Thursday, June 02, 2005



The college electrician came round today brandishing plans and a tape measure.

I know, I too had assumed that the college were going to allow the occupants of 48 Woodstock to either drown when the piping explodes or be burnt to death as a result of an electrical fire.

It quickly emerged, however, that the college electrician appearing at my door was not in order to make my remaining fortnight here any more comfortable but in order to plan what they're going to do with my room the minute that I move my belongings out and wave goodbye to the dreaming spires. So we're still good to go on that electrical fire thing.

I've known that the college have been itching to get us out of here for some time. The only reason that they let us keep our big, football pitch size rooms when they turfed out the second years and turned the rest of the house into teaching rooms was because we're finalists. And the deal is that the finalists are the ones who get the good rooms. Shoving us into one of the box rooms that were left after the rest of the room ballot had occurred would not have gone down well. So we were allowed to remain in 48, knowing that after years of student occupancy we'd be the last ones to do battle with the plumbing. But now, with the college rubbing their hands at the prospect of getting the moaning students who only pay one hundred pounds a week for their accommodation out, it's all change.

Within seconds the electrician had commented on the fact that the internet point is under the sink and that there's only one plug socket in the room. That this has been my refrain for the last year to no avail seemed meaningless. So, with his assistant, he measured up and, as I went back to pretending not to be spying on what they were doing, it hit me that this was the beginning of Oxford slipping away from me. The only thing that I can compare it to in my experience is when you're doing a play, caught up in the momentum and excitement, and then the show who are on next in the theatre come in for their pre-show meeting, checking your set and your get out plans. Whenever I've done a show I've always found that part incredibly sad, pointing as it does to the transitory nature of your experience. And now I've got the college actively preparing for my get out. In just over two weeks time 48 will no longer be my house, the room where I type this will no longer be my room, I will no longer live in Oxford. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I've been defined and defined myself by Oxford for such a long time that it almost feels like something is being taken out. A brick of my identity is being removed. I was the girl who was going to Oxford. Then I was an Oxford student. And whilst my year out managed to put the whole Oxford experience into perspective, I certainly didn't define myself by the tag that year, other people still did. And what comes next, what tag I will get in its place, is both liberating and scary. I know people who have graduated and yet are still hanging around, being to all intents and purposes Oxford students. All year I've wondered why, why they don't want to get out of what is an incredibly insular and idiosyncratic environment. I never understood. Today, facing the electrician measuring my room for some unspecified seating to be brought in, I understood. Letting go of the indentity thing is hard. Letting go of the Oxford experience is harder.

Up until now there's always been a safety net of some sort. I can honestly say that, so far, I've achieved everything that I've set out to achieve. Now, however, there's a whole new area of expectations and desires on my own part. And not ones which can be fulfilled by hours of revision or jumping through intellectual hoops. The stakes are higher and the safety net's gone. I'm not walking into a job in the city or some graduate training programme. Yet I've still got the alpha Oxford expectations on my shoulder. I've written every day for as long as I can remember. Fake Smash Hits articles and short stories when I was in my early teens, pretencious poetry, fake sitcoms and entertainment shows in my later teens, lots of autobiographical stuff since I hit Uni before, with SSoB, writing my first entirely serious and not tongue in cheek effort. I know that I will always have to write. It's more than a compulsion or obsession. It's simply something that I have to do. But I equally know that, given the standards that I impress on myself, if in five years time if it hasn't worked out, that I'm not writing professionally, then I'll have to move on. During that time I'm going to do everything possible to make it happen, but if it doesn't - and I have to accept that there is the chance that it won't - I have to acknowledge the fact that my own expectations will mean that I can't hang on to the 'what if' forever. I want to write more than I've ever wanted anything. The knowledge of this has always been there, but it's been half hidden, concealed for its own good. In the last couple of years, however, it's come to the forefront. But with the knowledge comes the realisation that, for the first time in my life, in embracing this desire I have to embrace the possibility of failure.

Maybe that's why there are still those people hanging around Oxford. Because to leave the protective covering is to have to attempt to live up to the potential we've all been told that we have. I can remember my first week here attending Fresher's Dinner. The acting Principal got up and said that we were the most talented people of our age group. At the time I was full of free wine and preoccupied, along with two of my near neighbours, as to whether it was possible to flip the dessert over without it imploding*. Since, however, it's haunted me a little. And I know that belief has haunted other people. It's impossible not to shudder at the amount of anti-depressants that Oxford students get through. Or the white faces of utter-exhaustion that litter examination schools. Potential's good as long as it doesn't suffocate you.

In watching the electrician, as the march at Oxford continues relentlessly with or without my approval, I also realised that whilst I may now understand those who continue to sit under the blanket of the university it doesn't mean that I want to join their ranks. To do that is to defer the inevitable. Or to attempt to avoid it. There has to be a point when you stand up to be counted. That you do something with all the praise and promise which has been dripped into your ears. When the 19th comes, and I leave Oxford, I don't know how I'll feel or what emotions will be rattling through me. I know even less about what will come afterwards. But I do know that whatever happens I can't sit back and let it all wash over me. Getting to Oxford was difficult, getting through some of the stuff that happened here has been even more difficult, but I'm here, writing this. I've made it this far, and there were times when I honestly wasn't sure if I would or not. And tomorrow? Sans safety net, cowboy boots in place, who knows?

*It wasn't.

No comments: