Do fidem

I graduated on Monday.

What the hell, you guys. This was not supposed to happen, like, ever. I was meant to come to Oxford and be ridiculously happy and make friends and learn things and never, ever leave. All of those things happened, but now it turns out I have to leave.

Well, sort of. I’m still living in town next year. But I won’t be a student again for a while to come, and I sure as shootin’ won’t ever be an undergraduate again. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but it turns out that it is really quite surprising.

The morning I graduated, I woke up so nervous that I felt sick. I’m still not sure why. It might have been motivated by a subconscious fear that my family would do something American and gauche, like cheer at a wildly inappropriate moment, or it might have had to do with the fact that I knew perfectly well what the day would entail: inhumane amounts of clothing experienced simultaneously with extreme heat, stress, uncertainty about where to go and what to do, and a general inclination of circumstances towards the unenjoyable. Actually, most things turned out fine. I had already pre-ordered the BA gown and hood, which is lined with white fur, from Walter’s, the shop where I’d bought both my commoner’s gown in first year and my scholar’s gown after Mods results. I’d completely forgotten about the problem of subfusc when I was packing up my house earlier this month, and had therefore put mine in storage, which forced me to buy an entirely new skirt, shoes and black ribbon for the graduation ceremony. But apart from that, which I’d taken care of before getting to Oxford, all of the regalia proved unproblematic. The woman at Walter’s, whom I’d spoken to on the phone, leaned to me conspiratorially as I left: “I’ve given you a nice hood,” she said in an undertone. (And she had.)

Me and the Kid pre-ceremony

Me and the Kid pre-ceremony

We were meant to show up at the lodge and leave our hoods in the rector’s lodgings, before attending a briefing by the Dean of Degrees on how to behave during the ceremony. I met both Darcy and the lawyer in the quad, with their respective families, and although I quickly lost track of the lawyer (finding him again later), Darcy and I went off to the dean’s meeting together. Our Dean of Degrees is one of the modern language tutors, who frequents chapel for the music, so although I’ve never met him officially, his was a familiar face. His duty in this instance is to present us to the Proctors and the Vice-Chancellor formally, to ask them to admit us to the degrees which we’ve worked for. There’s some onus on you as a student, as well; you have to bow at certain points, as a mark of respect, and you have to respond “Do fidem” (“I swear”) to the injunction to uphold the “statutes, privileges, customs and liberties of the University”. This question is posed in Latin, and, as the Dean warned us, it did not sound like a question. Consequently, there is a lot of bleating and mumbling as people try to work out whether their turn to assent has come or not. I think the graduating group of Exeter B.A.s did better than most. We were certainly an improvement on the two hapless men receiving one of the Masters degrees, whose incompetence so greatly surpassed the norm that it even flustered the officials.

There were, I admit, a couple of tricky moments. One of them was the point at which the Vice-Chancellor told us to applaud our families, who were all sitting in the uncomfortable, closely-spaced, high-banked seats of the Sheldonian, watching the ceremonies. He reminded us, pertinently, that we would not have succeeded without them. This is quite true, and it made me feel a bit weepy. (I could see, even from several hundred feet away, that my dad had already succumbed to the same impulse.) When we sat again, I pinched my wrist to deflect the weepiness, and watched the blue-and-rust mural of unidentifiable semi-pagan figures and painted clouds on the ceiling, waiting for the hot prickling sensation behind my eyeballs to disappear.

It is a very diverting ceiling.

It is a very diverting ceiling.

After you say “Do fidem”, you are marched out of the side doors of the Sheldonian and into the Divinity Schools (a massive room in the Bodleian, where they filmed the infirmary in the Harry Potter films). All of our hoods were somehow moved into this room while we were inside, and the ritual is to don the hood before being paraded back through the Sheldonian, three by three, like a weird triumphal procession. I found my labeled bag without apparent difficulty, fastened the hood properly, and cast around for Darcy. He was standing by the window, hoodless. “Someone’s stolen mine,” he said with peculiar calm–so I waited, with the lawyer, for the Development Office minions to find a spare. As a result, we ended up the last three in the procession. “At least our parents will know which ones we are,” I pointed out.

The lawyer, whom I’ve known since freshers week, stood on my right; Darcy, on my left. “It feels rather appropriate to graduate with you,” the lawyer said. “End as you began, after all.” End as you began, and as you continued, I thought: with your friends. The doors opened. We walked in, and through, and bowed to the Vice-Chancellor, and out. We had degrees. We could officially put “B.A. (Oxon.)” after our names. We were really, truly finished.


But I’m not finished here.

I know I started this as an Oxford blog, but it’s become more than that–a travelogue, a sort of incubator for opinion pieces and sketches of places, people, events, a record of thoughts and doings–and I want to keep doing it. In the fall, it will move to a different website, and I’ll keep you all updated on that as it progresses. (I’ll also include a link to the new site here, when it moves.) Meanwhile, the summer beckons: I’m in York at the moment with my parents, which is a good chance to revisit a city I loved six months ago, and a further trip seems to be in the offing in August. Keep coming back, and I’ll keep feeding you!


‘Tis new to thee

My housemates are nagging me to write something new. I’m sorry about the time lapse, but really all I’ve been doing is work, and no one wants to hear about that. Freshers’ week was a bit of a bust–partly because, being a third year, I feel kind of conspicuous at freshers’ week events (there’s something a little ominous about a third year who really has nothing more pressing to do than to go to all the club nights), and partly because collections revision had to happen at some point, and going out until three in the morning didn’t seem like a good way to establish a sleep pattern (already mucked about by the jet lag.)

We did have Princi and Guppy’s college children to dinner at the end of last week, though. They’re both classicists, both girls, both charming, and neither one of them complained when the food was late. Because Princi’s cooking repertoire really only encompasses the realm of pasta, and Guppy didn’t seem bothered, the Duchess and I ended up cooking–with the help of Half Pint and Hawkeye, formerly known as the Bird of Prey (whom I have renamed because it’s more succinct and more descriptive), both of whom came over as well. Our house is quite small; the dining experience was extremely snug even when we’d moved into the front room. But that is student housing for you. Dinner, incidentally, was very nice. The Kid gave me a cookbook for my birthday which fed me throughout the summer, and from which I suggested a recipe for sausages, mustard mash, peas and carrots, and onion gravy. It turned out rather well, despite the fact that cooking for eight people is significantly more difficult than cooking for one. (This seems startlingly self-evident when actually stated, but it hadn’t occurred to me before.)

That description of food has now made me hungry, which is a shame because I am in the Bod and there is nothing edible to be had here. I’m taking a break from reading for my first week Special Author essay. I’ve elected to do Faulkner, which is good in that no one else is doing him and it will be easier to say something original, but not so good in that the vague, unannotated and disorganized reading list has made me feel somewhat at sea with virtually all of the secondary criticism. The fact that I’m writing on time schemes in The Sound and the Fury (past and present, time as continuous, memory and re-living, neurosis and chronophobia) is probably contributing to the general sense of disorientation. Still, at least I know more or less where I’m going with it. First week essays are awful anyway because your tutors always decline to have a meeting with you at any point before Friday of naughth week. So if you decide to fix your weekly tutes for the term on any day other than a Friday, you subsequently have less than a week to do the reading and writing for the first one. Twas ever thus, and really it doesn’t matter that much, but it does kick you into high gear in a fairly disconcerting fashion.

And now I have only twenty minutes left before meeting Half Pint for lunch in college, so that is quite enough to be going on with. (I hope you’re happy, housemates.) More later when there is more to say–and there should be, as we have been compiling a list of things to do over the weekends, which includes Kelmscott Manor, not to mention several trips to London for plays and, y’know, London-y things. Huzzah!


Hello, gentle snowflakes. Have you missed me? …..No, perhaps not.

Well, I’ve been too busy to miss much of anything, although I still love you. I got in on Sunday morning around ten and took the coach (long-distance bus, not carriage with horses, though that would be excellent) from Heathrow to Oxford that morning. Moving in and most of Sunday was a blur which I really can’t describe in any meaningful sense whatsoever. My room is AMAZING, though–I asked for a double study set, which gives me a shared study/living room with two bedrooms leading off of it (so I have a roommate, more or less) and an en suite bathroom. Oxford colleges have rather a unique organizing system: the central area is the quad, with buildings all around it, and each door into a building leads onto what’s called a staircase (because it is, in fact, a staircase.) Rooms are identified by which staircase they’re on. I’m on staircase six, room three, so my room is abbreviated 6:3. It’s a brilliant room because it is literally one story above the JCR, which is the Junior Common Room (junior because we’re undergraduates, not grad students). The JCR is where nearly everything happens, where people hang out, drink tea, watch television, make toast, etc. It’s got a kitchen and large red sofas and it’s quite wonderful. Though we haven’t been spending much time in there–mainly the pubs and the college bar (right under the dining hall, and super cheap.)

I’ve been assigned a college parent (two, actually, but one is always more your parent than the other one.) My college father is a second-year English student, meant to be a sort of academic and personal mentor. I don’t have any pictures of him yet, but it might help to know that last year he won the Brideshead Revisited Award for Best Oxford Stereotype. (For those of you unfamiliar with Brideshead Revisited, this might help.) I’ll refer to him from now on as Sebastian. So–Sebastian, like all college parents, was meant to buy me a drink. This has actually happened several times now; much of the mentoring appears to be of the alcohol-consuming variety, albeit in a very legal and therefore civilized way. Last night, however, he forgot his ID at college and, since we were in a pub which is known to be quite strict on these things, he just gave me three pounds to buy myself a G&T. It turned out to be four-fifteen, so he now owes me eighty-five pence, which I don’t particularly plan to hound him about.

We’ve had several drinks at the Turf, which is a frankly marvelous pub that is virtually impossible to find unless you know what you’re doing. If you’re ever in Oxford, here’s how to pretend you belong: go down Broad Street (where the Sheldonian Theatre is) all the way to the end, then go down Holywell Street. About halfway down on the righthand side there’s a little cobblestone road called Bath Place. Go down there. It looks like a dead end; it’s not. Sharp left, down a passageway–that’s the first outdoor seating area of the Turf. Don’t sit there. Turn right, go down the little lane by the side, then turn left again (you’re still outside, but you’re walking next to the pub wall.) Go all the way up that passage; that’s the second outdoor seating area. They have BRAZIERS. And by braziers I do actually mean large iron tubs full of flaming coals. It keeps you warm. There are signs about roasting marshmallows and hazelnuts. I wish I had a picture of this for you, but I’ve been shy about using my camera lest I look (horrors!) like a tourist, so here’s a generic one from the Interwebs:

This will probably be my local.

All of the English students are marvelous. Two of the girls make me feel mildly inadequate as they are extremely chic and tend to wear black with sassy vintage shoes and smoke hand-rolled cigarettes (something a lot of people here do, despite the incredibly unattractive photographs of gum disease patients which adorn looseleaf tobacco pouches.) But whenever I’m around them, I pretend to be as cool as they are (or bored, and therefore cooler), and so far it’s worked!

There’s also Blackwells, which is where I hope to end up when I die. I’m not joking as much as you think I am. It is absolute heaven. A huge independent bookshop, four or five stories (with an underground bit as well–the Norrington Room–science, law, psychology, etc., located literally underneath the Trinity College quad), selling…well…everything. I’ve been at least once a day and got stuck in classic fiction the first time; we didn’t even make it to poetry. I’d been there on visits before, but it’s unbelievable that I’ll be so close for the next three years. It is literally across the street from Exeter. I took this picture from my room in December when I interviewed.

Blackwell's is on the right hand side of the yellow building (the White Horse pub).

I went to buy my Old English primer from there this morning (it feels quite remarkable to type that, I have to say.) The first meeting with the tutors was yesterday, which was mildly intimidating but mainly just really exciting. We’ve been divided up into partners for tutorials, the main method of teaching here–a very personal session with your tutor, you and your partner, the book you’re doing that week (yes, a book a week, I know) and your essays. I’d already fixed with one of the lads that we would be partners, but the senior English fellow put me and the other American girl reading English together. In a way it’s good–we already know each other and we get along–in another way, it’ll be a little harder.

This post is already too long, but I do have to say that I’ve bought my gown, hat and black velvet ribbon tie. I got the outfit from a shop in Turl Street (the street Exeter is on) called Walters of Oxford, staffed by extremely gentlemanly fellows of mature years. The one who fitted me had a soft, cultured Scottish accent, round horn-rimmed glasses and a lovely smile, and explained delicately, as he was draping the gown over my shoulders, that “although for women it doesn’t have to fit over a jacket, most prefer it to cover their derrieres.” Quite. I signed the college register wearing that gown yesterday, so now there is documentary proof that I was an undergraduate here, if there wasn’t enough documentary proof already.

It’s impossible to describe half of what’s going on. Freshers week keeps you run off your feet morning to night–literally–and generally after nightfall as well. There was a party at a club last night, which was pretty rubbish: impossible to talk inside, but you weren’t allowed to take your drinks out, so you couldn’t sit, talk and drink at the same time. I left with a fellow English-er and a lad reading modern languages (French and Italian) and went to the pub next door, which was a great deal more enjoyable. Today I walked to Christ Church Meadows with my tutorial partner (who also has a blog:, and to whom I shall henceforth refer as Dodgy, because I think it’s rather cute) and a lad reading law, for whom I don’t have a good alter ego name yet. There are now cows on C.C.M., which is quite lovely, and we took a few pictures, some of which I include for your benefit.

Dodgy and the lawyer

Dodgy and me!

I always get major props for telling people I used to have cows.

...though ours were never quite this sweet.

Thames Valley Authority. Fans of Inspectors Morse and Lewis: this is their office.

Folly Bridge--just before the boathouses.

It’s much too late to be coherent anymore, so I’ll stop here. Tomorrow I’m getting inducted into the Bodleian, which should be absolutely brilliant. (Dodgy and I and some other English-ers have already been to the Radcliffe Camera, where a lot of the English texts are. Getting to dodge the NO VISITORS ALLOWED sign, hand them your University card and walk straight in to the hushed golden sanctum = bloody amazing.) More later. There’ll never be enough time to describe it all.


So I promised myself that my first post would be very witty and preferably typed while in the departure lounge at Dulles. But I can’t wait any longer. A fellow Exonian (a biochemist, from Texas, of all places) sent me this a few days ago. It’s my pigeonhole–my college mailbox! His caption: “Just in case you were wondering if you’d really gotten in or something.” Thanks, Tex.

That's me!

In other news, I’m leaving this Saturday. I’ve been trying to analyze my own reactions to my impending departure, and have concluded that I’m fully aware of how unaware I am. This sounds tautological and bizarre, and it’s hard to explain. I suppose what I mean is that I know I don’t have any real idea of what I’m getting myself into. I’ve read the prospectus, I’ve read the freshers guide, I’ve read the reading list and the course description, I’ve talked to my future schoolmates on Facebook. But I still just don’t know. Now there’s nothing to do but go do it.

Oh, and pack, of course. Shouldn’t forget that.