Scottish Country dancing involves a lot of skipping, swinging and 'whoo'ing. I know this because, according to the instructor, I was a very good Scottish Country dancer. Not me, personally. I wish I had the co-ordination for dancing. But as a group, she promised us, we were quite talented. I could put it on my resume. You know, if writing doesn't work out for us, we'll start a touring Scottish Country dancing crew. We'll sell merchandise. It's very energetic. Some people did it in heels (they're probably people you shouldn't cross), some people did it in sneakers (the wise ones), and some people did it with no shoes (I bet that their toes still hurt from being trodden on). We laughed so much that our tummies hurt (to add that to the list of things that were beginning to hurt), and that we had to be given a ten-minute breather. All in all, it was a fun night. I wish I'd taken videos (we looked ridiculous, I promise), but I was too busy dancing to worry about photos and videos. I slept well that night.
The next night, the pressure didn't let up. I'd put my name down on a sheet for open mic night. The room itself was small - cosily fitting about thirty odd people. Chairs had been arranged, all facing the front focal point. At the front, a good distance from the audience, was an optional armchair. I'd had enough sense not to put my name down first, so I sat through the pieces, working my stomach into a tighter and tighter knot. I'd placed myself in the middle; if I was dismal, I wouldn't be remembered in and amongst all the other speakers. My name was called, and I went up the front. I was shaking so hard that I could barely read the words I'd written. I'd practised enough to know the words without looking t the page, but standing in front of all those people, adrenaline completely wiped my memory. I took a deep breath.
"Now," I addressed the audience, looking at as many people as I could without seeing them. "My work has never reached an audience this large before." A few eyebrows shot up and torsos shifted. "So I'm terrified. Let's do this." My heart pounded so hard that my ribcage hurt. A few people clapped and changed as I raised the paper to read without another moment's hesitation. I stumbled on one word. That's a whole lot better than oral presentations normally go for me, so along with the 200+ books in my room, I consider that night a life achievement. I was so full of adrenaline that I couldn't relax for another hour. My muscles only started to unwind themselves when I had a hot cup of tea in hand, and was lounging around in the student bar afterwards.
I slept well on Tuesday night, too. I slept with a sense of relief. A peaceful sleep.
On Wednesday, Oxford didn't have anything planned for us, so we made our own plans. Once the sun had set and dinner had been digested, we went for our second round of dessert. Though it was a midsummer's night, we wore pants and jackets. Midsummer is a lot colder in England than in Australia, but at least we had packed accordingly. George and Denver's is an ice-cream parlour, open until midnight every day. Their sorbet's taste like real fruit, and their brownie sundaes re decadent beyond imagination. Full of frozen ice-cream, chillier than before, we made our way back to our dorm rooms. Wednesday night we slept well on full tummies. Not that Exeter lets your tummy get very empty; I've gained weight on this trip, and probably should have brought exercise gear to combat it. But I didn't, so I'll just have to throw myself full-force into netball when I get back - which isn't exactly a chore.
Thursday's are hard to get through; I have a class at 11am, and the next isn't until 4pm. There's a lot of waiting around for 4pm; it isn't log enough to go and do something, but it's too long to sit around and do nothing, too. I usually compromise by telling myself that reading for leisure is technically studying.
This Thursday, I forced myself not to be lazy. With what time I had, I went across to the Weston Library - a hop, skip and a jump from Exeter College, and a dream come true for me. Weston Library is an extension of the Bodleian Library, made purely to house books once the Bodleian became too small. From the street, Weston Library looks three stories high. What can't be seen from the street is the two smaller stories - which get smaller so the weight of books doesn't crush the building. You also can't see the underground levels - which are apparently bigger than footy ovals. Underground connects the Weston Library to the Bodleian Library, and then again to Radcliffe Camera, one of England's only round libraries, which can be seen peeking over Exeter's back walls. Radcliffe Camera is also in The Golden Compass, which is one of my favourite books.
The Weston Library is currently home to an exhibition called 'Marks of Genius', where you're able to see handwritten notes by Jane Austen, Einstein, Queen Elizabeth I, and the hand-drawn molecular structure of penicillin.
Then, off to class. After class and after dinner, Richard led us on a tour of all of Oxford's spookiest spots.
The general consensus is that Oxford wasn't the greatest place to live during the English Civil War; you either died, or something went so horrifically wrong that you eventually haunted the place forever. There were heartbroken girls, mad kings, dastardly men, and disgraced soldiers.
My brain had absorbed as much history as it possibly could by then, and I slept easily because I wasn't trying to shove any more information in. So it's nice that my body has finally settled into a regular sleeping pattern on the opposite side of the world. My appetite has perhaps settled a little too well. Friday brought with it a tour of the Bodleian Library itself. Libraries are, of course, studious places, and so you aren't allowed to talk in them. The tour guide manoeuvred this by giving everyone headpieces and whispering into it everything we might possibly need to know. Parts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were filmed there, but that wasn't even the coolest parts. There were books chained to their shelves, as was the practise when the Duke Humphries wing was built, family crests on the roof and more books than I even knew existed. When the library was founded by Thomas Bodley, he asked the publishing houses in England to give the library a free copy of every book they published, to further the learning of the students. Publishers agreed. Ive included a picture of the Duke Humphries Library that can be found on the internet, because photography isn't allowed inside, but it's too cool to just not show.
I'm going to ask for a bit of creativity and memory here: Picture 9 year old Emma Watson heaving a gigantic book into the middle of the library, onto a huge table. "I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading," she says, as they discover who Nicholas Flamel is. Of course, Bodley asked this of publishers before books were too popular. Now, over one thousand books are published every week, and the Bodleian Library receives a copy of every single book. The Bodleian has over eleven million books. I'd sure like 11 million books. I would have the same spacing issue as the Bodleian - though I'm not too sure they are as fussed about how each book looks on their shelf as I am. Friday night was listed as Pimm's and Karaoke night. I was tired after my day, walking around the gigantic library, so I left early in favour of my bed. I wrote for a while, messaged home. Slept, mostly. Saturday was the excursion to Woodstock. Not the festival Woodstock, but perhaps the original Woodstock. The point of the trip was to visit Blenheim Palace, the only Palace in England not owned by the Royal family. The palace was impressive, but Alex and I were more impressed by their gardens.
Until now, I had never understood, as in periodic movies and TV shows, people's insistence to 'take a stroll around the garden' to entertain their guests. I'd grown up in suburban Adelaide, and could only imagine ladies and men walking in circles around a clothes line.
Not these gardens.
Blenheim Palace was where Winston Churchill was born, and where he spent parts of his childhood. He proposed to his wife Clementine in the gardens that Alex and I visited. The palace was gigantic and stately, and full of black and white photos of how it had been used during the Second World War, under the instruction of Duchess of Marlborough Consuelo Vanderbilt-Balsan.
Saturday night was spent in the Undercroft Bar, deep in discussion with one another until we could hardly keep our eyes open any more. We promised each other that we'd go to bed straight away and meet up the next morning for brunch together. Not all of us went to bed immediately, and not all of us made it out to brunch. We scored ourselves a Traditional English Breakfast at a bargain price, and skipped out on a proper lunch.
I left after brunch to visit the Museum of Natural History - full of dinosaur bones and insects frozen in time - and the Pitt Rivers Museum - full of artefacts from around the world, from different eras.
Then, to satisfy the need for Harry Potter within me, I visited New College, where the courtyard scenes from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were filmed - Cedric telling Harry to open his egg underwater, and Mad-Eye Moody turning Malfoy into a ferret.
Sunday is my rest night, thankfully. Time to rest my body, and perhaps finish my assignments before their due dates. The due dates are looming ever closer, and I seem to keep finding things to distract myself with. Next week I've already booked out my Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. But the course is almost over, so I've got to enjoy what I can before it's done and I'm being jettisoned back off to Australia, some sixteen thousand, three hundred kilometres from Oxford.
You can read more about my adventures in Oxford or Ox-fireand Oxford Creative Writing, Week 1!
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