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Studying Beneath the Jean-Laden Trees

Okay. Sunday. Our first "free" day. Completely obligation-less. Thus, I spent all morning in the computer lab (for it is opened early on Sundays, as if for religious service). It was all in attempt to research for my tutorial essay due on Tuesday. I swear, it seems like I'm living in the computer labs. No air conditioning. Single office fan. Cinderblock walls and single barred window. Becoming very depressing.

Only when lunchtime rolled around did I drag myself away from the glow of the computer screen, and vowed that I would not return. Instead, I joined the study group that was actually studying. And not only studying, but studying outside. We were situated beneath one of the trees, lounging about in the shade with our books upon stolen duvet covers. I'll explain the stolen duvet covers bit: You see, since there are so few people in this session of the programme that the building is mostly full of empty rooms. They put us in staircases III and IV, but staircases I and II are completely empty, with all of the empty rooms left unlocked. So there are occasionally raiding parties to these empty rooms to get extra things: pillows, towels (especially towels -- a-cursèd showers), and, in this case, duvet covers.

So we had our little sea of duvet covers spread out in the shade (occasionally having to re-arrange said covers whenever so much time would pass that we were no longer in the shade), everyone immersed in their books, either dancing in victory (like Brian, who had found the "money phrase" he needed for his "Westerners have messed up the Amazon" paper), or complaining loudly (like me, who actually cheered when Descartes, in my Very Short Introduction book, finally died and therefore could make no more asinine theories).

Farah, who has now been coined the resident "brownie" (her phrase, not mine -- if she's the one saying it, it's fine, it's P.C.), is torn between doing retinal hypertension, which is what her International Baccalaureate Extended Essay is on, and hypertension of the kidneys, which her tutor would like her to study. Tutors can be frustrating that way. Or at least hers can, from what I understand. And Risa, in her studies of the UN, needs to figure out how to fix the world by Tuesday, or something like that. I have no idea what Ryan is doing. He was napping the entire time we were studying. It is amazing -- Ryan and Daniel; they sleep all the time. I so envy them.

Jennie, who was one of our study group, is possibly the sweetest girl on earth. She's such a tactile person -- she'll hold your hand, take your arm, or wrap your arm around you, completely affectionate. We haven't been here that long, and yet she readily initiates such levels of intimacy. And yet it doesn't seem strange at all with her; it's comfortable. She tells you how cool you are and that she loves you and it's impossible not to believe her. She is one of the few teenage girls whom I've encountered who uses the phrase "I love you" to her friends, and I truly, honestly believe it without even the faintest shadow of a doubt. Her great goodness and loveliness just shines that brightly.

She was even considerate enough to ask me about my paper! Sure, it's polite conversation to ask how the paper is going, but she actually asked me about existentialism and whether or not I believed in it. I found that so strange, and yet it's so inspiring to have interest taken in you. She claims to be half-and-half existentialist and fatalist, that there is the concept of free-will and we have the ability to make our own decisions, therefore we exist, but there is still a greater picture that we're a part of. Of course, I find this mix of philosophies completely contradictory, but so endearing. Perhaps it's just because she smiles so much as she's explaining her views on the universe.

In other news, Nikki is cute and can get away with anything. Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Programme. Whatever.

Noonan came to visit us on our Duvet Dwelling, firstly to praise us for at least looking so studious, and secondly to tell us about her adventures into town. She went to the department store and bought a Little Black Dress on sale! I was so proud of her; I can now appreciate the joy that is a Little Black Dress on sale. Though thinking about a teacher going shopping and buying a LBD seems a tad odd, don't you think?

Also, apparently Noonan had some sort of Search for Smoothies with Brian that turned into a full-on crusade. I'd think it odd for Noonan to go smoothie-searching with Brian, but then again they're always going out for bagels and such together, so I think they're just Food Friends or something. But apparently there are no smoothies to be found in all of Oxford. Anywhere (after a certain time -- all smoothie shops close at... four in the afternoon or something, possibly earlier). Noonan and Brian were crawling all over Oxford, going into every store just to ask where they might possibly find a smoothie. They'd get a recommendation, they'd go there, and it'd be closed. Process repeats.

Eventually, Noonan got to the point where, she claims, she was about to sit down in the middle of the street and scream until someone gave her a smoothie, which is a very scary situation to imagine when you consider that she's a teacher. But lo! There, across the street! A sign! Smoothies! And then Noonan went running into the street (without even looking for oncoming traffic, her desperation was so great), and didn't stop until she'd screamed an order for a smoothie at the lady behind the counter. And, so says Noonan, that lady could have charged her £70 for the bloody smoothie, Noonan would have paid it. Sometimes, you just really need a smoothie.

None of my adventures into town have been that exciting, I must admit. But then again, I have not yet required a smoothie that badly. So we'll see.

Another point of interest has arisen today (besides stolen duvet covers and smoothies -- yes, the summit of excitement, I know). A few of the girls were all doing laundry together, and, upon discovering that the dryers do not properly get denim dry, decided that their best bet for drying their jeans would be to hang them in one of the trees outside. It's properly hot enough (hot enough that I had to rearrange my fan to be closer to me while I'm in my room), and there's something of a breeze, so a clothesline situation seemed to make sense, even if it's in a tree.

Some time during the day, the jeans suddenly disappeared. All of them, all seven or so pairs, just gone from the tree. I found this rather odd, but none of the girls seemed too concerned about this just yet. "They'll show up eventually," Farah would say -- very blasé. "Someone's just trying to be funny. This isn't serious."

Perhaps isn't serious, but it does seem rather devious. By the time our group had pulled ourselves away from our studies to attend Evensong at Christ Church, I could tell more was going to unfold from this caper. But later. Now was Evensong. (Though not before being chased away from out Duvet Dwelling by some of our completely tone-deaf boys singing the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" -- ugh.)

Christ Church College is probably the farthest any of the programmers go in Oxford, so it's a bit of a hike. I walked with Brian most of the way. He's quite the interesting character. He has a certain manner of speech that is unique, but I've found that if I hang around him for too long, I start talking like him. And his cynicism rubs off. Fun kid, though. I got a fairly good picture of him and Ryan, capturing their expressions after seeing a very badly dressed transvestite. Priceless.

But most of my bonding with Brian is over Harry Potter. We're both fanatics. And going to Christ Church, we were in a glow. The Great Hall is at Christ Church! There are Harry Potter staircases at Christ Church! We were all a-twitter over it. I was taking pictures like mad in the main courtyard, despite the fact that pictures are strictly forbidden when it's not visiting hours. But I was too happily basking in the Carrollian glow to care. I was at Christ Church! Harry Potter and Alice all at once!

(Maira, unfortunately, has fallen out of favor because she does not "get" Harry Potter. She did look nice in the self-made burgundy dress today -- or was it plum? But she knows no popular culture, I swear. She's so immersed in academia that she's completely unexposed to popular culture. It's fascinating. She'd be a great control in a sociology experiment.)

Once in the nave (which is, of course, gorgeous), we took our seats. We were somewhat late, so we were far from the choir, but very close to the pulpit. With the camera in my lap, I took a very surreptitious photo of the pulpit, though it's mostly of Risa's lap, who was sitting to my right, between me and the pulpit.

Brian was on my left. Brian's a proper Catholic boy and therefore knows the drill of these sort of things, but thank goodness they provide you with a script. They do! It lists the songs, the prayers, when to sit, stand, and kneel. It's very helpful... for the novice.

It was a beautiful choir, and a generally beautiful service. A female minister gave the service (I can't remember where she said she was originally from when we spoke with her afterwards -- Ohio?), and the choir was actually a visiting choir from Kentucky. This was their last week at Christ Church before moving on to the next stop on their tour. The Christ Church choir is "on holiday" at the moment.

Brian and I left still in the Harry Potter glow. We began making plans to take the tour of the College to take in more of the Harry Potter ambiance. (We'd tried to get in to the staircase leading to the Great Hall that's used in the beginning of the first movie, where McGonagall is ushering along the first years, but a security man shooed us away.) There has to be more Harry Potter things to see in our neighborhood, we determined, and therefore decided to go straight on a Google hunt after dinner to find what else we can see. We're going to be Harry Potter adventurers!

When the conversation took a turn, Brian, in all his sarcastic cynicism, confessed that he was praying for my wretched soul. And I just know that there was an adverb (terribly wretched, horridly wretched, pathetically wretched, etc.), but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. It was something. I don't know. We've determined that the more description that your soul warrants, the more prayers it requires, so obviously I'm in real trouble.

My premonition about the missing tree-pants was correct. At dinner, a ransom note appeared (on Andrea's door, which makes sense, since the Casa del Andrea is the standard hang-out for all the girls). I don't recall the verbatim, but it was along the lines of "If you ever want to see your jeans again, each girl must deposit £1 in the sink of the III staircase, second floor kitchen. Then wait for further instruction." It was classic.

"Well, this is obvious," one of the girls concluded. "All we have to do is watch the kitchen to see who takes the money, and we've got our jean-thief!" Seemed plausible enough.

I didn't get much time to speculate with the other girls on possible culprits, because as soon as my plate was clean, I was being summoned by Brian. "C'mon, Hayley. Google. Harry Potter. Now." What am I, his beck-and-call girl? ...Well, okay, maybe I am, but still!

I scurried on after him, and we holed up in the computer lab and searched. Christ Church and the Bodleian Library seem to be the only sites in Oxford, but Gloucester Cathedral is a big Harry Potter site, and that's on our excursion itinerary, so we have high hopes. We will be Harry Potter adventurers yet!

As the evening grew later, the computer lab grew more crowded. People like to check their e-mail and whatnot in the evening, and there are those pesky tutorials coming up, but sometimes the computer labs simply become a hang-out (which, according to Speck, they're not supposed to be, but oh well). The jean caper continues: again, enter Andrea, and in her hand... three denim belt-loops, cut from a pair of pants. "They were outside my door!" she exclaimed. Other girls went to investigate their own rooms, and other belt-loops were discovered at the thresholds. Very creepy. It's like receiving the body-parts of hostages until the ransom is paid! Straight out of a horror story, I swear.

And now Noonie's been pulled into the caper. "And look what I found in front of my room!" Again, I'm not sure of the verbatim (Nikki's keeping all of the notes, presumably for handwriting analysis), but it was along the lines of, "If you ever want to see your silver bracelet again, collect the money from the sink of the III staircase, second floor kitchen. Then await further instruction."

We were all agog. "Is your bracelet really gone?" we all asked her.

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "It's gone! I don't know what's happened to it. And I love that bracelet...!"

"Do you think someone managed to break into your room and steal it?"

"No way! I always keep my room locked. I must have taken it off while I was downstairs and it must have been picked up..."

Oh, the plot thickens. Theories are running wild as to who the culprit could be, and each theory more interesting than the next because they're all so different, but all with a very plausible intent! It's all so very exciting.

And of course, I can stand back and say that this is all very exciting because I'm not involved in it. I am simply a bystander, able to sit back and enjoy. This is worthy of popcorn.

Back in my own little world, of course, I'm concerned about this blog. Everyone's reading it! I have a following, not just among family and friends, but here at the college! I've had requests to start adding pictures. Farah's offered to help further the blog with the use of her laptop so I can finally get out of the computer lab, and Ms. Noonan wants to give the URL to her family...!

So I'm faced with the question of how much time do I donate to the blog? To documenting? Does that take away from the actual experience, just capturing the details instead of being a part of it?

Sounds very philosophical. Anyway.

Freaking out over deadlines. I'm never going to finish this paper. Liiiikkkkeeeeomigod.

To make myself feel better, I did something "responsible" and did a Programme Notebook entry on some of the wall material. Go me.

Programme Notebook Entry:

It saddens me to not be able to find a single postcard with a picture of St. Hugh's, not a single one, when the history of this college is so meaningful. Women, like all other oppressed classes, has struggled and fought over the ages for equality, and St. Hugh's College is an inspiring story of such a struggle. There is something inherently noble in attempting to create something from nothing, especially with so great a purpose, and for an institution to go from a single building with a handful of girls next-door to an enthusiastic pianist, to a college of Oxford that is co-ed and fourteen acres, that is truly inspiring. It's sad for stories to be so overlooked.



That didn't do much for me, unfortunately. The weight of the academic load still was heavy upon me. So to solve my problems, I went down to North Parade (the closest street of shops), and bought a Neapolitan ice-cream cone, a liter of Diet Coke, and six post-cards. Nothing to lift one's spirits like a little independent, useless shopping.

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Hayley Elizabeth Rushing

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