Monday, June 26, 2006


Leaving Oxford

So, it's now all over. University didn't end in quite the way that I'd expected. Finals certainly lived up to the expectation of high difficulty, but the aftermath - intended to be a quiet period for nostalgic reflection in which I could wrap up all of the various strands of Oxford life while sorting out the following year - instead turned into an exuberantly chaotic stumble from one garden party to another, interspersed with meeting various people out of exams and a large amount of time spent sitting in the college gardens sipping champagne. By the time that the last week rolled around, then, the need to sort out housing in London was sufficiently pressing as to be all-encompassing; the last 9th Week of the nine terms was thus ridiculously busy instead of being the gentle winding-down I had anticipated. There was no time to contemplate the fast oncoming end of university - and student - life, nor to wallow in the nostalgia that my three years in Oxford so sorely deserved.

With my mother arriving on Saturday to pick up me and all of my stuff, the need to pack was becoming ever more pressing, but somehow I couldn't quite get around to it. I had intended to spend much of Friday doing it, but the morning ended up disappearing in that way that mornings do, and then it was afternoon. Donna asked me for a spot of help in carrying her stuff from her room to the nearby storeroom; gentleman that I am, naturally I obliged. Given the nightmare that she faced were she to be unable to get her stuff into stores, I could hardly begrudge her the added time when the trip around the corner to Dolphin Stores turned into an epic journey down one flight of stairs, all the way across college, and up two more flights of stairs to Garden Quad Stores when it emerged that Dolphin Stores were full. But this did have the unfortunate effect of leaving me with only enough time to have a shower and get changed before heading down to London for the Lawsoc Presidents' Reunion Dinner which Lex had been organising for that evening in a rather plush London restaurant.

Lex had, typically, been stressing out a fair bit about how well this dinner would go; also typically, she had nothing to worry about as it went very smoothly. The restaurant was lovely, and it was fascinating to meet other past presidents of the society from way back when. There were three distinct groups of people who showed up: those from the modern era (Lex, myself, Alice, Chris, and - towards the end of the evening, fresh from a client dinner at Claridges - Justin), those from the mid-1990s, and one much older fellow from 1966. Somewhat predictably, I found myself next to the 1966 guy at dinner, and the conversation struggled tremendously as we sought to find something in common, until I discovered that he owned a farmhouse in France and a conversation on European Union politics took off spectacularly. The end result of it was a pleasurable evening, but leaving at 11.30 at night and then suffering a breakdown of the Oxford Tube coach back to college resulted in my not making it to bed until 2.30 AM, followed by a 6.30 start to attack the packing.

My last day in Oxford was thus quite considerably stressed. Inevitably, I was nowhere near done by the time that Mum and Sian arrived, and the two of them were unwittingly drawn into a last-minute madcap dash to stuff my remaining possessions into the available boxes and suitcases. Goodbyes to my remaining friends - most of whom were also leaving that day, and were thus in similar states of wrapping up - were fairly brief, with no real time for considering that I would never be relating to Jenny, Kat, Anton, Donna or Sara in the context of college again. As it happened, this was Sian's first proper visit to Oxford, so the one fitting aspect of the day was that we did a full tour of college and of town, through all of the quads, and then out onto St Giles, around the various sights which have made up the backdrop of my life for much of the past three years: past the Martyrs' Memorial, onto Broad Street, past Balliol and Trinity, down Turl Street past Exeter, Jesus and Lincoln, through the narrow Brasenose passage onto Radcliffe Square, where the dazzling spires of the Rad Cam, the University Church, and All Souls awed us briefly, then into the Bodleian and out again next to the Sheldonian Theatre. We went past Hertford Bridge back through Radcliffe Square, down to the High Street, past Univ and Queens, and then down Merton Street past Examination Schools and Merton, dodging through the narrow pathway beside Corpus Christi into Christchurch Meadows. We proceeded around the meadows, past the rowing boathouses and along to the Head of the River pub for lunch. From there, the way back up St Aldates led us into Christchurch to see their spectacular (and spectacularly vacuous) front quad - Oxford's largest - and their cathedral, then back up St Aldate's and down Cornmarket via the Union, then back up St Giles to college for the last bit of packing.

It was quite a hot day, and lots of people were moving out, so the trolleys were in short supply; the mood wasn't helped by the vast crowds of immaculately dressed alumni wandering between Garden Quad and the gardens as part of a huge garden party that day. After the tortuous trek across college to load all the stuff into the car, I returned to my room alone for the last time to check that everything was gone, and to bid my own quiet farewell. I wandered all through college for the last time, from Garden Quad to Tommy White, through North Quad to Front Quad, where I handed in my keys. Kat told me that she cried when she handed hers in; it was certainly a poignant moment. It only really hit me then that Oxford was over.

There is so much that has happened since I arrived in Oxford in October 2003 that it's hard to comprehend that it's all over. But it has been good. Thinking back on it, I've done just about everything that I had set out to do: I've rowed for college, I've run for the Union (although losing probably wasn't my original plan), I've been President of a major university society (and, in the process, have edited a magazine, fundraised tens of thousands of pounds, and run a £120,000 business for six months), I've had three different pieces of work experience in prestigious law and consultancy firms, I've taken on and (hopefully) conquered one of the hardest sets of exams in the world, and - most of all - I've made some fantastic friends and had some wonderful times. My friends and my experiences are things that I will take with me as I move on to the next stage of my life, and while the end of Oxford leaves plenty of nostalgia-fodder for me to look back on fondly over the coming decades, what I take from Oxford is wonderful, and I leave with no real regrets over missed opportunities. If I wasn't so excited about what could happen in the years to come, perhaps I would really have time to be sad at it's passing. It's over, but I made the most of it, and - undoubtedly - it was worth every minute.


New Links!

Well, just a couple. Jess Granger, who I worked with on Lawsoc, has started a beautifully written blog which well reflects the zany-but-deep character that she's famous for. Meanwhile, Matt Avanzino - Yearbook Maestro at MIS, my co-conspirator in my endless days of earning €11.50 per hour for messing about on the internet, and a classy conoisseur of Bavarian lager and the Good Life - is moving from San Francisco to Toronto, and hopefully will be pinning ever more contemplations to the walls of his treehouse. Both excellent reads.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Exit PPE

When I was applying for university, I knew from a relatively early stage that I wanted to do politics. I knew this because I'd previously intended to do English Literature. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable with that intention, I'd been leafing through the Keele prospectus to see what else there was, and there it was: Global Politics. You can do a degree in that? Sign me down! It was very exciting. Everywhere I applied was, therefore, for a variant of politics and international relations.
The one exception was Oxford. In a typically contrarian way, Oxford doesn't offer an undergraduate degree in International Relations: the Oxford politics degree is Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I thought I might as well apply for that: I had a vague idea about applying to Oxbridge, even though it was clearly a waste of time; I would never get in. I didn't even investigate the other option of Modern History and Politics: in the unlikely event of getting in, I might as well learn some important stuff in economics and philosophy as well as the politics. It would never happen anyway.
A year later, I rather nervously found myself arriving in St John's College, contemplating the imminent and unwelcome prospect of having to do philosophy and economics, and making friends with my fellow PPEists. They were a disparate bunch. There was Sarah, who I remembered from interviews, cheerful and assured; Rick, thin and athletic, Mancunian, forever with a cheeky grin perched on his face; Pete, solemn and terrifyingly bright, with a fresh Charterhouse veneer on his American accent; Louise, shy and quiet, self-effacing, but just back from a gap year teaching in Uganda that hinted at reserves of character; Karim, the Londoner fresh out of Westminster, always going home but ever ready with a sly smile; and Viral, looking the part of the Eton graduate that he was with rigid posture, chiselled features, and a distant, thoughtful manner; there was also Duncan, who did Economics & Management, ever friendly and outgoing, sporty and hard-working. We were all young and nervous, curious about what Oxford and PPE had in store for us.

Three years on, yesterday's School's Dinner saw the end of it. It was a fitting finish - the evening was wonderful, but tinged with nostalgia. The food was beautiful: five courses, involving poached quail's eggs, lobster, and two separate dessert courses, all accompanied by plentiful quality wine, but going slowly enough - and with coffee breaks - not to lead to too much drunkenness; this all took place in the recently-refurbished SCR. Sumptious.
The tutors that we had present were fabulous, too. Peter Hacker, the philosophy fellow, is retiring, but the light in his eyes for the love of learning is forever undiminished, and his erudition led to a few awed silences at the table as his conversation meandered around fascinating topics. At the other end of the table was Walter Mattli, the much-loved politics fellow, contemptuous of pretension, lively and excitable, and, as always, tremendously entertaining. Our quieter economics tutor, Martin Davies, was in the middle, imparting surprises: someone had once told me that he was an olympic swimmer, and I decided (only slightly drunkenly) to clear this up. "No, I never swam at the olympics", he told us. Aha! "I would have been on the team, but I had a shoulder injury. I was the Australian national champion for two years though." Cue awed silence. And then there was Dorothea Debus, the new philosophy tutor, who is always good fun; we wiled away a good half an hour reminiscing about Munich, where she had been an undergraduate. We've been very lucky in our tutors: very clever and well connected, they've always managed to see us through.
We never really gelled together as a group, but with certain exceptions - Viral got up and left dinner halfway through, murmuring excuses - we've all gotten on really well, and on the occasions when we do meet up there are always tales to tell. Heading into the college gardens afterward to burn a bush was a quintessiantally Oxonian experience, and all coming back to my room afterwards to continue with the red wine was similarly, staying up into the small hours chatting about different cartographic projections and the relative merits of the Single Transferable Vote. Although it was tinged with nostalgic sadness as we reminisced about that time, such a short while ago, when we all nervously gathered together for our first subject meeting, it was also wonderful as, flushed with the achievement of completing finals, we all look forward to ever greater things to come.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Post-Exam Post-Mortem

So, now it's over. How did I do? Obviously, it's very hard to tell, and it might even be bad luck to have a guess, but I think that it's too late to affect the outcome, so some pessimistic estimates probably won't hurt.

A panic attack for 20 minutes in the beginning hopefully didn't preclude getting some basic knowledge across - worries persist about my grasp of the theory, though.
Pessimistic: 50 Median: 53 Optimistic: 55

A decent performance, with some equations and graphs inserted, make this result much more confident; could even make a 2.1, but more likely to be a high 2.2.
Pessimistic: 55 Median: 60 Optimistic: 65

Comparative Government:
Didn't go massively well, with little empirical knowledge shown, but some decent analysis - hopefully. Definitely not as good as it could have been.
Pessimistic: 55 Median: 60 Optimistic: 65

International Relations:
Very good feeling about this one: decent analysis and good empirical knowledge, but a potentially weak last question means that it might not be as good as I might hope.
Pessimistic: 60 Median: 65 Optimistic: 70

Comparative Demographic Systems:
Relatively good two essay questions, but a disastrous math question: might have actually gone v badly and been my worst exam, but the two essay questions might save me.
Pessimistic: 55 Median: 57 Optimistic: 60

International Relations in the Era of the Cold War:
A decent effort in one of my strongest subjects, but fairly weak answers and few literature references mean that it wasn't anything like as good as it should have been. A disappointment.
Pessimistic: 60 Median: 64 Optimistic: 67

Government and Politics in Western Europe:
Could well have been quite a successful paper, but it is very easy for gaps in analysis, knowledge, or grasp of the question to trip one up on this paper. Guardedly optimistic.
Pessimistic: 60 Median: 63 Optimistic: 65

International Relations in the Era of Two World Wars:
Well written good knowledge will hopefully make this one of my better subjects. A dubious last essay means that this could either go very well or surprisingly badly.
Pessimistic: 60 Median: 65 Optimistic: 70

Now, it's obviously completely impossible to actually predict scores. The optimistic could be far too pessimistic, or (as happened with my prelims) the pessimistic could be far too optimistic. But as these estimates go, the pessimistic scores would give me an average of 56.9, a high 2.2; the median ones 60.9, a low 2.1; and the optimistic ones a 64.6, a middling 2.1. I would be happy with even the lowest 2.1, so all that's left to do now is to wait and hope! Fingers crossed.


Candidate's Log, June 5 - Day 17 (Finishing)

Awake 0630 hrs attempting to combat rising feeling of intense joy. Exam is in afternoon, so have morning to prepare. Reading through notes is v difficult. Keep thinking, I'm done!, which is an exuberant feeling needing to be fought with No! I'm not done! I still have an eighth of my degree left!. Today's paper is International Relations in the Era of Two World Wars, which is immensely entertaining, so I attempt to distract myself from impending completion by talking myself through the causes of World War I and the ways in which Japanese imperialism differed from Western imperialism. Nervousness rises throughout morning so that by lunchtime I am in a properly anxious state as befits an exam.
Reach lunchtime and realise that I still don't have my red carnation. Donna is my carnation buddy, but is in the first day of a nasty-sounding three-week anatomy-refresher course. She ought to be out by 1 to get one, but as 1.30 rolls around still no sign of her. I finish re-reading my notes and get dressed into sub fusc. Stand by window staring out impassively into quad in last moments of pre-exam nervousness. At 1.55, Donna trots into quad: she had only gotten out at 1.30 and had had to run (in heels) into town to get carnation and then back out to give it to me! Am v. impressed & grateful for her dedication. Walk out of college with her and then begin going down to exam schools. For first time, no-one else has exam at same time as me, so I walk alone. Halfway down South Parks Road, realise I have forgotten my lucky pencil. Had acquired it at Law Fair (DLA-brand) and been using it for all sorts of things since beginning revision, including all exam essay plans. It began at 18cm and is now down to 7.5. Think quickly if it's worth going back for it. Decide that it isn't: lucky pencil will just have to sit this one out. I have other pencils for essay planning.
Reach exam schools feeling v. happy, walking in through the front of the building for the very last time, after innumerable lectures and exams over three years. See Irritating Library Man sitting just outside as I go in, smoking a cigarette and laughing with friends, with no bow-tie and shirt unbuttoned, looking annoying. Oh no, I think, not even you are going to ruin this last exam for me.
As it happens, he does his best. He strides in, after everyone else as always, and takes the seat right in front of me. There is no possible way that I can ignore him. He takes his jacket off and I am confronted with the constantly writhing expanse of his back. He tears his chair out from under his desk and throws himself onto it. Chair is as far back as possible from his desk, which means it is touching mine. My desk heaves as he sits back, towering over it. I glare intensely at his back. He sighs loudly and rests his elbow on my desk, right on top of my bod card. I momentarily consider kicking his chair or poking his back with my pencil, but decide against it. Attempt to tug bod card out from under his obnoxious elbow, but he refuses to take the hint for at least thirty seconds. Am amazed at how any one person can be so totally oblivious to common courtesy and polite body language. Have brief daydream in last seconds before exam starts about being able to point irritating people out to the invigilators and having them sent into separate rooms to do their exams out of sight of the unoffensive masses of the rest of humanity. We turn exams over. He shifts in his chair; my desk shudders. I pull my desk back and shift my chair back. Have to repeat this movement several times over the course of the exam, as he continues shifting backwards, completely oblivious to the fact that there is a row of other people behind him. Halfway through, after a particularly loud sigh, I mentally rename him: ILM is banished, to be replaced with WMIP (World's Most Irritating Person). At end of exam, I look down and realise that the person behind me has his legs on either side of my chair. There is very little space between me and the person behind me, and even less space between me and WMIP. In front of WMIP's desk, which he has moved backwards and managed to tilt slightly to the right, there is about a foot of space. Words cannot convey - however much I try - how irritating, obnoxious, and offensive this person is. I fervently hope that he will never cross my path again. At end of exam, I allow him to greedily assemble his belongings and stride out in front of me. With a sly smile, I go and look at his desk, and, for the first time in months of annoyance, I discover his name. I exit the room feeling ever-so-slightly as if I have the edge on him.
Nevertheless, despite WMIP's very best efforts, even he doesn't ruin it for me. The exam is a good one: I take on very good questions on the ultimate benefits of Locarno and the difference between the alliance systems of 1914 and 1939, and then end up, in my last hour of exams, describing why Woodrow Wilson was more important than Vladimir Lenin at the Paris Peace Conference. Faced with such big topics - communism v. liberalism, freedom v. revolution, etc - and armed with what little I can remember from doing the Russian Revolution in high school, I wax lyrical about the grand themes of the conflict which was to dominate the 20th century and end the old world order. Towards the end, I desperately hope that the high-flown rhetoric will be enough to counter-act the rather thin development of a fact-based argument. But no matter: the exam was not a disaster, and now suddenly it is over.
As I gather my stuff together and wander towards the back exit of Exam Schools, I feel a glimmer of irritation: irritation at WMIP, irritation that any chance to improve my exam results was now passed, irritation tinged with sadness that I was leaving Schools for the last time. But as I step out into the sunlight in the back entrance onto Merton Street, as I pass the dumpsters where I was twice hassled by the chaos of attempting to enter for a Lawsoc fresher's fair push, I break out into a grin. The short path to Merton Street is clear; there is another man beside me, also with red carnation, who I have never seen before and would not recognise again. He says something to me which I can no longer remember; I reply inconsequentially and look forward. There is a wall of joy in front of me: behind the crowd-control barriers, a sea of people stretch endlessly in either direction, all bright and colourful and happy. My glasses are not good enough; I can't see my friends properly; I stand there dazed at the exit, grinning at the crowd, unsteady and unsure. People are cheering and shouting. The security guard next to me takes pity: "I think those are your friends over there", he says helpfully. Following his finger, I see Sarah and Rick jumping up and down and screaming at the back of the crowd, right in front of me; I dive into the crowd to get to them, and everyone is there. Jenny attaches a balloon to my wrist, Sara thrusts a bottle of champagne into one hand, and Rick thrusts a can of beer into the other. A shower of glitter descends onto my hair. I polish off the beer in three minutes flat. I couldn't have wiped the smile off my face, even had I wanted to. The rest of the evening is a blur. After three years of Oxford, and four months of hardcore revision, can it really be over? It is wonderful, it's all been worth it, and life is - finally - good.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Candidate's Log, June 3-4 - Days 15-16

Awoke at 0500 hrs on Saturday to prepare for morning exam: Government and Politics in Western Europe. Was quite nervous. Although previous day's revision went well, this paper is v. difficult: questions tend to cut across topics and across countries, and learning the political systems of all of the various countries of Western Europe - plus the European Union - is a little bit of a nightmare.
I thus take my seat with trepidation. I wince as I watch the door to see who else will be joining me, but ILM, mercifully, fails to make an appearance. Instead, I have on my right a small, bespectacled man, who is clearly very on the ball. He calls the examiner over before the exam even starts, and quietly gesticulates at the front of the paper; the examiner suddenly looks stricken, thanks him, and runs out of the room. Five minutes in, he comes back and eats up a good three minutes with an apologetic announcement that some instructions - some really rather important ones, in fact, relating to which countries we're allowed to answer with reference to - have been left off the paper.
Luckily, the paper is a good one. It is, in fact, a very good one: I manage a nicely self-contained answer on parties of the radical right and take on an intimidating question on elections in Germany, with what I hope was a fair amount of success. Realise upon completion that this answer on Germany prevented me from doing a question comparing Germany to France. Panic slightly and put a star next to a question on Christian Democracy. Remember that I haven't studied Christian Democracy. Decide to do a question comparing French to Italian party systems. Several weeks previously, had gleefully told Una that I was not going to revise the Italian party system because it was "far too complicated". Regret this briefly, but it turns out that my general knowledge is mostly up to the task.
Paper thus goes reasonably well - estimate low 2-1. Take remainder of afternoon off to cope with exhaustion.

Sunday is a day off. Lethargically read through notes on final paper (IR in the interwar period), without too much effort. End up taking most of morning off. Have to keep forcing myself to remember that exams are not yet done. Sun has come out: weather is gorgeous. Just one left.


Candidate's Log, June 2 - Day 14

Awoke 0600 hrs - somewhat later than usual on a morning exam day. Today's paper is International Relations in the Era of the Cold War, my favourite option, and I am seized with unusual feeling that I know as much as I can know about this subject. Morning reading is thus somewhat lethargic, but I nevertheless go to breakfast quite confident. As I walk down to exam schools with Sarah, she voices a feeling that I share completely: this paper is nerve-wracking not because it's difficult, but rather because it isn't - and we both therefore need to do well in it.
We filter into the room, and the paper, as ever, sits there on our desks, tantalising us with the reality that we cannot just turn it over. One of the last people to enter the room is Irritating Library Man. No, I think, he can't possibly be in two of my option papers. There are fifty-nine PPE papers that candidates have chosen to do, and each person has eight: to be in two of my option papers is just plain bad manners. That, however, is clearly his forte, so I ought not to have expected anything less. I hold my breath as he passes my desk, but relax slightly as he throws himself into the seat one row behind me, to my right. If I adjust my chair properly, I realise, I can't see him. This definitely helps, but perhaps not as much as it should do: every time a loud sigh emanates from his direction, a blonde girl two rows to the right and one in front starts and glares backwards at him. While exceptionally gratifying - no-one else yesterday seemed to have been bothered by him - this does have the effect of making him harder to ignore.
It is easier to ignore him, however, since I actually know some of the answers on this paper. I trot out my standard essay on Reagan and Gorbachev, which I am fairly pleased with, but I find myself highly conscious of the fact that I am not managing to reference any of the literature. The next question, on origins, gives me pause for thought: instead of asking about the mentalities of the two superpowers, where I feel strongest, it asks whether events in Germany were more important than events elsewhere. Frowning, and slightly uncomfortable, I set about arguing that events in Germany were no less important than those outside, but that it was decisions in Washington and Moscow that were really important. I then face a quandary for my final question: do I choose a hopelessly open-ended question on Israel and Palestine, for which I know the facts but would be quite hard to structure properly? Or a nice question on the Warsaw Pact, which was the back-up option that I didn't want to do, but is the perfect question on the topic? I end up choosing the Warsaw Pact, and halfway through get a definite sense that I had made the wrong decision. No matter: would probably have felt the same way had I chosen the other question.
End the paper feeling that it certainly did not go as well as it could have done. Sarah feels the same way: "Where was the question on the end of the cold war?", she asks forlornly: they had used the archaic phrase "second cold war" to mean tensions in the early 80s, and she had not been sure enough about the definition to answer it. Knowing her, she probably did much better than me nonetheless. At least it's over: we head home and I get going with the West European Politics, which has had some exceptionally tough past papers.

Friday's Mood: grimly determined.

Friday, June 09, 2006



On a quick side-note, this World Cup will - if nothing goes wrong - do wonders for Germany's image, which can only be a good thing! There's nothing quite like finding the following quote on BBC News online (article here):

"It's a great atmosphere. Munich is the best city in the world but now it's even better."

Says it all, really. :D


Candidate's Log, June 1 - Day 13 (Advent of the ILM)

Awoke v. early in attempt to consolidate demography knowledge. Not particularly successful. Made way down to Schools with Rick & Sarah, who were sitting Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa - one of the many papers I would have liked to have done, but apparently an absolute nightmare. Rick had red carnation, however, ensuring that he would be happy with outcome however paper went.
Made way into exam room. PPE exams had now shifted away from core papers, requiring massive exam halls on first floor, to option papers with smaller numbers, leading to move to tiny rooms on ground floor. Felt somewhat discomfited by shift: decided that my concentration was better in large rooms full of hundreds of other people. Was further discomfited - nay, infuriated - by another development. In small room, there is no scope for not paying attention to annoying neighbours. After I had seated myself, the most annoying neighbour of all wandered into the room: Irritating Library Man (ILM). ILM's eyes darted around room sneakily. He stomped all over the room looking for his seat, with no discernible pattern to his search. He began near me. I desperately hoped he was not near me. He wandered off into the other half of the room. I breathed a sigh of relief. A minute later, he returned, and took his place at the desk right next to mine.

Irritating Library Man first came to my attention quite some time ago. It was an economics lecture. I had arrived late and been unable to get a seat, so was standing at the back. ILM walked in ten minutes late. He attracted my attention because of his captivatingly infuriating body language. Eyes are drawn to him almost compulsively, in the same way that you cannot stop watching the grisly details of a housecat dismembering a bird in the garden. Similarly, while watching him you really want him to just stop. ILM does not walk: he strides. He strode aggressively into the lecture, carrying a singular expression of sublime disinterest in anyone else in the room, including the lecturer. He had no hesitation about standing in front of people, and in fact, he stood in front of at least three different people over the course of the twenty minutes he was present. Whenever he stood still, his attention was focused on deciding who to stand in front of next; he sighed loudly approximately every two minutes, and spent more time glancing around him than he did on watching the lecture. He held himself very straight, with his hands jammed into his pockets, stretching his trousers so as to accentuate the fact that his fly was very much undone. After sighing and stomping about the back of the lecture for twenty minutes, he strode off again, finally allowing me to return to concentrating on the lecture.
He was a constant fixture at the Social Science Library, but I usually managed to avoid him, but the next time he really impinged on my consciousness was on one of the days when I had arrived slightly too late to get a seat in the study booths. I returned from lunch to find that he had set up in the seat next to me. He was even more irritating when sat down. He continued to sigh loudly. He did not spend time looking around himself: instead, he gave every indication of being wilfully oblivious to the presence of other people. His body was perched on his seat in an aggressive way, constantly wriggling, leaning back and stretching out his arms and yawning loudly, then hunching forwards and attacking his computer with typing that was so hard and fast and loud that he might as well have been hitting his keyboard with a hundred tiny hammers every thirty seconds. He moved with a definite sense of aggressive purpose which conveyed antagonistic thoughtlessness rather than firm decisiveness. Every time that he sighed, faces around the library would glance up in annoyance, which he would studiously ignore. After a while, he jumped up and strode out of the seating area. Thinking that he would be gone for at least half an hour on a break, I made myself relax and attempt to recover the concentration which he had so cruelly punctured through no more effort than irritating body language. It was not to be. He returned within three minutes bearing a packet of crisps, which he threw onto his desk while he determinedly seated himself, and then grabbed back into hands and proceeded to open. The rustling noise of the crisp packet opening caused one hundred heads to turn and stare in astonishment as he threw the packet back onto his desk and resumed his hard typing. One hundred heads would glare up again every so often for the next half an hour as he would thrust his hand into the loud foil packet, withdraw a crisp, and commence to activate the pneumatic drill of his teeth as he crunched it into oblivion with all the sensitivity and subtlety of a full brass section unleashing a sudden fortissimo on a silent concert hall in the middle of a harp solo. Far too stressed out by my own outrage - you don't eat food in the library, dammit! - and by the constant and increasingly aggrieved glares of one hundred fellow library users contemplating shouting at the oblivious offender sat but a metre to the right of me, I decided to take a break of my own. On the way out of the library, I realised that a seat in the study booths was free; I wrenched off my sweatshirt, threw it on the desk to reserve it, and gleefully returned to collect my laptop and finally escape to somewhere where I could do my work in peace. He needed a name, and I did not know it, so I mentally christened him Irritating Library Man and resolved to avoid him as far as I possibly could.

It was thus with a major sinking feeling that I realised that Irritating Library Man would be sitting next to me for the three hours of my demography exam. He was true to form. Having found his seat, he threw his mortarboard onto the floor next to him with some force, accompanied in short order by his (pre-tied) bow tie, a number of pens, and then his jacket itself. He then lifted the chair and placed it underneath himself, sighed loudly, and glared around the room. Throughout the exam, he did his very best to distract me as much as possible. The sighing never let up. Every so often, he would decide that his pen was unsatisfactory (presumably it had lost function after the number of times he had been forcefully clicking it) and would cast it violently onto the floor, lean over to pick up a replacement, and get going with clicking the new one into malfunction. He would periodically shift his chair so as to adjust himself into a more comfortable position; unwilling to then adjust back again into a position amenable for writing, he would reach over and lift his entire writing table so as to reposition it in a more comfortable place. He had not remembered his candidate number - in what might have been his fifth exam - and needed it brought over to him; he had not brought a watch of any sort, leading to his constantly throwing his entire body forward over his desk so as to get a clear view of the clock on the wall behind us. When he needed paper, he would throw his hand into the air and not stop sighing until the invigilators had brought him some; on one occasion, needing to go for some water, he threw his hand in the air, and, clearly expecting to have been noticed within two seconds, gave a loud cough to attract their attention. Having succeeded in attracting the attention of everyone in the room apart from the invigilators, he decided that he did not need to wait for their permission before leaving his desk; he was halfway to the door when they noticed that he was going for water. You don't just jump up and leave your desk in the middle of an exam, dammit! On several occasions, I feel almost certain that he cast his eyes up to look at the answer I was writing in my own booklet. When the last hour rolled around and he moved onto the math question, he subjected his calculator to the same rigorous punishment that he had given his computer in the library before; the increased frequency of his sighing and clucking indicated that he was having difficulties.

I, too, was having difficulties - with him. But my difficulties would have been much reduced had I been facing an easier paper. Did two essay questions relatively respectably, one on the fertility transition in the developing world and one answering the delightfully-phrased "Given the trouble and expense, why does anyone in the modern world bother to have any children?". Problems arose with the math question, however. This was the only compulsory math question on all of my exams, and therefore the very last compulsory math question that I will ever have to do. Somewhat depressing to discover that I could not actually do it. Question had twelve parts, and I managed six. Took 45 minutes to complete these. Realised that I did not know how to do the remaining workings, and that I certainly did not know how to do them in 15 minutes. Spent ten minutes ensuring that what I did know was properly polished and clearly presented. Hesitated for a moment. Wrote "out of time for further calculations" on paper. Spent remaining five minutes frantically attempting to write a commentary on results that I had not actually completed. Gave up in despair mere seconds before order came to stop writing. Felt somewhat downcast: this was easily my worst paper thus far. Although first two questions were all right, can't imagine breaking the 60 barrier on account of the last one.

Returned home feeling quite exhausted, but happy that it was over. Launched into Cold War revision. Not particularly successful: was quite tired. Just three left.

Thursday's Mood: Grrrrrrr.


Candidate's Log, May 29-31 - Days 10-12

Apologies for lack of log updates over past two weeks. Energy levels had reached critical low as end of Finals approached. Now recovering from exam aftermath, will attempt to get back up to date.

Lawyers began exams on Monday. Felt lucky next to their unappealing diet of one exam each morning for six straight days. Breakfast law talk more feverish than usual, and marked by strange emphasis on law content rather than analysis of various personal characteristics of law tutors.
For myself, the three days prior to second clump of 4 exams were exceptionally quiet. Had been looking forward to lengthy break as opportunity to properly learn notes for Demography, Cold War and Western Europe exams. In actuality did not manage to do much. For all of Monday and Tuesday, exhaustion mingled with complacency as I struggled to maintain concentration levels. Struggle was largely unsuccessful. Did not even manage to complete reading Western Europe notes before moving on.
Wednesday was different. Could have been much worse: Lost arrived on DVD, my reward to myself for finishing exams. Obvious problem was that exams were not finished. Put it on one side in my room where it called to me alluringly. Temptation was avoided thanks to rising sense of panic. Breakfast conversation with Jenny reminded me that I did not know very much about Demography. Launched into day-long demography binge. Relatively successful in learning notes, but realised that note-making in Demography had been limited to slight expansions on tutorial essays, leading to arguments rather than proper notes. Decided was too late to do anything about this. Learning demographic methods for compulsory math question was less successful; did not have time to do practice questions. Went to bed full of trepidation, desperately hoping for good paper.

Monday-Wednesday's Moods: Lethargic, slow, unmotivated, and subsequently panicked.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Cinematic interlude

Apologies for lack of updates - a more comprehensive log entry will follow shortly, but in the meantime I've just seen the Da Vinci Code, which had me snickering all the way through. I can just imagine the initial planning conversations...

"Right, so we've got a budget of over a hundred million dollars to make a movie about a professor of symbology fiddling about with word puzzles in London and Paris, with no special effects needed at all. How do you think we should spend it?"
"Well, we could hire Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, and Ian McKellan. That would take up a fair chunk."
"Ooh, and then we could spend half the movie focusing in on their faces while nothing happens! Good thinking. What else?"
"How about we re-enact the Roman Empire, the Crusades, and enlightenment London! We could spend most of the rest on having a ten second shot of each!"
"What a great idea!"

Well, no, not really.

On the bright side, it managed the extraordinary feat of making National Treasure seem like a minor cinematic masterpiece. And the new Pirates of the Caribbean trailer was cool.

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