Thursday, 12 December 2013

Calibration










At the end of my first short-but-frantic term, I had to finish packing fuelled by a mere two and a half hours' sleep. At 5.30am I’d been eating beans on toast before stumbling off to bed. Fun as it was, I regretted the near all-nighter as I eyed up the pots, pans, folders, books and oddments still to be stowed away in suitcases. The detritus of the last two months would have to be swept away much faster than it had taken to stack up. Still so much to do and so little time to complete it all.

I have to move in and out again twice more this academic year, vacating my room over the holiday and bringing back more stuff with which to fill it each term. Part of me relishes the challenge. Each return means a different set of clothes, decorations and study materials. When I first arrived I had a crate of Victorian novels and silk scarves in shades of pink, yellow and turquoise to smother my pin board. Next time it’ll be Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter accompanying me, with collages and magazine clippings for the walls.

Oxford has been an experience of opposites. Wonderful and difficult. Exhilarating and exhausting. Satisfying and disappointing. University is often cited as one of the best times of your life - an unsurprising claim. The intensity of those three or more years; the close proximity to other students as you live, work, play, party, eat, drink and have long conversations together; that enclosed sphere of the city or campus where you’re based; the intellectual gratification of finishing an essay or hurdling a particularly tricky question. But I also wish that more people might say, “Hey, it’s ok if you don’t immediately enjoy it, if it doesn’t always live up to expectation. It’s fine if you struggle from time to time or just want to cry and go to sleep. That’s completely natural. It is hard. It takes a while to adjust.”

The rigour of a new workload has to be taken on at the same time as the mantle of personal responsibility. Being pretty independent and self-motivated, I assumed that I’d adapt with ease. But, as the old adage goes about ‘not appreciating what you have until you lose it’, there were things previously taken for granted that I quickly missed. Not a sense of homesickness as such, but a deep awareness of the lack of family breakfasts and lengthy discussions with my parents over coffee. No more long walks along the backbone of hills with valleys stretched beneath. No room bursting with arts materials and an overflowing wardrobe.

I had to re-calibrate, and that took time. Of course, there were plenty of new and exciting opportunities and experiences. So many plays to see, bookshops to browse, lectures to attend, people to meet, societies to join, cafes to sit in and soak up the surroundings. Wine and dancing with friends. Snatched hours of combing through Cowley’s charity shops. Staying in the library until midnight, the walk back to my room scattered with stars. Consolidating how much I love cooking. Cycling under both moonlight and lamplight. Spontaneous cocktails and evenings spent talking and listening to music.

But the activities above are embellishments. It’s oh-so-tempting (both in terms of memory and writing) to condense two months into a series of lovely snapshots. They’re only fragments of the full picture though. Most of each week revolved around vaguely frantic reading, essay writing, Old English translation and language classes. For every late night socializing there were two or three spent working. The breadth and depth of two months’ work is startling. English literature is all-encompassing: not only including the inevitable study of authors, poets and playwrights, but also history, philosophy, politics, science, religion, art. I’ve arrived back home with a sense of my thoughts sharpened, my responses honed and an extreme appreciation of any breakfast cooked by someone else. 

But home is not home in the same way any more. The contained timeframe of summer - the transition point between sixth form and moving away, has been left behind. Now I straddle two places. As I sit by the fire with a free day stretching ahead, I can enjoy the sedate pace of life in the hills. At the same time I already miss that newly tasted liberation, possibility and tug of a complex city.  

This vintage Christie’s trilby is testament to the saying that wherever one lays one’s hat is home. Here it's accompanied by a delectable vintage coat (£15 from a charity shop) and a sixties cocktail dress I stole from my mum's wardrobe - she originally bought it from Beyond Retro. The chelsea boots are second hand, as is the bag. Photos taken in the University Botanic Garden by the delightful Dina. Jump over to her post Stomp and Circumstance to see some snaps I took of her in the backstreets of Oxford. 

It has also been amazing in the last two months to meet a few people who read my blog. An unexpected delight. 

14 comments:

Charmaine said...

Great post! Great to see you are enjoying your time at university. I miss being an undergraduate so, so much. Indeed, retrospectively at least, one of the best times of my life. Even when it was difficult. I love how you summed up literature as well! It really is such an interdisciplinary study. My degree was English lit with art history. Currently applying for masters programs. I hope I have the same enthusiasm you have for university if and when I am back.

Rachel, Cold Knees said...

This perfectly sums things up. I had a mixed university experience myself, it certainly wasn't "the best days of my life" and if I could go back and do it again, there's plenty I would do differently for a variety of reasons. Saying that, there's no point regretting what's passed, and there were plenty of positives! Enjoy your Christmas break :)

Vix said...

I hope things start to feel better after the Xmas holiday. I loved visiting my friend when she was at Balliol back in the early 1980s.
That dress of your Mum's is stunning, no wonder you pinched it! xxx

shipshapeandbristolfashion said...

I agree that it can take time to adjust. It took me a whole term to feel comfortable at university but I remember returning after Christmas and being excited about my new city and the budding friendships I'd started to make in those frantic first few months.

It's true that it can be one of the best periods of one's life - I hope it doesn't pass by too quickly for you. x

Ivana Džidić said...

Where I'm from there is this saying that points out how the best days in your life are the student days (but usually people here mean the High school days). I always find that saying annoying especially as an adolescent.

All those adults telling you how adulthood pretty much sucks, it's kind of depressive, isn't it? It doesn't leave you with much to hope for. Anyhow, I hated hearing that when I was an adolescent, it was like being said that this is the best that it will get.

Fortunately not the case, and as one could easily foresee I'm much happier now then as a teenager.

Sure I'd loved my student days, but being a student isn't exactly a piece of cake either...All those endless tests and so on. What I remember most about my student days is just the amount of time I have spend in the classroom...All day lectures. Reading all night.

It was worth it I mean, all the studying and so on, but it wasn't exactly the crazy times one would expect...maybe because I've felt that my clubbing days were over or because I genuinely enjoyed being a nerd. It was something new and different for me...Now, all I have to do is to save up money for PhD;) and I can be the nerdy student again. In the meantime, teaching is just the right kind of job for me, the kind that is a constant challenge both intellectually and emotionally.

Great outfit and photos, I really like the one with that enormous tree (always loved big trees, I'm not sure why).

Closet Fashionista said...

That coat is so beautiful! :D
Ahh the days of University, ha ha. During our Winter breaks I would leave most of my stuff at school and just take clothes home. But then over the Summer I would have to move everything out.
Sounds like you had a pretty good first term! It's always strange to go home the first time after school.
http://www.closet-fashionista.com

Sophie Jane said...

your style is impeccable, this outfit is beautiful! You are also an amazing writer and stunning beauty, look at that gorgeous head of hair!

Melanie said...

Your photos are beautiful. By having such a lovely dress, your mother was setting herself up for serious "borrowing".
I think it's best not to think about if we're having the best times of our lives in the here and now as that might dull our vision of future prospects. To be hungry for better is a good thing I think.
Hindsight/nostalgia, they are like psychological photoshop - all the blemishes can be removed in an instant. Loved this piece - it makes me long for my own good old days!

FASHION TALES said...

Ah, yes the uni days -- memories! Well, I must say that I had an incredible experience at university, but it surely did not start that way. When I started my mum told me, to "hang in there it will get better," and it did! Wishing you an enjoyable holiday.

Emalina said...

Your words about the ups and downs of adjusting to university life certainly resonate with me my dear. It's such a change, in every way - I didn't really start relaxing into uni life until the second term, the first term for me was so much about trying to find my footing and adapt to all that new freedom and new responsibility. It will get easier, have no fear. Moments of happiness, moments of challenge and difficulty, this pattern however doesn't change whatever one's age.
A wonderful wintry outfit, with the colourful splendour of your Mum's dress peeking out like a precious jewel.

CatherineAnn Minnock said...

This!

This is what I want to do.

I've been blogging for just nine months, but writing for about six years, and I've decided that when I go to uni next year, I'll ditch my old blog, 2013unlukcyforsome.blogspot.ie , and work on "The *** Diaries" depending on which school will take me! You really have illustrated in this post exactly what I want to achieve: a true depiction of the highs and lows of such a pivotal change in life.

It was a lovely feeling reading this, and I can't wait till it's me on those adventures next year. I want to study literature, too, but with history.

Thanks for this, it's perked me up. I love reading your posts :)

Natalia | Fashioned by Love said...

The Uni will grow on you and you are right, it does take time to get used to everything and see some things in a completely new light. I remember my Uni years as the best time of my life (oh yes) that brought me friends and made me learn a lot. However, the first year or two were pretty challenging and I think I only got through because I met some fantastic people who were also getting through those two years - it was much easier to suffer together. :) Enjoy this time while it lasts… And remember to have fun and never take things too seriously all the time. x

Elizabeth Sellers said...

You're at university already? My goodness it seems like only yesterday you started a-levels! I guess I've been reading your blog quite a while now.

As someone with two degrees under their belt, I can assure you that it is totally normal to feel overwhelmed when starting out at uni. It's a pretty special time, hecticness and all.

Enjoy your Christmas break!

Charlotte Lewis said...

I love your blog and the pictures are amazing! Now following on BLoglovin and GFC, would be great to follow each other's style journey :)

I came across your blog and love your posts, so now following on Bloglovin, it would be great to follow each other's style journey!

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