You are not happy with us. We know. And I write to extend our apologies. Earnest, quite humble apologies. Because we do not know your pain, we do not want to know your pain, and we will not know your pain for a very long time. I’m trying, of course, to speak on behalf of the underlings. Freshers, to use the colloquial term. Those whose eyes really can stay open without matchsticks or Pro Plus; those whose idea of a bad week involves missing the start of Doctor Who for an essay deadline, or only going punting once. Those who still succumb, on occasion, to happiness and optimism about university life.
So, firstly: we’re sorry about the library. We’re sorry for giving everyone baleful looks as we stagger in with an armful of books (i.e, about three), inviting you all to commiserate with us because we have A Deadline. We’re sorry for diverting ourselves by whispering, and laughing – we know, we know it’s not okay. And we’re sorry for taking any books out. We do know that you need them… but, sometimes, we just have to beat our tute partners. You know how it is.
Secondly, we’re sorry about the evenings. We still go out. We still drink too much, we still stay up all night just because we can. We’re still loud when we come back, because we forget. We still do the whole morning-after ‘oh my God I got so wasted lollll what am I like?’ for a good day or so, because we still think that it’s endearing rather than mass-murder-inspiring. Our alcoholism is still a product of choice, not necessity. And for that, too, we apologise.
Thirdly, we’re sorry about our attitude. In general. Moaning about a bad tutorial. Getting “really stressed” because the college vending machine has run out of Coke and “I totally can’t function without caffeine right now”. Complaining because our phalanx of extra-curricular activities just takes up so much sunbathing time. Or, conversely, being excited. Seeing the joy in life – and trying so hard to share it with you, as your dust-covered forms cower in the stygian enclaves of the Rad Cam. We understand that you don’t appreciate our feeble efforts to make conversation (tip: “how’s revision going?” will only ever be met with a stony, dead-eyed stare) – we just want you to know that we try. Please know this: we cannot change the fact that your lives are abominable. We are not selfless enough to sacrifice our pleasure for your peace of mind. But, if it helps, do take solace in the realisation that one day we, too, will be in your miserable position; we, too, will lose our days to the Radcliffe Humanities library and our sanity to the Gladstone Link. We, too, will become red-eyed creatures of the night, crawling out of bookshelves only to glare at the passing adolescents who dare to be happy too loudly…
But that’s years away yet. So, in the meantime – we will mourn your demise in the clubs. We will mourn your demise in the bar. We will mourn your demise on the croquet lawns. But we shall do it with a glass of Pimms in hand.
Here, brave adults, is to you.
With love from the Freshers
One of the unfortunate things about science is that once you get to a certain level you either tend to get it, or you don’t. For those of us who find that working through formulae and lab practicals is all a bit much, the only future seems to be to give up any hope of ever understanding more complex science and concentrate on those English texts.
Not so with Bill Bryson’s book, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, which seeks to provide just that: a basic summary of the central aspects of science. Although I picked the book up with some wariness, having guilted myself into buying it so that I could at least try to keep up with my science studying friends, what I found inside was a pleasant surprise: an extremely accessible and easy to read book about science. From the Big Bang to evolution, with chemistry and history in between, Bryson uses colourful biographical details to bring the scientists and their discoveries to life.
Although the book lacks the total coverage that you might get from spending a few weeks in the Radcliffe library, and it fails to examine too far beyond biology, chemistry and geology, it touches on what most people genuinely want to know. It even does it in enough detail that you feel like you actually learn something. A lot of what is covered is admittedly present in your science GCSEs, although I for one didn’t pay much attention to those anyway (and I’m sure I’m not alone), but some of it, such as the concise and careful description of particle physics, is so accessible that I found myself flicking back to it when CERN made its big announcement this summer, and again when I last visited the Museum of Natural History (where they claim the first dinosaur bones were found in Oxford – a slightly dubious accolade, as Bryson describes it).
The trick of the book is that it’s just so readable. Bryson’s years as a writer have enabled him to convey what he knows brilliantly, in neat little segments, so that you can pick the book up and put it down days or weeks apart and not lose the thread. But for this reader the book’s real brilliance was in the fact that it was a science book about people. As time and time again, Bryson points out the people who were brushed aside by scientific history for being before their time or just not loud enough, you come to feel a much greater connection to the scientists of history than any textbook could evoke.
So, for readability, clarity, and for just getting it right, this book makes a great casual read for the scientist and non-scientist alike.
Oxfam is to receive the Freedom of the City of Oxford in October in recognition of its achievements both in the city and worldwide.
Chief Executive Dame Barbara Stocking and Oxfam Chair Karen Brown will be presented with a Freedom of the City scroll at the Town Hall by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Alan Armitage.
The honour will mark the 70th anniversary of the organisation. Oxfam’s started in 1942 to help those suffering in Greece in the aftermath of World War Two and is now working in 90 countries on a number of projects such as providing emergency water sources and supporting community health projects.
Either distinguished individuals or people who have “rendered eminent services to the city” are eligible for the accolade.
The Lord Mayor said: “Oxfam has made a huge difference to the lives of many millions of people across the world, during 70 years. We in Oxford can be very proud of the organisation’s strong links with our city, and the unfailing support it has had from our citizens.
“This is a good time to demonstrate our appreciation by awarding Freedom of the City.”
Oxfam retains a strong presence in Oxfordshire with 20 shops and providing 700 local jobs. The outlet on Broad Street is Britain’s first charity shop.
CEO Barbara Stocking expressed her “delight” at accepting the award. She said: “We are very proud of our beginnings in Oxford and what we have gone on to achieve in the past 70 years, working to overcome poverty and suffering worldwide.
“Oxford residents have played a big part in our success over the years; as staff, volunteers and supporters, and Oxfam shops play a special role within the community.”
Oxfam has expanded to include second hand book shops, with books and music contributing 35 percent of the stores’ overall income. In 2009, the Arctic Monkeys released a vinyl version of their single “Crying Lightning” exclusively through the charity.
However, Oxfam’s work has been made more difficult in recent years with the UK in recession. An Oxfam spokesperson told The Oxford Student: “Although Oxfam shop sales are doing well in the current financial climate, donations of items are down. We still need people to donate items such as clothes and books to stock the shops.”
The organisation has launched its “Shwopping” campaign in partnership with Marks & Spencer which encourages customers to exchange an unwanted item of clothing when they buy a new one.
She added: “Continuing to generate income to fund our work overseas is vital to Oxfam in the current economic climate. We therefore have to be innovative about the ways we engage with the public.”
With its resources “stretched more thinly than ever”, fundraising initiatives are vital if Oxfam is to continue responding to large scale emergencies. The organisation is currently tackling the food crises in East and West Africa and Yemen and the displacement of millions of people following the conflicts in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The spokesperson said: As well as responding to these emergencies, Oxfam is also campaigning for Governments and other actors to take concerted action to address some of the flaws in the production and distribution of food around the world, which mean that 1 billion people go to bed hungry nightly despite the planet producing enough food for everyone to eat.”
Despite some of the darker realities, which are slowly revealed to the reader, this book is more than a sterile description of life in this one of a kind prison. Rather, it is difficult to read Marching Powder without becoming emotionally involved with some of the characters in what becomes a much more personal account of one particular inmate’s experiences and memories. Although it is not particularly well written, the intrigue of life in San Pedro coupled with the story of McFadden was enough to keep me turning the pages, needing no literary embellishments required to bring the story to life. Beyond the fascinating account of San Pedro’s set-up, the book records a remarkable tale of friendship, companionship, horror, humour and compassion, sometimes so shocking that it becomes easy to forget that what you are reading is in fact a real-life story. I can’t wait to see the film, or maybe even better, a Louis Theroux documentary.
Despite their endangered species status, and the likelihood that most remaining examples will eventually sport the sign Ye Olde Bookee Shopppe above their door, I think there will always be a place on the high street and in our hearts for those establishments with the mettle to sell their wares in hard copies. I love all the clichés about bookshops: the smell, the ability to browse, the sense of being in a special club when you are given the secret combination to the toilet. What I do find daunting, however, is the sheer number of the blessed things. Not bookshops, obviously, but books.
It’s hard to establish an exact figure, but at least 100,000 books are published in the UK in a single year. 100,000 new books to stack in attractive heaps and to sell. 100,000 new books to add to the list of tomes that includes Anna Karenina and 50 Ways with Wool that we have determined to read before we die.
Every time the unsettling feeling that there might be a novel lurking within me takes hold, I have always found that the most effective antidote is a brisk walk round Waterstones, where the groaning shelves and perky little reviews written by keen young staff restore me to a state of common sense. It is akin to the contraceptive effect on the childless couple who are subjected to a weekend in close proximity to other people’s offspring.
Add to my reluctance the experience of seeing two close family members devote their lives to the thankless task of novel-writing, when they might so much more effectively spend their time watching TOWIE or fashioning night lights out of old baked bean tins, and you were looking at a woman who was unlikely ever to start, let alone finish a novel.
What I had not considered, however, was the determination of my Mother. Nor indeed her amazing capacity to see signs and portents everywhere she goes. The portent that was my undoing took the form of a dream that my Mother had about a television writing contest. The very next day my Mother switched on the TV, and lo and behold, there before her was the very writing contest that she had dreamed about. All that was required were three short chapters. Once my Mother gets the bit between her teeth, there is no stopping her. The amazing SIGN sent from beyond Eastbourne meant she was on my case on a daily basis. Conversations went like this:
“Hello darling. You know how I had that dream about a writing competition?”
“ I think it was A SIGN meant for you.”
“ But I don’t really want to write a novel.”
“ I know darling but you know I had a dream about a writing competition?”
In the end I sent in the three chapters so that she would stop pestering me with phone calls and leave me to watch TOWIE in peace.
Months passed, and the memory of posting the envelope had all but disappeared, so it was with a sense of shock, almost outrage, that I discovered I had been short listed for the competition. A couple of weeks later I had the surreal experience of sitting in a TV studio on a giant polystyrene book like a hefty elf and hearing that I was the winner of a publishing contract with Harper Collins. I had an agent, an editor and a deadline to write a novel. And this is the task, Dear Reader, that I am presently embarked on. I am being careful not to stray too near any bookshops, because two months to the deadline is not the time to be sabotaging my resolve. I still think there are too many books in the world. I still think that what I write is unlikely to make any books to read before I die lists, but nevertheless I am having a go, besides which my Mother is expecting a fulsome dedication and a cut of the advance.
Madeleine Reiss’s as yet unnamed novel is likely to be out sometime in the next year or so. You might just spot it in a bookshop near you (if you have one).