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Cheated by freshers’ week

15 October 2013

4:33 PM

15 October 2013

4:33 PM

My freshers’ pack (a yo-yo, two balloons, a sachet of instant hot chocolate and a condom) is barely visible beneath English Historical Documents, volume 1. Two nights of dancing knee-deep in foam has taken its toll on my shoes, and I feel slightly tricked – encouraged to partake in a week of university-approved partying, and then, two days in, given a 19-item reading list and an essay due in for next week. School friends’ Facebook pages are torturous: three weeks into term at other universities, yet to hand in their first piece of work and seemingly out every night.

At dinner the conversation has morphed from ‘So where are you from?’ to ‘You haven’t started writing yet either, have you?’. College is awash with dazed freshers who, after two years spent thinking getting into Oxford was the final destination, have just realised that they have a lot of work to do.

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Our fears are not unfounded. My fellow historians and I have spent much of the last week recalling our tutor’s words of welcome, delivered to us as we sat hungover, bewildered and exhausted: ‘You’ve all probably been the best at school, and have always been told how clever you are. There’s going to be a different pecking order here. Some of you will shine at Oxford, and some of you will be less shiny’. This is true, of course, but at school our teachers would never have dreamt of saying it.

But there’s plenty to temper the temptation to call the Bristol admissions office. The smell of cold stone in the cloisters (not, I know, to be confused with learning). Taking a seat in the Union debating chamber, and the way the cutlery tray in Hall includes soup spoons and dessert forks. Getting the gossip on George Osborne’s student days from our gown-clad tutors, while watched from the walls by other notable Magdalenites — among them Joseph Addison, who founded the Spectator.

I’ve been told by nearly everyone I know that I’m going to have the time of my life at Oxford, and I really hope they’re right. For now, though, English Historical Documents awaits

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Show comments
  • Don Logan

    This stuff must be a parody, btw we haven’t heard from Pippa in a while.

  • Eddie

    ‘‘You’ve all probably been the best at school, and have always been told how clever you are. There’s going to be a different pecking order here. Some of you will shine at Oxford, and some of you will be less shiny’. This is true, of course, but at school our teachers would never have dreamt of saying it.’
    Your teachers were wrong then, weren’t they? They should have told you that you were nothing special in getting 3 As at A level which a great many do these days (15%+ of a huge mediocre cohort). 30 years ago things were much tougher, teenagers were more grown up and mature, less infantilised and worshipped in our silly self-esteem hugging kidocracy.
    You are not special. Passing exams is not special. Oxbridge is not special (and probably has the worst teachers in the whole higher education system). Get over it and grow up. You made your bed, kid…

  • Daedalus

    Hmmm! 355 words in the article; I was waiting for it to pick up and then it stopped.
    More work to be done, to be a regular here I think. But everyone starts somewhere and maybe this will be one to look back on and think, well yes, small steps lead to big strides.

    Daedalus.

  • Airey Belvoir

    I had the misfortune to run into the Bollinger in full cry. Was debagged, sent down for indecency and had to take a position in a small boarding school in Wales.

  • Chas999

    EHD volume I, Dorothy Whitlock – my favourite book in the world.

  • WPW1

    Given how beastly most of you are being about this unnecessary piece (try the Guardian online if you like this sort of thing) it is astonishing how much commentary it has garnered. And it is a bloggy thing, after all, not an “article”, and therefore does not require a point. So please, ‘gentlemen’, let her go….

  • Ben Kelly

    Aw, poor lamb. All that zero effort and a you get space in the Spectator about how you have to do some work at university. I feel for you, really.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ten or eleven essays a term. Writing quickly from almost total ignorance is a great skill to learn. Particularly if you want to be a journalist.

      • Ben Kelly

        Ha!

  • HJ777

    I didn’t enjoy Fresher’s Week at all – I felt totally out of place.

    However, I grew to love my college (University College Durham) and have many friends from those days and now love going back for college reunions.

    Floreat Castellum!

    • salieri

      No doubt you were totally out of place, if there was actually only one Fresher….

      • HJ777

        Well spotted.

        I am a stickler for the correct use of apostrophes, so I hang my head in shame…

        You’ll forgive me if I go back and edit.

        • salieri

          Refreshingly gracious, especially on these pages. My mind knows where apostrophes go but my fingers never do.

          • HJ777

            You’re lucky – sometimes my fingers even type different words to those I was thinking. They never used to do that – I must be getting old.

            • Fergus Pickering

              Undoubtedly. Better than getting young though.

  • Alex

    Carola, wake up and smell the coffee. Bragging about how you attend one of the top universities in the country by slagging off other ones does not make you smarter or a better person. It is precisely that sort of attitude that puts off people going to Oxford and precisely why people at other top universities have a far more rewarding time. Just because other students, like at Bristol, don’t feel the urge to bitch and moan about their work does not mean that they don’t have any to do or that it isn’t challenging.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Were you at Bristol, then? Hard cheese. Brighton is the place to go. That eally would be an eye-opener. But I don’t think you can do Art at Oxford.

      • Eddie

        Bristol and Durham and where those who fail to get into Oxbridge go.
        Me. I’d recommend red bricks in cheaper northern towns and cities. I’d also recommend a lot at ‘newer’ universities not bothering at all, and perhaps closing most of those mediocrities down. Why should 50% of kids go to uni anyway?
        Brighton is expensive and pretentious. London’s universities don’t feel like universities even, so spread out is everything, and so expensive.

        • Fergus Pickering

          You mean Brighton the tow is expensive and pretentious? I don’t find it so. What do you mean by pretentious? Grand place.

          • Eddie

            Used to live there. Got tired to the endless aching striving of people to be right-on, ‘alternative’, hip, trendy etc. Prices are as high as London; wages much lower.
            Nice place to visit, not to live.

        • David Lindsay

          There are extremely few Oxbridge rejects at Durham, although there do seem to have been more in the fairly distant past. There are lots of them at the Northern redbricks, though.

  • Pootles

    I say! Some of the comments here are decidely ungallant. Leave the tyro journo alone.

  • jazz606

    So what are you going to do with this History degree if you get it ? Well I suppose you could become a chancellor of the exchequer.

  • Neal

    Youth, it is so very much wasted on the young and, in turn, the Speccie is wasting column inches (or electrons) on it as well. Scurry off now lassie and craft that paper…it will undoubtedly be the first your tutor has ever read.

    Also, gossip about George’s days in digs? Enough to not make me pine for the days of my errant youth…

    • Fergus Pickering

      I do hope it WAS errant. Ah, the days that we have seen!

  • The Red Bladder

    One is spoilt for choice on here these days what with this young lady and Pippa Middleton.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I really do not thhink anyone should call anyone else a ‘young lady’. How old are you for God’s sake? ‘Silly girl’ is better.

      • The Red Bladder

        Indeed it might be but since I am rapidly approaching the age of 70 I reserve to right to continue to patronise pretention.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Let us grow old together, soul mates. But I stilll can’t believe you call people ‘young lady’ in real life.

          • The Red Bladder

            Of course I do old bean. Just ask any of the flappers in these parts how I address them and they’ll confirm it. Bye for now – toodle pip!

  • Fouette

    Ekh, this appropriately reads like painful, A Level student pontification. I doubt anybody is under the illusion that it is anything but a humble-brag. Please don’t congratulate yourself too hard purely on getting in…once you’ve been cut down to size by university life, you may one day be very ashamed of the snobbery you’re exhibiting here. Whilst it may come as a shock at this point, there are people who will be smarter and more hard-working not only at Oxford but at other top institutions. I assure you that getting doused with foam is a better use of your time than this.

    • The Red Bladder

      Be fair to the lass – single-handedly she has exploded the myth that Oxford is the sole preserve of an intellectual elite.

      • dmitri the impostor

        I’d contest whether students of history belong to any kind of intellectual elite – and don’t even get me started on the social ‘sciences’.

        If engineers lived down to the same standards of rigour as historians (Maria Misra, anybody?), we would have suspension bridges collapsing into rivers on a more or less hourly basis.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Well, it was never that. Plenty of upper-class twits in the old days too.

      • itsgeo

        fantastic comment.

  • AndyB

    Good, concisely written. Excellent point about the forks, however further exposition upon the variation of the student body might have provided a route into further analysis. Nonetheless, an excellent piece of work. 😉

    • Little Black Censored

      But what is a “cutlery tray”?

  • David Lindsay

    Some of you will shine at Oxford, and some of you will be less shiny.

    But who cares, when you are already on the staff of the Spectator and the Telegraph?

    Just what the world needs, a female Douglas Murray.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You mean an intelligent lesbian?

      • David Lindsay

        Murray is neither.

    • itsgeo

      huh?
      When’s the last time Douglas Murray wrote a piece even approaching this level of banalitude?

      • David Lindsay

        He is differently rubbish.

        Now that you mention it, I reckon that his day in the sun is coming to an end. That’s what happens when you start too early. Miss Binney, take note.

  • Sally Ware

    Was there any point to this article?

    • David Lindsay

      No.

    • doctorseraphicus

      Fills in a bit of space, and young people, a foaming mixture of self-obsession and self-doubt, love to share their experiences as though nobody had ever had fun before.

      But I am wondering, what does this new word “torturous” mean? When I was a lad, the word was “tortuous”… no, on review, a fair use of the word in the context…

      • David Lindsay

        You don’t have to fill space online.

        • Fergus Pickering

          I think speculating on the word ‘torturous’ is quite an interesting thing to do. Whereas…

      • FullEnglish

        ‘Torturous’ and ‘tortuous’ are two different words with two different
        meanings. Be not confounded. The dictionary is your friend.

        • doctorseraphicus

          Yes, indeed. But I am so used to seeing “torturous” used in the wrong context – that is, to mean convoluted or tortuous – that I erroneously jumped on the usage here; when on re-reading it was clear torturous – causing pain – was appropriate.

  • oxfordstudent

    You have an essay set for NEXT week… you have ages to enjoy freshers before writing it the night before. Welcome to Oxford, honey. A few days between deadlines is the most you’ll ever get.

  • David Lindsay

    My friends’ son is also in the midst of Freshers’ Week at Oxford. Reading History, too. Got there from a comp in County Durham. When I read this rubbish from St Trinian’s finest, I could cry.

  • John

    I’m currently a student and even I think this article was completely pointless.

    • Flintshire Ian

      Now don’t be jealous because your Daddy didn’t get you a column on the Speccie.

  • al

    What is the fucking point of this article?
    Just buy a diary.

    • GAM

      I agree that this article is a waste of time. There are, however, things called editors that are supposed to ensure that this type of thing doesn’t find itself onto one’s webpage. It’s quite possible that an editor requested such an article. There also seems to be a sense that people are using the piece as an excuse to direct abuse at a young girl a) because she goes to Oxford b) because she happens to write for two prominent publications at a young age.

      • al

        Agreed, the editor is largely at fault here.
        But as a writer for two prominent publications, you might think that she’d understand the difference between compelling journalism and banal rubbish.

        • GAM

          It’s a pointless article. This is pure speculation, but if the editor asked for an article on freshers week then they’re fault. Quite tough to produce something ‘compelling’ about freshers week; unless, of course, you’re guest writing the ‘Low Life’ column.

          • al

            Her only limit was her imagination.

  • CharlietheChump

    Pay your student loan back immediately

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Alternatively fly the coop. As Glenn Greenwald said in the Kristy Wark (what a Muppet) interview, not being able to visit UK was hardly a serious hardship.

      • Matt

        Why are ex-pats so besotted with the UK? Do you guys land in your host country, realise life is not that much different and so decide to set about mocking the UK online in order to make yourselves feel better? I bet you also have an account at the Daily Mail and post on every weather story about how “30C isn’t a heatwave”.

        • Fergus Pickering

          expats, my dear chap. They are not ex-patriots but expatriates. Some of them are as patriotic as anything,, distance lending enchantment to the view. This is particularly true of Scots

  • doctorseraphicus

    I wonder if anyone would like to read my hilarious recollections of Freshers’ Week – admittedly 30 years ago now, but I recall it as though it were yesterday…

    • David Lindsay

      Really? I still can’t remember mine. I am not joking.

      • doctorseraphicus

        Sounds like you had more fun than me, then!

        • David Lindsay

          I can only assume so.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I can remember a chap coming round to get me to join the Christians. As for jumping about in fountains, only members of baot clubs did that.

        • David Lindsay

          Ah, the Boat Club. Every Durham college has one. They get up at about 5am. I don’t know why. The river is there all day.

          • Fergus Pickering

            Well, that’s very true.

  • Ron Todd

    If you and your fellows are historians already why bother with the rest of the course?

    • David Lindsay

      If I could have voted for this a hundred times, then I would have done.

  • Pootles

    Er…but don’t forget that it is only an eight week term. And if you found fresher’s week a disappointment, wait until the staleness of May Morning after you’ve spent half the night dodging drunken toffs and the other half dodging drunken local yoofs looking for a fight. Good luck.

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