Oooh. They’ve put an ice rink up. This means CHRISTMAS IS COMING. For some reason, the reality check which eventually happens to most people didn’t hit me: I still get as unreasonably excited about Christmas as an 8 year old. More so, actually, than my 8 year old cousin. However, the general rule is you cannot show Christmas excitement until at least after Halloween. Even though Christmas adverts start popping up in October, even though the minute the weather changes you’re ready to hunker down in a blanket nest and eat your own weight in chocolate, you must. keep. it. hidden. Once Halloween is safely behind us, you are, at last, free to sail down the streets, wearing at least 3 scarves and wailing christmas tunes at the top of your lungs. That time is not quite here, so I have to resist the urge to excitedly repeat “CHRISTMAS” in a high pitched squeak every time someone says it. Apart from Christmas, I just love this time of year in general. In winter, it is actually socially acceptable to wrap yourself in a duvet like an overgrown slug and just watch bad movies all day (at all other seasons you have to go outside sometimes). There’s a wonderfully excesssive amount of hot chocolate, and there are crunchy leaves everywhere. Everyone becomes a child where crunchy leaves are involved. I have seen many a “jock” type boy galumphing moodily along, spot a promising leaf from afar, glance furtively around, and proceed to charge joyfully at it. Elsewhere, small children are dressed in so many layers that they must waddle everywhere, and the slightest gust of wind sends them face-planting. However, being so thoroughly padded, they usually just ricochet back up and carry on with their merry waddling. There’s always that slightly confusing moment when shops are split exactly in half between halloween and christmas decorations, and you trot nervously between witch hats and stuffed santas. However, this ice rink is a sign that I can begin to gradually show christmas excitement, and hopefully acclimatise my flat people to it in a way that won’t scare them off permanently. In theory therefore, the ice rink is a good thing. However, it means at some point I will be frogmarched onto it to go skating, which I am not excited about. I’m very good at standing at the sides and offering moral support and admiration to all skaters, but thats it. Whatever universal lesson given to everyone which means they can magically skate with no lessons whatsoever seems to have skipped me. Many people laugh merrily at my insistence that I cannot skate, saying it just takes practice. After several hours of no changes to my terrible skating performance other than they are now taken down with me when I plummet to the ground, they are less keen to help, and sidle off, leaving me to flounder in the middle. I am ashamed to say that at these times, when the sides of the rink seem to be moving further away, it doesn’t matter how many people I have to take down in my determination to reach the safety of the rails. Small children, elderly people; all are mown down in my desperate flailing. I am terrible at skating. I am so slow that one time a small child used me as a push start. A friend of mine seems to have supernatural skating powers: on one occasion I was convinced to go skating with him and several others and whilst they sailed merrily around the inside of the rink, I was in my usual stance of feet planted firmly on the floor, clinging to the rails, and refusing to move, and was therefore in the perfect vantage point to witness his skating. It was surreal. I never saw him move. His feet, his legs, his whole body were entirely still, and yet he zoomed along at an alarming pace. He didn’t push off; he just stood still, stuck his arms out in a bizarre airplane fashion, and proceeded to gather speed as if he had his own personal breeze to move him. He would glide from one corner of the rink to another, arms raised, legs stretched out, like some weird vampiric moth, a maniacal grin on his face. Bafflingly, no one else seemed to notice this unusual sight. They continued to twirl along using their feet to move themselves like normal mortals do, and in the midst of them, a lone figure glided silently along, not moving a single muscle, like some weird ice skating ninja. Show off.
I am now getting to the stage where I’m expected to actually know things. Eesh. For instance, I’m meant to be reading the Odyssey critically (which I don’t know if I understand) so I can talk about it in a lecture (which is terrifying). To me, Classical Civilisation has always seemed a good subject. It just seemed great that while you have things like maths (my personal downfall), you also have a lesson where you read stories about cyclopes, and the right answer to a question might be something like “a flying goat”. Plus, Ancient Greek stuff doesn’t appear too daunting when you remember that basically all they did was get incredibly drunk, get into fights and scramble to invade each others houses and swap wives before they become sober, like some bizarre version of musical chairs. Then they write an epic poem about these events and, way down the line, we study them and pretend like we know what’s going on. For this reason, I like the Odyssey. However, I don’t read it in the intellectual way that I think they’re after; to me it’s just funny. Like the way that the characters split into 4 categories, so if you’re not a god, a warrior/royalty, or a promiscuous nymph, your only other option is to be a swineherd. Plus, the gods are great. They’re meant to be majestic and terrifying and all that, but overall, there is no other word for them other than ‘sassy’. Most of the catastrophic events that take place on the mortal plane is the result of a cat fight, usually between Athena, Aphrodite, and Juno (who everyone gangs up on). Odysseus, too, can’t be taken seriously- one of the best quotes is when Odysseus, after “muttering to himself in the bushes” eventually “sallies out of his lair”, causing everyone in the vicinity to scuttle off. He’s also a master of meaningful looks- his way of signalling his friends is to “waggle his eyebrows darkly”. Odysseus and his son are huge fans of moody soul searching, and refuse to actually get up, stop staring wistfully into the distance, and get on with things unless some divinity zooms down and makes them. The Odyssey is amusing, but it’s also a hefty read. What makes it even lengthier is that Odysseus and co. cant go anywhere on their travels without people insisting that he be dunked in a bath of oil (why?!), and once sufficiently slimy, be placed like a prized ornament at the head of the table on a chair which can often take pages to describe, be stuffed full of mutton at an inevitable feast, and have random potential gifts of shiny plates and such being paraded past him. This is because the Greeks are big on the idea of ‘guest friendship’- in general, making almost aggressive gestures of friendship to anyone who comes their way, because of a slight nagging fear that the one old goatherd they fling out of their house might just be Zeus in disguise. Zeus can’t actually leave Mount Olympus as he is so godlike that if he comes to Earth, he’d explode or dissolve like the Wicked Witch or something. Therefore this guest friendship idea sees to be his way of amusing himself- he can watch from the comfort of his own home, with a bowl of whatever the ancient Greek version of popcorn is, and judge everybody. If they slip up, he can amuse himself for a while by flinging down thunder and lightning, chucking people into hell and in general mess about with life on earth. Once that’s over, his life pretty much consists of floating about in the crowds, and, forgetting he’s all powerful, trying have as many affairs as possible without his wife finding out. Down in the mortal world, guests have obligations too; you’re viewed as incredibly rude if you don’t compliment your host on everything from his sheep to his children in a slightly sickeningly “you’re amazing”, “no, you’re amazing” fashion. The Greeks also seem to have weirdly selective sight- birds regularly transform into divinities right next to them and nobody takes any notice. Meanwhile, Odysseus, despite being admired for his stoic nature, does actually burst into tears at the dinner table at one point, and does nothing about it except to pull his own cloak over his head as if that would make him invisible, causing everyone to be highly uncomfortable. Plus, nothing in the general Greek/Roman mythology makes sense due to the weirdly incestuous nature of it, and the fact that somebody like Hercules might pop up early on as somebody’s genius child, do all of his Herculean business, die, and then reappear way down the line as the father of triplets consisting of a human girl, a cyclops, and a goose (human and god relationships produce very weird results). As is probably clear, I prefer the magical/mythical elements of books, and therefore am not entirely sure how to discuss this book in a lecture. Unfortunately, we are marked partly on our participation, and for someone who’s first instinct is to stay completely still and try to look like an oddly shaped chair, this is not so great. At least the majority of people are in the same boat- everyone has witnessed that moment when a teacher states “I’m just going to ask a few questions” and everybody immediately avoids eye contact and attempts to make their body as small and inconspicuous as possible. As much as I try not to I always judge that one person who until that moment has been so loudly irritating, and now goes unhelpfully silent. As is my luck, I’ll be the one to get called upon and answer wrongly, ensuring everybody else is relieved and comfortable enough to judge me. Odysseus didn’t really have it so bad.
Everybody here seems to be much cleverer than me. I’d been having a bad week- everybody already seemed to know what they were doing, after it went from ‘friendly introductory’ week one, to ‘if you don’t know what you’re doing, leave now and be judged’ week two. I had already fallen prey to this, having sat down in an Animal Science lecture for at least five minutes before realising I was in the wrong place, and having to shuffle shamefacedly out. Now, despite having the world’s worst cold, it’s starting to feel like Uni’s becoming a bit more comfortable and like I might actually be starting to figure out what I’m meant to be doing (shock horror). Plus, most people seem in the same boat and are ill too, so that’s great. Due to the fact that I am not in the two most common categories of those-with-a-cold (either the ‘staying at home in a lair-of-misery’ fashion or the kinder ‘stay-away-I’m-infectious’), but in the slightly more evil and less popular ‘spread-the-plague-so-everyone-is-as-miserable-as-me’ group, I’m slowly getting to those who have so far managed to avoid it. I’ve been enjoying the lectures and not feeling too terrified (true, so far I’ve been skating by on the introductory allowance and been asked to do nothing more challenging than remembering my own name) and even feeling quite relaxed…until I hit the creative writing part of things, and realised they had been luring us into a false sense of security. At first, the only thing I was worried about was that, as much as I like writing, I do not like reading my work out to everybody. However now I’ve seen the class, I have more concerning matters and, forgetting the earlier abnormal relaxation, am back to the more familiar and comfortable feeling of terror. The way we survive these first few weeks is by having the token individuals who hold all groups together- the loud one, the argumentative one, the peacemaker and so on…but, whether it was because of the heightened nerves of being new at Uni or simply because they felt intellectually challenged, the attributes of these people were emphasised so heavily that the lecture became an increasingly rapid cross-fire of questions, disagreements and raised voices that had me sliding further and further down in my chair. The teacher, who had been so supremely confident at first sighting, became immediately inundated by arguments and was, for a moment, apparently defeated; yet he soon wound himself back up and the lecture continued at high speed. Upon being addressed with intelligent conversation by some of my neighbours and mumbling back incoherently, I was promptly dismissed, and started to feel much safer, and when some bewildered individual staggered in an hour and a half late, I was even (slightly guiltily) triumphant that I would not be the only one there who was overwhelmed. However, as if to make up for his late arrival, the latecomer immediately pitched in his own (obviously intelligent) views, even volunteering to be the first to read his own creative work aloud. Despicable. This proceeded to make my solitary addition to the conversation of “can I have a tissue” even more woefully ignorant. Oh well. It was actually kind of fun.