Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Adventures in Oxford

Finally, I'm on holiday. After hours of dancing and talking I collapsed into bed at 4am on Thursday night, and that was it: the end-of-term dance had come and gone and somehow, miraculously, I'd made it through to the Christmas holidays.

Towards the end of term I was very much running on empty, and I am so thankful to be off now; I type this with the Christmas tree sparkling to my left, the fire blazing and my family around. Folk fiddle twines from the radio, and the wooden shutters are tight against the wind. We are all at rest.

I've had a fairly stressful few weeks, with coursework deadlines slamming into me on every side, and there's been little time to relax; every spare moment, more or less, has been swallowed by writing my book. As such, it was in a dreamlike state that, a couple of weeks ago, I travelled to Oxford.

Ironic, really: so much of the stress and business of the school term has been centred around my Oxford interview, but when I was there, it was an oasis of calm. To get you up to speed: I've applied for English Lit at Oxford, and two weeks ago I had a series of interviews there. I travelled on Saturday, returned on Wednesday, and stayed in Madgalen, the college to which I've applied. 

It was sort of a wonderful experience.

Few cities are consistently beautiful, street to street and building to building, but walking through Oxford was like stepping into a gorgeous dream. It didn't rain the whole time I was there; it was just marvellous dry, mild weather, and the glorious streets that sang to me as I walked through them.

I stayed in the college, in a room looking out on the college church with its stained glass windows. When I arrived there on Sunday afternoon, I sat in bed whilst Christmas carols floated through my window.

I had four interviews over my time there. I had some good moments, and also some very bad ones.

For the most part, it's impossible to say how well they went. I made an embarrassing blunder about Hamlet, forgot the plot of The Mill on the Floss, and lost my footing when questioned about the Reformation, but I also had a hugely enjoyable time fangirling about intellectually discussing The Goldfinch, Wordsworth, and Fitzgerald. (I also managed to mention Benedict Cumberbatch, so I'm quite pleased about that.)


When not being interviewed, I wandered about the city. I picked up some secondhand books (of course), and I drank in the beautiful streets and buildings and trees. 

I wandered into one particularly charming little shop, absolutely jam-packed with beautiful things.

The books were gorgeous, and the globes to die for. (I love globes.)

I got lost in the fabulous covered market.

Observe the ancient heraldry on the Sainsburys wall. I'm not joking when I said it was like a dream.

The college chapel was a really beautiful building, like a tiny cathedral. I love the silence of empty churches, with candles burning in the stained glass windows.

The river was one of my favourite parts of Oxford. It winds the rural right through the heart of the city.

One of the best moments of my trip, when I first arrived, was this: walking up the High Street with my luggage, unsure what I would find, when this shop appeared before me. Some of you may know that I'm quite keen on a book called The Goldfinch (and you may know this because I'm really obsessed and never shut up about it), and some of my favourite lines are these:

For the deepest, most unshakeable part of myself reason was useless. She was the missing kingdom, the unbruised part of myself I'd lost with my mother. Everything about her was a snowstorm of fascination, from the antique valentines and embroidered Chinese coats she collected to her tiny scented bottles from Neal's Yard Remedies; there had always been something bright and magical about her unknown faraway life.

When I read the book I didn't know what Neal's Yard Remedies were, and to see this sign was like a gift, just for me, from the dusk. It was a moment of serendipity.

In the evenings, I mingled with other applicants, wrote, and read Hughes and Duffy in my room. The Remains of Elmet by Ted Hughes and Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy are two marvellous books.

Chapels, chimneys vanish in the brightening

And the hills walk out on the hills
The rain talks to its gods
The light, opening younger, fresher wings
Holds this land up again like an offering

Heavy with the dream of a people.

~ from The Trance of Light by Ted Hughes

You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone's face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

as I open the bedroom door.

~ from You by Carol Ann Duffy

Now, looking back, my trip intertwines with these two poets: brief, lyrical, magic.

And what now?

I'll find out next month if I have a place or not. A lot of people have said things to me like “It must have ruined you for anywhere else", or, “you'll be so disappointed if you don't get in." I loved it so much that it must be easy to imagine crushing disappointment. But the truth is I won't be heartbroken, not in the slightest. Before I'd even sent my application I knew very, very well that the chances of my being accepted are extremely small. This doesn't upset me, because I think it's very foolish to stake all your hope on something you might not get. If I don't get in I'll still have my family, a country at peace, my novel, books, Jesus. It's called perspective. But I will visit the city, many more times in the future, and I will always keep this trip -- the beautiful December trees, the crisp magic of the streets, the hushed thrill of being on my own in another country for the first time -- wrapped up inside me. It will stay with me. 

The year dwindles and glows
to December's red jewel,
my birth month.

The sky blushes,
and lays its cheek,
on the sparkling fields.

Then dusk swaddles the cattle, 
their silhouettes
simple as faith.

These nights are gifts,
our hands unwrapping the darkness
to see what we have.

The train rushes, ecstatic,
to where you are,
my bright star.

(December by Carol Ann Duffy)


I'll be back next week with stories and reflections on 2015. For now, much love and Merry Christmas!


  1. Beautiful posts! Oxford looks positively amazing. Blegh, I know how that feels, when your brain goes blank or you mess up something you were trying to say. >.<

    This is in no way as important as your interviews, but today with a customer--a lady who found socks she wanted her husband to buy her for Christmas--I was trying to say "wink, wink; nudge, nudge," in reference to dropping him a hint... And what started to come out was "nink, nink; wudge, wudge." XD ANYWAY. That ramble was a bit off topic.

    Your peacefulness and maturity as you wait to hear back--that's so inspiring! <3 Keep us readers posted!

    By the way, I've tagged you for the Christmas Tag. Don't feel as if you have to do it, though! :) Merry Christmas, Emily!

    1. Thank you! It was. HA, I love that story though!! Nink nink wudge wudge ... Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak ... ;)

      I will do!

      Thank you! As it is now the 1st of January when I see this, I feel I have missed the boat, but thanks all the same! <3

  2. Oxford looks so beautiful! I always wish I could go to Oxford. I'm glad you had an amazing time there.

    I hope you get in! It's a good thing you're not too hung up on it though - too much stress is not good for you.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. Hopefully you will one day!

      Thank you, Kat! Ha, I'm trying to maintain a stress-free life! :D

      Happy New Year! <3

  3. Good luck, Emily! Oxford looks beautiful. I remember how nerve racking my college interviews were, but how enjoyable it was to have the opportunity to discuss what you're passionate about.

    Merry Christmas!!

    1. Thank you, Lauren! Nerve-racking is about right, but still a great trip.

      Happy New Year!

  4. These photos are beautiful and OMG THAT LITTLE SHOP!! I love all the globes. :')
    Good luck with the submission process, though. I do hope you get in because it looks like such a beautiful place!!
    And seriously now....I want to read the Goldfinch. wHY HAVE I NOT YET?!? XD

    1. Thank you! I KNOOOOW! It was so expensive though, I idly looked at a gorgeous copy of the Hobbit and saw it was £32. !!!

      Thanks, Cait! :D


  5. Wow it looks so beautiful! I love historic areas! Wishing you the best on getting accepted!

  6. Wow! It's so beautiful. I'm glad you had a good time! I hope you get in. (I really can't believe people said those things too you. That's rude. I'd be like, "Gee, thanks for believing in me.")

    You got Cumberbatch into your interview. XD Emily, you can do anything!

    Oxford sounds amazing, just the atmosphere itself sounds like something I could breath in every day. Sometime I'll have to go just for a good explore, to Oxford, and then London. . . find 221 B Baker Street. Such stuff.

    I seriously need to find some Ted Hughes. That poem of his you quoted is beautiful. Maybe I can find him at the college library, certainly.

    1. Thank you! (Ha, not thought of it like that, but YEAH! ~huffs~)

      I did! It was a good moment :D

      It really was like that. You should come, then we can meet!!! (Legit!)

      You dooooo. Hopefully the college library will come up with the goods!

  7. I love love love: 1. The fact that you want to study English Lit (only the subject of my heart).
    2. That you LOVE reading, and books, and just good literature!
    3. Poetry. Ted Hughes. 'Nuff said.

    Happy belated holidays Emily, and I hope that you receive an acceptance into whichever college will best nurture your writing spirit (Oxford, Oxford please!) <3

    1. 1. And the subject of my heart, too!
      2. I very much do!
      3. Ted Hughes is my one true love, I have to say.

      Thank you, Maya, you too! <3

  8. I love love love: 1. The fact that you want to study English Lit (only the subject of my heart).
    2. That you LOVE reading, and books, and just good literature!
    3. Poetry. Ted Hughes. 'Nuff said.

    Happy belated holidays Emily, and I hope that you receive an acceptance into whichever college will best nurture your writing spirit (Oxford, Oxford please!) <3

  9. EEEP GOOD LUCK AND OXFORD LOOKS SO DARN PRETTY. I recently got my Hogwarts letter aka an offer from Durham and I plan on rejecting it for a few reasons but HELP, I FEEL LIKE SUCH A BAD HARRY POTTER FAN. HOW CAN ONE REJECT A HOGWARTS LETTER WHEN ONE HAS WANTED ONE THEIR WHOLE LIFE?!

    LOL how did you manage to get Benedict Cumberbatch in?!

    1. THANK YOU! WHAT HAWWA WHAT BUT WHY DURHAM IS AMAZING IT'S MY #2 CHOICE I LOVE DURHAM WHY WOULD YOU-- I'm going to text you, we need to have words!

      I saw the filmed version of his Hamlet and I talked about it ;)


Thanks for commenting! :)