The vacation may yield those coveted lie-ins and home comforts, but with each passing term we’re brought one step closer to that ever-daunting prospect: The Real World.
But fear not if the thought of the future sends you running for cover. Not all Oxford graduates end up in the London rat-race, as eccentric alumna Emma Orbach testifies.
The 58-year-old, who has a degree in Chinese, has been living off the land in west Wales since 1999. Orbach’s rustic lifestyle features a self-built hut, livestock, home-grown food and a total technology ban. Her monthly living expenses are probably less than an ill-judged binge in Parkend.
When the internet threw up Orbach’s quirky lifestyle recently, I regarded her with the same wary eye I turn to college rowers. I admire their enthusiasm, but still can’t fathom the appeal of river outings at six in the morning.
However, with the same shock of realisation that hits you as your friends don lycra one by one, suddenly Orbach’s story seemed less remote. What if Emma Orbach is not a new-age hippy, but a graduate who never escaped the Oxford Bubble in which I now find myself?
I doubt I could live without my laptop, and recycling the odd milk carton won’t qualify me for eco-warrior status. But being at Oxford is comparable in some ways to an escape from the outside world. You may scoff at the image of Orbach, alone in her hut, playing the Celtic harp before settling down on a woollen mattress at 7.30pm (I’ve done my research).
But who are we to judge this castaway lifestyle, when we embark on it to varying degrees in term time? Admit it – you’ve had days when the furthest you ventured from college was to check your pidge. If you’re at LMH without a bike, these days may turn into weeks.
And even if I make it as far as Jericho, I’m still surrounded by Oxford culture, not to mention lost freshers and the odd college. We’re all in the Oxford Bubble. It’s a state of ignorance not easily defined. It renders us incapable of dealing with actual dates, reducing time to confusing eight-week chunks. Places more than a 20-minute bike ride away are non-existent to the Bubble-dweller. It’s also the name of a student discount app, which ruins the ambience I’m going for here. But bear with me.
If you don’t think you are in The Bubble, you’re in denial. On the car journey home from my first term my mum knew more of the songs on the radio than I did. I knew then that the bubble had claimed me. Since then, each vac brings fresh challenges. Knowing the latest college gossip won’t help when you’re back amongst those who don’t know their bop from their Bod. And no, having the BBC News app on your phone does not count as “keeping in touch”.
I discovered the pitfalls of the bubble firsthand, on work experience in a publishing house in 9th week (sorry, December). Despite being fresh from college, I was confident of my ability to blend into a book-based environment after weeks of ridiculously long reading lists. However this was no OUP, but a publicity department churning out celebrity memoirs and thriving on the media. I came unstuck when casually asked the question used in their job applications: ‘What’s the most successful publicity campaign of the last three months?’ You know something’s wrong when you briefly consider ‘Gangnam Style’ as a suitable reply. There may be a sinister side to this failure to keep up with current affairs, or to register that your sixth form’s power couple broke up weeks ago (it was on Facebook, seriously!).
Oxford’s prestige and traditions already make it hard enough to promote the university’s inclusive nature. If we return to our hometowns totally disengaged, we’re not going to dispel the misconception of a haughty institution any time soon.
The effects are all the more damaging on a national scale, as Cameron’s latest popular culture blunder earlier this month attests. It’s better to be genuinely in touch with the outside world now, if you want to avoid hackneyed attempts to be down with the kids later in life. The ship bearing today’s politicians may have sailed, but it’s not too late for the rest of us!
When we capitalise ‘The Real World’, it becomes a more bewildering place for those within Oxford. It’s time to stop making such a distinction between the two spheres. I resolve to be a better informed citizen this term. I will know local election results, I will not forget to send birthday cards, and I will call my mum.
I urge you to join me, though maybe call your own mum rather than mine. If you’ve ever emerged from the Gladstone link surprised that it’s dark outside, I’m talking to you. Get yourself a Vitamin D supplement and some human contact. Don’t be an Oxford hermit.