Back in Stratford. Effects of the recession: we are getting a Lidl, parking has gone up (70 pence for half an hour), and everyone who graduated without a law-conversion-training-contract is on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Unemployed at the start of last summer, I passed the time filling in my little dole book & trying not to weep over the kind public sector workers who told me that, what with my double first in English Literature, I should keep from setting my sights too high, and aim for retail. Having been turned down by Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and (you-bastards-the-money-I-have-spent-in-you) Waterstones, I got the best job of my life at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the issue of crippling penury was solved. Now, however, loud sing cuckoo, and I am even a little bit sunburnt – spring is here, so summer soon will be, which means a) I am going to have to Leave Oxford, and b) I really, really need to find a job.
Worse, this time I am actually leaving Oxford – whereas last year, there was the word-made-flesh possibility of a First and my Masters (mercifully realised), this time I have not applied for DPhil and so definitely shan’t be returning. I never intended to apply this time round, but it turned out that not even my best friend believed I would stick to it, and instead assumed my reiterations of ‘but darling, I shan’t be here next year’ were just another form of mental torture. Considering our past relations, etc.
At the moment, I have three job applications current, three possibilities for work experience (one incomplete, one under consideration & one offered but logistically difficult!), one begging letter sent off and another to write. I have a chapter of my thesis due in next Friday, but did manage to spend today partly on the river. Stratford is beautiful – the air is much cleaner than Oxford, as I keep remarking – and since blogging, email & facebook keep me in touch with my Oxford friends, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.
Stratford – despite the profusion of unemployed twentysomethings largely indistinguishable from holidaymakers, the unabating frothy fury of the local press, and the Tories – really is blooming. We even have a new community radio, with whom I hope to do some work over the next year (quick plug: presenter Debi Ghose, Friday mornings > anything on Radio 1). If I am going to be in Stratford for a while, I want to find out all the cool stuff that’s going on – there must be stuff I missed when I was at school. As far as religious feeling goes, I am apt to be indiscriminate in attaching it to churches, theatres, and libraries; Oxford in summer does look a lot like Heaven, and lamp-lit twilight in Radcliffe Square can be as sacred as anything in the college chapels. The morning after Barack Obama’s election, the Cowley Road Methodist Church (just down from where I live – I was there last Sunday!) changed the Scripture on its noticeboard to the first line of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork”. It was perfect, perfect; perfect for a perfect day and a fact, a single proof of human goodness in appetite and action, that still makes me happy, five months on. The new RST building is taking shape, and the actors performing in the Courtyard now are those who’ll take the stage on the new theatre’s opening night. When I was home at Christmas and in February, the site was still a mess; now, the scaffolding’s shaping a building and not a building site. There must, surely, be new jobs and renewed tourism when the site is finished, for some people, at least. It was great to be back with my friends, on an accommodating river, in a suitably battered boat. And to me, the emerging theatre looked like a symbol of hope.
P.S. Happy Easter, to those who are celebrating!
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.