Life divided: collections

Nicola Dwornik describes two different takes on the termly ‘collections’ experience

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For:

There’s nothing more refreshing than returning to Oxford and being reminded how mediocre you are. That’s why I like collections.

I go home to relax after my ‘hectic’ term, leisurely read a stanza-or-two of Dante and think, fucking hell, perhaps I am a prophet of genius? Maybe all this hanging around intelligent people, reading clever books, and writing ‘thought-provoking’ essays has finally had an impact? Managing to answer two questions on this week’s episode of University Challenge confirms this self-diagnosis. My parents smile expectantly at each other—she’s definitely going to be in the team next year.

Having admired from afar the dreamy spines of my vacation reading, it’s Hilary. Gliding into my room I throw my brogues onto the floor, flick my hair back, look into the mirror and think, goddamn, when did I start to look as good as my brain feels? I radiate this flawed positivism until I’m quite light-headed.

Then I sit a collection.

My hand, first perplexed by the concept of writing, shakes as my brain adjusts its focus. Man sees pen, not cursor. Failing to recall which period Botticelli actually belonged to, I plump for the ‘High’ Renaissance, knowing full well that I will later force myself to vigorously defend any lack of knowledge to my tutor through relentless optimism.

Then, after frantically trying to locate some evidence, and finding nothing to support anything except chronic vacation laziness, my time is up. It’s a shame—just when I was beginning to convince myself that I could write using coherent sentences.

I conclude by punching a treasury tag through the pages of pure shit I’ve managed to produce in three hours. A task that seems herculean, and pointless.

But I like collections, I really do—they remind me that I’m stupid. “Welcome back to Oxford,” they say. “Actually do some work this term, please.”

Against:

I hate collections. They’re reminiscent of those pointless ‘end of unit exams’ we were forced to take at school.

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Those superfluous assessments that only a handful of students actually decided to revise for during the holidays, instead of investing their time in valuable pursuits such as seeing how many Lindt Father Christmases you can consume before horrendously vomiting.

Having spent a holiday wading through Baileys instead of reading lists, I come back to Oxford. I spend the first few days of term seemingly perfectly ‘busy’, yet not really doing anything. My friends and I gather cordially in the JCR.

It is the night before collections; cold air clings to the grassy lawn and darkness pervades through windows. Glum faces, a lack of plum puddings, and promises to meet in the bar tomorrow evening, whatever happens. We may as well be gathering around a wireless waiting for war to break out.

I decide to break the silence: “Oh gosh, collections tomorrow! Who’s actually done anything?” Everyone quickly exchanges glances. Murmurs of “not much”, “I’m screwed” and the like shuffle about the room. We all lean back slightly, smile, and relax a little. What was the worrying for? Why were we all panicking? It’s all going to be okay. Tomorrow we’re all going to sit an inconsequential exam, and, hopefully, ‘Oxford fail’ together—aka get a dodgy 2:i.

I go to bed, all is calm.

But, not before long I realise that I have been fooled. I have been deceived by the plastercast smiles of my very own compatriots. How did I ever begin to forget that they have either perfected the art of covering up how much work they’ve done, since their year nine physics assessment days, or are just those plain annoying bastards who don’t even have to try?

Sighing, I drag myself out of bed, look at my watch, and make myself a coffee—I have 9 hours to fix this, then I’m done.