Rain, Routine, Rowing

Originally posted October 30, 2011.

For some reason, third week has passed by really quickly.  I guess getting into a routine here has helped.  I’m not so conscious of the long, lonely hours spent working.  On the other hand, I’m starting to get really tired.  There’s just so much to do all the time!  I told my tutor on Thursday morning that I was tired.  She said to beware being tired so early in the term because apparently everyone becomes mentally exhausted during the “fifth week blues.”  Thankfully I was referring to being physically exhausted, seeing that I’d already been to an erging session that morning, had power-walked from my flat at the Graduate Centre to her office at St. Hilda’s College, and was still out of breath from climbing the eight flights of stairs up to her office (I might be exaggerating a little on the stairs, but the other visiting students that have Jenny McAuley will back me up; it’s a long hike to get up to her tiny room on the top floor).

I like that it’s finally started raining here.  Now, I know that in a few weeks, this will fail to cause any excitement, but for now, I’m enjoying the change in scenery.  I can get sunshine in Texas for almost the entire year.  In fact, we’ve had so much recently that the state is in the throes of a horrible drought.  Here, it’s supposed to rain.  It’s a joke printed on t-shirts and mentioned in novels and popular culture.  And yet at first it seemed like I brought all the sunshine with me.  While I did enjoy rowing better in the sunshine than the spitting rain, I didn’t feel like it was properly English until gray clouds covered the sky and I left the library to find rain pattering down softly in the Hertford Old Building Quad.  That being said, feel free to mock me when I complain of the dreary, cold weather later in the term.

See? Still happy about getting soaked on the way home one night.

Academically, I had a great week.  I loved finishing David Copperfield. I am now convinced that it’s better than Great Expectations, even though I’m sure most other people will, and already have begun to, fight me on this subject.  Maybe it’s because I’m an optimist at heart, maybe it’s because I love the secondary characters like Mr. Dick and Peggotty that appear throughout David Copperfield.  Or maybe it’s because I love Joe Gargery and I hate to see the way Pip treats him. Anyways, I found finishing the novel and writing the paper much more enjoyable than last week.  Possibly, this is because I got to choose my own prompt.  At first when Jenny told me to just pick whatever I wanted, I freaked out; I had no idea what to pick to write on from a 750-page novel, not to mention that I had to compare/contrast withGreat Expectations, too.  In the end, I remembered how my professor for Victorian Adaptations harped on and on about literature within literature and decided to write about the effects of literacy in the two novels.  Best idea ever.  Not only did I enjoy writing it (I wrote my longest essay to date and even wrote two extra pages of notes on things that I couldn’t include), but Jenny was much happier with it than my paper from last week.  I’m improving and I couldn’t be happier. Elizabeth Gaskell, get ready.  I conquered Dickens this week and I’m coming for you and North and South this week.

This is the English Faculty Library where all my lectures are held. It’s not the prettiest building, but the library is really open and it has both a bust of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Wilfred Owen collection.

Lectures went well, too.  Mainly, Jane Austen lecture lined up well with my everyday life, seeing as I decided to watch Sense and Sensibility and then the next day, she drew heavily upon examples from that novel in the lecture.  Plus, I literally rubbed elbows with that Harry Potter celebrity I mentioned in a previous post.  My friends and family might be disappointed to hear that I sat next to her for the entire hour-long lecture  … and didn’t say two words to her.  But with all the Jane Austen fan-girling going on, how was I supposed to do any HP fan-girling?  I mean seriously, I took notes that morning with a Jane Austen pen.  Oh well.  There are still two more lectures left.

My favorite part of this week has been participating in the Oxford social tradition known as a crew date.  It sounds like a foreign term, but it’s actually pretty literal: the girls’ boat crew from one college goes out with the boys’ boat crew from another college.  It doesn’t only apply to rowing crews; these dates occur between rugby, football, and netball teams, and any other groups.  I had heard a lot about these famous/infamous outings and so I was incredibly excited for my first one on Wednesday.  From what I understand, my first crew date was a bit atypical.  For one thing, it was an internal crew date, meaning instead of dating the guys from a different college, we went out with the Hertford rowing boys.  For another thing, not many of the boys showed up.  Ideally, they plan these events so there are even numbers and then at the restaurant, they make sure to enforce a boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangement.  But since the girls by far outnumbered the guys, that didn’t work in this case.  It ended up more as a get-to-know-you event for me to get to know more of the senior rowing girls, but I was fine with that.

New friends from the Hertford Boat Club! It was a long walk (and a long wait for food), but the Jericho Tavern was awesome.

One extremely fun part of crew dates that I did get to experience on that first date were the drinking games.  I’ve played a few drinking games a couple of times in America, but we always end up playing the same games and making the same people drink, so it got boring.  I was surprised to be playing drinking games in public at first, too.  The drinking culture is just more open here because with the lower drinking age, there’s no need to hide.  The main game is pennying. When someone is about to drink, you throw a penny in their glass and then instead of just taking a sip, they have to down the rest.  The idea is that the Queen will drown in the glass unless you save her by drinking all the liquid.  Technically this does not have to apply to international students because she’s not our Queen, but I think it’s more fun to play along.  There are a lot more rules to the game, but I haven’t learned them all yet.

The second crew date was a proper one: we went to a nice Thai restaurant, we had the perfect girl to guy ratio, we were out with another college (Magdalen), and the guys were more responsive for getting to know us.  I ended up sitting next to an Australian graduate student.  He was really nice, had lots of questions about America, and fun stories about learning to practice medicine.  Apparently he spent one semester delivering babies at a clinic.  I enjoyed comparing “study abroad” experiences with him, considering that he was also a long way from home.  The guy on the other side, a third year physicist and also a novice rower, was great, too.  We got to chatting about films, since his college houses the auditorium for the Magdalen Film Society, and that’s something I always enjoy.  Unfortunately, things broke down a bit when we left the restaurant for the Magdalen Bar.  I was glad to visit another college and to take advantage of their cheap bar prices, but at this point, we lost some of the men and I didn’t have as much fun when the guy to girl ratio broke down.  But, I have not lost hope; I already have my third crew date set up for fifth week!

Who wouldn’t want to wake up on a Saturday morning for this?!?!

Besides going on crew dates, I do actually turn up to a lot of actual rowing events.  Even though it’s exhausting, I love how it gets me up and out to exercise.  I was dying at circuits on Monday night (lots of floor exercises meant to build up core strength), but I know that I’m so much stronger now.  I don’t even mind erging on the rowing machines. Some of the other girls complain, but I like the rhythm of it.  I feel almost hypnotized by the loud pop music, the image eight or so girls all moving in sync reflected back to me from the large wall mirror, and the synchronized whir of the machine as we move back and forth.  And then actually going out on the river is amazing.  As I was walking down to the boathouse, I watched other boats going by and thought, “Wow.  It looks really boring from the outside.  They are literally repeating the same motion over and over again as they go up and down the exact same stretch of the river.”  But when I actually get in the boat, I never think of it as boring.  I’m too busy concentrating on the different sections of the stroke and watching the girl in front of me to keep in time.  And when I do take a break to let other girls practice, I end up noticing more about the natural scenery and the wild life.  I walk past the river all the time on my way to and from the city center, and I can even see it outside of my bedroom window, but I never seem to really watch the ducks, geese, and swans unless I’m gliding past them on one of the Hertford boats.  At this point, I think rowing is one of the things I’m going to miss the most about Oxford.  I don’t know where I’m going to continue this in Houston.  Thankfully a couple of my friends here and a couple of my friends back home have pointed out that rowing exercise helps a lot with cycling, too.  So hopefully part of my Michelmas term rowing legacy will be Martel Women’s Bike team, Beer Bike 2012!

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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