Monday, 28 June 2010

Term ends, Kate packs up and scoots off happily to her little paradise where she goes crazy and endeavours to forget such a thing as hard work exists

I FINISHED MY PORTFOLIO!!!!!!!!!!!! Honestly I don't know how I managed it; think I pulled off a super-human feat in finishing it. It took several cans of red bull (geez, how I hate the stuff; tastes like calpol mixed with half a sugar plantation), the constitution of an ox (even if I do say so myself) and mind over matter. Don't think about the whole enormous task, just concentrate on each little word. Being an Oxford student has actually turned me into a machine of sorts. No matter what the hour, how little sleep and how little I've eaten the sentences keep pouring out of me, although I have to dig deep. It never ceases to amaze me, though, that there can still be oil in the lamp of my intellect and powers of expression even though all my other faculties have just about been burned up (excuse the truly awful pun). In true Kate vein though I managed to finish it a full 5 hours before the deadline, then my body came up against a barrier of sorts and I just crashed and slept like a baby for four and a half hours, through all 8 of my alarms (I set them off every 15 minutes after the time I want to wake up, because with me there is just no guaranteeing anything!!) and woke up with precisely half an hour remaining to get dressed, hurl myself out the front door, down the road and into college (maybe 200 yards); print off 2 copies of the essay, get them all in order and slip a treasury tag through them, save my work onto a CD, put it all in an envelope, address the envelope then leg it to the exam schools (another 400 yards maybe). I was amazed I managed to accomplish all this and submit the portfolio a mere six minutes late. I was even more amazed at this given I had a small disaster whilst running out of college involving my carrying the unsealed envelope upside down in my haste and not having got the treasury tag through my 15-page portfolio properly. *Cue massive groan*

I am currently trying not to think about how many marks I will lose for this paper - and I'm sure I will lose some, because when I submitted it over the desk at the exam schools I got this receipt back telling me the date and time to the exact minute that it was received by the examiner. Now why would they bother recording the time if not to check that all the submissions were punctual. I've got a plan all figured out though: if they're petty enough not to give good work the credit it deserves just because it took a smidgen longer than it should've done in coming, I will complain to them that my watch is slower than their clock. This would only be lying by omission as well: my phone generally is 5 minutes slow, although I am aware of this by now and tend to take it into account.

Anyway what am I wittering on about. No point in thinking about that anymore, because I'M HOME!!! I've finally reached my upper healing realm <3 We went zooming off down the motorway with the car so full that if you were to open the doors books, saucepans and duvets would all come spilling out, but it was fun. I'd forgotten, no kidding, what it's actually like to be around people all the time; to live with them and have someone to talk to when you need them, my Oxford life is that cordoned off from other human society. And that sounds stupid, but it's a combination of the workload, having a different (and crammed) schedule to everyone else, living in a house full of foreigners half of whom can't understand you in a town full of snobs that you have little in common with where 2 of the only people you care for and give a damn about you in return are in China. Simple things like being wound up by my brother, having my sister pull my hair, my mum nag me about washing, my dad singing at the top of his voice and sitting around a table for meals instead of at a desk with a bowl in my lap surrounded by a mountain of papers just take on a whole new level of meaning. True I've fallen out horrifically with my mum already because I accidentally squeezed her expensive make-up all over the bathroom floor, but even having somebody to scream at is better than having nobody.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Well basically the title says it all. It is 4:30am and I am supposed to be writing an essay on metaphor that actually counts towards my degree, but I am not. Now that is procrastination for you. My latest gripe is that MY BLOODY WINDOW WON'T STAY OPEN. And my room is like, unbearable. In all seriousness I don't think I've ever even been in a sauna this hot *gets slightly sidetracked at this mention of saunas into fantasising about appres ski swimming pools*; the radiator is on (it is JUNE, for crying out loud; St Hilda's is a poor college by Oxford standards, they could at least spend their money on something that might actually help people instead of making them faint with dehydration and do socially unacceptable things like walk up and down their mixed gender corridor in underwear) and the window is one of these COMPLETELY HOPELESS Victorian sash jobbys where you shove the entire lower pane upwards - but as soon as you let go of it it just falls back down again with a bang. Once it did it on my little finger. I might have uttered a few obscenities. The window is currently propped open with a stack of pillows - this is OK as an interim measure as clearly I don't need pillows when I am pulling an all-nighter, but not really very practical. Obviously if it rains and I am hot sometime the pillows will get soaked. Then if I am hot at night I do actually need to rest my head on something in order to sleep and I would kind of prefer it if the something wasn't my Riverside Chaucer or the complete works of Austen - although it has happened. Then, what if the pillows fall out and land in someone's face as they are walking down the street underneath my window? They might get a bit of a surprise. And if it's the scary guy with the red moped that haunts Iffley Road I might conceivably get a stone chucked back at me. So yeah I think I will complain to the JCR maintainance when I am not preoccupied with doing important stuff innit.

Another gripe is HOW EARLY IT GETS LIGHT these days. Now my window is like right next to my bed and as I lie in bed my head is facing it, and the blind hangs about an inch away from the window. When I shut my poor aching eyes at 3am and seek temporary oblivion all I can see is this glaring chink of brilliant blue which becomes burnished ultra-violet through my eyelids and just will not bugger off whatever I try. But 3AM??? I ASK YOU!!!! 3am is NOT day by any standards; it is night, and to my knowledge Oxford ISN'T IN THE FLAMING ARCTIC CIRCLE.

Speaking of which, it is now 5am and properly light. And my essay still consists solely of an introduction. Yikes!!!!!

Blog later.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

This was actually a photograph taken by my brother, Freddie Stewart, but I think it's very Bartram-esque. It's on the fells near Patterdale looking down into the Ullswater valley and it pretty much embodies 'ridge after ridge fading off blue into the distance'.   
I'm supposed to be writing an essay on John Clare.  It's true that I do actually like the poet I'm writing on for once - Clare lacks all the airy-fairiness of Wordsworth and the 'I'm a super-sensitive soul too good for this world' affectedness of Keats, and gives more of an impression of actually being out there getting his hands dirty rather than just some idiot sitting there swooning over a Grecian urn.  That notwithstanding a day and a half isn't really enough to do him justice which is frustrating; then there's the fact I might just be wishing I could be walking alone 'down narrow lanes o'erhung with dewy thorn' at dusk instead of cooped up in this stifling room with a view of next door's brick wall surrounded by my own wall of books sipping at disgusting Tesco Gold instant coffee with my head pounding as I try and fail to think!  I've recently taken to reading and re-reading Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain instead of the things I'm supposed to be reading.  I like it (in a weird way) because it reminds me of how much I miss the Lakes when I'm here.  Home is to me almost what Cold Mountain (this mythological yet real place in the Appalachian Mountains) is to Inman: 'an upper healing realm' where 'all his scattered forces might gather.'  If only Frazier knew how much I identified with the idea of 'ridge after ridge fading off blue into the distance', or how much affinity I felt with the way outsiders perceive Cold Mountain as 'rough and cold back there.' Dear God how I wish I could just be there happily and write and walk and swim and dive and eat, drink, be merry and enjoy the company of good people forever.

So as it transpires early evening isn't a good time to visit the swimming pool.  It's just about the time when the middle-aged biddys are finishing work and thinking "A refreshing swim, that's exactly what I need right now."  A refreshing swim, and a natter to your equally greying, equally cringeworthy peers whilst standing naked in a public shower.  If when I am about 50 years old or so I reach a point where the highlights of my social life involve standing obstructing passage to the changing rooms wearing no knickers and wittering on and on in a carrying voice about my teapot collection then I hope somebody will remind me to shoot myself.  HONESTLY the sheer pretentiousness of their conversations drive me to distraction as well.  For the last time nobody cares how much your teapots cost or what lengths you went to to purchase them abroad and it's the mark of an idle and disappointed life that you even have time to spare to think of such things.  (OK I have time to spare - or not (!) to write lengthy blogs on the internet that probably no-one will ever read, but that's different. It's just like keeping a diary for posterity except online, right?!)  If it was just these women's conversations that were the problem it wouldn't be intolerable, but the worst of it is the way they gratuitously parade themselves around naked! It's almost as though they take a vicarious pleasure in exposing themselves in front of people half their age and more often than not half their weight that have no wish on earth to see... 

When one woman stood for several minutes applying eyeliner whilst butt naked with her back turned to the room so we could all see her ass in such detail as would imprint itself in your memory in spite of your best efforts to forget, it got to the point where I was thinking for crying out loud, what exactly have you got against clothes.  It seems to me almost as though in flashing their unkempt nether-regions and the wrinkled folds of their breasts they're saying, pah look at you young and happy and beautiful; one day you're going to end up looking like me.  All very well, but I hope when Godwilling I am 30 years older and beginning to lose the battle against gravity I won't so utterly abandon all my sense of dignity!   

There really is very little in the world that I dislike more than a busy swimming pool.  The number of people in there churning it up makes it more like a really shallow chemical-filled sea than an indoor leisure pool, it's that choppy.  And then there are the old women (and men too in this instance I would hasten to add) who are quite happy going up and down in their stately breast stroke and blissfully unaware of the fact that they are taking up an entire lane by themselves and that they just kicked you in the face.  Worst of all is when they try to overtake you.  No love, don't flatter yourself, you're not faster than me. Although you might be just barely keeping up your veneer of stateliness for now, we all know that before you reach the shallow end you'll be gasping like this is the final push for the summit of Everest.  Anyway... 

it hasn't been at all a good past couple of days in general.  Yesterday I got the following letter in my pidge: 

Dear Ms Stewart 

Lord Alfred Douglas Memorial Prize 2010

I regret to inform you that your entry has been unsuccessful.  There were a large number of entries this year, and the overall standard was high.  The judges would like to thank all of those who entered; the name of the winner will be published in the next available edition of the University Gazette.  

So of course when I pulled the letter out the envelope and saw the heading my heart leapt; I'd been waiting for this bit of post impatiently and why would they bother writing to me if not to say that I'd won??  You regret....pah I bet you don't really.  Unsuccessful?? watch who you're calling unsuccessful. Does the fact that I wrote a sonnet that wasn't good enough for your stupid prize make it an 'unsuccessful entry'?  I thought it was pretty darned good to be honest otherwise I wouldn't have entered it - and since when have I been a 'Ms'?  To be fair they couldn't have told whether I was married or not from the information I gave them: my first and christian name concealed under a motto.  Only Oxford would devise such a pretentious way of entering a competition.  Obviously I was gutted not to have won; not only because of the prestige but because of the fact that I'm in such a dire financial situation that when I'm at uni I don't even always know where my next meal will be coming from.  £880 would have gone a long way: I don't have extravagant habits or anything; certainly I don't go on shopping sprees and come back with Gucci clothes and 30 new pairs of shoes.  The only slightly expensive thing I ever do is scuba dive, but really if I didn't have a bit of adventure in my life I think I would go mad.  That and the fact that it was a bloody good sonnet. I don't think it's entirely vanity in me to think that it's a lot better than other compositions that have won prizes in the past. I'm determined to get my name out there as a writer somehow or other, but it requires a thick skin. I know people my age who are already appearing at stuff as guest speakers alongside the likes of Ruth Padel and Carol Ann Duffy, which is just sickening.  The closest I've ever come to recognition was getting shortlisted in the Anne Pierson Award for young writers in Cumbria.  In Cumbria!! I ask you. There's probably only one school in the entire county that teaches people enough to afford them a fighting chance of knowing enough to write a credible competition entry.  I think 20 out of about 100 entries end up on the shortlist.  OK my style then was immature and dense to the point of clotting with three-syllable words but this sonnet I was genuinely proud of:  


When he comes, all give him belated welcome
As to darkling door he raises his fist.
To him in time all nature soon succumbs 
Ere then in low skulking he persists.
He is a lover of calm and of peace;
On weary and weakling he smiles benign, 
Softly he waits for the bright lamp's decease
Vapour and shade are his only signs.
On caskets, like cradles, his head he rests:
Before him I dwindle yet still I adore.
By those who lock swords is he meet to be blest, 
He whose countenance no man ever saw. 
In morbid splendour perpetual he presides - 
So close to out hearts does King Death reside. 

I think 'Terminus' is also a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson but I wasn't to know that when I wrote it.  I've rarely managed to get the petrachan metre so spot-on and I'm very pleased with the way each line flows into the next.  True there might not be much place in contemporary culture for such an old-fashioned overtly religious Donne-esque piece but I was still offended by the rejection.  Maybe all the recognition I will ever get is the odd person stumbling across my blog by a chance combination of words they happened to google! *sigh*  


Thursday 10th June 2010, roughly quarter to 3 in the afternoon, location my unbearably stifling room @ my cluttered desk

OK so it isn't a great URL; a little cliched especially by student standards where procrastination has become a byword for being a student, but personally I'm rather liking the assonantal rhyme.  If you don't know what that means don't worry, it's just poetry and stuff innit.  Let me see: this morning my GP conclusively told me that I'm not dying of mouth cancer and I need to pull myself together and get on with some work - this being after my cousin (a dentist) had reassured me on exactly the same point.  The bulgy bit on the inside of my lower lip that started off as an ulcer and turned overnight into an uber massive cyst that makes me look as though I've had a lopsided silicon implant is apparently nothing to worry about. To be fair you can't really blame me. In my experience mouths aren't meant to just randomly swell up leaving you to walk around looking like a parrot fish until further notice. Actually a similar thing happened to me a few years ago when I made ginger cake and decided for reasons best known to myself to eat some neat ginger - it was pretty funny but at least it came from a definite cause. I've figured myself to have got to just about that age where you start worrying about your health and can't just get up every morning and go to bed each night assuming everything will carry on running like clockwork. Especially not with my sleeping pattern and more bad habits than I care to name... then there's the fact that I'm the sort of person who knows she has a brain tumour with the very first throb of her head. Not exactly conducive to getting my work done...although it seems a shame now I know I'm no longer dying of one illness that I've got to get on with it!! 

Of course I am doing anything but getting on with it... spotify is my latest and most deadly aid to the avoidance of work. I had a bizarre recollection the other day of a games lesson when I was 10 years old. It was about the only dance lesson I ever enjoyed.  We were supposed to move around in a stiff jerky manner until the end of the song when we had to droop and die, the idea being that we were mannequins from a shop window temporarily brought to life.  I've always remembered what the song was, although until recently I don't think I'd heard it since I was 10: 'The Model' by Kraftwerk.  I had literally taken procrastinaton to a new extreme and was sitting there digging around in my memory for songs I'd heard and listening to them just for the heck of it. 'The Model' is actually an awesome song, even though all the techno stuff would not ordinarily be to my taste; I think because it is a curious tune that creates a very definite image.  With the lifeless parody of beauty in a shop mannequin's imagined movements my year 5 games teacher wasn't far off the mark. 

There's another song I'm completely addicted to: 'Goodnight Moon' by Shivaree of Kill Bill 2 soundtrack fame.  Everything about it, from Ambrosia Parsley's Southern drawl to the lyrics themselves and the slow languid rhythm just screams sex. 

Anyway I really must stop.  For some reason I've recently found that my day just doesn't start unless I go swimming. All very convenient as I live literally opposite the gym (it actually incorporates the Iffley road running track which, in case you didn't know was where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4-minute mile on May 6th 1954), but when I don't get up until 9am, am immediately forced to try and clear my room sufficiently for the scout to get around it with the vac (have never known why she can't just leave the vacuum cleaner in the cupboard and let us fend for ourselves at a less distressing hour), then troggle off to Tesco in a quest for weetabix, then arrive 20 minutes late for my doctor's appointment and finally come back home to indulge in gratuitous internet procrastination, it becomes a bit of a problem.  I may eventually drag myself, my HIDEOUS swim hat and my still-damp and distinctly greying once white bikini down to the pool for about 5; by the time I've done a decent number of lengths it'll be dinner time, and then hey presto before I know it I'm bang on course for another all-nighter.  No wonder I'm constantly ill. It is also a little-known fact that whilst pro plus might stop you from falling asleep but it does NOT prevent you from feeling physically and mentally exhausted.  So if I've dosed myself up preparatory to burning the midnight oil it is inevitable that at around 3 or 4am if I'm lucky I will find myself just sitting there staring wild-eyed at the computer screen wide awake but quite literally incapable of formulating a sentence. I went through a phase of drinking those energy shots as well; far from leaving me bouncing off the walls and ceiling I've now reached a point where my body has become so conditioned to them I can drink a dozen or more and then happily curl up in a ball and sleep until the cows come home.