We matriculated today. I woke up early and bought a cap and bow tie, as well as a Sainsbury’s sandwich and bagels for breakfast, before returning to Wadham to get dressed in ‘sub fusc’ for the first time. Sub fusc, for men, means a dark suit with black shoes, a white bow tie, an academic cap, and a robe appropriate to the level of the degree for which you are reading.
Once we were all suitably attired, we attended a short introduction in hall, followed by a tedious roll call. We then walked the short distance to the Sheldonian Theatre where a short exchange in Latin between a pair of officials was followed by a slightly longer speech in English. During the course of the event, we all officially became lifetime members of the University of Oxford, as we were already members of our respective colleges. Unlike in the past, when the university administered a matriculation test in Latin to ensure the colleges are not admitting dullards, they were willing to take us on faith about the colleges and departments respective abilities to select. We then spent a tedious hour or so being sorted by height, re-given the roll call, assembled, photographed, and dismissed in the main quad of Wadham. It’s the only time so far I’ve seen people walking on the grass.
After matriculation, I went and got some vegetarian lunch with Nora at the Wheatsheaf before visiting the larger Sainsbury’s near Bonn Square and returning to Wadham. The more distant Sainsbury’s is enormously larger than the one at the intersection of Cornmarket and Broad Streets, beside the graveyard, where I have done all my shopping so far. The produce seemed to be marginally less fresh, but there was definitely a far greater selection to be had. They even had bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale (which my mother bought me for my goodbye party) for 50p less than the JCR bar. Aside from two of those, I bought cheese, bread, vegetable soups, apples, bananas, and a few other trinkets.
I really do have an exceptional amount of work to do, though I am feeling strangely incapable of coming to grips with it. Dealing with masses of reading is neither a talent of mine nor something that frequently appeals to me. My biggest advantage seems to lie in circumstances where very little time exists for comtemplation and deliberation. My advantage over more dilligent others diminishes as the time alloted to complete a task increases. Despite that tendency, as a graduate student I suppose I will need to come to terms with lengthy readings – particularly by sorting out the structural arrangements under which it will take place. The resumption of something along the lines of my round-the-dinner table tea and reading sessions with Meghan and Tristan would be welcome. I may also need to overcome my quibbles about the cost and buy a French press and some coffee.
In the evening, between stretches of reading, I spoke with my mother over Skype and sent her some photos from the matriculation ceremony. I was glad to hear that my family is doing well, though Sasha isn’t attending school because of a labour dispute. Hopefully, it will end soon.
Tomorrow, I am hoping to spend the better part of six hours reading in the Social Science Library on Manor Road. I have a great deal of preparation to do for my core seminar and for the paper that Dr. Hurrell eventually wants on the same topic. It has been difficult, so far, to motivate myself for course-oriented readings. As I told Nora, my brain is a bit like a large industrial wood chipper. It can process a lot of information quickly, under the right circumstances, but it draws a lot of power and can be quite dangerous for the operator if used carelessly or when in a poor state of repair. Getting all those spinning blades running smoothly together, without losing too many limbs and pints of blood, basically defines my big personal project for the next short while.
I don’t know whether it’s the product of dissolved minerals in the water here or reflective of the chemical make-up of British tea, but it seems to be enormously more staining than the North American sort. My caffeine mug needs to be vigorously scrubbed with soap after each usage to remove one or more brown rings left deposited inside it by the Earl Grey it contained. It’s not something I ever experienced with any brand of tea in Canada.
I am still getting used to the distinctive taste of the water here, though it no longer jumps out at me quite as much as it did when I first arrived. As I’ve learned from almost all my travels, people in Vancouver should take delight in the quality of their tap water. While I am sure this water is entirely safe, and probably even charming in some English kind of way, it doesn’t have the character of newly melted snow, shipped from a resevoir located a forty minute walk of your house.
Several times in the past, I’ve referred to Library Court as a panopticon: a kind of prison invented by Jeremy Bentham in which all prisoners can see into one another’s cells and where they are at least potentially observed by a central watchman. While important to Bentham’s idea, there is no watchman here. Still, the idea of constant exposure to one another is quite useful for understanding how I feel about living here. The inescapable low-level mutual awareness is particularly true in an auditory fashion. While you can’t generally hear what is being said, you can always here when a conversation is going on and almost always determine who between. Sometimes, this can be uncomfortable for me. Living in Totem and in Fairview (except in my last year there), my neighbours were almost always hostile to me. That produces a kind of uncomfortable siege mentality, but also a reasonable sense of isolation and privacy. You may be stuck behind a wall, but at least you’re the only one on this side. Library Court offers less opportunity for isolation which is, in the end, a thing that I frequently need. I shall need to find other places in Oxford where it is feasible to be alone and, crucially, also possible to get work done.
Today’s short segments:
- There is a new version of iTunes out, but after updating once only to find that the new version had crippled music sharing (only letting five people connect before it disables itself until you restart), I am wary of upgrading. It brings out the same nervousness as paying any amount for songs that there is no guarantee whatsoever will still play later on, as using any of the legitimate online music services requires.
- Here is another description of Oxford today.