Time passes differently here in Oxford. It is something that I am not sure I will ever get my head around. As I rushed back from a lecture this morning in the rain, hurried into the kitchen, gulped down my soup and then quickly began to pack my rucksack for an afternoon study session with a friend, I suddenly found myself thinking, when did things become so much of a blur?
Stopping what I was doing for a moment, I sat down in my chair, and forced myself to do absolutely nothing for a few minutes. Nothing but sit, looking out of the window and listening to distant doors slamming shut on my staircase, echoes of voices from the kitchen and the mumble of a bike crunching along the gravel below. It was an odd moment, but a much needed pause in an otherwise hectic day.
I have experienced a heightened awareness of the busy rush of Oxford life this week, since last Thursday a flock of sheep were unleashed onto the fields that my accommodation looks out across, and so every morning I open my blinds to find a scene of pastoral idyl, which never loses its surprising and remarkable effect. The flock, made up of perhaps twenty or thirty sheep, is there morning, noon and night. As I write essays, there they are chewing on the grass; I returned from entz at three am on Saturday morning, decorated in neon glow sticks for the theme of ‘school disco’, and their white bodies shone supernaturally in the moonlight. Their pace of life is gentle, unhurried. They follow their natural instincts, seeming to do little else apart from eat and go to the toilet where and whenever is most convenient.
Often this week I have found myself comparing my life here in Oxford with theirs. All of the demands that drive my day: dodging the half term crowds on Broad Street, writing a JCR motion, scribbling down notes during a lecture and always getting left behind. All week I have been meaning to catch up with a friend who is in France on his year abroad: why haven’t I got around to it yet? What has been so very pressing that I’ve pushed aside small tasks like picking up the phone and hitting FaceTime?
And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended. As the microwave pinged and I took out my bowl of mushroom soup, a flatmate pointed to the window, and we watched as a sheepdog rounded up the bundles of white, and they disappeared in a van. Now, as I look out onto the meadow, it is hard to believe that they were there at all. Sheep, in the middle of Oxford? I suppose there are cows in Christchurch Meadow. But still – sheep, outside my window? I can already see myself reminiscing in years to come, comparing nostalgic university memories with future friends, and them not quite believing that my bedroom looked out onto a field of sheep, like something from The Railway Children.
Nevertheless, I think that the sheep have taught me a lesson that a tutorial never could. They have reminded me that it is okay to stop once in a while, to chew the grass and to stare into space, and to not do much else. Sometimes, it is okay to be just another one of the flock.
And here is a reassuring thought if you are longing for the simple existence of a sheep, as given to me by a family member: that sheep have mint sauce to contend with ultimately. (Perhaps reassuring was the wrong word…)
However, it seems that we all – each and every one of us – have our challenges to face. Perhaps that makes those overwhelming days that little bit less monstrous, and reminds us not to take our niggling thoughts as seriously as we might otherwise be inclined to do.
Image credit: Alfred Backhouse