Archive | February, 2011

Fifth Week Blues

18 Feb

Dear Faithful Followers of Blog-dom,

My HUGEST apologies for letting the hectic pace of life get the better of me and have turn The Daily Tea into more like The” Bi-Weekly”  Tea. But I sincerely thank you for your patience, and since I’m sure you’re thirsty for the next cup of Oxford knowledge, I’ll do my best to catch you up on all the exciting things that have been happening!

We’re now entering the fifth week of our 8-week-long term which means we’re more than halfway done!! AAAAAAAUGH!  <– This cry is a cry of agony and panic (due to the amount of work to be done and pending fun to yet be had), mixed with sheer excitement for our extended Spring Break.

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, right?  Well, if you’re having fun and working your butt off AND being challenged in every way possible everyday then time doesn’t just fly — it soars.  I honestly feel like it was yesterday that I arrived here and hopped the Spencer House wall and scared Callie to death by knocking on her bedroom window.  *sigh* Oh, memories…


Now that we’re in Fifth week, I’ve had multiple tutorials under my belt, as well as triple that amount of rowing outings and soccer (“football”) games; 4 formal halls, 1 new bicycle, 1 rockin’ birthday night, 1 SuperBowl party, 6 of Austen’s major novels…and countless cups of coffee/tea to help get through it all.

So why the blues?  This week is, according to Oxford tradition, officially labeled the “5th Week Blues” because it’s the time of term when the pressure of exams draw nigh  and people begin to get sick, tired or otherwise burnt out.

But I think I lucked out this week: All early-morning rowing outings and my one tutorial got canceled so  my week was relatively stress-free! And, by some miracle, my immune system has weathered the onslaught of colds and flues that have been circling throughout the Spencer House and the college at large; (knock on wood!)


As I was cycling to class on Wednesday I thought, Today is the mid-way point of fifth week, so – technically – this should be my absolute bluest day in Oxford, right? But to my happiness and to the dismay of the study-gods, I was actually feeling quite wonderful! The sky was clear and (*gasp) sunny…and I spent what was supposedly the “bluest” day in Oxford on the football pitch basking in the 45-degree weather! Aaaahh….

Take that, fifth-week blues.



NOTE: We think of chronology here in Oxford in terms of weeks (i.e. Week 1, Week 2, Week 6 etc…) Ask any given Oxford student what the date is and they will probably look at you with a bewildered expression or have to shuffle around in their pockets a few minutes to check their phone for the numeric date.   This is because we don’t operate in terms of dates here; we say “Today is Friday of Fifth Week” or “Monday of Second Week” and dates aren’t ever part of the equation.    (February 17th?  When is that??) Although I’m not exactly sure when or how this system arose, but it does reflect the fact that the entire system is dominated by the academic calendar.







Burns Night!

8 Feb


Week 2 Formal Hall was no ordinary formal hall; it was Burns Night (I hope you will soon believe as I do) is the most FUN British holiday to celebrate!  With food, poetry readings, and a lively “ceilidh” dance, this easily ranks as one of the most light-hearted of all our formal halls to date.  (See video link above for major proof).

“History, Lads!”

Burns Night is a celebration of the life and works of Scottish poet, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796).  Although celebrations can take place any time during the year, Burns Night is most commonly celebrated towards the end of January, around his birthday.  As dinner commences,  the staff and guests are “piped in” by a bagpiper who provides them with a sort of ceremonial entrance.  Once everyone has been ceremonially “piped” to their seats, the host (in our case, the college president) says a few words of welcome and recites the Selkirk Grace, a thanksgiving said before meals, using the Lallans Lowland Scots language.

The Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Prayers said, we began with a bowl of Scottish cock-a-leekie soup., made with leeks and chicken broth.

After much anticipation — and hunger — we waited for one of the most exciting moments of the evening: the Salute to the Haggis!

Haggis is THE traditional Scottish dish, so it’s most appropriate that it is to be served on Burns Night.  I would tell you what’s in it, but honestly it’s better not to know.  Trust me, ignorance is bliss on this one.  But the important part is that it’s very very tasty.  I loved it and purposefully did NOT ask what was in haggis until days later.    Like most culinary experiences abroad, the best thing to do is just smile and eat it then ask questions later.

So when an excited hush fell upon the room and the bagpiper started playing, I leaned in to the person next to me and asked what was happening next.  “The Salute to the Haggis,” she said, matter-of-factly, and I burst out laughing. (Perhaps a little too loudly.)  My first thought was Are you serious??! And the solemn procession of the chef walking in holding a glistening plate of haggis high above his head told me, Actually yes, we are serious. We are Scottish and we take our Haggis very seriously. From that point I knew better than to laugh (at least not out loud anyway).

The Haggis salute, subsequently vigorous Haggis consumption, was followed by a poetic and amusing “Toast to the Ladies” given by one of our very own undergraduate guys.  Actually, it was less like a toast and more of a stand-up comedy routine.  This was followed by an equally poetic response, a “Toast to the Laddies,” full of flirtatious banter and coy remarks in rhyme given by one of the undergraduate girls.  Both were quite fun, witty, and thus delivered in a very Robert Burns-esque style.  This sort of public speaking — in the form of a toast or a poetry reading — is another staple Burns Night tradition.

(My friend Barbara and me at dinner)

But of all the traditions mentioned thus far, including even the whiskey and chocolate tasting following the meal, my favorite of all the Burn’s Night festivities has to be the ceilidh (pronounced “keh-lee) or the traditional Scottish folk dancing, very similar to the square dancing we have back home in the States. There was a band with a violin, percussion and accordion, who called the different moves and we all had fun circling and skipping around; a kick here, a do-si-do there…Of course, it was a little difficult to get an entire hall full of people moving in the same direction and at the same time, especially after the whiskey had been circulating.  But despite varying levels of coordination and sobriety, everyone in the hall danced and seemed to have a great time.

I probably got into it more than most people in the room — which is what often happens when faced with the opportunity for dancing.  I The only problem is that I have a greater tendency to lead than to follow, so I dragged my poor housemates Tim and Bryn around the dancefloor and pushed them around as needed; I was generally quite bossy, but nobody could’ve accused us of being out of time — I made sure of that.


Tour d’Oxford

4 Feb

Biking is an essential part of life at Oxford. (And by “biking” I mean the Lance Armstrong kind, not the Harley Davidson kind, so for the sake of clarity, let’s do as the Brits do and call it “cycling” instead.)

The streets of Oxford are always crowded with just as many cyclists as cars and pedestrians, so even those who don’t actually own a bike are unavoidably involved in Oxford Cycle Culture. It’s now the beginning of third week and my aching feet and crunched scheduled have finally persuaded me to jump on the band-wagon and buy myself a bike. Watch out everyone.

Here she is – the Mystique – in all her glory! For only about 150 pounds I got this sleek, purple amazingness, with a lights, a lock, a basket, a kickstand, AND my favorite: a large pink bell with Disney’s princess, Belle, on it. I most lovingly call this my “Belle bell.” Everyone’s pretty jealous of it I think, especially the guys.

Bryn and I spent at least an hour, summoning all our engineering capabilities to try to attach the basket to the front of my bike. Considering that we’re both English majors and refuse to think about science whenever possible, this made for a rather amusing hour. Similar to the old light bulb jokes, we were asking “How many English majors does it take to mount a bike basket?” We learned that the answer to that question is “2 English majors, 3 screwdrivers, 1 monkey wrench, 15 twisty-ties, 1 shoelace, and lots of electrical tape!” Now, thanks to my quirky creativity and Bryn’s long-suffering patience, my basket is securely attached to my bike and might possibly even survive the third world war.