And So It Begins

The last time I was at Merton

As most people who know me are aware, I keep a bullet journal. The idea of the trend is to keep life organised and thoughts collected; short and sweet. Inevitably, as someone who enjoys writing and has a lot of thoughts, the short and sweet very rarely works out and so I find myself, as I draw out the spread for next week’s two pages, writing the words, ‘And so begins my time as an Apprentice Historian in the City of Dreaming Spires.’

This is, of course, nonsense.

‘Apprentice Historian’ is a reference to my favourite books as a kid- Tom Natsworthy was an Apprentice Historian in Mortal Engines- and ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ is an incredibly literary way of saying where I’m going. The truth is that tomorrow morning (October 7th 2019) I will be starting an Ancient and Modern History degree at Merton College, Oxford.
I’d be lying if I pretended the post-apocalyptic motorised cities of Mortal Engines didn’t seem more realistic.

I could wax lyrical about the prospect of Oxford University all day, but I imagine most people who read this will already have in their head imagery of spires, towers, quads and even airships if you’ve read His Dark Materials. In a recent interview, Phillip Pullman said that grounding his fantasy trilogy in Oxford seemed to him a way to press reality onto a fantastical world. I disagree thoroughly- what he achieved instead was to make Oxford all the more fantastical.

Airships over Merton in the His Dark Materials Trailer

Now, I know plenty about fantastical places. My hometown of Blackpool portrays itself as a sunny seaside resort, with rollercoasters, donkeys, piers, illuminations and a world famous tower. It’s a place that, for most of the country, can be found in childhood recollection rather than fifty miles north west of Manchester. Yet, for those of us who live there, it’s easy to see through this facade- eight of the top ten neighbourhoods in the 2019 Indices of Deprivation are in Blackpool. As we exist to others in their nostalgia, Oxford exists to us as a place from books and films.

It must be stressed that this isn’t an appeal to your sympathy. In comparison to the highlighted neighbourhoods, I have had a very privileged upbringing; every moment I’ve been able to devote to reading or writing for pleasure has been a privilege, as have numerous holidays and visits to castles or the ruins of Roman baths. Regardless, though, when considering other Merton alumni (the current Emperor of Japan and his daughter, for example) it comes apparent how incredibly fortunate I am to be in this situation. To read History at Oxford is an honour, but it’s also a responsibility- I must make good on the privileges I’ve been afforded and use them to help others.

And that’s why I’m writing this blog.

It’s hardly world peace, I know, but it’s somewhere to start. In almost every conversation I’ve had with friends, family or well meaning strangers about going to Oxford, it’s always come back down to, ‘I can’t believe you’re going.’ Well, why not?

Truth be told, I think it’s because Oxford University doesn’t feel real. It’s a place we hear about, a place we read about, a place that exists on the big or small screen, just beyond the grasp of our reality. This blog is a response to that- an attempt to show what lies behind the facade of the imaginary world. Consider this an insight into the City of Dreaming Spires.

We start next week.

One comment

  1. Wow, I am absolutely enthralled by this. I can’t wait to see what you post next, something tells me your adventures here are going to be documented to a sublime standard 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s