What’s next?

President Josiah Bartlett, gettin’ things done

My housemates have done a lot of wonderful things to enhance my life and broaden my horizons (I like to think I’ve done the same for them), but one thing we can pretty much all agree on is the greatness of The West Wing. Josiah Bartlett is every wishy-washy liberal commie pinko like me’s dream president: authoritative yet grandfatherly, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and highly educated, yet also likeable and folksy. He combines the winsome appeal of Reagan with the apparently genuine concern for ethical government, and the man-of-the-soil credibility, that we associate with Jimmy Carter. Even Republicans respect him. His favourite thing to bark at his long-suffering and brilliant staff after a long day of solving diplomatic crises, saving the economy and stickin’ it to right wing nut jobs is “What’s next?”

So what is next?

I’ve finished my degree. I’m no longer enrolled at Exeter, though I’m still in Oxford. I’m currently unemployed and endeavouring to alter that circumstance. I have, suddenly, a lot of time on my hands to do things that had to be shelved for the past three years. Reading precisely what I want. Writing poetry and essays. Thinking about things (and then writing more about them.) Going places (within reason, since I’m not really earning.) Cooking more, and better, and learning about what I cook.

This blog was always meant to be about a college experience, and, lovely and stimulating though that experience has been, it’s now over.

A new experience, however, is emerging, which I would categorize as the young,-highly-educated-and-unemployed experience. A lot of people up and down the country are having it at the moment, and I’d like to be able to tap into a network of people who are all in the same boat. My own experience is only slightly different in that I’ve elected not to move back in with my parents (who are, after all, quite a long way away), and am instead living in a house in Oxford with four of my friends, who are still studying. I’m in an odd limbo between dependence and independent living, and it strikes me as an interesting phenomenon. One that could profitably be studied. Analysed, even. And, perhaps, written about.

I’ll shortly be starting a new blog. It will combine pieces on things that take my fancy with pieces on topical issues (education, job hunting, the process of Being a Grown-up), as well as book reviews, tales of travels, housemate foibles and days out (as always–that seems to have been my bread and butter on Ex/Elle), food and cookery writing, and some creative writing of my own (which, I promise, will never contain any references to vampires, unicorns or moonbeams. Ever.)

It’s been delightful writing this blog, and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s read it, followed it, commented on it, etc. I’m going to leave the site up, and will include a link to it on the new blog. A link to the new blog itself will be up here soon. I hope you come with me!


One room paradise

Except it’s not one room, y’all. It’s SIX. And two bathrooms. Boom!

The lease started on Wednesday and so far it’s been all good, settling in. My brother (who is no longer The Kid) came down to Oxford with me on the day and helped enormously with suitcases and the faffery of the check-in. Moreover, he didn’t seem to mind sleeping on the sofa. Our inaugural dinner, at the massive antique scrubbed-wood table, was a six-egg omelette with red pepper, chopped ham and onions, and half a bottle of red wine each, on which we got rather merry.

It’s a much nicer house than 52 Cowley, although I still feel nostalgia for that house and probably always will. It was my first proper home away from my parents. It was the place I first learned to cook and pay bills and ring the council when the bins hadn’t been taken away for two weeks (yes indeed). It was the first place in my adult life where I sat at a table full of friends who were eating, drinking and making merry, and thought, “I am happy. Everything is good. This is how it should be.” That said, 52 Cowley was also dark, cramped and extremely difficult to keep clean (not that we tried very hard). Our new house is a tremendous improvement. It’s a townhouse; somehow, it’s been constructed at an angle such that both sides seem to receive light throughout the day; all of the rooms have double beds, which is a huge advantage; and my room is simply enormous. The kitchen is infinitely better arranged, and larger; we have a dishwasher, and the wall has been knocked through so that, beside the table, there’s a space with a sofa, coffee/TV table and armchair–all our entertaining can be done in one place!

My much bigger bed (slightly wrinkled from First Nap)

My much bigger bed (slightly wrinkled from First Nap)

We tested this out with a visit from Hawkeye and Casanova on the second night. The Duchess had come down for the night as well, and my brother was still with me, so we had five people sitting down to dinner. I made chicken jalfrezi with a jar of curry paste from the store cupboard, a couple of chicken thigh fillets, and some red and green peppers. Being able to cook without having to ask some of your guests to perch on the table or flatten themselves against the wall to give you more space is a pretty delightful perk of the new kitchen. (Also, the curry seemed to go down rather well. The Duchess, who is a notorious epicure, gave it a Seal of Great Approval. This pleased me very much.)

I spent most of yesterday, after delivering my brother to the station, unpacking my things, which had been driven up from their temporary summer storage in Bournemouth by Lovely Uncle. Excepting a pile of winter clothes and cocktail dresses, and two boxes of books which Bunter kindly took for the month, I’m nearly all moved in! I relieved the tedium of unpacking, and the sudden loneliness which sometimes descends when you’re suddenly the only person in the house, with a playlist of my brother’s which is mostly a medley of Spanish rap and upbeat ‘70s classics. It worked terrifically, both lifting my mood and making me rather more efficient…

As much as I could get of my mostly-unpacked room: books on shelves, pictures on noticeboard, quilt on bed...joy!

As much as I could get of my mostly-unpacked room: books on shelves, pictures on noticeboard, quilt on bed…joy!

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!

Beginning-of-life crisis (or, You’re not a freak)

Although the Duchess (who’s seen me through many, many weepy outbursts) will tell you otherwise, I’m pretty good at hiding my existential terror from most people. If I don’t live with you, chances are, you think I’m completely okay. If I know you from around college, and you’ve asked me what my plans for next year are, I guarantee you I’ve given you some form of the following: “Well, I’d like to go into academia, but I need to earn some money to pay my way through postgraduate degrees, so I’m taking a year out to work in Oxford–I’ve signed a lease on a house with four friends–and I’ll apply for an M.St. next January.”

I almost certainly have not mentioned to you the following things:

a) I’ve already applied for that M.St., this past January. I didn’t get in. So, yeah, I need some cash, but I don’t really have a choice about it either. And, yeah, that makes me feel like a pretty big failure.

b) I’m terrified about the implications of that failure. The course I applied for is one of the most oversubscribed around (English lit 1550-1700), but what if that’s not the major reason? What if I actually cannot do the thing that I have spent my whole life believing I will do, the only thing that I have ever felt in any way good at or qualified for? And what if, when I apply again next year (to more than one university this time), it still doesn’t work? I mean, when might it be time to give up?

c) I’m terrified about next year. It’s not because I fear the world of work: I’ve worked before, all through high school and the summer after first year at Exeter, at the bookshop. But I got that job when I was fifteen, and my dad had been such a loyal customer there, how the hell could they not have hired me? (He bought me a book every Friday after I turned two. Every Friday. At primary school we had to do a counting worksheet where we counted things like how many stairs there were in our house, but also how many books we had. I don’t know if we were meant to count our own personal libraries or our parents’ books, but I did the former, and I had something like one hundred and thirty-five. You want to know why I did an English degree, that’s why. Thanks, Dad!) I mean, I turned out to be good at the job, but I don’t seriously believe that I actually got it because of my innate competence.

I’m terrified about next year because seriously what if I can’t find a job. I’ve already given up on doing anything “career-enhancing”: first of all, what does that even mean when you want a career in academia? Most people don’t use research assistants these days (thanks, Internet) and I’m pretty sure the ones who do don’t exactly pay them a living wage. And secondly, there don’t appear to be any “real” jobs in Oxford for someone who’s just finished a B.A. The closest thing I could find was a graduate traineeship in Jesus College library, which fell through (whatever, as if I wanted to be picking up the phone and going “Hello, this is Jesus” twelve times a day. Except I did. I totally did! Wouldn’t you?)

So I’ve been submitting my CV to cafes and trying to think things like: “This is fine, I can get a job or two waitressing somewhere, make some money through tips, and have a little time to focus on writing poetry, articles, maybe getting them published, doing some general reading–all the stuff I haven’t been able to do for three years.”

Which is a good mental strategy but only gets you so far. Because there’s that back corner of my brain that isn’t as tiny as I’d like it to be, and it keeps saying things like this: “So, what, you got a degree from Oxford? What’s that degree doing for you at the moment? You think you’re smart? Oh, okay. You must just be misunderstood, I guess. Especially by the graduate selection committee. What a shame.”

That corner of my brain is an asshole. I know this. Unfortunately, it’s a rhetorically gifted asshole. It is a modern-day Cicero, if you will. It is frequently very convincing.

Anyway, I don’t have a tidy moral lesson or a particularly happy ending for this post, I’m afraid. Fundamentally, of course, I have faith that things will turn out all right. In a way not quite religious but somewhat uncanny, I have been thinking, right from the moment of rejection, that this was meant to happen. Something out there–circumstance, if you don’t believe in anything else–wants me to have a year to explore my own life, before I go back to the rhythms of studying. But I am still really scared. I’m afraid that I won’t get a job, but I’m also afraid that if I do, this one year off will turn into two, then three, then a lifetime. That I’m signing up for a life of anxious mediocrity.

I think maybe it’s useful to let other people know that you can be scared. I keep feeling like a failure–as a Finalist, as a student, as an adult human being–for not having the thrilled anticipation that everyone else seems to have about the rest of their lives. There must be other people who feel the same trepidation. To you, fellow worriers, I have this to say: we are not failures. We will not be failures. We will be okay. It is all going to turn out right.

(But try not to drink alone too much. Really, that is too sad.)

Sweet Omelettes and Operettas

The other day Darcy, who surprisingly both likes cooking and is good at it, made a sweet omelette. They’re much like normal omelettes, only you add a great deal of caster sugar to the mixture, and the filling is berries. He was ever so pleased with it. So was I, because it was delicious.

Just like in a fancy-dancy cookery book! Isn't it nice.

Just like in a fancy-dancy cookery book! Isn’t it nice.

Summery, juicy berry-ness.

It’s a summery, juicy mess.

Anyway, here’s the recipe if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Three things are different: 1) we didn’t limit the filling to blueberries (because WHO WOULD. Really.) 2) The frying pan doesn’t need to go in the oven to heat up, just put it on a low heat on the hob. 3) The berries didn’t go in a saucepan on top of the stove; they got sprinkled with caster sugar, mixed around in a bowl, and left in the oven at 200C for a few minutes, til they’ve caramelized and maybe burst a bit.

Further to summery joys, we went to see Guppy’s show last night: Utopia, Limited, a satire on colonialism and limited liability companies, among other things. It’s a Gilbert & Sullivan, but so infrequently performed that Guppy had to write to the D’Oyly Carte opera company (who premiered all the G&S shows when they were written) and ask them for scores. They sent him back a number of handwritten orchestral parts, which are bound in fading blue cloth and transcribed in indigo ink, with some pencilled notes in the margins but a very stern notice pasted onto the front saying that marking of these scores is PROHIBITED IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS AND VERY HIGHLY IMMORAL TOO.

The show is infrequently performed because it’s supposedly not very good, but the production we saw yesterday was so intensely enjoyable that I can’t see why its reputation is so poor. Actually, I kind of can. The satire is very unfocused: comedy is mainly generated through the peculiarly English device of laughing at one’s own absurdity, but whereas in other G&S productions specific institutions are mocked–the House of Lords in Iolanthe, the Royal Navy in HMS Pinafore–in Utopia, Limited you’re never really sure what the Target, with a capital T, is meant to be. It could, I suppose, be limited liability companies, but that really only enters into the last third of the plot. It could also be forms of government more generally (the “despot” of Utopia is entirely under the thumb of his two Wise Men and the Public Exploder, who is licensed to blow him up with dynamite should he stray towards any exercise of actual power.) But again, the exploration of that theme isn’t particularly sustained. The idea of “government by party”, which is introduced as a way of keeping the lawyers, doctors and legislators of Utopia in employment and preventing too much social progress, is something of a deus ex machina, mentioned in the final scene more as a throwaway line or a cheap giggle. Several things made up for the vague comedic charge of the libretto, though: the poignantly ridiculous situation of the king of Utopia; the relationship between him and his daughters’ governess, the redoubtable professional Englishwoman (a la Anna in The King and I) Lady Sophy; the performance of the actor playing Captain Fitzbattleaxe (yes, yes), whose aria about trying to sing whilst in love was probably the show’s musical highlight; and the glorious interaction between the Escort First Life Guards (all garbed in lifeguard shirts, for obscure but amusing reasons) and the daughters of the Utopian king, who spent an entire musical number attempting to gain the attention of the men with increasing degrees of desperation. Basically, it was entertainment at its silliest and most innocent, and it was wonderful. Guppy’s musical direction should not be shortchanged, either; every time I glanced over, he was practically on tiptoe with concentrated energy, and in the final number he actually jumped into the air, which was just perfect.

Flora and fauna of the Cowley Road: A bestiary of student housing

Here’s something I can’t believe I’ve never talked about: the creatures that invariably share your dwelling with you when you’re paying minimal rent for a cheaply built house. Nature isn’t content to stay outside your box. In the wintertime, it wants in because it’s cold (and can you blame it, poor thing); in the summertime, it wants in because it’s warm (a little less likely in England, I grant you.) At 52 Cowley Road, we’ve been gifted with two particularly outstanding forms of Nature over the past two years.

The first was mice.

I’m not meant to write that because if the Duchess’s mother finds out, she’ll never come to visit us any more, but the lease runs out in July anyway so hey, worth the risk. (Also my mother, if she finds out, would never come to visit us any more, but then she hates the house anyway–last time she refused to go in the kitchen at all.) Our new house is a million times nicer, Mums United, I swear.

Anyway, mice. I can’t imagine why I didn’t write about this last year because it was a serious occupation of ours for quite some time during Hilary. The damn things knew no fear. Once we were all in the kitchen (this was when Bunter was still with us) and we opened the door to see a little furry fellow sitting in the middle of the carpeted hallway. He only scurried away when I actually moved towards him, and disappeared into the wall between the hall and the sitting room, which did not bode well at all. With some trepidation we installed traps. The sissy-looking ones with the fake cheese came first (as if mice are at all bamboozled by fake cheese. The only reason humans recognize that yellow triangle of plastic as cheese is because we understand stylization. Mice, I would imagine, do not.) After that, we drafted in Darcy’s dad, who has a farm and knows how to deal with pests. He brought down to Oxford a series of farm mousetraps staggeringly reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition’s interrogation tools, all teeth and spikes. None of these were even remotely effective. Only the installation of a little black plastic plate, which glows with a strange blue light and which apparently emits a frequency too high for human ears, had any result: no more mice. [edit: Darcy has since informed me that his father also put down “enough poison to kill a small tiger”, as did Warren, our delightful mustachioed handyman. Disillusioned.] It was only several weeks later, when Darcy began to appear in the kitchen looking dismal and holding a succession of gnawed socks and ragged jumpers, that we discovered how our small lodgers had truly occupied themselves.

The second wave of cheerful emissaries from the Great Outdoors has been slightly less cuddly.

I came in from Schools dinner (a formal meal with your tutors and coursemates post-Finals, in which you eat rather less than you drink) on Thursday night, or rather early morning, full of what, for euphemistic purposes, I shall call the milk of human kindness. (The milk of human kindness, it turns out, comes in three varieties: red, white, and sweet. We’d had rather a lot of all three.) The Duchess was still awake and in the kitchen, in the company of a large grey-yellow slug, which she was contemplating with the appearance of someone calculating the distance to the nearest salt shaker.

I’ve always liked slugs. I don’t know why, but they strike me as kind of poignant. I mean, they are probably the most poorly-endowed creatures on earth re: evolutionary defense mechanisms. All they have is slime. It doesn’t seem very fair in comparison to, I don’t know, the poison dart frog or the Komodo dragon. It just makes people go “Eww, gross!” and then try to kill them. As an evolutionary strategy, disgusting other organisms so much that they actually wish to destroy you seems piss-poor, to put it mildly. Anyway, I have a fondness for slugs. According to the Duchess, I marched into the kitchen (or, as is more likely, I stork-walked into the kitchen; bear in mind that I’d had a lot of the milk of human kindness, and my heels are three inches and skinny), stopped dead, bent down and picked up the slug. Our conversation then, apparently, went something like this (my conversation with the slug, I mean. Obviously.): “Hey, little buddy! What’re you doing inside? Let’s take you back out again, okay? You’re a nice little slug. Here”–I must have opened the back door–“you can sit on this leaf”–I think I remember depositing him on a piece of green weed growing between the tiles–“Okay, you just stay out there, okay? I’m sorry I have to put you out. Don’t get too cold.” I shut the door to the sound of the Duchess murmuring something which might have been, “You’re so weird.”

Lest you think this was a fluke, I found another one–it might have been the same one–this evening, when I opened the door to the shower. Now, that was something of a shock: I was stone cold sober and only wearing a towel, both of which circumstances tend to produce less charitable reactions to…well…almost anything. But, I’m proud to say, I did not scream, nor flee, nor reach for the nearest noxious chemical/condiment with which to destroy the slug. I picked him up (with some difficulty–ever tried to get something slimy off a damp tile?), took him outside and put him on the same leaf. If he comes back again, he’ll have earned the right to a name.

And if you read this and think for even one minute that I am sad and pathetic and weird, then I urge you to do two things. One: take Finals and then, when you’re done, see how full of love and benevolence you are towards literally everything living (except for the Board of Examiners). Two: try being a slug for a day. It’s a hard life, and it’s a cold night. I kind of hope he makes it back inside.


…is, supposedly, the greatest feeling in the world.


Like most things that are supposedly great (nightclubs, Valentine’s Day and birthday parties spring irresistibly to mind, but I could think of more), it was never going to be able to live up to expectations.

Which isn’t to say that it was terrible. It was great to finish, great to scribble out one word at the bottom of an essay and write in a clarifying phrase just as the invigilator called time (rendering my handwriting shaky with adrenaline as well as cramp), great to throw down the pen for the last time and wait smugly for my script to be collected, great to walk down the stairs of the Exam Schools wearing a red carnation and smirking a little. It was great to have water thrown on me by my friends once I got back to college (although that took a long time, since I went to the bathroom and found, when I emerged, that the other English students had left without realizing that I wasn’t with them. Awkward.) It was great to have pasta afterwards. It was great to have two bottles of cava all to myself, have a disproportionately enthusiastic chat about Game of Thrones with another English finalist, tipsily crash the second-years’ Middle English class, lurk in the quad for the entire afternoon absorbing the resentment of everyone who hasn’t finished yet, devour a fajita, return home and watch an inebriated two episodes of How I Met Your Mother with Darcy before collapsing into bed. That was all wonderful. But it was also somehow deeply, unsettlingly weird.

I was given a balloon at some point after my trashing, and lost it within twenty-five minutes–I tried to tie it to a bench in the quad, and of course it floated away. I jumped for it but didn’t catch it, and off it went, its little blue body swaying drunkenly in the breeze (much as I was to do several hours later). Apparently, from the age of about three, I’ve always both had a talent for losing balloons and been utterly miserable about it (my mother told me this when I called her to reassure her that yes, I had finished, and no, I hadn’t fallen under a bus yet). But quite apart from this, it still made me feel ludicrously sad. This must happen to most people: reactions they know are out of proportion, but can’t do anything about. As the balloon went, so did most of the self-control which had (still has) prevented me from having a complete crack-up. I felt strangely weepy, and–in a stroke of brilliantly embarrassing behaviour–actually did cry, for about thirty seconds, in the front quad.

I’ve tried to rationalize this as the result of what, for lack of a more precise metaphor, could be called a very sudden loss of carbonation. For months I’ve been fizzing (simmering, maybe?) Every train of thought I’ve had has been subjected to interrogation; I’ve become accustomed to relentlessly examining my own opinions, trying to work out where they’re wrong or weak, or where they could go the extra mile and be really clever. This has rendered my thought processes infinitely (and irritatingly) self-conscious. And, although I have found that Oxford’s not nearly as  blatantly stress-inducing as other places appear to make their students–Harvard, for example, cultivates its own image as a hothouse of academic self-castigation, but I’ve never felt particularly pressurized by anyone other than myself here–a certain level of stress is inevitable. Still, since I’ve been my own harshest critic (as far as I know; possibly my tutors have just given up on me, but they’ve kept that to themselves if so), I couldn’t help thinking, and still think, that I should have been more unhappy, or at least more uncomfortable, while revising for Finals.

All of this may explain why the sudden disappearance of a balloon made me irrationally upset. Or why, when people keep asking me how I feel, I don’t quite know what to say (I’ve settled on “happy but directionless”, which keeps them content while still gesturing towards honesty).

However, I did go to the Trout yesterday afternoon with my aunt and uncle, who came down for a day visit, and the Duchess. It was sunny and we all had fish, which felt summery. My uncle was forced to order Pimm’s for me, my aunt and the Duchess, which he did with a sense of great shame and unmanliness (apparently Pimm’s is a sissy drink, perhaps because it has fruit in it). He tried to recover this with a large beer, which worked admirably. After lunch, we had a walk down by Godstow lock. Young cows wandered freely across the path, and we pointed them out to each other as well as the various buildings of Oxford’s skyline (we found Exeter chapel!) On the way back, another walker silently but excitedly pointed out a warren of baby bunnies, which appeared entirely unconcerned by people. We stalked them for several minutes, making squealing faces as they hopped about within a few feet of us. A boat was going through the lock as we came back, all blue and shiny silver. The woman standing on the prow called something to us as the boat descended, hard to make out, but we gathered that it was a houseboat, beautifully appointed and tidy. It seemed a particularly lovely evening, yesterday, for messing about in boats.