Huda Daghem tracks the highs and lows of Oxford, and celebrates the joy we find in friendship…
It’s the end of term. The last essay has been submitted. Your final 9am tutorial has just ended on zoom because your tutor has Covid and apparently that’s still a valid excuse. You still have lectures to go to, but who cares when you’ve had your final teaching session. The only thing on your mind from 10am onwards is going out, finding the perfect stranger, unknown with no mutual friends and just enough charisma in the dark light of the club to get off with before you pack up the clothes, books, and annoyingly breakable potted plants from your Oxford room to head back to the middle of butt fuck Tory England.
And yet. None of these dreams materialise. There is no perfect stranger. It’s just you and your friends trying your hardest to make the Cotton-Eye Joe remix and the ultimate-ick Central Cee track a decent vibe for your final night out. You think maybe Bridge should be under new management when the highlight of your night is the smoking area. And so even after resorting to Bridge, even though you should’ve known better because Bridge is … Bridge, you don’t get a break. You spend your last morning in Oxford wandering around Westgate, with £5 left in your bank account, smashing a Christmas ornament worth three times your net worth. What both the toddler and the dog present in the establishment restrained themselves from doing, you managed to achieve.
At this point, you truly thought this was your definitive *shit* end to term; but you underestimated the power of patronising words spilling from the mouth of a fifty year old white academic who has no experience of the world outside this bubble. Try as you might to forget their existence, report readings (collections to some of you) come every term. For some reason, as of yet undiscovered-despite persistent investigation -, tutors get a kick out of recreating high school parent evenings, in a much more soul crushing manner. Back then at least you were top of the class. Oh to be a big fish in a small pond …
‘Get your act together’. Fair. You have no rebuttal. How could you when they begin to list off every one of your recent, and not so recent, academic failures, from failed collections to late submissions?
‘Are you taking this seriously?’ No. Of course I’m not. I didn’t cry myself to sleep after finding out my collection mark on my way home from my only night out of term, I just had some dust in my eye. Why would I take the last two and a half years of my life, that constitute the last of my parents’ savings and the start of a lifetime of debt, seriously?
Therein lies the paradox of Oxford. They know you too well, and yet not well enough. There is no more qualified group of people on the planet to judge your academic ability and find you lacking. And yet they have no comprehension of the being you are beyond these boundaries. They have no understanding of mental health. They have no understanding of the fact that you may have family events to celebrate, or relationships that require time, effort, and grieving periods.
So when the chips are down, and the institution that you begged, pleaded and prayed day and night to accept you is the source of your despair, how do you keep your head above the water?
Answer: Grab onto your friends; they make the best floaties.
This even works for Bridge – here it came in the bathroom. Overcrowded, an assault to the nose and a little terrifying (that’s why women go to the bathroom in groups guys), you find yourself in the middle stall thinking of what songs will make an appearance on what is sure to be a horrifying dj set for the night. But lo and behold, you look down only to find that the condom you shoved in your pocket on your way out the door is suddenly redundant. We’ve fallen to the communists. The crimson tide is moving in. And any other out of date euphemism you can think of. Never before have you experienced a bigger pussy pause to your plans. But women are amazing. Truly and without sarcasm. The tampon machine may be broken but in less than 5 minutes your friends have cornered every person in that bathroom to ask for aid, for any resources they can offer. The group chat has been popping off – your pleas for help have been heard from the RnB to the cheese floor – and in comes your friend, straight from the mosh pit, with a cotton pad suddenly stuffed under the stall of your cubicle. So you may be a sexy stranger down, and you spend the night in mild (read major) discomfort, but what the hell – you got an adrenaline rush, a trauma bonding experience, and a story you can exploit for a piece in the student newspaper.
You can take one trip to Cowley. A £2.50 bus ride, free entry and £4 cocktails for those of you that are inclined; Baba is the cheapest form of therapy out there. Now one might think this seems like some form of denial, maybe if one were prone to hyperbole it would even seem the start of the descent into alcoholism. But fear not. It is definitely not the latter.
In fact it’s not the former either. Maybe for the night you seek to exorcise the memory of the cold stone room wherein you were told graduation was a pipe dream. Maybe you’re even attempting another go for the one night stand. But you know what you have to face in the morning. The truth that the vac will be a drudging repetition of trips to the council library, or downstairs to the dining room, which you’ve commandeered and covered in books on banking and feminism in equal measure (trust, the irony is not lost on me). You’re not trying to forget that. You’re trying to live this one night with the people that make these other events worth it. Making sure the memory of this night and these people are just as strong as those of you crying in the library at 2:38am. Remembering that your friend was with you in Westgate at the great Ornament Incident of 2022 and eventually (imminently) this memory will make you both laugh rather than cry.
You’re not suddenly going to be cured overnight. This isn’t headline news – mental health isn’t something that can be solved with a single doctor’s visit and a one time prescription from cornmarket boots. You can’t overwrite the bad parts.The parts that are especially anxiety inducing and breakdown worthy. What you can do is accept them for what they are – shit. Shit but temporary. Some time soon you will be standing under the shadow of the Rad Cam begging your family to stop taking photos of you in your graduation gown – it’s embarrassing you still know people that go here. Outside of this bubble nobody cares about Marx’s Utopophobia or the rhetoric of lust in Troilus and Cressida. Once you leave, neither will you. What you will care about is the people and the experience, the bad and the good, and even the really horribly, terribly bad. Because even in those moments there is something good. And there are some people that will be your special friends even when you’re earning six figures in the city and have forgotten all about feminism and Marx.