Oxford / The attempt

some buildings

I stopped by the Oxford University Press shop (this gave me a little thrill, no lie) and picked, for my coursework, Volker Halbach’s The Logic Manual and on an impulse, a book simply titled Oxford, by Jan Morris (all quotes in this post taken from it). Am on the third chapter now; planning to continue on the train to London this Wednesday, if the letter-writing urge doesn’t grip me – there is something inherently romantic about a letter written on a train. The prose so far is very rich and evocative. It is the kind of thing I’ll read in Singapore and then clasp to my chest with a kind of despondent energy because I’m not in Oxford but now I am, and … if there are words for this, I am unequal to the task of choosing the right ones.

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“Keats thought this city the finest in the world. Ramsay MacDonald called its University ‘a painted lady, from which Labour has nothing to expect.’ When the young men of its University debating society declared, in 1933, that they would on no account fight for their King and Country, all Europe took notice. In Oxford Disraeli coined the phrase ‘on the side of the angels’, Robert Burton wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy and Lawrence of Arabia propelled himself through an underground stream in a canoe. The mathematical devices <, > and ∞ were all invented here, and here for the first time penicillin was given to a patient. Richard the Lion-Heart was born in Oxford, Boyle evolved his Law here, Kenneth Grahame is buried in an Oxford graveyard, part of the Authorized Version and part of the New English Bible were translated in the city … Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile on an Oxford track, and in this city also, in 1876, Marshall Jones Brooks jumped the first recorded six foot high jump.”

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I walk past these monuments to history and humanity every day on my way to lectures. (Still, I wish I could ride past them instead. Really need to get on the whole buying-a-bike business.) I don’t have very many words to say in the face of such magnificence. It seems sufficient to tread the cobblestones in silence.

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Photo on the left’s the Examination Schools, where I have my lectures most mornings, 10-12 pm.

“Near the city centre they once found the grave of an Early Iron Age chieftain – the ceremonial trench that had carried his blood disappeared ominously beneath the walls of the Examination Schools.”

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Matriculation was less ceremonious than I expected, but I relished it (though my blouse was a little too large to fully reflect the sleek  momentousness of the occasion). Putting on the sub fusc and carrying the weight of my mortarboard (symbolic of the weight of intellectual burden – or mandate – we carry for the next three years?) and parading through the streets of Oxford in a procession – it felt grand.

The skies are very bipolar here, it bears saying. The two photos above are of the same sky, at the same time. The photo on the right is of a building to the left of the buildings in the photo on the left. It stormed even as the sun shone through the blue on the other side.

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This photo has very little artistic merit besides its content – this is the inside of Sheldonian Theatre (which has been described, I am told,  ‘impertinently, as the most splendid room in Europe’, where we had our matriculation, during which half the students must have hacked a lung out, seeing as they coughed incessantly throughout.

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I haven’t taken as many photos as I have wanted to, partly because I didn’t want to be known as ‘that Asian’ and partly because there is some complacency in knowing that I will be here for the next three years (hopefully). I am also avoiding my work, really; I have a last economics chapter to finish revising before my tutorial tomorrow, which I am dreading because I am pretty sure my problem set was very badly done. Then, I should get started on my politics reading for the essay due next Monday and possibly also browse through another economics book, and pre-read for my lectures tomorrow.

Some of that is probably not going to happen. One thing for sure, if I am managing an average of 7 hours of sleep a night, I am clearly not doing enough work ): Or going out enough ):

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