The Malcontent on… ‘Romance in Oxford’

The Malcontent on… ‘Romance in Oxford’[caption id="attachment_38842" align="alignleft" width="425"]PHOTO/CHARM2010 PHOTO/CHARM2010[/caption]

Spring has most definitely sprung here in Oxford, and accordingly, I’ve been thinking about relationships. You already know how this column will play out, don’t you? Grumpy Girl emerges from her lair, complains bitterly about the warm, snuggly, fuzziness of love, and then skulks off home to dress up as Miss Havisham in front of the mirror. Yes? Not quite.

Believe it or not, I’m an old fashioned sort of gal, and today I’m lamenting the lack of chivalrous young men and overblown romantic gestures. Today, my friends, I’m going after cowardly boys.

That’s right, buddy. You, sitting there in the Rad Cam sobbing over a volume of Keats. Or you Sir, gazing wistfully at that girl in labs whilst absent-mindedly soldering your glasses to a circuit board. And you, the constipated looking bloke in Hall. I know you’re not really in need of a Dulcolax, you duplicitous little weasel; you’re hoping that if you shuffle awkwardly around your friend for long enough, she’ll finally get the message that you’ve been desperately in love with her since first year.

This pandemic gutlessness has gone far enough. This term, you bunch of sissies, stride up to the object of your affections and admit your feelings the good old-fashioned way. I was raised on a diet of Austen, Bronte, the Other Bronte, and the Other Other Bronte- and so far, I’ve noticed a distinct dearth of dark, brooding young men confessing their undying love on horseback. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lovelorn email, an anguished text message, and an utterly baffling sonnet comparing me to a London bus- but I have yet to be swept off my feet by a Byronic hero. Where’s the effort, the sense of occasion, the secret wife locked in the attic?

Granted, trudging to lectures with soggy boots and a bag full of unfinished tute sheets is hardly conducive to romance. So for the especially unimaginative/lily-livered amongst you, I’ve generously compiled a list of Romance Dos and Don’ts.

Do show your devotion by slipping subliminal messages (ut iis sobrie, modiloveyoulauraeste atque grate) into Grace at Formal Hall. Do burst into the library and shower her with confetti ripped from the pages of the Examination Regulations. Don’t attempt to convey your feelings through the medium of interpretive dance. And do not, under any circumstances, buy her a bunch of white carnations unless you want to trigger a particularly unpleasant Prelims flashback.

Happiness is a rare breed in this fetid little academic hothouse; we ought to man up and grab it wherever we find it. Now go forth, timid woodland critters, and make complete and utter fools of yourselves in the name of love.

The Malcontent on: the Olympics

The Malcontent on: the Olympics

Mandeville (Olympic Mascot)Officials estimate around ten million people will attend the 2012 Olympic Games, and I hope every single one has a thoroughly miserable time.

Don’t get me wrong; when London first won the games, I was overjoyed. Any occasion when we beat the French is worthy of celebration. But have we really trumped the Parisians, or taken a bullet for them? We’ve spent twelve billion pounds so some people in garish costumes can run around for a bit. For our money, we’ve got a fairly average stadium, a new swimming pool, a statue that looks like a rollercoaster crash and a capital city in utter ruin.

At this point, Jeremy, ahem, Hunt, steps out of Rupert Murdoch’s dining room to remind us that the value of the Olympics is greater than money; it brings peace and international co-operation.  Then he gives the North Koreans the South Korean flag. You couldn’t make it up. Oh yes, what a terrific easing of diplomatic tensions. Will the Germans be playing under the swastika? Probably not; it’s been copyrighted as the London 2012 logo.

We are also told the Olympics will encourage us to do sport. But will broadcasting images of elite athletes into the homes of the overweight inspire them? Or shatter what little confidence they have, forcing them to seek solace in a lard sandwich? A far more effective – and austere – solution to obesity, would be to release bears into every McDonald’s in the country. But I would save the most savage and sadistic bear for the bedroom of whoever decided that McDonald’s, the world’s main cause of obesity, should sponsor the world’s main sporting event. Maybe next year, Jack Daniel’s will sponsor the Hajj. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t make Eric Pickles Minister for the Olympics.

And have you seen the Olympic adverts? It’s not just that they are awful (and, by God, they are awful. McDonald’s comes in for special criticism. The glued-to-the-screener, the safe-journey-homer? How about the dying-from-heart-diseaser?). It’s that they’re everywhere. You name it, it’s got the pink swastika on it. Banks, cars, phones… The fighter jets we’re flogging the Saudis probably have Jessica Ennis’ face on them.

But not only is the Olympics a colossal waste of time, money, and bears, it is also fated to be a total disaster. The weather, veering from monsoon to heat-wave, clearly shows that God is against London 2012. Everything that can go wrong, so far, has gone wrong. The Olympic mascots are mutant monstrosities. The torch relay made it look like we’d only just discovered fire. The games are surrounded by missiles and guarded by men who, after spending the week before killing insurgents with their bare hands, probably won’t have much patience for the American who wants to know how he can meet Harry Potter.

Then there was the Opening Ceremony, a horrific car-crash of needless dancing, slow-motion corgis, J. K. Rowling speaking as if she’d just learnt to read and Wallander wreaking his phallic vision on the Shire. The only realistic depiction of Britain in it was the young gentlemen meeting up with the young lady (by picking up her dropped phone… and then ringing her) for what will inevitably be a night of sniffing Pritt Sticks and unprotected sex, whilst their house is trashed by Dizzee Rascal, Mr Bean and the parachuting Queen.

I wonder if they picked the wrong Boyle to direct. For 27 million pounds, we could have seen Frankie Boyle line up the athletes of the world and throw them one by one into the Olympic Cauldron. Yet the international sporting community was distinctly not screaming in the hands of a mad Glaswegian, but instead spending several eons wandering around, while we all learn the French for ‘American Samoa’.

Then, for weeks more to come, we will be bombarded with exhaustive coverage of the Ethiopian women’s football team and the Icelandic rhythmic gymnastics squad. Swimmers will swim, cyclists will cycle, rowers will row… and don’t get me started on rowing. Then the fastest man in the world will run faster than slower men, and maybe we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

PHOTO/Andrew Havis

The Malcontent on: Distances

It’s not that I’m chronically unfit. I can jog as well as the next guy. But what I have to fucking resent the most about Oxford are the distances involved in doing everything. Distances, what distances? Isn’t this the city where everything is 2 minutes away from everything else? The exam schools are no more than a 10-minute walk (unless you’re a truly unlucky fucker in one of the colleges constituting the distant realms of the land). Even Bridge is only a short stumble home. Maybe. But that’s not the point.

Anywhere else in the country (or the world) I wouldn’t think twice about the daily journeys that plague my existence here. A 5-minute walk? How pleasant! How refreshing! Fresh air, what a great way to start the day. But that’s because everywhere else, unlike in Oxford, everything is far apart. A 5-minute walk is a 5-minute walk to the tube, to embark on a 20-minute tube ride, and another 5-minute walk. It’s a brief component of a longer thing.

It’s all about perspectives, after all. And what I hate most about distances in Oxford is how much it has bastardised my perspectives on distance. Because everything is so close by, it’s so far away. It’s like the glass of cold water that after a heavy night out is so close to your bed you almost don’t have to move to get it, but then you realize your arms aren’t quite long enough. We all know the sinking feeling, realizing we’re going to have to move if we want to drink it.

In many ways, I couldn’t be in a worse position. As much as I am truly heartbroken for those who must endure over a 10-minute walk to get to the centre of town, they still don’t have it as bad as living on Broad Street. Tesco may only be a minute walk…but in line with the foolproof logic of the ‘like a glass of water’ analogy, this minute may as well stretch into millennia. Not least because living so close to Tesco, there’s never a need to plan and get stuff – I can always drop by. If only.

I would get it delivered, but alas, the walk to the lodge is the same distance as the walk to Tesco. It’s things like this that make me realize quite how bad we have it in the first world, after all.

-Anirudh Mathur


The Malcontent on: Snow

Now, I’ve never met God, and I’m sure he’s a nice enough bloke, but what on earth made Him think it was a good idea to invent snow? He must have sat down in His meteorological planning committee, with the Angel Gabriel and Michael Fish, looked at some rain, and thought, ‘You know what? It just doesn’t make enough people slip over and break their ankles. Let’s make it colder, more irritating and more lethal to the elderly.’ At which point, the Angel Gabriel (whom I imagine as a heavenly version of Agony Lad) probably remarked: ‘Banter!’ But, I digress.

Snow lures us into a false sense of security. Like the baby Charlie in the YouTube video, it seems friendly, harmless. So, we rush outside, abandoning the warmth and comfort of our rooms. And then it bites our finger. Or, more properly, soaks us to the skin, destroys our possessions, hurls us to the floor, breaks our bones and gives us pneumonia. Why does snow exercise this control over us? No other atmospheric condition does. We don’t run out into rainstorms, or try to get struck by lightning. If it were raining meteors, you wouldn’t think, ‘I know, let’s sprint blindly outside and try to catch one in my mouth!’

So why snow? ‘Oh, it looks pretty,’ I hear you say. Poison dart frogs look pretty, but I wouldn’t want them falling from the sky. And what about the snow hangover; a city caked in filthy slush, dotted with eviscerated snowmen – is that picturesque?

The point is that snow is a bit like a mad axe murderer with a lisp, in that it’s dangerous, but also quite annoying. Snowballs, for instance. Somehow, the act of compacting snow produces a chemical reaction that turns a ball of fluff into a lump of concrete. Being hit by a snowball is like being hit by a depleted uranium anti-tank round.

Even the act of walking becomes a Herculean feat. No footwear is appropriate. Normal shoes just dissolve, whilst proper boots make you like a train-spotting child-abductor. And have you ever tried combining snow with alcohol? Frankly, you’d be safer combining a steak knife with your femoral artery. A night out clubbing in this weather will end in one of three ways. 1) You will freeze to death in the queue. 2) You will freeze to death on the way home. 3) You will be eaten by a wolf. Yes, that’s right. Snow equals wolves, as proved by the documentaries Frozen Planet and The Day After Tomorrow.

I was tempted to conclude with a niveous pun, such as ‘Snow: it’s snow joke.’ But something more direct is necessary. Snow: it will annoy you. And then it will kill you. And then your body will be eaten by wolves.

-James McKean

PHOTO/ Toby Ord

The Malcontent on: Chuggers

Welcome to Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, racist Tories and overly-aggressive charity muggers-  Chuggers to their friends. (I mean “friends” in the loosest sense of the word. It must be hard to maintain a friendship with someone when the simplest offer to get a round in is met with a sour look and a ‘really? That’s just so insensitive. There are three legged donkeys out there who don’t even have fresh water and you want to drink beer? Besides, prawncocktail crisps are offensive to the mollusc community”.)

Once easily avoided with a cheeky sidestep or a cry of “oh look! A posh-boy chasing a fox!” today’s chuggers are a new breed; stealth-ridden ninjas Darwinianly evolved to sniff out a guilty conscious like a spaniel in a Columbian airport. The moment your foot hits Cornmarket Street you are lost and they descend on you like a crowd of angry seagulls gangbanging a stray chip, buckets a-swinging and leaflets a-waving.

Now I don’t want you to think that this Malcontent is an uncharitable specimen- far from it. Charity is great, charity is love, contrary to popular belief it is not gravity but charity that makes the world go round and I thank everyone who does give their money away so unselfishly.  Now as it happens I don’t, I spend it on vodka and shoes like any other self-respecting student, but that is not the point. The point is that if I’m going to not give my money to charity then I’m damn well going to not give it to a charity of my choosing, not whichever one some smelly random in a hideous tabard has pressganged me into on the street.

I have tried many techniques during my three years here –wearing headphones even when not attached to anything, the imaginary telephone, even the good old ‘me no habla ingles’- but nothing works. They cling on to you, limpet like, until sheer disgust at your own lack of humanity breaks you and you lob them a fiver and limp away. It is thus in the spirit of charity –nay humanity- that I implore you, good people of Oxford, rise up and reclaim the streets one ‘fuck off, I’m busy’ at a time.

-Rose Newman

The Malcontent on: Pigeons

Why do pigeons think they’re better than us? They have nests, feathers, and droppings. We have satellites, nuclear submarines, and Sherlock. In every conceivable sense, a human is better than a pigeon. Now, I confess I’m hardly the manifestation of physical perfection – indeed, I often get out of breath brushing my teeth – but I reckon I could best even the most athletic pigeon in any challenge. Intelligence, strength, endurance… we are superior. So why is it that, whenever you walk down a street, there’s always some smug ball of feathery pretentiousness glaring at you with an air of natural superiority?

They seem to delight in terrorising humanity. They strut in front of advancing people, only to fly away at the last possible second, screeching in glee at their own brilliance. Great swarms of them group on buildings, heckling passers-by, glorying in their pathetic pigeon-banter, before descending like feathered Stuka dive-bombers to rain excrement on their unfortunate victims. These flying rats are the avian equivalent of a bunch of yobs crouching on the roof of a bus-stop and yelling “Tosser!” at old ladies.

But do not be fooled into thinking that these jumped-up, anti-social sky-louts are a harmless nuisance. Because, beneath the plump exteriors, pigeons are merciless killers. I can name literally two examples of slaughter inflicted by genocidal pigeons. In 2007, Craig Taylor was crushed to death by an awning which collapsed under the weight of pigeon faeces, whilst 35 people died when kamikaze pigeons brought down an airliner in 1988. Combine that with the deadly diseases spread by pigeon droppings, which may or may not include the bubonic plague, typhoid, leprosy and AIDs, and we have a creature, on balance, more dangerous than telling a Scotsman you like his dress.

More worrying still is the close relationship pigeons have traditionally enjoyed with the military. Who knows what nefarious experiments pigeons have undergone in top-secret army laboratories? We’ve all seen X-Men, but what about an X-Pigeon? Super strength, no fear, massive size; a creature genetically-engineered to seek out the Taliban and steal their pack lunches. What if one of these monsters escaped? I have an eye-witness report of a pigeon “the size of a swan” roaming Oxford at night.

So, remember, next time you see a pigeon, don’t sink to its level. You’re better than it. Just take the moral high ground and walk away. Unless it’s a muscle-bound super-pigeon, in which case you’d better run. Fast.

-James McKean


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