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By Catherine Edwards
After eight weeks amidst the fabled spires, the return home can seem more like a return to Earth – particularly for the Freshers among you. The first week of the holiday is utter, blissful freedom – breakfast, lunch and dinner at a time of your choosing? Yes please! Shove all subject-related books out of sight and resolve to forget about vac work till after Christmas? Don’t mind if I do. Whether you’ve spent Michaelmas in a perpetual essay crisis, or just at Park End, you’ll have forgotten what a full night’s sleep feels like and, upon arriving home, you’ll want to disappear into a blankety haven and never emerge.
But after a week of hibernation, you may just be starting to find yourself with a pang of longing for our illustrious city. After all, your friends from other universities aren’t home yet – far from it, they’re embarking on their first essays of term, poor things. A glance at Nexus, your link back to Oxford, yields disappointing results, with only David Townsend still trotting out his cheery little emails (oh, and before I forget, Happy Tanzanian Independence Day everyone!). So what do you do now?
The thing is, we can no longer function in the real world. Remember it? The place where dinner doesn’t start with a gong and a Latin grace, nightclubs aren’t carpeted, and where (heaven forbid) you can tread on grass with reckless abandon. If such things already seem foreign to you, then it’s official; you’re a fully-fledged Oxonian. There’s no going back now, so let’s cast a nostalgic look over what we’ll miss most this Christmas.
1) The Food (and Drink)
For the first week or so, home cooking is all you want – particularly for those of you who have been living out, and may have spent the past couple of months surviving on an increasingly restricted diet of cereal and pasta. You never want to see a cup-a-soup again. But even the satisfaction of your first proper fish and chips and drinkable tap water in two months (fellow Northerners will understand) will soon be replaced by gradual cravings creeping in – for the weekly pilgrimage to Hassan’s, the familiarity of hall food, or the largely liquid nourishment of a crewdate.
2) Your Friends
Aww, isn’t that sweet. But the fact is, your Oxford friends are the only ones who understand you now, as the last eight weeks have rendered you incapable of carrying out normal, English conversation. Everyone at home will insist your accent has become ‘hilarious’, and mentioning anything Oxford-related can be a complete minefield. Take for example, the fact that you arrived here to find yourself lumbered with a socially awkward sibling, too-cool-for-you parents and a sharky grandad, and in all probability you’ve gone and got yourself a spouse. Fail to explain the (admittedly fairly odd) college family system to friends from home, and you may find your story about getting off with your uncle doesn’t go down too well. Even normal words from the English language have acquired a second meaning; penny, tab, blue, formal, Jesus, and that’s not to mention the plethora of nonsense Oxford words with which we earnestly pepper our conversation.
For some reason, a defining characteristic of Oxford students seems to be our capacity to whinge. You’ve only been here five minutes, yet you now feel completely entitled to slag off Cambridge, rival colleges, tourists, and just about anything else. How sad that you weren’t able to log in immediately to book your place for a heavily subsidised Christmas dinner in the decadent surroundings of your college hall. How disgusting that you once overheard a tour guide inform his gaggle of Americans your college was founded in the early 1500s – ha ha, what a moron; thank God you were on hand to step in with “it was 1427, actually…” Only here would you respond to a plaintive wail of “Oh no, I’ve got pheasant on my gown, and it’s dry clean only!” with genuine empathy. Bizarrely, such concerns simply don’t get the same reception when shared with friends from home. You long for the company of those who understand.
4) The Views
It may sound silly, but a few notable exceptions aside (Oh St Catz…) Oxford is pretty decent looking, not to mention being the closest many of us will ever get to actual Hogwarts. Strolling past the Rad Cam, it’s easy to forget the disappointing reality of stroppy tutors and impending deadlines and instead imagine you’re in Harry Potter, Brideshead Revisited, or at the very least a Jack Wills advert. You’ve developed an unparalleled snobbery regarding grass and recoil in disgust when you see the shoddy upkeep of your garden at home. Why, it doesn’t even have any right angles – the horror!
5) The Societies
The beauty of Oxford is that, whatever your geeky hobby or secret talent may be, someone else definitely shares it, and obsesses over it to a greater extent than you. Where else but at Oxford could you fill your week with activities ranging from Quidditch to yoga to medieval history re-enactment, and not be judged horrendously for doing so? You can never get bored here, and so what if most of the societies you signed up to at Freshers’ Fair were terrible lapses in judgement, and you’ve never actually responded to the Aerial Dance Society’s emails? It’s nice to have the option.
6) The Clothes
One of my friends commented that judging from my Facebook photos, Oxford seems to require its students to alternate daily between black tie and fancy dress. In reality, he’s not far wrong – but it’s bloody fantastic. There’s barely an occasion in Oxford for which one of the above will not suffice, and for those pesky in between events, there’s always the trusted college hoody or, even better, stash. Whether you are clueless about fashion, just-too-alternative, or a longtime red trousers advocate who’s finally found their Mecca, there are so many oddballs in Oxford that you have a pretty free reign over what to wear without ever risking looking out of place. At home it’s a different story; you need to make some attempt to appear normal, and in my opinion there’s a frankly disappointing lack of opportunities to crack open the face paint and fashion a boptume, or hone your bowtie-tying skills.
7) The Distance
With the exception of those at Hilda’s and Hugh’s, the majority of us have grown used to tumbling out of bed, be it your own or otherwise, ten minutes before lectures and still arriving with time to spare. All the essentials (Tesco, Primark, Camera) are located within a similarly convenient radius, and you don’t even have to set foot outside college to see most of your friends. At home, your new standards of what is an acceptable distance to travel leave you with a depressing choice: stay in, mourning the Oxford bubble and all that is contained therein, or brave the British winter to trek to destinations over fifteen minutes away. All I can advise is to pray you don’t end up stuck on public transport, where you’ll no doubt be crammed uncomfortably close to people who definitely don’t know their Matriculation from their Michaelmas.