Picture the scene: you wake up slowly, in an old room. It smells old, even though you've been there for a week now. Sun pokes through the curtains, and you've barely seen the sun all week, so you welcome it. You sit up, you get up, you start to get dressed. You haven't put your glasses on yet, so you hope your clothes match, but you can't really be sure.

You're running late for breakfast, but not by much, so you don't worry about it too much. Through the wall, you hear the alarm of the girl next door go off.

You roll your eyes because this happens every day at breakfast time, casually alerting everyone on your floor that if you don't leave now, you'll miss out on all the good pastries at breakfast.

She doesn't turn it off. Naturally, it keeps going. Is that getting louder?

And just like that, you're awake. A snap more jarring than clicking your fingers, you're catapulted into awake-ness. It makes you grumpy, and frustrated.

That's not her alarm. That's a fire alarm.

Something in the back of your now-awake-but-not-at-all-functioning brain remembers that you're supposed to head to the College Chapel during fire drills. Because the huge old wooden building in the middle of the College is obviously the safest place to go.

You're awake and there's a fire drill and you're still trying to put your leg into your jeans and now your brain is being massacred by the absurdly loud ringing. You find two shoes that match - not the ones you'd planned for this outfit - and head outside.

In the hall, it's louder. More insistent. High pitched.

Down the stairs, out the door, across the College. You're walking with people all in different stages of dressed and showered. Some actually have their lives together and you're surprised and highly impressed by them. Some have towels and wet hair, others in dressing gowns and slippers.

All of you, varying states of morning breath and B.O., pile into the Chapel and await further instruction.

The Fire Warden places himself up the front, explaining that drills are necessary. "By the way," he tacks on, "if this had been real, and you'd all come in as slowly as that, about 80% of you would have died in that fire."

That's great. It's 8am and you're supposed to be dead right now.


It isn't the most pleasant way to start a day, but it certainly got me up and about during my sleep-in day. There's nothing quite like a forced wake up to make you do something productive (perhaps out of sheer boredom) with your day.

Because this is a university course and you can get credit for passing the subjects, it acts like a university course... except much tougher. I've only got three weeks to complete a 4.5 unit course - something that normally takes me a whole semester. I've got assignments and workshops coming out of my ears.

They're writing assignments and writing workshops, and I'm in Oxford, of all places, so this is the most excited you will ever find me when confronted with schoolwork and due dates.

But, in case the assignments, lectures and tutorials weren't enough, the Department of Continuing Education is determined for its International Students to have a good time while in England. That means that Week 1 featured an optional trip to Bath.

Being the tourist that I am, an Australian a long way from home and excited to see my share of history, I jumped on board like a sucker.

Saturday morning, when I should have been knuckling down on some university work after spending Friday falling asleep in rare sunshine, I got up early to go to Bath.

I got myself up and ready, had breakfast in the amazing Hall, and waited for the bus to arrive.

And then it happened.

For the second time in three days.

A fire alarm.

Before 9am.

The group, all milling about waiting for the bus, groans in unison. In various stages of ready for Bath, we congregate outside the aforementioned flammable and central Chapel. People in bright yellow vests and way too awake for such an early hour are running around the College. A bleary-eyed man exits and points up the staircase.

The Chapel is locked, so we become a huddle of people standing in the morning sun (yes, it's actually sunny; we're very grateful that it wasn't one of Oxford's usual drizzly mornings). We all mutter about how dead we are this time, even though we've arrived within the two and a half minutes allocated to not-dying-of-fire.

Minutes pass and the alarm keeps ringing. People in bright vests keep running. There are no smoke plumes so I assume that they're doing a good job.

And then it all stops. Someone shouts that it was a false alarm.

Great. The one time I make it to the (locked) Chapel without being dead and it's another false alarm.

In all the kerfuffle, the bus has arrived. We strap ourselves in and relax for the hour trip.


A fire alarm isn't enough for one morning - no. The air conditioner packs in.

"What's that weird smell?" Someone calls out.

"I'm not sure. Everyone, turn your air conditioners on; that should flush it out."

The cabin fills with an acrid, burnt-plastic smoke. We breathe it in and out for a few minutes before we realise what is happening. We turn the air conditioners off. We pull over, open the door and the emergency exit windows to ventilate the cabin.

I have escaped death twice in two hours. When we get back to College for dinner, the people who stayed behind for the day tell us that they did the same; a second fire alarm went off after we had left.

But I wasn't there; I only witnessed one alarm because I spent the rest of my day in Bath.

Bath: inventively named for the baths installed by Romans during their period of rule over Britannia. Thousands over years old. I'm barely decades old, and this thermal spring hole in the ground is older than my imagination can even comprehend.


Next stop, Bath Abbey. Then, the Fashion Museum, showcasing outfits from the 18th century to a replica of this year's Dress of the Year. Then, the Circus, the Royal Crescent. A brisk walk in the rain back to the bus, whose air conditioning was well and truly broken, despite the driver's heroic efforts at salvation.

PHOTO 4 Back to Exeter for dinner, and then an evening spent tucked into bed with a book. Brushing up on my skills, obviously.

Sunday was a day for free time. It was, you guessed it, not a day that I spent doing my assignments, like I should have.

Oxford is home to some astonishing things, and I think that I spent my Sunday doing the best of them: in between choosing cutesy touristy gifts for my family and friends, I visited the Museum of the History of Science. It was first opened as a display of a single man's single collections. It was turned into a museum as more and more people donated what they had collected to the University.

Admission was free, which ticked a major box for little old student me. But what was inside, I happily would have paid to see.

While I class myself as a writer, I have a passion for learning that isn't limited to the Arts; I love things to do with science, too, and fancy myself well versed in history, too. Combine the two? A heaven on Earth!

In glass cabinets lay relics of science. How anyone ever figured science out is beyond me; the things I learnt in class make sense, but the instruments they used simply blow me away. Intricate gold plates carved with such precision - my hand would be too shaky for such a task. The instruments themselves are works of art; swivelling and shifting, measuring and confirming theories that I realised that we take for granted. Astronomical charts that you wouldn't believe.

A nine-foot... thing that accidentally showed that the Earth was gradually moving around the Sun - the basis of modern, correct astronomy.

It was incredible. PHOTO 5

If my day wasn't impressive enough, from The Museum of the History of Science, I went to the Ashmolean Museum. Ashmole donated his collection of interesting historic things and a rather large sum of money, so long as the University used it to open a museum that the public could access for free. It is the world's oldest museum.

It is pretty darn good. I might even stretch to incredible. I will. It was incredible. I learnt so much about various histories. It had pretty good air conditioning, which I've noticed that a lot of museums lack in England.

Monday brought with it more assignments and classes. But, as if understanding my weekend full of history, the lecture was about research. Jenny Lewis spoke in particular about her history research around Mesopotamia, in Iraq, in 1914.

Historical Fiction is something I'd love to go into, once I'm done with university. We'll see about that, but for now, according to my timetable, I'm off to learn how to Scottish Country dance! Hopefully, this week will have less fire alarms. You can read more about my adventures in Oxford Creative Writing, Week 1!