An Oxford Christmas has its own special flavour. It’s a sure sign of Advent when suddenly the Covered Market is full of dead things. The butchers are amazing, if rather Dickensian in their desire to signal Christmas’s approach by displaying their wares in the form of headless dead things, bleeding noxiously into sawdust. All round the market, small children’s faces crumple at the sight of yet another velveteen bunny with its whiskers no longer twitching, or – pushed round at pushchair height – start crying at the inevitable withered turkey-stump. There’s something that might be a wild boar near the Market Street door, and it’s amazing how many species of carcass look suspiciously like Headless Rudolph.
In between the dead bunnies, there are also a lot of twinkly lights. Looking equally grim and rather more plucked than the turkeys are the interview candidates, who this year have descended upon m’college looking HORRIFICALLY YOUNG. Obviously this is a sign of my own disgusting infirmity and decrepitude, but for the first time, the prospective Oxonians look like children (I mean, they are. I was. Still am, probably. Nevertheless); they really are a pale and nervous bunch this year, forever ducking in and out of the lodge and asking if I know where [that-college-acronym-in-full] is. However, they do at least have the grace to ask me ‘how my interview went’, which considering that I look scabbily consumptive just at present, is kindness itself. Except I hate their faces when I explain I’m actually a postgrad – they look at me as if I’m rigged to explode and that not identifying me as a student constitutes automatic fail. I am not quite Harriet Vane catching Reggie Pomfrett with his foot in the wall (someone’s made a Harriet/Peter quiz. I’m ashamed to say that I got two wrong) but I’m getting there. Science interviews are still taking place (my college seemed to have a lot of engineers today), but English interviews finished nearly a week ago. I remember interviewing Monday & Tuesday of 9th week (as it was, although back then I knew what dates were in real money) and getting a phonecall from my tutor on Friday of 10th, 10 days later. I don’t think Oxford colleges ring people anymore – in the past, successful candidates at certain colleges were often notified by phone ahead of the official letter, which arrived a few days later. Now, Home Students find out by post – a bit alarming, given the prospect of Post Office strikes this Friday – and internationals by email. English is almost the first subject to interview, but nobody seems to have found out as yet. I remember the interim as mildly horrific (although not, as it turned out, as bad as waiting for my degree results would be, four years later). School took us all to see The History Boys. We wept over the parallels. My friend Emma embarked on a (mercifully abortive) quest to find a straight version of Posner. The time passed.
In other news, my father is impossible to buy for, my friends are beautiful, and Oxford is really horrifically cold. Pop culture is heartening. While at home, I binge-watched the X Factor final, which included not only Surprise Boyzone, but BEYONCE, and the British public getting it right. I was worried that the presence of St Ronan of Keating (I mean, he’s great, I do get that he’s great) would win it for Eoghan, but fortunately positive editing and the very beautiful cheekbones of Cheryl Cole (I love her) meant that Alex won. To Miss With Love (a blog I cannot recommend too highly) has an interesting post about it here (and there’s some interesting stuff in the comments). Beyonce and Alex’s duet was amazing, but this was definitely the performance of the night:
My favourite post-Buckley version of this song. When Edith Bowman played the Buckley version earlier in the week (with the intention of getting it to no 1 as a pre-emptive strike against the X Factor winner), I was sympathetic, but I love what she does with this. It’s – well, as much as anything, it’s superlatively well-acted. I can’t talk about music, I don’t have the vocabulary: but this is passionate, and desperate (which satisfies both the lyrics and the demands of the incredibly manipulative medium that transmits her), and she seems to understand the religious implications of the song, which to me became an important and interesting part of her performance. I am so glad that she won. Also, Beyonce is a goddess. This is the law.
P.S. My essay is done. Esteemed fellow-graduate M has referred to me as ‘the devil’ and is refusing to speak to me before ‘the lychini bender’. I do not know what this means. He has been in the Upper Reading Room for a very, very long time.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.