More Clearly - Gregory Sidaway
A hearty hello to you, fellow reader! How has everything been? I hope your answer involves at least one positive adjective, although – if not – don’t worry. Grab yourself a cuppa or a piece of toast, maybe even a blanket, and let’s begin. So, despite last month’s planned trip to Dublin fizzling out due to a positive Covid test, a few weeks ago, I ventured beyond the borders of Worcestershire for a university offer holder day.
This one was at Oxford. It was basically an opportunity a) to have a look around, and b) to meet other offer holders so that – fingers crossed and if all goes well with A Levels – I will be able to recognise someone if I get there at the start of term. We went by train and as green pastures rose into villages into housing estates into flats and finally into the city centre, more and more commuters hopped onto to the train until it became like a highly pressurised artery; the flood of people leaving at Oxford meant we were effectively carried by a current all the way through the ticket scanners and newsagents and Breakfast Deal: Bacon Roll: Only £2 displays outside Greggs, until we found ourselves on the main street, where taxis shuffled to get ahead of each other, and a Tour de Oxford of students zoomed past us on bikes. Coming from our pocket of the Midlands, it took a few moments to adjust. That particular Saturday had been chosen because it was the last day of the Spring term, which we quickly figured out from the vast numbers of suitcases trundling along pavements. We were going into Oxford while a mass exodus of students headed the other way. The college we were visiting was Exeter College, which (unlike others such as Balliol and Blackfriars) hasn’t been around for very long – it’s only 708 years old! Overlooking the Radcliffe building and snuggled beside Knoops: Expertly Crafted Chocolate Drinks, the original college is charming; beards of ivy climb up sun-baked stone, the doors are studded with iron and, walking into the dining hall, you’d be forgiven for anticipating the sight of floating candles and nearly-headless ghosts.
It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but a visit like this made a lot of sense; I was able to meet other offer holders, quickly building up a repertoire of things to say. “Hi, what’s your name?” “No way, me too!” “Hi, what subject are you taking?” I would ask that last one and then correct “taking” to “reading”, which got a bit confusing. When I was asked what I was reading, I nearly said American Gods by Neil Gaiman, before saving myself in the nick of time. Throughout the day, I was able to meet quite a few people which – fingers crossed regarding A Levels – means I shouldn’t be too bewildered if I arrive at the start of term. Even if I end up following a different path, a visit to an actual university was really useful, as most open days last year were online. Now, the future isn’t an indistinguishable blur, hopefully I’m starting see bits and pieces of it more clearly. On the train back, as flats became housing estates became villages became the green pastures of home, another image stayed with me: in the common room at Exeter, draped across a window, was the blue and yellow of a Ukrainian flag.