screaming bodies wouldn’t be the wisest decision. The prospect of a club-less Michaelmas felt daunting and somewhat dystopian at first, but I’ve gradually come to terms with this reality – I’ve even welcomed it. The pandemic has only made me more aware of just how repulsive nights out were. The mental image of hundreds of people huddled on a small dance floor sends a shiver down my spine. A Plush Tuesday just wasn’t a Plush Tuesday unless you received a pungent shower from the film of sweat that lined the ceiling. Strangers used to kiss strangers, sometimes several in a single night. Where did they keep the hand sanitiser? The very notion of clubbing now feels like a fever dream (if you’ll pardon the pun), and I’ve found that nostalgia has been usurped by sheer disgust.

The prospect of a club-less Michaelmas felt daunting and somewhat dystopian at first, but I’ve gradually come to terms with this reality – I’ve even welcomed it.

Nobody seems to have any idea of when clubs will open their doors again, or whether clubbing culture will ever be properly revived. After what seems like aeons trying to avoid crowds and physical contact where possible, I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing back any time soon. A part of me feels terribly sorry for the incoming freshers who will have to wait months to experience the joys of trawling Oxtickets to pay an extortionate amount for whatever techno night is “in”, blacking out while running their mouths in the Bridge smoking area and making terrible decisions in an awful club that’s either half empty or teeming with students. The rest of me can only say, “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

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