Like eating raw cacao, or watching The Parent Trap knowing about the tragic IRL fates of Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan (fatal skiing accident and going-off-the-rails respectively), the experience of my Oxford graduation was bittersweet.
It was great to celebrate with my family (who’d skipped over from Australia and with whom I’d spent the last week roadtripping around the south-west of England, visiting towns with names like Westward Ho! and Pucklechurch), and reflect on an incredible and challenging year. But ‘smiling because it happened, not crying because it’s over’ is tough advice to take (sorry Dr. Seuss…) – having to say goodbye to my BCL and college friends left me something of a blubbering mess.
My experience of Oxford is best summed up by my friend Johannes’ catchphrase (uttered with a sigh of contentment and A-Ok finger sign): “Ah, happy days!”
Arriving in Oxford, my expectations were ‘lofty’ at best, ‘borderline delusional’ at worst (my preparation involved watching Brideshead Revisited, Harry Potter and every collegiate movie/series I could get my hands on). And yet, appraising this place 10 months later, I feel somewhat vindicated. For me, the romance of Oxford has been real.
In less than a fortnight I will leave this beautiful place for good. I will desperately miss:
Having a tribe drawn from all over the world (Germany, Sweden, Canada, the US, France, South Africa, Hong Kong, the UK…), feeling like Anne Shirley forever waxing lyrical about kindred spirits and bosom friends.
Credit: EIBN Photography
Another day, another ball. Oxford in Trinity term has a bit of a travelling circus feel about it – it seems that every weekend the bands of performers, fortune tellers, firework technicians, magicians, tentists and fairy floss vendors just bundle up shop at one college and trundle over to the next (there’s a surprising mileage on those swing boats). Magdalen’s June Ball was themed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’; the same as Brasenose and at least a couple of other colleges (I suppose the options are somewhat limited. ‘Taming of the Shrew’ Ball doesn’t have quite the same romantic ring to it…). Neatly ensconced between my 1st and 2nd week of exams, it was a welcome break from the stresses of study. For one evening, my only stress was trying to drink and eat my ticket’s worth of cognac and cake pops. And getting a few nice photos before my eyes took on a drunken glaze.
Credit: Romain Reglade
Worcester Garden Party (credit: Simon Mendelsohn), Summer VIIIs (credit: Cesar Manivet)
Of the 3 terms (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity – I know, I know, they sound more like the names of 3 Dickensian orphans), Trinity was by far the most intense for me. 7 tutorials in 3 weeks (each requiring a critical essay, intelligent discussion and therefore bringing a fresh set of heart palpitations), a month of rowing training leading up to the week-long Summer VIIIs regatta, and the looming threat of exams in 9th and 10th week. As my final term in Oxford, I also felt the pressure to sign up for every event, lest I leave a single ‘Oxford experience’ stone unturned. It’s a great point of smugness that I didn’t hunker down in bookish misery until the end…so determined was I to experience this place in all its spring- and summertime glory. Seasonal delights include:
Magdalen Players (credit: Clarie Holubowskyj)
The Magdalen undergrad’s performance of ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ was held in the President’s garden. It’s definitely something special to see a performance where the stage wings are topiarised and your view is partially obscured by irises.
“How’s a 2005 Volnay Burgundy sound? How about a vintage 1985 French sweet wine? Or perhaps a 2006 Barbera d’Asti? Or the piece de resistance, a Sandeman port that’s been in the cellars for 45 years?”
The email was pretty enticing. Not overly enlightening (for all I knew, a Barbera d’Asti could be compact hatchback, a Volnay Burgundy some kind of pancetta-wrapped oyster dish…) but from context I gathered that these were wines I should get excited about. And so I signed on for the MCR wine-tasting and cellar tour.
PCBC Pimm’s Party (photo: Fashion Biscuits)
First week of Trinity term kicked off with the Pembroke College Boat Club Pimm’s Party, which fulfilled all of my ‘preppy University experience’ wishes. Back in my undergrad days at Sydney Uni, I used to wear this cute knock-off Ralph Lauren blazer around campus, which was pretentious enough to land me in the banner photo of the university website, but also meant that I fielded incredulous, “Why are you wearing your school blazer?” inquiries at least twice a day. But at Pembroke, the students donned their boat blazers and cuffed chinos with gay abandon. Of the pictures below, 1 is from the event, and 2 are Ralph Lauren ads. Can you guess which is which?
Since the end of last year, a number of friends have come to visit me here in Oxford. That number is 6, so by now I’ve developed a standard walking tour of Oxford sights and snippets of information…that I’ve never bothered to verify. Like butter on a toasty baguette, I think that historical anecdotes and hearsay should be laid on thickly, and unclarified.
I start by taking them around my college and its deer park (source of Magdalen’s venison meatballs), point out the Old Library (excavation yielded a bunch of bodies from the 15th Century hospital site, plus Oxford’s largest collection of wig curlers), make up some symbolic meanings for the scores of gargoyles and grotesques we pass along the way, and then take them up the Magdalen tower.