Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Reality and Madness

Reality and Madness

In between waging a losing battle with Virgin Trains I had a fantastically random and laugh-until-your-stomach hurts few days.

On Friday night Nik and I went to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company. I've seen the show before, but I'd forgotten just how hilarious the audience participation bit is. Whether anyone other than Nik and I thought the 'Shakespeare's heroines don't vomit when they die' bit was funny by the sixty second time that one of us had gone 'bleuurrgghh' is another matter entirely. Bleuurrgghh. No, it's still not old. I also met Billygean for the first time and it was lovely to be able to put a person to the blog. And discover another Dermot-holding-baby fan.

At a minute past midnight, I started to recognise that in my pre-finals state on Tuesday morning I hadn't considered all of the implications of buying Nik a disney princess drum for her birthday. I think I may owe apologies to a lot of people over the next few days.

Saturday night, a fairly painless train ride and some alcohol later, Alix, Cat, Gayle, Nik, Val and myself found ourselves in what I now consider to be possibly the best place in the world, the Evil Eye in York. I'd been mightily impressed last time I'd visited, not least because of the mind boggling amount of vodka, but that was before I'd ventured upstairs. Saturday yeilded the revelation that they have beds. A cocktail bar. With beds. Just how amazing is that?

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Note the 'no smoking in bed' sign. Fill in your own punchline.

Obviously gaining possession of one of the beds, especially when alcohol was close at hand, was far to much for all involved. Consider the above photo to be before the chaos truly descended. A little later there was no hope for all involved:

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We did break away from the bed for food and cocktails at Oscars, but afterwards we returned, again stamping our possession on one of the beds. The only oddity this time was that the tv in the corner of the bed was pretty much showing porn. And not attractive porn at that. Far too many piercings for my liking. We did, however, bump into a lookey-likey of immense hilarity:

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Danny McFly eat your heart out.

By the time that a slightly strange barman came round offering tequila for a pound, we were already involved in a sing off with the bed across from us. Given our extensive knowledge of musical numbers they never really had a chance. Whether the bar staff had been taking the tequila themselves or whether our singing had rendered them incapable of coherent thought remains unclear but their policy on change meant that they ended up paying us to drink tequila. Now, that's the kind of service that I like.

The only sad point was that, having been traditionally asked to leave at chucking out time, when we waltzed up to the fountain in Parliament street, it had been turned off. On Nik's birthday last year we spent what seemed like an hour in the fountain. I fell over, breaking my leg and cheekbone in the process. This year there was no chance of such excitement. On the more positive side as we surrounded the fountain, pounding out a couple of Griffin songs for good measure, we were joined by a couple of men in tuxedoes. Last year we ended up with a spectacularly drunk guy who thought it amusing to show us much more of him than any of us would have wished. Thankfully this year the tux men kept their clothing on. One of them, for no clear reason, did sneak into a picture:

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Fountain over, the traditional trip to the Little Griffin Van occurred, just so that we could get the guy to take a picture of us. Not that we're obsessive about having our faces on the front of a kebab van, of course. Aherm. I also felt it necessary to test out a nearby pole, just in case the McDonalds career doesn't work out.

Post a few hours sleep, we 'did' brunch at the Living Room, where I have to return if only to have 'the Dude' cocktail. The Living Room is basically a place where wearing sunglasses inside seems perfectly normal. How could the diva in me not love it?

On Monday, Nik and I having managed to drop enough hints most of which weren't even vaguely subtle, Val drove us out to Whitby where we had fish and chips in the pub that had put up a 'No Groups' sign after the whitby weekend last year when we got hyper and sang 'He's coming home, Grif-fin's coming home'. We were marginally better behaved this time, though we did magically gain an ash tray. We also encountered children building what appeared to be a pagan shrine on the beach and a fluffy dolphin which was, apparently, a 'chav'. Nik and I managed to wet ourselves when Val was given a 'pity prize' from the men doing the charity tombola because she'd spent so much money on it and only won a glitter egg.

After whippy ice cream and climbing up the 199 steps we made our way back to York, singing along to the strains of Fox's Cardiff gig. Which is, I'm sure you'll agree, exactly the way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday.

Thomas was always on time, right?

Thomas was always on time, right?

Dear Mr Branson,

At Oxford station on Friday lunchtime I enquired if the bank holiday was going to affect the train timetable.

"Oh no, it's normal service".

And indeed it was normal service. My train to Birmingham on Friday was delayed by 40 minutes. When I did get on it was standing room only. And as I hadn't exactly mastered the 'light packing' thing the only place where I could store my luggage and sit down was outside of the toilet. I'm sure that I don't need to elaborate on just how skanky this was. Especially on a train where it is a million degrees and there is no fresh oxygen as it has been used up by all of the thousand people on board. Now I can't imagine that when you're in your balloon that it is very comfortable, but I suspect that it is infinitely preferably to sitting outside of one of your toilets.

If I thought that the first stage of my journey was interesting enough then I certainly wasn't prepared for what happened on the return leg from York to Oxford. We arrived at the station in plenty of time to discover that the train to Birmingham was delayed by over half an hour. Under most circumstances that would have been annoying enough and I'd have muttered about you under my breath but there was a slightly bigger complication in this. Namely that the half hour delay meant that I would miss my connection. And my connection was the last train to Oxford. In short, your trains had conspired to leave me stranded in Birmingham. Which is not the nicest thing to face on a Monday evening when you're a tiny woman* in flip flops with approximately 56 pence in copper to her name.

If your trains have been proving to me why public transport is shit, then I have to commend your staff, all of whom were incredibly helpful. And occasionally amusing. Not least when it emerged that a coach had been laid on for the three people stranded in Birmingham because of your earlier cock-up with carriages. Yes, a full size, padded seat, air-conditioned coach. For three people. What can I say, it was an improvement on the floor with a view of the toilet. For future reference, though, I have a coach card as well as a railcard. I chose trains because I'm less likely to be sick on them. Had I wanted a coach, I'd have booked a seat on one.

By the time I got home it was nearly midnight. I'd arrived at York station at 6:15pm. Count yourself lucky that you didn't come into contact with me last night or I'd have been sticking my suitcase somewhere very painful.

Yours sincerely,


*Tinier than I was prior to finals it seems, as I discovered in the Lifeboat giftshop in Whitby that I've gained a 25 inch waist. Ebay vintage dresses, here I come.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Stars and Earth and Fountains

Stars and Earth and Fountains

I think I was pretty much comatose last night. And not in an I-drunk-the-entire-contents-of-the-college-bar kinda way. More in a total-and-utter-exhaustion kinda of way. Which is only marginally more attractive.

Thankfully yesterday's exam managed to bathe itself in a glow of actually being ok. By ok I mean that they didn't change the format of the paper without telling us as they did with the Shakespeare paper, or I didn't have to pad with my not-very-great-knowledge of middle english. On my way to exam schools I bumped into Harry SSoB, I should have taken it as an omen. Less than an hour later I was quoting his chunk of Shelley in an essay on solitude. I do love my Romantic boys.

And now? I'm not sure that reality has sunk in yet. My room's still strewn with revision notes and books that have long since given up hope of being returned to the bookcase. My gown's on the floor. I left my tie in the kitchen for reasons known to no one other than my deranged brain and found it there this morning. It's all maybe too immediate, too unreal. The paraphernalia of finals is too visible for it to be otherwise. Maybe reality will settle in the next week or so.

Before reality gets its firm grasp on me, however, there's a fountain in York with my name on it. So I'll be away over the weekend, hopefully not breaking my leg this time. If I get spectacular bruising, though, I promise to show you it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Fade To Black

Fade To Black

The sun was streaming down, bending itself around the stones, bouncing off of sub fusc clad skin. A crowd had gathered and in the midst was a man eating fire, oblivious to the heat that the sun was already generating. Competing for attention, a group of musicans were blasting out their music, trying to entice the wandering crowd to buy one of their many cds. And the crowd of shoppers ebbed and flowed, stopping and starting at will, pondering each distraction as it came into view.

It was almost as if Oxford had put on its own mini-celebration.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Leap Frog

Leap Frog

I was aware that a lot of finalists I know here were starting their finals this week. I'd ah-ed, offered sympathy and groaned with those whose schedules make mine look like a walk in the park*. But I'd never really computed what all these finals meant in real terms. This morning I got my rude awakening.

I had to queue to get into Exam Schools. Having gotten in I then had to play leap frog to get to the coat racks, only to discover that there weren't any spare spaces left. At this point, when I was still wearing my cowboy boots**, without a mortarboard hat in sight and my exam was being called, those extra five minutes in bed that last week wouldn't have been a problem started to look like a very bad idea indeed. And because there was at least a million people*** crammed into the entrance of exam Schools, there were a million exams being called, in a million different directions. It struck me that it seems very, very silly not to stagger the exams in different halls, even if only by five minutes. At least that way you'd prevent the big-all-enveloping crush of precariously near to exploding finalists. But it seems that, along with tradition, Oxford likes the sillyness. Long live the crush; bollocks and a seventy pound fine to any one who says otherwise.

Clearly I wasn't as confused by the crush as other English finalists were as I found my seat in what was a largely empty hall and hence had enough time to stash my hat under my table and ponder what exactly my candidate number was. Despite such beginnings the paper turned out pretty well, if the examiners get generous I might even edge out a first on the Marvell and Swift essays. Which will hopefully make up for possibly edging out a 2:2 in one of my Renaisance essays. Whilst I'm aware that at this stage it sounds like settling for an away 0-0 draw, I'm clinging to that 2:1.

One more to go. And it could all fall down to an essay on Byron. I don't know whether to celebrate that my future may be decided by one of my greatest heroes [and indeed obsessions] or worried that it lies with such an unstable character.

As Harry in SSoB would say, bloody Byron.

*See the classicists who have three weeks of exams, including six hours worth on their first day.

**Cowboy boots are not sub fusc. Especially brown ones.

***A slight exaggeration, but when it's considered that there are 250 people doing English and I heard at least 6 different subjects, plus English joint schools, being called you've got a problem.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ripping Off The Plaster

Ripping Off The Plaster

When I saw that I'd have a four day break between exams I was rather pleased. For starters it meant that I could fit in some quality Eurovision time. Plus there was that big thing called sleep which I needed.

Now, on the final day of that break, the fear is back. I'm within touching distance of finishing and yet I've still got two exams and that's scary. And it's not that I have lots of time to ponder the issue - I've Swift, Defoe, Marvell and Behn to gloss over in preparation for tomorrow - but I've got enough time to feel a little scared. And aware that I still feel tired and that there's no Paddy Marber encounter to perk me up when I come back tomorrow and have to get on the Romantics/Austen learning quotes treadmill. Maybe I've just naturally reached the end of the time span that I'm able to cope with the sheer monotony of revision and exams. Nearly three months.

I want to be able to spend a day where I don't have it in my brain that everything has to take a certain time - and no more - so that I can fit in what has turned into nine hour revision sessions. I want to be able to properly read, not scanning for notes and taking quotations. I want to write. I want to be able to spend a day doing nothing of any real importance. I want to go shopping and try on clothes, not because I need something but because I want to. I want my spontenaity back.

I need to be able to switch my brain off.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Education, Education, Education

Education, Education, Education

Lessons learnt in the shoe department over the past few days:

When putting on bright pink wellies for the first time this term, check that the clothes peg which was holding them together for transportation purposes hasn't fallen inside one of them. Failure to do this can result in a sharp pain and post watershed language.

However much you are addicted to flip flops there comes a point when you have to concede that this year's last minute, oh-my-god-I-need-a-new-pair, are always going to hurt. However many times you attempt to 'wear them in'.

Equally rain + flip flop is neither a good look nor something which would pass health and safety regulations.

The metal bit in your absolute staple cowboy boots that means they need new insoles is not going to go away just by leaving them in the corner of the room. When you put them on the metal bit will still be there. They will still hurt.

Lessons learnt during revision:

However sleepy you feel, putting sugar into your coffee to induce blood sugar and hyperness will still be disgusting when you don't normally put sugar in anything. And don't even drink full sugar soft drinks because they're too sweet.

According to the Oxford English Faculty Library there has been no significant criticism written on Byron since the 1960's. And the content of this criticism is prefaced by introductions which begin along the lines of 'Byron is not a great poet. If he is great, he is so for reasons not primarily poetic'.

Exhaling in disgust and abandoning said volume of criticism with much contempt will make unknowing second years stare at you.

Lessons learnt during Eurovision:

That I don't understand why myself and Nik have not been called upon to present Eurovision Extra on BBC3.

In the eyes of twenty-something men, being blonde, foreign and wearing a low cut top means you are forgiven for a variety of sins.

That there really is no accounting for taste.

That I should follow my hunches and actually place bets, rather than saying that I should, not getting round to doing it and then seeing that I would have won said bet.

Favourite current realisation:

In less than 72 hours I will no longer be an undergraduate. Erm, should I be looking for that McDonald's application form?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

When Coza Met Paddy Marber

When Coza Met...Paddy Marber

Given that I've noticed from my stats that a few readers have googled 'Paddy Marber', I probably should elaborate slightly. Paddy is in fact Patrick. No one, to my knowledge, calls him Paddy. Just since this is my blog, and I do have a tendency to shorten people's names, Paddy it is. Think of it as a sign of my affection. Without having to send any of you off to google his proper name, there are a couple of reasons why he's great. For me his greatness is centred around the fact that he, amongst other things, wrote Closer. Closer's one of my all time favourite plays, and was hugely successful, making it to Broadway. And, of course, into the film that garnered Oscar nominations for Clive Owen and Natalie Portman this year. His other major claim to fame is his being one of the people behind Alan Partridge. In short, I love Paddy. Not least because he came to see SSoB. I hope that's filled in any gaps.

Fresh from my middle english commentary paper, I ended up meeting Paddy at St Catz. I was rather hoping that because of my general finals spaced-out-ness Paddy would put any insanity down to this, rather than to the fact that I was overly excited to be meeting him. Don't say I can't play it cool. But once we'd established my current status of insanity I had the rather surreal experience of Paddy divulging exam tips. And proclaiming that a second is "a noble degree...any more than that and you're getting above yourself". I'll leave you to fill in the gaps as to what class of degree Paddy got. Indeed it seemed to abound in the surreal, as we played 'desert island Shakespeare'*, talked about David Hare's rejuvination and whether I'd written nice things about Paddy in my extended essay.

The most surreal moment, however, came when we were discussing what I'm doing with The Four Right Chords and Paddy asking about its inspiration. Cue the very edited highlights from me and Paddy's immediate response: "Are you are groupie?". Brilliant, I meet one of my favourite writers and he goes away with the impression that I'm a groupie. Tellingly he didn't miss an opportunity later in the conversation to refer to "the celebrity". I can't help thinking that Griffin might be amused that the writer of Alan Partridge, albeit in jest, called him a "celebrity". Such is my dedication to the Griffin cause, however, was that my immediate repsonse was "he's not a celebrity".

But, amongst the surreal, there were some lovely moments that are the reasons that I get excited about writers, not least Paddy saying that it's the best job in the world. He also said some very nice things about SSoB, not least that he hoped that I'd get to see it acted by professional actors given that there was a poignancy to it that hadn't been captured in the production. He also gave me some food for thought about my own writing in the future. Paddy thinks that all writers only have three stories and therefore they should use all the resources they have. Which meant that he interjected midway through the conversation with "you do know that you're going to have to write about being ill". He'd already commented that writers can't hide themselves in plays and I was a little startled that I was so visible in SSoB. And not just visible to people who know me. But if in SSoB it was refracted, then Paddy thinks I should look at it head on. It's an odd one, I don't feel that I have much more to say about it at the moment. Paddy thinks distance will change that. Maybe he's right.

In the end, having wandered around my plans for the next year and some suggestions, Paddy said that he could talk as much as he liked, but the only thing he could say, without a doubt, was that it is a struggle. And I agreed, I've recognised that. But I equally know that I have to have a go. Whatever happens.

So, in a nutshell, Paddy rocks.

*Me: Lear, Richard II, As You Like It. Paddy: Hamlet (whilst he thinks Lear's the better play, Hamlet's longer!), Twelfth Night, The Tempest.



By Wednesday night I rather wanted to crawl into a hole. I was consumed with this all over, body aching tiredness. But I couldn't crawl into a hole because I had to revise more middle english. So I settled instead for copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.

I was vehmently hoping that Wednesday would prove to be the lowpoint as, otherwise, I couldn't see how I was going to get myself, in the midst of this exhaustion, to actually care about what I did in the exam. Thankfully when the alarm went off on Thursday morning the adrenalin had kicked in. That when I turned the paper over in Exam Schools and found to my relief that I could recognise both of the Troilus and Criseyde extracts and that they'd picked a section from Morte D'Arthur that I'd had a class on, suddenly everything didn't seem as bad as it had on Wednesday night. I wasn't going to have to start injecting caffine into my veins.

I've done my fair share of exams but I can honestly say that the past week has been the most stressful and exhausting of them all. Three years work all to be decided in a week and a half. And a week and a half when you have to wear silly clothing. Paddy Marber, himself an Oxford English alumni, said he still has nightmares about finals. I don't know if it's comforting that everyone at Oxford goes through this or terrifying that in fifteen years time I'm still going to wake up scared by the notion.

But before then, there's Austen to read, Byron to dissect and a Eurovision party to attend. And so the march continues.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

We Were On A Break!

We Were On A Break!

Given that i) when I missed a day's blogging a little while ago I received a text to ask if I was still alive and ii)I seem to be very much a seven times a week girl at the moment I'm just popping in to say that Distant Aggravation is having a little finals induced break. I'd put it down to the seven exams in eleven days thing, but really it's all the ironing of my subfusc. They don't make it easier on you when you're trying to remember the entire works of Shakespeare but are more fussed about whether your gown is hanging right*. And don't even get me started on the hat that must not be worn.

I'll be back over the weekend, by which time I'll only have two more exams to go. And I'll have finally met Paddy Marber. I'll leave you to work out which one I'm more excited about.

*Quote of Monday's exam from chief examiner: "Bare legs are not part of subfusc". Quote of today's exam: "I'd have thought that at your age you'd be able to go three hours without having to go to the toilet".**

**I'd like it noted that neither of these were said to me, my legs weren't out and I wasn't losing a second of writing time to toilet breaks, I've stood in queues for seven hours without having to go to toilet. I'm not sure I should brag about that though.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

It's The Final(s) Countdown

It's The Final(s) Countdown

One of the first things that I heard this morning, blasting out of my radio?

"Not started your revision yet? It's not too late"

I think, Mrs Bitesize woman, you'll find that it is.

I'm just over twelve hours away from Examination School/subfusc hell. How on earth did I end up so close? Finals were not supposed to be for ages. Not until the next millennium at least. Or something like that. But some how, they've crept up on me and now...

So tomorrow, in an Oxford which is approximately one billion degrees I'll be wearing fifteen layers of academic dress, not being able to wear my hat and with my hand about to fall off as I ramble around for something to say on my 'History, Theory and Use of English Language' paper. That really had to be paper one, didn't it. I've resigned myself to the fact that this is a paper with no middle ground for me. I'm either going to do very well and pull off a first, or I'm going to be stuck in 2:2 land. And if I get a 2:2 on this paper my tutors will not be very happy since they gave me a college prize for work I did on this subject. So they're expecting me to do well. But in order to get that prize I had to take a risk, and some times risks don't pay off. But I'm working on the basis that as I've had it repeatedly drilled into me in the last couple of years that girls don't get firsts at Oxford because they play it safe, I think I should take a risk somewhere.

In an ideal world, tomorrow the exam will allow me to talk about:
1. The internet.
The chances of an internet question coming up are pretty good, if it's directed towards email though I will be throwing a minor strop. Minor but not disastrous, I send email, I can blag.
2. Genre.
There's always a genre question, so I'm just hoping that it will be user friendly so I can wax lyrical about, well, lyrics. And perform a minor feat of brilliance and get two Griffin references into one paper*.
3. Code and Register**.
Again this always comes up, but again I'd like it to be user friendly and not something like 'talk about code switching'. Code switching basically means moving from one variety of language to another. On a big scale it can be from say, English to French, on a smaller level it can be from political language to everyday talk. Because if it's about code switching I'm blagging my way through all my political quotes**** with George Bush's "catch the folks responsible" and a 2001 election club mix that has Blair's "the lunatics are taking over", Hague's "let's have a 21st century revolution" and Straw's "acid test" repeatedly over the music. I know, I don't know why the song didn't take off either.

If my internet question doesn't come up, it's dictionaries for me but this is very much a last resort and only if I can't mould my internet stuff into another question. Mainly because talking about Johnson's dictionary always makes me think of the episode in Blackadder where Johnson appears. Which isn't necessarily a good thing in exam conditions. If I get really buggered then it's rhetoric*****. And then I'm doomed.

Wish me luck, I may need it.

*If you're wondering he i) gets a quote in the internet stuff because his posting in forums is a fantastic example of someone who knows that there must be rules regarding 'netspeak' but doesn't know what they are and ii)ballads are an offshoot of the lyric poem [which itself was originally sung, hence the name deriving from the Greek lyre which was a musical instrument]

**Code = a distinct variety of language. Register = the features of speech or writing that characterise a specific type of linguistic activity. In political Manifesto terms code would be specific words such as "left","right", "New Labour", register would be the code and the style in which it's written. Really the terms have become redundant but Oxford doesn't change its exam decrees that often***, so we do code and register.

***Read once a millennium.

****I find it profoundly wrong that I can quote chunks of the Labour Manifesto.

*****I feel heartened that at my report reading last term my personal tutor was baffled about the difference between classical and renaissance rhetoric too. In broad terms it's the movement from rhetoric being used in a spoken form to it being used as a literary technique. My knowledge on that, however, is going to fill about two sentences, rather than 2,000 words.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Mere Oblivion

Mere Oblivion

I currently feel like an over-worked, underpaid member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Albeit without the Othello rap*. After eight hours of learning Will's choicest snippets what have I learnt?

1. Comedies are easy to learn, they have clear rhythms and imagery that progresses. They also make you feel happy to be female because all of the men - Benedick in Much Ado aside - are useless. Ok, I'll excuse Jacques in As You Like It too, as whilst he's undoubtedly useless he gets the 'all the world's a stage' speech which is fantastic and I love.

2. For some odd, indescribable reason I seem to have Macbeth lines already imprinted on my brain. And I haven't studied Macbeth since I was 15. I did see Macbeth - the musical at the Edinburgh Festival in 2003, I'm wondering if that did it.

3. Hamlet is most definitely not easy to learn. Complex structure, complex imagery and very few footholds when you're doing the one woman version. Y'know, Hamlet, just stop talking and kill the guy.**

But as much as I complain I do love my Shakespeare and it's days like these that I think that I could be quite happy in academia for the rest of my life. A room crammed with books and the complete Arden Shakespeare collection, pictures of Byron and Woolf on the wall, whisky in a bottle in the corner. Admittedly my drink of choice wouldn't be whisky, but I've never been taught by a tutor who has a bottle of Baileys in the corner***. I'd write articles on the use of the word 'nothing' in Shakespeare****, on emerging drama and Virginia Woolf's diaries. Obviously in my spare time I'd write plays and I'd enjoy the mini-fame that goes with that. I'd also be a little quirky with my cowboy boots and instead of a push bike I think I'd have a vespa. And I'd run a one woman campaign to get everyone in Oxford to blog.

Aherm. What can I say? It's been a long day.

Seriously, though, I know that academia wouldn't be the right thing for me now but who knows in the future? Not full blown academia like I just described there, I'd go insane before I got to the million books in the room stage, but further study? Definitely. Just without the need for subfusc and 20 hours worth of exams in nine days******. Flower arranging then?

*Which is a shame, I love their Othello rap.

**"prove yourself in deeds your father's son/More than in words". Claudius is talking about Laertes rather than Hamlet but it sticks. And of course I don't really mean that. The play would be much less interesting if Hamlet killed Claudius some time around 'To be or not to be'. Be easier for my brain though.

***Yes, I really have had a tutor who keeps a bottle of whisky in the corner, he even offers it to students.

****It's my new Shakespeare obsession [alongside all the uses of 'bottomless' that Will has]: "A tale/ told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ signifying nothing", "Nothing, my lord", "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything", "of nothing"...ah the list goes on.*****

*****Apologies there are so many quotes in my head that they won't all stay there. And the
Macbeth quote there's bloody brilliant.

******I wish I hadn't just worked that out. I'm losing nearly a day of my life sitting in exam schools. Nice.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Maybe I Need To Learn How To Play Chess

Maybe I Need To Learn How To Play Chess

So you remember that playwriting competition that I didn't mention given the probability of laughing and pointing? No, of course you don't, I purposely slipped it in where you wouldn't. Before anyone gets overly excited, I didn't make the final cut, but, hang with me, there's more to this story yet than opportunities for pointing. Though I know that if you're anything like me, you'll love the pointing.

To get you up to speed, it was the West Yorkshire Playhouse's 'Summer Shorts' competition, which basically meant they wanted 20 minutes of a play 'in development'. From the entries five would be chosen to be worked on over a ten day period with director and actors and then performed as part of the Northern Exposure Festival thing that's happening at the end of May/Beginning of June.

Now I have The Four Right Chords in development, but I don't have twenty minutes of that, and anyway I'm not ready for that particular baby to see the light of day yet. So ignoring the fact that SSoB isn't really in development any more, I chopped out the most cohesive twenty minutes. Translate this as the twenty minutes that I think contain the best writing*. My two concessions to the competition? I changed 'tube' to 'bus' so that it wasn't obviously set in London** and removed a chunk of Shelley. Yes, for those who haven't seen the play, it has a chunk of Shelley in it. And I know that it's pretentious. I'm also aware that it seems a little pretentious when you've got the play as a hole, and the reasoning for the quoting of Shelley is much clearer. In a twenty minute extract where there is no clear reason for the quotation it was just going to look odd. Shelley, sadly, had to go. The overt Gatsby reference might have gone too but that would have required fiddling around with dialogue and therefore taken more then twenty seconds. So I made those two changes, stapled, printed and sent off.

As it turns out mini-SSoB made the longlist out of the 137 entries, and from the content of today's letter seems that it fell down in reaching the shortlist of five at the fact that the panel didn't think that it would yield up ten days work for director and actors. That'll teach me to send in the best bit. Though I can see where they're coming from. I'm not even sure that I'd want ten days worth of intensive fiddling with that section of SSoB. Fiddle with my rhythm at your peril.

But, I suspect you're wondering what the point of this is. Well, along with the 'thank you for your entry' letter they said they were interested in reading the full script/helping me complete it if it was at the outline stage. Which I'm rather pleased about, not least because the WYP have a relatively strict script submission procedure and getting them to read your unsolicited script, let alone comment on it, takes over six months. So SSoB might not have been entirely put to rest.

And, rather than Cherwell, Will might have swim naked in the river Aire. Sorry, Will.***

*Purely for those who have seen/read SSoB, this means Act 3 from the beginning until Kate leaves Harry.

**The WYP has a in house policy of new writing with a northern slant.

***That sentence was, of course, for comic effect. I don't want Will - albeit as a fictional character - to develop some odd disease. Plus now my brain's thinking about it, changing the locations to York for the uni stuff and Leeds for the present stuff would not only work, but would solve one of my major textual hiccoughs.****

****This really must be no fun for anyone who has no idea about SSoB, I apologise, but the problem I'm referring to is - since his exhibition in London has clearly been open a while when the play starts - why Harry hasn't been to see Jay before the night of his birthday.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"like an old tale": The Winter's Tale

"like an old tale": The Winter's Tale

Time for another review then, normal self indulgent rules apply....


Of all of Shakespeare's 'Romances' The Winter's Tale is undoubtedly the most generically puzzling. Certainly it fails to retreat as successfully into the twilight world of fantasy as do Pericles, Cymbeline or The Tempest. Without the provocation of even Posthumus, let alone Othello, Leontes, king of Scillia, embarks on a course of action, fuelled by his jealously, which in its terrifying intensity tears apart his family. Sixteen years, and some comedy shepherds, later Shakespeare apparently manages to reconcile the remaining members of the family and provide them with the sort of ending that the Romances yearn for. But time cannot bring back the dead and thus The Winter's Tale stands as a particularly wistful and complex member of the Romance family. Edward Hall and the Propeller company, however, embrace this complexity and in doing so provide an engagingly subtle, often beautiful and genuinely amusing production.

Fittingly for a play which proclaims itself to be a "tale" Hall has taken story telling as his central motif. The play thus becomes a tale told by Mamillius, Leontes and Hermione's son who proves to be one of its casulties. Through the eyes of this pyjama clad boy the action unfolds as the audience takes the imaginative leap with him. Mamillius's wooden dolls become embroiled in the action, his toy boat takes Antigonus and Perdita to Bohemia and, triumphantly, his teddy bear becomes the source of the most famous stage direction in Shakespeare - "exit pursued by a bear". Thus the production embraces the imagination and in doing so embraces the possibilities and the artifice of theatre. Actors play sheep, Autolycus becomes Bohemia's answer to Elvis, Perdita and Florizel dance in the aisles. The all male cast and the inevitable, and telling, doubling of roles adds to this unabashed celebration of story telling.

Propeller is very much an ensemble company, all 12 members attended the entirety of the five week rehearsal process, and this is undoubtedly telling in the performance. No one misses a beat and everyone carries the emotional load. Simon Scardifield as Hermione, however, proves to be outstanding. As Hermione stands at her trial, isolated and splattered in blood from the birth of Perdita, Scardifield radiates both intense courage in the face of Leontes's unprovoked tyranny and intense sorrow. From this point onwards it is clear that this is no Hermione who will be able to forgive Leontes. As the wide-eyed and intensely vulnerable Mamillius, Tam Williams is more than capable of providing the silent centre to the play and, undoubtedly with the benefit of some judicious cuts, James Tucker as the Young Shepherd, riding his sheep and losing all of his clothes - literally - to Autolycus, proves to be endearingly engaging.

When the action moves from the tyranny of Leontes court following the apparent death of Hermione and the actual death of Mamillius to Bohemia the atmosphere of the production changes, with its festivity, songs and dancing, to embrace the comic pastoral of Shakespeare's play. Indeed the doubling of Mamillius/Perdita and the dead Antingonus with Florinzel points to the recovery and continuation of life. Hall, however, is not afraid of unearthing the counter voice and thus as the King of Bohemia rages over his son's plan to marry the apparent Shepherdess, Perdita, we are presented with the same terrifying excess of emotion that characterised Leontes's destruction. History it seems, is destined to repeat itself.

From this point onwards the production gently slips away from the comic and resolutely resists the urge to provide a happy ending. Hermione may not be dead, but it is clear as she coldly places her arms around Leontes that she cannot forgive him. And the final moments of the play point not those united but to those who have been forever seperated. Antingonus's wife Paulina is left to grieve and poignantly, as Leontes remains alone on stage left by all those who cannot forgive him, Tam Williams sheds Perdita's clothing for Mamillius's pyjamas. The final image, as the play recedes into darkness, is of father and dead son.

During the aftershow discussion a member of one of the school parties watching questioned whether the actors thought - because the play had been so accessible - that they had modernised it. I think the answer to this is a rather stark, definitely not. This is not Shakespeare 4 Kids, it is simply Shakespeare for the theatre. Hall and Propeller have embraced the nuances of an undoubtedly difficult, but eminently watchable, play and produced something hauntingly beautiful. And it remains a celebration of the theatre, and the play itself, to the very last; as Mamillius blows out his candle we cannot quite be sure if what we have seen is simply a tale he has created to pass a winter's evening. And so, the story continues.


Given that I like my Shakespeare wistful, I've always had a soft spot for The Winter's Tale and I really was thrilled with what they did to the play. It kind of smacks of really detailed textual understanding, which was bound to get me over-excited. I confess to not having found the actors as sheep thing quite as hilarious as the rest of the audience though, mainly because I saw it done in an outstanding production of As You Like It a couple of years ago and wet myself then. I did find the unexpected nudity very amusing though.

Scenes From Trinity

Scenes From Trinity

Items received today in order to scare me about the great big post-final gaping hole:

*Details of my alumni email address. Hold on there, please, I've not quite got to alumni status yet. I think you actually have to pass your degree to get there.

*The date of English finalist dinner. I like free dinners with free wine. Ok, I love free dinners with free wine and the opportunity to dress up. I do not like being told about them when they mean that I'll be in the post finals wilderness.

*Career's Service Information request. Not quite the same as the one the college sent, in that they were writing to say that in December I'll need to fill in a form as to what I'm doing. On their list of possible suggestions none of them seemed to incorporate either tortured writer or Golden Arches employee.

Things that annoyed me:

*That the Department for Trade and Industry are having a conference here so the college is swarming with men in suits. Which is odd, almost like my space has been invaded by loud American men. Plus given that I know how much St Anne's charge students here I'm glad that this is where everyone's tax money is going.

*My flip flops rubbing and thus my feet now being covered in very attractive waterproof plasters.

Things that made me smile:

*My scout taking pity on my obviously mounting insanity and doing my washing up. After the first scout that I had here I'm still surprised when a scout actually cleans anything, let alone does something that they're not paid to do.

*Looking up the route that the pageant carts for the York Mystery Plays took and finding it amusing that I could walk the route in my head.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Exit, Pursued By A Velvet Tie

Exit, Pursued By A Velvet Tie

I'd been holding off purchasing a tie to replace the one that has disappeared to the great Yorkshire triangle just because buying a new one would mean that I would have to except that I have finals. If you're not following the connection, for university exams we have to wear subfusc, which is basically gown, mortar board hat that we're not allowed to wear and hence is only useful to put pencils in, and what amounts to black and white school uniform for the girls. Boys have to wear suits and white bow ties. Somehow with my black velvet ribbon girly tie I think I got off lightly. But today I had to accept the inevitable and go and buy a new tie. Whilst managing not to get too envious of the clothing in Karen Millen*. As it was a negotiated that problem and even managed to buy the tie without having to also purchase one of the million items that have 'St Anne's' written across them**. It's now lying in its bag on the floor and probably will remain there until Sunday night as it's far too scary an item to have in full view.

Given that the tie purchase has generated 'the fear' I've been rather glad that today is a mini-work day. By mini I mean four hours of revision as opposed to eight or nine. And to mark this last wondrous day of almost revision freedom, I'm going to see Edward Hall's Watermill Theatre production of The Winter's Tale tonight. Which doubles as revision for my Shakespeare paper so I'm rather smug. I'd been umming about going to see this, as I saw the Watermill Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream two years ago and wasn't overly impressed. It was notable only for i)scaring the guy I was with when he wandered out of the stalls during the interval and was confronted by the cast dancing*** and ii)providing the only time that I've ever seen Moonshine steal the final act****. But when I was searching for reviews for my revision I chanced upon the Guardian review and, well, I like the idea. Anyway, I just want to see what they do with the bear line.

*Karen Millen doesn't sell subfusc - or at least not yet - it's just the shop's on the same street.

**Keyring, anyone?

***Apparently the mechanicals were morris dancing.

****Normally it's Wall who steals it. Obviously if you don't know the play that makes no sense. I'd explain but as it's a play-within-a-play bit it would get confusing. Just trust me on this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Thing

The Thing

I have a whole not-quite-meeting-Paddy-Marber story that I could tell, but since the story is pretty much summed up in that sentence* I'm going to turn to something much more exciting. Namely, and I have to say thank you to Penny for alerting me to this, Channel Four's forthcoming series The Play's The Thing. Reality television for playwrights. Does television get any better than that?

Seriously, it's a great impetus for me to bash out The Four Right Chords when I've finished finals. I'd intended to do that anyway, but a deadline always helps. Plus it does give me the scope to make the play 'bigger' than I would have had I been hawking it around the new writing schemes at various theatres. I'll undoubtedly end up writing the smaller version and hawking it around, but some artistic freedom to imagine the bigger version might throw up interesting possibilities that I otherwise would have automatically closed off.

Regardless on pulling my attention in a particular direction I actually think this is a great idea. And not just for selfish reasons. Because I'm realistic about this and I know that my entry will be one in thousands. But it's exciting because new writing very, very rarely goes to the West End proper. Neil LaBute's Some Girls opens this week**, but that's about all you're getting. And getting a play performed professionally is difficult enough. So to go from nothing to West End? That's huge. Plus, and I'm being selfish here again, I'll love watching the show. They've sucked me in with the Hamlet allusion already.

And since I'm here it should probably be noted that as well as all the Spamalot nominations**** in the Tonys, two cracking new writing National Theatre productions have been nominated for best play - Michael Frayn's Democracy and Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. I'd rate Frayn's Copenhagan as being in my top three twentieth century plays and whilst I wouldn't put Democracy quite as highly, it's definitely in the same bracket. Who'd have thought German politics would be absolutely fascinating? I saw The Pillowman when it was in Oxford last term and I still get scared thinking about it. I do think that whoever at the BBC labelled it "comedy drama" hasn't seen the play. Oh yes you laugh. There are funny bits. But putting the word "comedy" anywhere near a play that deals with child torture and murder seems slightly misleading. This is what you get with the license fee*****.

*I'm hoping to achieve the actual meeting bit next Thursday. Yep, on my fourth day of finals. I'm going to be lovely and coherent.

**Now this may just be me but doesn't the plot of this play - guy goes to see lots of old girlfriends - sound a lot like Nick Hornby's*** - guy goes to see lots of old girlfriends - High Fidelity?

***I love Nick Hornby. If I could only read ten books for the rest of my life one of them would be Fever Pitch. What can I say, there's a lot of parrallels between supporting a football team and stalking, sorry, supporting a singer.

****Yes, I'd love to see Spamalot. I like the Monty Python boys. But, if you've followed my blog entry titles you'll already know that.

*****Ok, not my license fee since I don't have a tv in Oxford. Your license fee.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes

Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes

I woke up to the realisation that a week today I'll have started my finals. And I'm not entirely sure if that scares me or not. Well, ok, that's a lie, I know it scares me. What I mean is I'm not sure how much that scares me. After all you need a little bit of being scared. It's only helpful. But beyond that?

Sitting in the library you can pick out the finalists. They're the ones with white faces despite the miny heatwave we've been having and hardly brushed hair. The ones with the huge piles of books, markers pens and colured paper. They're also the ones who the librarians tidy up around just prior to kicking out time. I think it's rather telling as to how much work we're supposed to do that my college library extends its opening hours on a Friday and a Saturday night to midnight during Trinity. Surely, whatever the reason, there is no need to be in a library at midnight on a Saturday night? Someone, somewhere down the line, obviously feels differently.

Maybe the reason that I'm not feeling overwhelmingly terrified is the fact that I really feel that over the past two months I've worked harder than I ever have. I've accepted that I'm not going to know everything, that I should have started revising earlier [some time in 2002 should have done it] but I do know some things. I've covered every topic I want/may have to ramble about. So now it's honing and learning all those quotes that I can't quite sing in the shower on a morning.

In some ways, it's rather sad to be at this point. To be approaching something that means as of the 26th of May I'll be at a full stop. I maintain that I didn't learn how to write an essay, or rather how I should write an essay, until Michaelmas of this year. So that was three years of not being able to write an essay. And at one point I was having to write two 2,000 word essays a week. I think it may also have something to do with how my writing has changed, maybe even how I've changed. There are basically two ways to write an essay: argumentative or exploratory. I've moved from being someone who wrote intensely argumentative essays to being someone for whom the journey is more important than the destination. Indignant, crusading, ethical Corinne is still there but maybe that voice mellowed. And in freeing myself from the 'how on earth do I write this essay' fear it's inspired something of a new love for all those bits of literature that I'd been short-tempered with. Middle English, baby. Some of it's bloody good. And I know that I'm looking through all this with rose-tinted spectacles because I've, largely, been able to drop those odd authors who I don't like. And I'm not having to go into two tutorials a week to argue my point against someone who has been arguing the point for the last three decades. But still.

I'm not sure exactly when I decided to do an English degree. Certainly it wasn't clear cut; when I came to an Oxford open day near the end of my first year in sixth form I hadn't decided, I went to the history talk. And while I was tossing up ideas of other universities, subjects other than english and history raised their heads. In the end I picked English...because I read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Seriously. And as I read the poem again, and again, and again I kind of realised that there was something in that poem that touched me. I imagine that I could have been more than happy doing history, or politics, or numerous other arts/social science subjects. I'd have got excited about them, just as I get excited about English. But would it have been the same? No. And whilst I don't think this holds true for everyone, for me studying literature , just as I did when I was 16 and read The Waste Land, opens up whole new worlds. Ideas, people - something beyond what you experience day to day. For me it's probably as close to a religious experience as I'll ever get.

Last week I re-read Hamlet, and for some odd, untouchable reason, I felt it and I cried. And I'm a self-confessed Lear girl. 400 years after it was written, in a room in Oxford I was reading and crying. I can't express how much that affects me. Byron, after Woolf and Gatsby possibly my greatest obsession, declared in one of his earliest poems "My epitaph shall be, my name alone". His name is now such that the editor of my Oxford World edition of his selected works can proclaim "Byron seems never to have died". And the reason? Not because of the scandal he caused, which would have petered away long forgotten, but because he was a writer. Writing touches immortality. And I find that rather magical.

So, as I stand in limbo for the next week, I suspect I had better say thanks to Mr Eliot. I owe you a drink.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Do You Want Fries With That?

Do You Want Fries With That?

Me: The college sent me a form for my details for when I go down*.

Daddy Furness: So instead of trying to get us to book a cruise with them**, they'll be bothering you?

Me: Yes.

Daddy Furness: Unless you get a third, when you'll never be allowed to return.

Me: I think if I get rich and give them money, they'll over look that.

Daddy Furness: So there's still the chance of a plaque. Or a building.

Me: Yep. But that's not the worst bit.

Daddy Furness: What is?

Me: There's a section for "Job/Further Course after going down".

Daddy Furness: That's nice of them to remind you about that.

Me: What am I going to put there?

Daddy Furness: McDonalds?

* "going down" is the official Oxford terminology for finishing term. Try saying that with a straight face.

**Yes, you can go on a "St Anne's Cruise".

Saturday, May 07, 2005

From A Phone Booth In Vegas

From A Phone Booth In Vegas

Another Saturday night, another Griffin anniversary:

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Aston University May Ball.

Alcohol in plastic glasses. Gold lame curtains. Not getting to go on the dodgems. Tony Blackburn's arse. Singing 'Mandy' on karaoke with a random man. Watching a wannabe Justin Timberlake on the dance floor. Seeing Jamelia and her dancers with their incredibly short skirts. Eating doughnuts in Tamworth service station as they played 'Superstar'.

Steeeve's [Griffin's then Tour Manager] face when he saw Becky, Nik and I. Griffin nearly falling on top of us as he tried to leap the barrier during 'Bring It On'. Feeling incredibly proud to see him wow a crowd of students. Watching the annoyed security man's face as Griffin, having finally cleared the barrier, made his way around the crowd during the final song.

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Steeeve setting off the car alarm and Griffin doing his one-arm-in-the-air popstar pose. Comparing our red ball wristbands with Griffin's blue Top of the Pops one. Him trying valiantly to defend having dyed his hair blonde a few years earlier. Talking Whitby and snookering golf balls. Getting my shoe stuck in the grate as I was talking and Steeeve having to help me get it out.

Wanting to hug Griffin and tell him that everything was going to be ok.

Hugging Griffin and saying that everything would be ok.

Not being sure whether it would or not.

Group photos. Group hugs. Group almost crying in the toilets. Group singing to 'Jessie' and collapsing in fits of giggles when we realised that Fox and Griffin's version is very different to the original. Group yelling "But James doesn't play this bit!".

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Friday, May 06, 2005



My life having revolved around libraries, revision cards and coloured pens for the last week I suppose it was unsurprising that the day that I put aside my work I ended up singing 'Girls and Boys', rather loudly and possibly not with much regard for either tone or key, on the Oxford Tube. Whilst this possibly doesn't excuse my need to start doing actions too, I'd like it stated as a mitigating factor.

When Nik and I had done emptying the Oxford Tube of all its passengers we made our way to the Bedford, via what we affectionately refer to as the posh burger place. McDonalds it ain't. It has fake Andy Warhols on the wall for starters. Children's meals consumed it was on to the Bedford proper, where we debated the merits of wearing sunglasses inside. So whilst the sounds of Riccardi's sound check floated through the front bar I found myself resolutely amused by wearing Coco indoors. Thankfully both of us had decided that not being able to see outweighed any comedy value by the time that Simon Guitar came and sat with us. Rather than discussing anything even remotely interesting I found myself talking about my current favourite subject - my looming finals and not for the only time that evening found myself discussing the merits and drawbacks of having to wear Subfusc. If someone could provide conversational prompts for me for the next few weeks that might be a good idea.

Rather than having a couple of acts do 20-40 minute sets Thursday night at the Bedford presents a series of acts who do a couple of songs in the first half and then a couple of songs in the second half. The only noticeable drawback last night was that Tony, the usual host, wasn't there and instead one of the performers had been drafted in at the last minute to do the links between acts. I'd say that my rugby playing is on a similar level to her ability to do this. It was all rather painful watching her die on her arse and get increasingly, and visibly, annoyed. But, this being the Bedford, and one of my favourite places in the world, the quality of the acts more than made up for how cringe making our temporary host was. I'd been intrigued beforehand to see Mel Blatt, if only because of the fact that in her former guise as one of the members of All Saints I'd danced to her songs at school discos. All Saints were, after all, the cool girl group when the Spice Girls had finished their five second burst of kitsch-coolness. And they single handedly brought combat trousers into the fashion domain. Even I had a pair. Since I would consider combat trousers to be a mistake in retrospect I'm not entirely convinced that I should be celebrating one of the causes, but the fact that I remember the ten second window when All Saints were cool meant that I was intrigued to hear what Mel would sound like. As it was she sounded exactly like she always did. Rather gentle and young sounding. In short, it was what Nik and I labelled "music to revise to". If anyone's wondering, though, she's absolutely tiny. Put in your pocket tiny. I did note that she had a very nice handbag though.

In the end Mel lost out rather spectacularly to the two other, much less known, female singers. Beth Rowley was a mass of curly blond hair and one of the most incredible voices that I've heard in the Bedford. The kind of voice that just makes you listen. It was hold-your-breath beautiful. At the end of her second set I even found myself whooping. Claire Toomey's music, in contrast, radiated that post "Jagged Little Pill" vibe; I loved it. I think she maybe needs a bit more confidence, maybe even brashness, on stage and a bit more of a quirky look but there are plenty of things that can be done about that.

Riccardi were somewhat blessed with being entirely different from all of the other acts and consequently got a very favourable reception. Ricci Drums had told Nik and I in a flury of "rock" hand signs during the interval that they were doing two new songs and we'd conseuqently been rather excited. And rather loud. Situated, as we were, behind the sound desk where it was possible for us to dance about at will, we were somewhat noticable to the crew. Cue us being told that "it's like there's a million of you". And in what was possibly the quote of the night Roberto, the sound engineer, felt the need to declare about us to nearby people "they bloody rock". Chuffed, us?

Putting aside my ego, the boys rocked too, though Louis Vocals rocked so much he had very scary eyes. Which did make me laugh a little. I'm not convinced that the five minute conversation we had with Billy Bass about jaffa cakes and it not being wise to dunk them was entirely rock and roll, though. Undoubtedly jaffa cakes are the rock stars snack of choice. Why wouldn't they be?

Having finally persuaded Billy Bass to show us his skateboard*, we made our sprint from the Bedford to the tube somewhat chuffed.

By the time we arrived back in Oxford it was to the news that Labour had won the election.

*That's not a euphemism it should be pointed out.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Any Dream Will Do

Any Dream Will Do

Whilst I'm very aware of Henry James's statement "tell a dream, lose a reader" I'm going to blatently ignore it.

Before I get started I don't often dream. Or if I do dream then I don't remember them. The exceptions to this rule are times when I'm ill, stressed or sleeping on a floor. Since I'm not ill and am in the comfort of my own bed I'm thinking that impending finals [I don't think I mentioned them] may be contributing to number two. So I've been dreaming. Mostly odd, random dreams. One about being back at school. A couple with odd combinations of people in them. One that made me glad that I wasn't seeing Griffin in the immediate future because of my need to blush.

Last night I was on a bus. And it wasn't an Oxford bus, more of a slightly manky Leeds city centre bus. Well, how the Leeds city centre buses looked when I was little. So lots of stuffing coming out of regulation brown seats. I seemed to be quite content on this bus, despite the fact that I'd tripped back 15 years or so. Until, that is, a large blonde man got on the bus with a gun. And it took me a moment or two to realise that it was a gun. But when I did. I immediately felt a rush of panic. And then the next thing I knew he'd fired the gun. Only rather than a bullet coming out, what emerged was a huge jet of water. It was a bloody water pistol. I'd nearly had a heart attack over a water pistol. But, my God, it looked like a gun.

I'd like to say that at this point I risked my life and limb, ok my clothing getting wet, and tackled the man with the water pistol. Unfortunately, though, I didn't have time for such heroic activities as I managed to wake myself up. Typical.

But I don't want to be seeing any super soakers any time soon, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Gatsby's Green Light

Gatsby's Green Light

"Then I realised tonight that it didn't matter what I did, the task was beyond me. I can't make Harry content or stop Kate from hurting...any more than we could stop the war by marching or get tuition fees dropped by haranguing our local MP"
Will (Some Sort of Beautiful)

I know it's a little pretentious* to open a blog entry with a line from your own play but it's there for two reasons. Firstly I accept that I have pretentious tendencies and rather than ignoring them or pretending they're not there I might as well embrace them. Secondly it's a sentiment that's puzzled me for some time. As an English student every day I make judgments on what writers are saying, or trying to say, or maybe where their own viewpoint lies. The author, after all, may no longer be God but certainly isn't dead. What then did I mean when I wrote that line? Do I agree with Will? Is this where my viewpoint intrudes? When I was quizzed in the after show discussion I firmly placed Will as the central character, the one who holds the rest of the play together and maybe hints at what I'm trying to say. Will, I felt quite confident to say, gets my politics. But does he?

Obviously the reason that I'm feeling the need to answer this question is the General Election tomorrow. Consequently I'm feeling the need to work out where I stand. And it may not be in the same place as Will. Notably Will marched against the war. I didn't. At the time I randomly met in a pub someone I'd worked on a play with a couple of terms earlier. "I bet Corinne will march" had been her words when she'd heard that there was going to be a mass exodus from Oxford to London for the Stop The War march. I'd agreed that it did indeed sound like something I'd do. And then carried on with the evening. As it was by the time the march came along I'd started to become ill and going wasn't an option. Had I have been fully fit, though, would I have gone? I think the answer would still have been no. I remember seeing the footage of all of those people, more than a million, cramming the street and feeling one of the most intense surges of pride that I've ever felt. Not because of why they were marching, but because of the fact that they were marching. That people felt moved enough to attempt to do something. To think that that much overused phrase "people power" was possible. I think that's rather beautiful. And though I've quoted Will massively out of context, at what is his biggest moment of despair having watched his group of friends disintergrate over the course of the evening and simultaneously realised that Kate is never going to be in love with him, Will is rather my symbol of all that I thought was beautiful about that brief moment. Indeed what I still think is beautiful.

But it does pose the question of whether I think that change is possible. I value my vote far too highly not to use it tomorrow, far too many people spent there lives working towards getting it, or died for it, for me not to head down to that polling station. Far too many people even now don't have that opportunity. And I will never forget that fact. Consequently even though my vote is unlikely to tip the balance in what is unlikely to prove a marginal consituency, it matters intensely to me as to whom I vote.

I spent today pulling together my research for political code and register for my language paper exam, and as it seems silly to waste an opportunity I focused in on the three main manifestos. In some ways it was hugely enlightening, to read these booklets not for what they are saying, but how they are saying it. To see the imagery and rhetoric appear again and again. Make what you will but in the Preface to the Labour Manifesto the phrase "New Labour" is only used once and Blair uses "I" on repeat until it comes to discussing the more unpopular aspects of the last four years when it suddenly switches to "We do not duck the tough choices". Michael Howard's Preface is the only one of the three main parties to repeatedly employ the third person, both for the party (a Conservative Gov't) and the public (the people). Whereas Charles Kennedy repeatedly uses "We" to mean the Liberals, but makes only one direct address to the imagined reader, in his final sentence. With the exception of one little slip in rhetorical style in Blair's - "I have" slips to "I've" which is a code switch to a lower register of discussion that isn't fitting in the context - Labour's is undoubtedly the most polished performance. But for a party that have traded so much on image, that's hardly surprising.

In some ways, given our first past the post system, it's strange that an Election should be fought here in the same way that it is in the USA. When I cast my vote, after all, I do not vote for Blair, or Howard, or Kennedy. I vote for the candidate on my ballot paper. But all of the electioneering is towards the individual leader. One need only think to the huge number of posters over the years that have had Blair's image on them - from Labour's own in 1997 to the Conservatives this year. Which undoubtedly complicates my feelings.

I am, it is safe to say, something of a confirmed - and proud - leftie. The Graduate, a confirmed and equally proud Tory, still introduces me to people with the phrase 'This is Corinne, she's Labour'. At that point I usually butt in to say that that sentence doesn't mean that I agree with the current government. But after three years of that sentence can I still justify voting Labour? It's not that I disagree entirely with them, I don't. Some of the statistics you just can't fight and I think that Brown has proven that a Labour Gov't can manage a successful economy. I don't even particularly have anything against Blair. If I thought that those marchers were doing something they believed in then I also felt that, at that point, Blair was doing something he believed in too. When I sat for an afternoon watching BBC1 show live footage of people in Baghdad pull down that statue of Saddam Hussain, I understood entirely what he believed. Now I just wish that all three main parties would stop with the waffle and recrimination and concentrate instead on what has become one huge stinking mess because of total and utter lack of any thought as to what comes after war. So that's not the reason I'm sticking on Blair. The reason I'm stuck? Because, without putting too fine a point on it, Labour have screwed me.

I should probably elaborate here. I have no problem paying taxes. I have no problem with my family being taxed more than those who earn less. What I do have a problem with is the fact that in just under two months time I will finish University and I will be in over £14,000 worth of debt. £14,000. Does anyone in the cabinet know what it like to be 22 and to be in £14,000 worth of debt? I do not think so. For all that I get mistaken for being "Posh" I'm rather emphatically not. Until I was eight I lived on a council estate. I went to schools that didn't make the national average for exam results. I was the first person to come to Oxbridge from my school for at least 20 years. My family is now solidly middle class, but not middle class in the 'sending to public school, skiing holiday' way that the Daily Mail presents. And whilst I agree that the system which Labour has implemented helps lower income families, something I'd support entirely, it's gotten lost in the middle section. Basically if you earn between £25,000 and £55,000 a year and you have a family you're screwed. Which is not as it should be. Squeezing people of this income is not a long term plan for economic sense.

Statistics say that in the years to come when I'm earning what my degree will hopefully allow me to earn I will pay back in tax what it has cost to educate me several times over. That seems to matter little. And, however nicely the excuses are worded, I cannot forgive the Government for making me start what is effectively my adult life in the manner I'm now starting it.

So, tomorrow, where will my vote go? Certainly on the basis of the above paragraph I'd be voting Liberal. Were Will to vote, that would be the box he'd be crossing. But, in my heart, I'm not Liberal. I can't quite shake off the thought that the Liberals are well intentioned but hardly coherent. Kennedy seems nice enough but I wouldn't put him in charge of my shoe collection, let alone the country. And if I ask myself who I want to wake up on Friday morning to find is the Prime Minister, I know, of the options, I want Blair. Or rather Labour. But that "of the options" phrase is telling, and probably shows why there is so much voter apathy out there. I'm someone who will always vote, who's naturally interested in politics and has even been known to snort at Private Eye. If I'm facing this problem, and having to spend this much time working out the answers, then how many people just won't even bother wasting the energy on the thought process? A scary amount I'd guess.

As it turns out, maybe it helps that my Labour candidate, Antonia Bance**, is certainly no Blairite, New Labour cheerleader. The chances of her getting in are slim, Oxford West currently has a Liberal MP and Labour lie in third. It's a shame, you can but hope voices like hers might be heard and might make a difference. And I have to believe, more than even Will, that a change can be made.


Well, I don't even want to contemplate that otherwise.

*Ok, a lot pretentious.

**Oh yes, she even has a blog.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005



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Really I should have blogged this yesterday but in the heat of my Coco enfatuation, I forgot. Basically the above would be a picture of Al and James the sheep and Jessie. They all celebrated their birthdays over the last few days. Just run with me on this one.

I can't vouch much for Jessie's year [though the fact that she had open heart surgery within 48 hours of our knowing her can't be a good indication*], but Al [who lives with me] and James [who lives with Nik] have had, shall we say, an eventful year. On the normal side James went to South Africa and Al to Austria and Hungary. On the less normal side they got dunked in alcohol at Aston University May Ball and were made to kiss - by Fox I would add - at the Friends party at the Clapham Grand. In between they've been to cricket, Eurovision parties and more than one or two Griffin events. They've also been a worryingly enjoyable source of entertainment. And hence, in honour of all that amusement, I just had to blog about them.

Normal service - hopefully without references to sheep - will be resumed when my light grasp on sanity has returned.

*In layman's terms, her stuffing started coming out.

Drink, Anyone?

Drink, anyone?

Nearly two weeks ago I had my collection on Swift and his cohorts. And I've just come back from discussing the paper with Tony*.

And somehow, amongst my blagging and not being able to name more than one Aphra Behn poem, I got an average of 68%. Given that an average of 68.5% overall (albeit with at least two marks over 70% and none below 50%) gets you a first I'm somewhat shocked. And rather pleased. I may even have a Baileys tonight, albeit with a copy of Ben Jonson in my hand at the same time.

You can't say that I don't know how to live.

*He has postcards of Byron in his teaching room. How cool is that?**

**Shut up! To me that's cool.

Monday, May 02, 2005

But They Did Decree That Chanel Was Acceptable

But They Did Decree That Chanel Was Acceptable

Given that Oxford has been enjoying something of a mini heatwave over the last few days* I finally accepted that my burberry sunglasses are beyond repair and that I would have to go and buy a new pair. I'd been putting this off for a number of reasons. Mainly because my going in any shop that sells more than bread and toilet roll is tantamount to disaster. It's summer, I'm tired of revision and fighting the urge to shop. I mentally have a list of things in my head that I want to buy. The only thing that's stopping me? The New York fund. And I know that if I go into shops I'm going to be tempted. Under situations of stress my primary reaction is to buy either an item of clothing or a book. So I can be stylish and well read or I can go to New York. It's a tough one. I hope Fox appreciates the sacrifice.

But I needed sunglasses. My eyes needed sunglasses. So I accepted the inevitable and set off bright and early to avoid the Oxford masses. For 45 minutes I tried on sunglasses. Cheap ones. Expensive ones. Ones that would have required nearly 20% of my student loan. Could I find a pair I liked? No. Could I find lots of other items that I'd have liked to have bought? Yes. So I decided that if I wasn't going to get a new pair of sunglasses then I was at least going to buy myself a necklace. I know what I said about the New York fund, but I figured that one ethnic style necklace could be used to update a whole bunch of my regular clothing thus satisfying my craving without meaning that I was swimming to the US. And, as these things work, it was as I was looking for a necklace I noted some sunglasses that I'd admired in one of those trashy glossy mags that litter my floor. Or, if not the actual ones, then a more attractive copy.

The result? I am now the proud owner of a pair of almost-Chanel-turtle-shell sunglasses. Only my sunglasses, let's call them Coco in honour, are not quite as bulky and are more rounded. They're still big and dark enough for me to feel like a filmstar coming through customs though. Which wannabe future famous person that I am, I have to love. And clearly Coco and I were made for each other as I ended up with a 15% student discount. That's the sort of maths that I like.

And since I was on a roll it would have been rude not to have bought the necklace.

*Apologies to my Northern readers. If it's any consolation I'm very red and sore and if the rain this afternoon was anything to go by the heatwave's finished.

An Oxford Story

An Oxford Story

So yesterday I wrote the following about May Day:

"It's the day when a good percentage of Oxford's populous descend upon Magdalen College to hear the choir boys sing, and not jump in the Cherwell, at a time when it's normally only the rowers up and about".

And because I live in a college as far away from Magdalen as it is possible to be without attending a different university and I was in my own Chaucer inflicted zone yesterday it wasn't until this lunch time today that I heard that people had jumped in and consequently injured themselves. And not just one or two. Lots of people. Possibly not as many as the reports are saying, but enough to make me wonder why on earth people continued to jump into a river that has been ridiculously shallow for months. I know there's tradition but someone was paralysed in the mid nineties after jumping in. I can't believe that people continue to do it.

Thankfully, despite what it says over on the BBC, broken legs aside, no one was seriously hurt. I feel rather uncomfortable about it all. I'd say that I'd hope that people might take note, but I'm not sure.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

How Many Morris Dancers Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

How Many Morris Dancers Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

May day is something of a tradition in Oxford. It's the day when a good percentage of Oxford's populous descend upon Magdalen College to hear the choir boys sing, and not jump in the Cherwell, at a time when it's normally only the rowers up and about. Or people who haven't gotten in from Park End*. By past experience 4.30 in the morning seems to be the optimum time for quality events. After a brief swing towards my joining the celebrations last night when it was pointed out that breakfast at Freuds was in the offing**, I finally decided that May day morning is something that you have to do once in your Oxford career. And therefore I was absolved from having to get up at a ridiculous time and then pay ten pounds for breakfast given that I'd already taken part in the ritual. Plus I remember the level of tiredness when I did it in my second year - I had two hours worth of lectures in the morning and I almost fell asleep in them. For most people this might not be odd, but for me it's very strange. Mainly because i)I have issues about sleeping in public places*** and ii)They were lectures on the Romantics given by the lecturer I would quite happily have married were he not a lot older than me and, crucially, already married. Given that I absolutely had to get a good days reading done I stayed in bed while the rest of my house headed down to the Cherwell. Smug, me?

This is not to say that I didn't get my own taste of May Day Oxford stylee. Camped out in my favourite duck-watching-possible-punt-disaster-spot it seemed that some free entertainment had been laid on should I become bored of Troilus's "double sorwe". On the other side of the cherwell a group of Morris dancers had formed, fetchingly wearing lots of pink. And oh how they danced. But Morris dancing being Morris dancing they didn't hold my attention for too long, or at least they didn't until they started hitting each other with large sticks. It was at that point that I considered that the Morris dancers might have been joined by some sort of battle re-enactment society. Or, more interestingly, a faction of rival Morris dancers who were going to engage in a fight to the death. I was puzzling - and chuckling to myself - over this when suddenly the air was filled with an almighty BOOM. Think of my exploding computer and multiply it by twenty five and you might be there. And at the BOOM, which had sent all the ducks flying up into the air, everyone around me immediately looked over to the Morris dancers. Now this might just be me but I'd never realised that the firing of a gun was an integral part of May day celebrations. But no, these rival Morris dancers seemed determined to fire that gun at increasingly regular intervals. And because I'm slow on the uptake it took me until the 15th shot before I stopped jumping off of the ground when I heard it.

After two hours of this - in the meantime having my face licked by a roving dog**** - I decided that I was going to want to use the gun myself if I heard it again, so I packed up and ended up sitting in the college grounds with an invisible 'do not disturb' sign above my head. On the plus side the new location was without the possibility of getting maimed and I did get told the football results.

And I still didn't see anyone fall into the river.

*Yep that would be a club where your feet stick to the floor.

**Freuds = somewhere I eat when other people are paying.

***Really, can't do it. I have to be incredibly tired for my body to even consider it. Maybe that's something I should have gone over with the therapist.

****Seriously can no one keep their dogs under control?