Fear, frustration and self-loathing: welcome to an Oxford lecture theatre

Daniel Curtis takes a socially-awkward look at the perils of the contact hours in the humanities

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It is Monday, 10.07am. Your lecture has begun, but you feel like your life might be at an end. You’re desperately sprint-walking, clutching your bag as the single tether that could keep you connected to the already-frenetic pace of the morning. You come to realise, as you try to ignore the shin splints which coalesce further with each step, that Oxford was a Very Bad Idea and you will never go to lectures again.

You arrive, and the small room is impossibly full. Did no-one really think that this would happen? C18th print culture is an absolutely banging topic—this was always going to be a sell-out show. You squeeze past the idiots who sit on the end of rows leaving the middle seats free. You have, in your experience of Prelims lectures, deduced that this is for one of two reasons: either they take pleasure in the suffering of others, or they fear all human interaction and they presume that sitting next to a stranger is tantamount to marriage.

You are seated, and, more pressingly, miserable, because not only does the lecturer hate you, you tardy piece of trash, but he is also ridiculously attractive and his clothing and delivery style scream, “I have my life together”. You curse your decision to come, but you are also slightly in love.

You try to piece the fragments of literary goodness together but your brain just wasn’t built to work before midday. Your note making is going well though, signifying that your body is working even if your mind is not. You start to wonder if you should have done sports studies somewhere instead.

Your lecturer makes a joke. It’s a hit, 10/10, five stars. Critics are tipping him for a Tony award. You laugh but you are dying inside.

You are beginning to zone out. It’s been a valiant effort but twenty minutes is all anyone could really expect from you. You try not to think of the science students battling through their second hour of five. You try not to self-attribute the adjective “lazy”. You fail.

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As your thoughts drift, you began to realise that all those people on their MacBooks (so many MacBooks) aren’t actually making notes. They are checking their Facebook. Messages fly back and forth as you try in vain to make discernible scrawls with your pen. You are judging. Hard. Suddenly your self-loathing is offset slightly by completely unjustifiable smugness. You are a deity.

You think of the essay you were set yesterday. You consider picking up the books for it from the library next door to the lecture theatre. Maybe this is it, the turning point: you think about leaving your lecture, freshly injected with that sweet, sweet knowledge, to head to the library and start the reading for your next essay.

You know that you’re going to leave it all until the night before the deadline. Why are you like this?

The lecture is winding towards its end. You suspect that you have indeed been taught a few things. Maybe you’ll even use them in your next collection. Maybe it will bump you up from 2:1 to a First. Maybe every lecture you attend is an extra point in your exam papers.

You remember that you never revise for your collections.

The lecture ends. You are released to the wilds of South Parks Road slightly earlier than you were anticipating. You now feel even more guilty than when you were sitting mindlessly, not paying attention. Now you feel like you fabricated a “toothache” to leave school early so that you could go home and play PlayStation after a long day doing your times tables. Pathetic.

Your hatred is exacerbated by the knowledge that inside you, somewhere, is a decent humanities student. Someday, that student will rise, destroy all exams standing in the way of mastery of the subject. Someday, you will be vindicated by outstanding exam scores and they’ll basically beg you to stay on, do all the DPhils, and lecture some unsuspecting undergrads about those books. After all, how hard can it be?

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Today is not that day. This had all better be worth it come finals.