My last two days of May I spent visiting a new restaurant (Las Iguanas, amaze), and experiencing the joy of trashing a finalist friend. Since the latter of these two things is a delightfully and stupidly Oxfordian practice, I thought I’d write about a couple of other sillinesses specific to my university.
When Oxford students finish summer exams – particularly finals – their friends celebrate by ambushing them
outside the exam schools and pelting them with horrible things. #friendship. On Saturday I participated in the trashing of my musician friend Anna; I turned up very naively with confetti and a smile, her boyfriend brought the bubbly, and a Hawaiian lei and a party hat were provided by her housemates. Very tame – or so I thought. The proctors patrol the outside of the schools to make sure no food items are thrown in their vicinity and well they should, because by the time we hit Oriel Anna was covered head to foot in a mixture of shaving foam, shampoo, lentils, custard pie and birdseed. Thankfully someone decided the dogfood was a step too far, but strolling through Oxford on a packed Saturday and coating unsuspecting tourists who walked too close to our human dustbin with goo was a great Saturday activity.
Corpus Christi’s Annual Tortoise Race
This is exactly what it sounds like. Corpus Christi’s annual tortoise fair and accompanying tortoise race is so popular that I struggled to catch a glimpse through the jostling of iPhones, but I do know that its victors were the aptly titled Zoom and Shelly – both from Worcester College, suspicions of doping abound. I did remark that the tortoise selection all pleasingly reflected their respective colleges: Sampras from Christ Church was unnecessarily massive, Oldham and Foxe from Corpus were very well-mannered if unengaged, and Balliol defiantly stood out from the crowd by sending a human representative whose handicap was to eat an entire head of lettuce before he could begin. The most impressive entrant was probably Regent’s Park’s Emmanuelle who is rumoured to be over a hundred and still going strong, but ultimately Corpus Christi’s tortoise keeper stole the show by rocking a green curdouroy jacket and a tortoise-encrusted bow tie. Aside from reptiles there was Pimms and ice-cream and even a bouncy castle; a very civilised afternoon out, if totally ridiculous.
I went for a jog in uni parks for the first time, which was a pleasant change from my usual street circuit. I normally run for 20 minutes or so which is ample time for getting in a lap of the park, and the more wooded stretches reminded me very much of my regular route through deepest Bavarian forest this time last year – although with a whole lot more wheezing, human encounters, and rain.
I tackled a few new recipes (mainly involving salad, what have I become), and today I sampled a marinaded grilled chicken and mash concoction. If anyone has any tips on how to make spinach edible they would be very welcome; if one more person tries to talk to me about kale I am going to scream.
MOST excitingly, however, this week I booked my first SOLO TRIP. Although I travel a great deal I have never actually planned a holiday alone; I always end up coordinating with people I know or staying with a friend of a friend, and I’ve not yet managed to hostel by myself which I’ve been desperate to try since meeting reams of independent Australians when inter-railing age 18. I’m very excited, especially since this adventure will be in a brand new country! Since I’m spending my whole summer in the states (more on that later), and finishing off with a week in NYC in August (more on that later), it turns out that journeying back via ICELAND is far cheaper and less taxing on my terrible flight nerves than doing the whole US->UK schlep in one go. I’ve booked myself in for four nights at this absolutely amazing looking hipster hostel in Reykjavik as recommended by Amurrican Uric, and I’m hoping my Santander research scholarship (more on that later) will stretch to enjoying what Iceland has to offer.
I have to admit that I booked the whole thing on a whim after staring open-mouthed at endless shots of Iceland in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but if Montenegro last summer has taught me anything it’s that I’m a sucker for beautiful landscapes. I can’t wait.
I always find that the more easily accessible somewhere is to me, the less likely I am to ever take advantage of it. Scriptum’s Turl Street shopfront full of globes and prints and bizarre masks has always called out to me and my love of dingy emporiums of brickabrack, but its air of a tourist snare has always put me off gracing it with my patronage. Today I sucked it up and went inside, to find that it is in fact not an eclectic mess of vintage bits and bobs but a carefully curated stationery-and-more store, with two impeccably dressed men that lurk around you on the ground floor soundtracked by ominous classical music . As uncomfortable as this alone-time with a tweed-suited Tweedlum and Tweedledee partnership made me, I was distracted by all the great things the shop has to offer – from the classy end of hand-engraved leatherbound notebooks and photo albums, to miniature hot air balloons and vintage travel stamps and stickers. And there’s an entire upstairs! I spent a good half an hour in there, and even made an extortionate purchase.
Scriptum is fairly expensive to be sure, but I really recommend it be it for 21st present fodder or just for a browse of all the random old-school stuff in there – I can already feel its mini watercolours of the Bridge of Sighs calling me back.
Today I played my first concert with the Oxford University Orchestra, Oxford’s premiere musical ensemble. We played a banging programme of Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Beethoven 7 and Sibelius 5 to a rammed Sheldonian (despite impending finals), and it was a real muscular work-out and a jolly good time. I usually devote my musical efforts to the Oxford Millenium Orchestra, the largest unauditioned orchestra at the university, because it has a great social scene containing many firm friends and also tours annually. And the main event of a rehearsal is going to the pub afterwards. This term I had to give OMO a miss as its concert date overlaps with a thespian endeavour, but our conductor Dave graced the audience tonight.
Although I did really enjoy playing in an ensemble in which everyone is a top notch soloist (and the whole viola section actually plays), I think I’ll be returning to my musical home of OMO next year. Half of the reason I have played and sung music in all shapes and forms these past 15 years has been because of the community and social aspect of the craft, which is sadly missing from OUO despite all its fantastic individual members. And to be honest two 3 hour rehearsals per week is really more than this lazy historian is prepared to commit to.
Today I got to vote in my first election. When it comes to university politics I am completely unengaged – my diary of absenteeism this week alone includes failure to vote in the NUS referendum, our college presidential election, and the recent JCR committee selections – but though I’m perfectly happy to allow other people to shoulder the responsibility and the blame for those decisions my attitude to these European elections is rather different. When it comes to having a say in who we send to represent us outside of our self-obsessed isle I refuse to trust a population that allows the existence of such lunacy as the English Democrats (“not British, not EUropean, but English!”) and the Harmony Party (“zero immigration, anti-EU, pro-jobs”) with the future of our voice on the continent. I mean, it really takes seeing this rubbish in black and white taking up half of my polling card to believe it. Of course the real horror of this election is the monstrous joke-become-a-nightmarish-reality of UKIP and the human turd that is Nigel Farage… but right now it is 1am and I won’t go into why I relished my suffrage today in not voting for any of the isolationist far right that have ridden the crest of the recession wave to an absurd position of unearned legitimacy.
But seriously Farage, go and fall down a fucking well.
Another couple of days of failed trying new things – my first ever yoga class fell through and a new dish I was trying out turned into an unparalleled disaster – so here’s a selection of very boring first-times that I happened upon organically:
I ate three bananas in one day – pretty crazy am I right?
I went out of my way to buy sports clothing.
I wrote a song on my ukulele – not a feat to be sniffed at I feel, but I refuse to share it with the internet so it can’t really count as having happened.
One thing I did manage was to finally go to the Cezanne exhibition at the Ashmolean. My last visit was for a coin-handling session with my Viking World class last term, and at the time I told myself that I really should hang around the Ashmolean more often seeing as I can access everything for free and it’s got such a gr8 spread of arts and artefacts. And two gr8 cafes. The exhibit was made up of deceased American intellectual Henry Pearlman’s private collection, and although Cezanne was billed as the headliner he was mainly limited to one watercolour-heavy room. I can’t say that I swooned over anything of his in the collection, as my favourites ended up being the above Pisarro (look at that delicate wallpaper!) and Modigliani’s portrait of Jean Cocteau (that the subject hilariously HATED – you can see why, it’s very Modigliani-ey). I also very much enjoyed Lipchitz’s big ole brass sculpture of Pearlman’s head, which was comically enormous.
I always find myself slightly underwhelmed by Ashmolean exhibits, although they do get big names in there. I wasn’t very impressed by the curation of the last Bacon/Moore selection either, which I resented myself for as Moore is a personal favourite. Never fear though, as clearly I am the exception because everyone else raves about them. Definitely worth a poke around.
I bought a typewriter for £15 off eBay. No guarantee it would work save good faith and a sturdy brand name (Erika, like a Scandinavian masseuse), but it arrived and it does. Dom and I set it up and typed various hilarious titbits, housemates came in and smushed the keys to listen to the symphony of satisfactory thwacks and dings. I can see myself sitting at my desk typing furiously with hands aflutter a la Daisy on Spaced, or pushing horn-rimmed spectacles up my nose as I churn out a promised biographical sitcom for my cousin (a 20-something cosmopolitan sort making it big in love and life in the political capital of Europe). I’m excited about what Erika and I will accomplish after a bit of oil and a replacement ribbon at a push – but then again, she’s equally likely to sit there untouched as a mere amusement for visitors.
Another selection of odds and ends of new things from a squelchy work week full of procrastination and glorious weather:
I witnessed a real spring sunrise in Oxford for the first time – over the New College sports ground to be more precise. The weather here has been GLORIOUS.
I branched out from my standard sandwicherie of choice (the Alternative Tuck Shop) to the highly-recommended (and rather classier) Olives, on the High Street. My goats cheese/roasted vegetable/salami baguette was pretentious and yet oh so delicious.
I ordered my first copy of the Dark Mountain magazine(/book), a publication from a network of creative sorts who write about the world as we know it coming to an end – but in more of an anti-capitalist/environmental awareness way than the crazy cult vibe. I was turned onto it by Nick Hunt’s superb book that I have been raving about elsewhere; he’s a big contributor.
I finally got round to using my cousin’s Christmas gift of a cupcake maker (basically a baking version of a George Foreman) and made several fluffy baked items for some friends and housemates. Noone was enormously impressed, but I’m hoping results will improve once I work out the measurements more precisely than the incredibly vague and also quite scary French instructions (SOYEZ PRUDENT! PAS TROP LONGTEMPS!).
This week has been one of those weeks. For one reason or another relating to work and play and my favourite animal being put down I have not been feeling on top form, so to make myself feel like SOMETHING in life is going right I have been jogging almost every morning – which is novel in and of itself. A few days ago I finally took the plunge and crept through the unassuming shrub-shrouded side-gate off St Cross Road that leads to Holywell Cemetery. And that place really is a revelation in a hazy dawn. There is such a Secret Garden feel; dew-soaked grass, limbs breaking through overnight cobwebs strung between the gravestones etc etc – many of which belong to ex-masters or fellows of various Colleges, with the occasional mournful child’s tomb. The graves stretch on for an unbelievable distance just like a rural churchyard, and then when you get to the wall at the end there’s nothing but an expanse of field and trees and a broken down wood shed. Left alone with the birdsong and dappled trickles of sunlight it really did feel like a “morning has broken” moment in the middle of the countryside. I had a five minute silent stand-off with a fox that stood defiantly at the other end of the grassy expanse beyond, and the whole experience was incredibly surreal. I’ll admit to getting a bit spooked by the various rustles as nature woke up for the day (but actually more so by the deafening silence in the middle of a city), and broke into a nervous trot to get out the gate again… But if you’re a central Oxford resident (like me) and a lover of graveyards (like me) then this spot is not to be missed.
Today we had our first open-air and on-set rehearsal for the New College classics play, Euripides’s Electra. Every year Classics tutor and all-round ancient and excellent guy David Raeburn directs a Greek play in the beautiful space of New College’s cloisters; as a fresher I was roped in to do sound and lighting at the last minute, and two years on I’ve been gloriously upgraded to cast member.
The play charts the deeply-dislikable Electra’s vengeful plot against her murderess mother Clytemnestra (me) plus lover Aegisthus, assisted by her weedy brother Orestes. It’s a very unusual take on the myth aided by a brand new translation by David himself, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be jolly good. I only appear in one scene – it’s a good’un I can promise you – and the run is from June 5th-8th. Come and see me dressed like the Queen Mum.