Oxford: The good bits

Since I finished finals (yes, I FINISHED FINALS!) a week ago, I’ve been having a lovely time and thought I’d do a slightly sentimental rundown of my time here while everything is looking rosy. However, every silver lining has a cloud, as they say, and I’m currently also working on a post along the lines of “everything that is horribly wrong with Oxford” – stay tuned. I intend to make it more interesting than a rambly rant, so it will be aired either next week, or in about a month and a half, depending on whether it reaches completion before I jet off to Vietnam (yep, I’m going to Vietnam for a month. Currently we have booked flights to one end and back from the other, but planned absolutely none of what we’ll do there. Wish me luck!) In the meantime, please enjoy this list of things I like about Oxford life. 

Genuinely, properly, 100% engaging with your subject

In general, the tuition you get here is unparallelled, and I have learnt more than I thought was possible since I started. Much as I disagree with most Oxford tutors about what constitues an acceptable workload (in my view, it should leave time for both sleep and friends), and about whether we really need to do a compulsory paper in the history of the French language (everyone sensible thinks it is a pointless and boring subject), the good bits of my course really are a treat. I’ve loved every minute* of my literature papers – I love Voltaire, and contemporary stuff; as my friends know, I’m capable of banging on about it for hours. Even linguistics, with which I’ve had an on-off, cat-and-dog, will-they-won’t-they relationship for the past four years, will probably be missed; sociolinguistics is genuinely great, although we won’t talk about the other subdisciplines in case any of my linguistician friends are reading this… That said, I have Serious Thoughts about the way the course is structured which, as promised, will be discussed further in a later post.

*OK, not quite every minute. The minutes/hours/days immediately before deadlines have occasionally been sleep-deprived, desperate hell.

The beautiful buildings

I don’t know where I’ll end up living next, but it probably won’t be as pretty as Oxford, and there’s nothing like being allowed into all kinds of exciting buildings (ok, mostly just colleges and libraries) to make you feel lucky. I’ve been exploring more of these recently, which has gone mostly well, but occasionally disastrously…


This is a room in the Union into which Laura and I decided to sneak in and work, to break the monotony of the library. This was fine, until we went to lunch, leaving our stuff behind, and came back to find that not only was the room now occupied, but that its new occupants were a large group of primary school children, apparently engaged in some kind of debating event, accompanied by their very serious parents. The ensuing shamefaced walk past the hawk-like gaze of the aforementioned parents was one of the most humiliating experiences of this year.

The beautiful fields

Oxford’s also just very blessed in terms of pretty places to go. Much as I deny my roots as a country bumpkin, I really enjoy being able to get out to Port Meadow and University Parks within ten minutes – they’re very lovely places in which to rage hopelessly against the fact of having to write yet another essay.

port meadow sunset port meadow

Meeting amazing people

As usual, the people I’ve met have been the best thing about this stage in my life – I’ve got to know some of the most interesting, thoughtful, fun, ridiculous, childish people I could ever hope to encounter, a lot of whom I hope will remain lifelong friends. As well as everyone in college, I’ve had some fantastic times with my choir (the Oxford Singers, who I heartily recommend joining if you’re in Ox for the forseeable future) and my subject buddies.

Living with them

The sad thing about the above, of course, is that we’ll no longer be living in the same city. It’s going to be odd no longer sharing a college with some of my best friends, although of course I had a taste of life outside college last year, and the number of people who’ve left already is a constant source of sadness in my life. I’ve heard that adult life involves a lot more alone time and commuting, and a lot less time hanging about in rooms doing pointless things with a bunch of people you like. I plan on bucking this trend as far as possible.

Rosie robot

This is Rosie, my flatmate, who is currently doing a sleep study and looks like a robot. It’s hilarious. I’ll miss her.

Being middle aged and childish all at once

sconespimmsAs a friend has repeatedly pointed out, we’ve all lost our marbles a bit over finals, not that we necessarily knew where they were to begin with. Symptoms of this seem to include (in my case) spending exorbitant amounts of time making my revision notes into little books of colour-coded cue cards complete with hand-sewn binding and elaborate cover. We’ve also started communicating mostly in dinosaur and bird noises, something that has led to the discovery that a magpie that lives in college will look at you whenever you whistle a certain note. Who says a humanities degree isn’t useful?
Despite this childishness, we’ve firmly entered middle age in our socializing habits; it’s been bed at 10pm for most of this term, Pimms is the post-finals drink of choice, and a conversation a while ago revealed that if Rosie and I won a large sum of money, most of it would probably go on pimping our kitchen.

The wonder that is a British summer

Sian and Kate enjoying the

Sian and Kate enjoying the “sunshine”

Despite our elaborate plans for punting, croquet and other poncy outdoors pursuits, the weather has been distinctly changeable lately. This meant that the Jericho street fair, which we attended regardless, was something of a wet blanket. Or, more precisely, a wet, deflated bouncy castle. Ah, summer…

Perhaps the saddest sight their is...

Perhaps the saddest sight there is…

This tent of dancing pensioners was very cheerful though

This tent of dancing pensioners was very cheerful though

The moment finals are over

batmanFinals was a surreal time; I still don’t feel like it really happened, and I’m waiting for my results with trepidation. I got through it with a combination of grit and very strange coping mechanisms, such as ironing a batman badge onto the inside of my gown (yes, we have to wear those to exams). I also learnt to cycle with no hands, something I’ve been aspiring towards for my entire life and which I like to think makes me look Very Cool. When the hard slog eventually came to an end, the feeling of euphoria (which set in properly as they collected up our very last paper) was fantastic.

The moment I was released into the stunning concrete carpark of Ewert House - that, ladies and gentlemen, is elation.

The moment I was released into the stunning concrete carpark of Ewert House – that, ladies and gentlemen, is elation.

Stupid traditions that everyone secretly likes

The strange penguin-garb I’m wearing above is compulsory for exams, and the student body voted to keep it recently, believe it or not – personally, I’m ambivalent about the merits of ‘sub fusc.’ I do quite like the carnations though, a more recent and student-led tradition where you buy your college children/spouses/parents a white, pink or red flower depending on which exam they’re on.


There’s also the infamous post-exams ‘trashing’, which basically involves throwing stuff at your friends when they come out of their last exam: confetti and silly string if you’re nice or (as I heard recently), disgusting foodstuffs ranging from ketchup to an actual dead octopus, if you’re a truly reprehensible human being.


I leave you with this photo of an archway (I think it’s in Lincoln college) as an emblem for The Future, and for my total absence of a sensible plan. Travelling will happen, so expect more blogs, and if you fancy giving me advice about setting a career trajectory in motion, I’d be grateful. I’ll be back soon. 


2 thoughts on “Oxford: The good bits

  1. Rowan,
    Another enlightening and very entertaining blog. Generally, I like keeping traditions going but quite why you have to wear that sub fusc to sit an exam is beyond me – batmen and carnations are a nice touch.
    Have a great time in Vietnam (why Vietnam?)
    You will have many sofas you can surf across the world as your friends and alumni find jobs but should you ever think that an uncle in Aylesbury might have a useful sofa just bear in mind that not only can he offer a proper bed but there is also an out house, should you prefer! If you wish to wire yourself up for bed, then so be it.. and there is a fair bit of alcohol here (I made 13lbs of marmalade from frozen sevilles last night, so the cooker works too!)
    Beware of single magpies – of course, the curse doesn’t count if they are not seen in flight but always best to look at a single bird twice, not that I am superstitious, of course!


  2. Pingback: Oxford problems: Why things need to move on from 1096 | Just an anglophone

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