Tag Archives: university

(3) New Beginnings

23 Sep

September’s a funny old month, isn’t it? The leaves catch up with what everyone else has spent the summer enduring and go red and crispy. The nights roll in earlier and faster and then hang around, refusing to get out of bed in the mornings. Scarves and coats and boots come out in temperatures which, were they encountered in May, would precipitate Shorts O’Clock. The onset of autumn, tied as it is with the onset of school terms and harvest festivals and so on, has much more of a feeling of novelty to it than January ever does. 

It’s fitting, then, that this month for me has seen not one, not two but three new beginnings. Let me break it down for you. 

1. I started a new job (briefly) as a maintenance assistant (!) at Addenbrookes Hospital, also known as Cambridge University Hospitals. I was only there for three weeks (bank staff, woo!) and it was fascinating. I’ve been places no-one else would get to go in that hospital now. And I know how to rewire a light fitting and fix a socket. Oh, and I got very good at soldering. My proudest moment? It’s a toss up between taking the back off a broken device that I hadn’t been shown how to fix and working out how to fix it, and a colleague telling me that she had been looking up what we had talked about the previous day (Pompeii + Herculaneum) and thought it was awesome. I was sad to hand the uniform back in at the end and I have come away considerably socially enlightened. 

2. Jewish New Year. Goes without saying really, but every year is a new year. 5774 is hopefully going to be a damn sight more interesting than 5773, although the latter did get me to where I am now, so I can’t complain too much. Every experience contributes to the next one n’all that jazz. As with last year, there was a significant lack of time for thinking about what I’ve done wrong and what I’m going to do better. On the plus side, there were far more apples for baking with this time around. 

3. New university. This is it. I’m here. What I said I would do – I’ve made it. Now I have to actually, y’know, *do* it. I’ve got a lot of reading to get done. But I’m here, in my new house, making (I hope) friends and doing stuff. It’s all terribly exciting and a little bit terrifying. Leeds is a much, much bigger city than I’ve ever lived in before but I am determined that this year is going to be a good one. 

Well. That’s it for now. Three new things. In a pleasingly ironic turn of events, I’m off out now to a ‘school disco’. I think the last time I went clubbing (and accidentally at that) was in May. Wish me luck. X


The First Pimms of the Summer

25 Apr

The first Pimms of Summer 2013 struck on Tuesday evening. Actually, the first two Pimms. Not only did the dusty and slightly sticky bottle consigned to the cupboard with a sigh last year make it out again, but I even managed to dredge up some ice lost in the depths of the freezer and to forage some orange segments, cucumber and even a lone strawberry. I love a bit of fruit in my Pimms. I love how a drink can go from a humble spirit-and-mixer to a Glorious Incarnation of All that is Wonderful about Our Great Nation AND get healthier at the same time. I mean, seriously.

Perhaps you think I’m romanticising this a bit and maybe you’re right. I read an article in The Times this afternoon – which you too can read if you’ve a subscription, here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/life/article3747972.ece . It warns us to lower our expectations about summer, because it’s always disappointingly less halcyon than we are prepared to admit when the first rays of sun peep out from their 6-month long cloud cover. Which is valid. It is. Sometimes by a considerable degree.

I think back to last year at this point, when we had delicious weather from March until mid-May and halfway through my exams the rain came. The rain didn’t stop until the Olympics. I had been dreaming of how I was going to spend life after finals for – well, the whole of my degree. Punting in the sun. Champagne on the lawns. Excessive amounts of Pimms over croquet; with a book; at the pub – wherever. Crisp G&Ts at garden parties. Boozy picnics. Outfits that were not designed with the library in mind. Glorious sunshine from 11am, rising and then descending to balmy evenings and warm breezes so one could sit on the quad outside the bar and talk into the small hours. Oh, to be a post-finalist! I thought. Then summer will truly be all I ever wished it to be. The months leading up to the Weeks of Doom, during which I turned into a gibbering pasty-faced creature in leggings and woolly jumpers subsisting almost exclusively on tea and whatever deals on chocolate were to be had that week, only made my dreams more beautiful.

But, as I said, it rained. It rained and rained and rained. It rained on the day I finished exams, a relentless miserable driving rain that melted my paper hat and made the confetti bleed into my white shirt. When I got back to college to have the customary buckets of water thrown over me (yes, that’s a thing) my shoes were already just about ruined. A kind soul had presented me with a bottle of fizz and a can of G&T immediately I had left the exam halls and I ended up in my room with these, soaking wet and shivering.


In my imagination, this was the point where I would don my finest summer dress and go and lie triumphantly in the Fellow’s Garden, where all non-finalists would look at me in awe for having survived. As it was, I moped in my room. The rain lashed the windows. My roommate took pity on me and dragged me to the pub and for the day, we put things to rights. But the final week of term continued much in this vein.

We had one nice day before it was time to leave – we wisely took full advantage of it and spent the afternoon illegally drinking Moet in the Botanic Gardens. It wasn’t exactly warm, but we managed to convince ourselves it would do, and by the time we were due to meet our tutor for a goodbye drink, we were all so sloshed that the temperature was of little significance.


The complete dashing of my aspirations for a hedonistic post-finals life was, I am fairly sure, one of the reasons it took me so long to get over leaving and to get over all the other disappointments that came with it.

Summer is psychologically important. Obviously, it’s great that sunshine means that crops grow and flowers bloom and fruit ripens. Those things are good. We need those. But we also need a clear break with the relentlessly dismal features of winter. We need there to be a few weeks every year where the smells of barbecues drift along village roads, where people play cricket on greens, where tree-climbing and picnicking and butterfly-spotting are legitimate days out. Swimming in outdoor pools! Freckly noses! Flipflops and clashing toenail varnish! ICE CREAM VANS!

Our brains need seasonal differentiation in order to cope with the idea of progression. If seasons are static or seamless, we feel like we’re stuck, too. Humans have this weird mental tic about ‘new’ things. Novelty, novelty, novelty! Our brains scream, all the time – but also, familiarity, familiarity, please. Seasons provide both. And as summer feels *so* novel, with its sunshine and warmth and flowers and loveliness after months and months of bleakness, it’s that much more covetable. I start mentally preparing for summer from about March. This year, I’ve physically started preparing for summer from – the end of April. I should point out that this is by no means a record.

There’ll be another Pimms on the cards soon enough, I hope. If it’s not Pimms, it’ll be cider. There’s another good summery drink. But I’ll spare you my extensive feelings on that subject. More from me soon! X

NB – a few hours after I first drafted this, I can confirm there has since been more Pimms. Whatever. I’ve been celebrating.

Interview season

5 Dec

In case we had all forgotten (and if you live in Oxford or Cambridge or read national newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph, you won’t have done), around this time of year thousands of hopeful, bright eyed seventeen and eighteen year olds are staking their claim to a place at one of the best educational institutions in the world. Yup, it’s interview season. 


All Souls and the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

You can tell this is so because there are many more worried and lost-looking people in Cambridge, lots wearing duffel coats, or suits, or quirky hats, or hipster glasses. I don’t think they are all here for the shopping. You can also tell it is so because various papers are running articles like ‘5 tips for your Oxbridge interview’ or ‘don’t panic, really’ – type stories. Well, I’m going to offer a few of my own, for anyone that cares to read them. Here we go. 

1) No matter how well or badly it goes, writing a rejection letter to the college to which you applied will probably not make you feel any better and will also generate large amounts of mockery re. chips and shoulders. Oxford and Cambridge are beautiful cities. Experience that, if nothing else. Even to have applied makes you clever, driven and possessed of a certain amount of luck. Remember that. 

2) Don’t wear a suit unless you feel you absolutely cannot perform at your best unless you look like you are on your way to a business meeting. Everyone else will think you are a tosser (and some of them will be in your year if you get in). Wear what you feel comfortable in. I wore skinny jeans, skanky converses with red laces and a hoodie with a dog face on it to my interview. Over the course of the next four years, my tutor taught me while I was wearing rowing lycra, wellies, tracksuits, jeans, shorts, skirts and once even a cocktail dress (I was going to a dinner after, ok?). They don’t care what you look like. They’re interested in what you say

3) Mean what you say. Don’t have a speech prepared. Don’t expect to be grilled on every aspect of your personal statement, either (although rereading it before an interview is a good plan, so you can remind yourself of what books you’ve claimed to have read). If a tutor asks you a question – answer it! I got asked in my interview what my favourite bit of the Aeneid was. I said I liked book 4, because it was the truth, and I explained why, because I had the enthusiasm right there in me to do so. Afterwards I cursed myself for picking such an obvious bit of text – I studied it for GCSE, for goodness’ sake!  – but, y’know, in hindsight, I think it helped me rather than harmed me. And I still really like book 4. So there. 

4) don’t panic if you do/say something stupid. Easier said than done, I know. But – for instance – my very good friend who is now into her fifth year of medical school told me how at the end of her interview, she left the tutor’s office by the door she thought she had come in by and – argh! found herself in a cupboard. She waited there hoping that they would either not notice or come and extricate her, which, after a little while, they did. It’s a good story because a) it’s true and b) it has a happy ending – she still got her place! So if you do that – all is not lost. 

5) don’t swagger around like you own the place and have no doubt you are going to get in. You’ll piss off the interview helpers and they will remember you if you do come back. There are plenty of dicks at Oxbridge, it’s true – but that’s no reason to be one yourself. 

6) extract all the information/banter/conversation from the interview helpers that you can. They will be gratified that you are interested in talking to them (it’s a massive ego massage) and probably more likely to respond favourably to subsequent facebook friend requests and emails re further help/advice. Plus you’ll have a friend ready-made in a year above you when you get there. Winning. I have a special place in my heart for the interviewee who spent some time talking to me when I helped out in my third year. 

7) don’t get hung up on reading every bit of advice (LOL HYPOCRISY). Go and do your best. That’s why you’re there. If you don’t get in, as many tutors say – you’re probably going to be better off elsewhere. And if you do – brace yourself. 

That’s all for now. Be nice to each other. X



18 Nov

Every so often I have the overwhelming urge to throw away a bunch of stuff that has accumulated in my room and ORGANISE things. 

I used to get this urge approximately three times a year, every time I came back from uni for the vacation. Since I lived in rented houses for two of the four years I spent at Oxford, and I didn’t have to move everything out in my final year (special privileges for people who wheedle mercilessly), this always meant I was able to have a good old room clear-out without the inconvenience of having loads of my stuff in the way. 

This all changed, however, in July this year, when four years’ worth of books, files, DVDs, sports kit, knick-knacks, tea-sets, half-drunk bottles of booze and two oars (yes, actual oars) had to come home. No amount of clearing-out prior to this was sufficient to host all the detritus of my degree. 


see? two oars!

So a lot more stuff went. I threw out oodles of clothes that didn’t fit me any more. I moved the dolls houses that had lived in my room since I was 11 into the loft. I bought some pot plants (they could at least hide some of the uglier keepsakes). I nobly drank the half-bottle of port. I put up new pictures and took down old ones. I reorganised my desk, twice. I had a tidy room. 

But stuff always builds up, doesn’t it. Even if you barely obtain anything new, rooms which are neat take on a bit of a life of their own after a while; stuff goes wandering and things that used to live in neatly stacked piles end up in a diaspora. Jewelry that ought to nest in specially-ordained boxes on a vanity table ends up like a tangled snake-pit next to your bed. Pens and papers and envelopes and sellotapes which started life pleasingly arrayed and possibly even in colour-order fall out with each other and sit in sulks at opposite ends of the desk. Dust builds up, cat hair accumulates, sand from miniature zen gardens gets spilled. And the strict cycle of the last four years, that of purge – live – leave – return, has been broken. The pressure mounts like an inexperienced rider trying to get on a horse. 

So. I’ve been agitating for a little while about possibly, maybe redecorating my room. My parents have been a bit ho-hum about it all because they have other house-plans which come higher on the list. However, in the week, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I can do what I like as long as I do it myself (pretty self-evident I would have thought). 

This weekend, then, has seen an awful lot more tidying and clearing-out than previous occasions. Oh, there will always be stuff I just can’t bring myself to throw away – but this time I was pretty ruthless. Stacks of old birthday cards – in the recycling bin. Boxes of fabric – in the loft. All the ornaments from my curtain rail – gone. The random bits and pieces dotted around my room to make it look more ‘oriental’ – loftwards ho. Oh, and I re-organised my bookshelves again, because it’s not a proper tidy if I’ve not done that. There’s still plenty more to clear, of course, but I have made a pretty good (and brutal) start. And to reassure myself that I’m going to do it this time, and that I’m going to get somewhere, I’ve bought a new duvet cover. It has stags on. 

My ambition is to turn my ‘Chinese’ themed bedroom, painted when I was in my mid-teens, into an ‘English country heritage’ themed bedroom; something more timeless and grown-up, for my early twenties. In the time my bedroom has been oriental-themed, I’ve only dated oriental men. So the plan is that if I go for something a bit more tweed and Barbour- friendly, maybe I’ll bag myself an earl, or at least the heir to an estate. 

Some hope. But a girl can dream, and at least I shall be dreaming from underneath my delicious new duvet. 


doe’n’t be jealous.