jump to navigation

The frozen North, the sunburnt South January 10, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, university, work.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

That is a satellite image of Britain as it is at the moment. I’ve just got back from a month in Australia, where I spent pretty much every morning swimming at the beach. As you can imagine, I was shocked at the contrast.

My time in Australia was a mixture of nostalgia and happiness. It was very odd to return, and at times I felt like the typical exile that I write about, a person who lives in a foreign land, and then returns home to find that it’s not ‘home’ any more. But for the most part, my trip back was enjoyable, and it was wonderful to see all my friends and family again.

I landed in Melbourne first, and spent about five days staying with my dad, stepmother and two little half-sisters. The time was marred only by the fact that Dad had giardia, and looked rather emaciated. But it was fantastic to see my youngest sisters, who are growing up so quickly that they seem like different people every time I visit them.

I also managed to see several other friends while I was in Melbourne, which was excellent.

After that I flew to Sydney, for what turned out to be a three-week-long catch-up fest. The first night I was there, I went to a housewarming for two of my usydgroup friends, and the day after that, pretty much everyone I knew in Sydney (and some Canberrans) turned up for a picnic that I organised at Bronte. I had my first swim of the holiday there, and it was great.

I saw most of those people (a mixture of usydgroupians, Canberrans and others) a couple of other times during my trip, but it was great to see them all together, especially at an event that I’d organised, as I find organising and hosting events very stressful.

I saw a lot of my extended family. I was living with my mum and my sister (who had just moved back home) of course, but I also saw a lot of my grandparents, four of my aunts (the fifth was on holiday in Japan, Korea and Thailand), most of my cousins and my uncles. I also managed to catch up with one of my Obernet friends for lunch and secondhand bookshopping in Newtown. Raphael and his mother drove up from Canberra for a few days, and it really meant a lot to me that they did this primarily to visit me. We had a great time browsing the bookshops in the CBD.

Aside from all the socialising, I managed to spend some time earning money by working in my old patisserie where I worked as an undergrad. It was the Christmas lead-up, so it was insane, of course. I realised how much I enjoyed doing that work, which makes me worry that it may be the only job I ever completely enjoy doing. I suspect I’m destined to work in that patisserie on and off until the day I die.

It was a good trip, but it raised lots of troubling emotions. Although I relished seeing everyone again, I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward, as though I was trying to force myself into a space that no longer existed. I suspect that this feeling might’ve lessened if I’d remained longer. It’s hard to explain, but if you go away for this long, people (of course) do things without you. Their lives change without you. I’m not saying these changes are for the worse, just that you realise that the universe goes on without you. Time doesn’t stop for you.

Of course, as soon as I got back to Cambridge, I wanted to go back to Australia. The snow, which was such a novelty last year, is a pain this year. I can’t run outside or I’ll slip on the black ice. (I saw some hardy souls running in shorts today. Their knees were bright red with the cold.) The lack of sunlight depresses me.

Most of all, I lapse back into childhood the second I spend any time with my mother. Although I’ve always been able to handle the more practical aspects of independence (cooking, cleaning, shopping, budgeting etc), I’ve always been incredibly emotionally dependent on my mother. It takes me about a month to regain my emotional resilience after seeing her. At the moment, however, I just want a hug.

Same, same but different October 28, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, memories, university.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

My first PhD year has begun not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a series of small volcanoes. It seems everything that could go wrong went wrong.

First up was a housing crisis. As I was not sure until mid-August that I had the funding to continue with my PhD, I had given up my old lease, thinking to save money. This, of course, required me to flit between London and Cambridge, from friends’ couch to spare bedroom to floor, in a rather chaotic, peripatetic manner. This caused all kinds of problems, ranging from living out of a suitcase, wearing the same four outfits over and over again, to getting on the bad side of college and being woken in the middle of the night by angry porters.

Almost as soon as I had my own roof over my head, I had a computer crisis. My college, until last year, did not require Mac users to run a virus scan in order to use the college network. This year, all that changed, and I was forced to suffer the indignity of installing McAfee antivirus software on my poor computer. Bernard, my computer, liked it no better than I did. The internet slowed to a dial-up speed crawl, and constantly froze. After several hysterical conversations with both my college tutor and my supervisor (who was so outraged she considered forcing college to pay for a new computer), I got one of the local tech-heads to fix Bernard for me. Everything’s working fine now, but if you know anything about me, you’ll know that depriving me of internet for two weeks will not be a pretty sight.

Once that was sorted out, I got a cold of epic proportions. My old doctor used to prescribe me with seretide, taken through an asthma puffer. If I used it twice a day in the few days when my throat started to feel scratchy, the worst symptoms of the cold would normally pass me by. She did this because until the age of 23, I got colds so badly that they’d last for months, causing me to get a hacking cough that would continue ceaselessly, giving me sleepless nights and aching muscles. So when I got the Cold From Hell, I went to my Cambridge doctor, hoping to get a new prescription. No such luck. ‘That’s a steroid’, he said, when I showed him my seretide puffer. ‘You’ll become dependent on it if you use it too much.’ As my friend said to me when I complained about this, ‘You’re kind of dependent on breathing, too.’ Well, no breathing for Ronni, apparently.

I’m finally better from the cold, and all healthy and ready to face whatever disaster Cambridge next throws at me.

I’m enjoying my first PhD year so far. After struggling to write for ages, I did what I always do when I’m getting writers’ (and researchers’) block: schedule a meeting with my supervisor, which tends to scare me into getting back to work. It worked: I’ve now written nearly 2000 words in two days! Only 78,000 to go!

I’m sitting in on a lot of undergrad classes. My favourite is probably Medieval Irish, where we whip through texts at a much greater speed than we did last year. We’re currently translating Audacht Morainn (‘The Testament of Morann’), which is part legal text, part wisdom literature. It’s all about how to be a good ruler. I’m also taking second-year Latin, where we’re translating St Patrick’s rather idiosyncratic Confessio, and Welsh, where we’re translating the seriously baffling Canu Urien (‘Songs of Urien’). Finally, I’m taking beginners’ Modern Irish, which I love.

As far as life goes, I’m happy, but it’s a happiness tinged with nostalgic melancholy. Last year was just so perfect that it was always going to be impossible to top. I think part of the reason I loved 2008-2009 was because I’d been so miserable for so long before that. It was not going to be hard to have a better year than 2007! And so my friends in my department were kindred spirits, both in their love of all things obscurely medieval and in their love of the pub. My housemates were perfect (aside from the inability of some of them to do the washing up), and they became not merely the people I lived with, but good friends. I have to try hard not to make unfair comparisons, but it’s difficult. I’m in the same house, but with entirely different people, and the dynamic of the house has changed. None of my close MPhil friends continued on for the PhD, and to make matters worse, many of my good undergrad and postgrad friends also graduated.

Last academic year was so good in so many ways. It gave me the confidence I’d always been lacking. It gave me the sense of place for which I’d always been searching. It gave me the sense of purpose for which I’d always yearned. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but I never imagined it would be this hard. Up until last year, I always looked back with nostalgia at previous stages in my life, wishing I could do them again. I did not do so last academic year, and imagined myself to have broken the cycle. Apparently I have not.

It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiney day May 24, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, university.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

I realised that I hadn’t written about Cambridge for a while, so I thought I might remedy that. Easter Term has been very see-saw-y. Very up and down. My moods swung according to how well I felt I was going on my dissertation. Early on in the term, when I was very lost, I felt appalling. I inflicted my whining on everyone around me, wailing about how I just wanted to go back home to Australia. But as soon as I met my supervisor and told her that I was stuck, she pointed me towards St Anselm and the concept of the individual, and I never looked back.

After that, writing came easily. I aimed to write between 500 and 1000 words a day on days when I was writing, which meant that my dissertation proceeded at a leisurely amble – just the way I like it. I finished my draft on Wednesday (we had to hand in the drafts on Friday) and have been essentially celebrating ever since. I remember that same feeling of relief when I wrote my Honours thesis. Just seeing those 15,000 words sitting there, the result of seven months of research and reading and editing and translating and fobbing off your supervisor, is an amazing feeling.

The only other piece of assessment we had this term was a take-home essay on our seminar texts. We got given the questions (which were really just a series of words – ‘distance’, ‘illumination’, ‘interaction’ and so on) on a Thursday and had to hand the essays in the following Monday. I chose ‘interaction’ and wrote about the interaction between past and present in Virgil’s Aeneid, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and Beowulf. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed it. I love writing exercises of this kind. They were what I loved most about being an undergrad, too. Some people are in academia for research, and some are here for the writing, and I, unfortunately, am here for the writing. I suspect this may cause problems further down the line…

There’s been less socialising this term because everyone is very busy; MPhils with dissertations, undergrads with exam revision. Even so, I’ve managed to get out to ASNaC pub most Fridays and do whatever other fun stuff I could manage. There’s been a lot of movie-watching and afternoon coffee followed by browsing in Borders.

Last week I went with one of my housemates and one of my other friends to a country fair at Grantchester. We (all of us are from countries outside the UK) came away convinced that this country is insane. There was a sheep-shearing exhibition, a dude showing off his hawks and owls, a bunch of medieval reenactment people and a Punch and Judy show. We probably spent more time laughing at inappropriate moments than was strictly necessary.

I wish I could say more, somehow, about what this term has been about, but I haven’t quite sorted out in my mind what defined Easter Term. Michaelmas was all about the ‘ooh, shiny Cambridgeness’, and Lent was all about despair (not helped by the gloomy weather), but Easter’s been oddly schizophrenic. I’ve had moments of ‘what the hell did I think I was doing, coming here?’ followed by periods of undying love for Cambridge, my friends and my subject. I’ve had periods of writers’ block-filled self-doubt, and bursts of joy at how much I love my dissertation topic and how much fun I’ve had writing it. I’ve locked myself in my room with Bailey’s and chocolate, and I’ve danced in the living room with my housemates as we watched the Eurovision Song Contest.

In short, I’ve had the full range of human experiences, and I’ve loved every one of them.

Under the ‘Bridge March 24, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in life, university.
Tags: ,
add a comment

The two people who read this blog might be wondering why it’s been so long since I’ve written about life in Cambridge. The answer is that until today, I simply couldn’t bear to do so. Lent Term hit me with the full force of a slap in the face, and for the eight weeks of its duration I felt as if I had been thrown into a pit of quicksand, while an army of leprechauns squeezed my heart through a clothes wringer and stamped repeatedly on my face. Florid metaphors aside, Lent Term was a grind.

Old Cambridge hands tell me it is ever thus. You spend Michaelmas Term floating around, in awe at your own cleverness and the old buildings and well-stocked libraries. Then the sun goes away and you realise that you might actually have to do some work if you’re going to survive, and more importantly, get paid to write about obscure medieval texts written in a dead language.

The main piece of assessment in Lent Term for me was two exams, euphemistically termed ‘Written Exercises’. Mine were in Latin (first year) and medieval Irish (second year). Three things you should know about me:
1. I don’t like exams;
2. I hadn’t taken an exam since mid-2005; and
3. I really, really don’t like exams.

For most of the term, although I was revising solidly, I walked around with this stunned, increasingly hysterical look on my face. People in the common room were treated to Attacks of the PanicRonni on an almost weekly basis. The other M.Phil students had to put up with my anxiety-ridden whining every second day.

Oddly enough, though, the exams went okay. I did mix up pluperfect and perfect verbs in the Latin exam, and claim that a dative noun was accusative and a genitive noun was accusative (apparently everything’s accusative) in the Irish exam, but the translations themselves seemed fairly straightforward and I didn’t run out of time in either exam.

I ran into one of my friends in town after the Latin exam, and she said that I was looking happier than I had looked in weeks.

Lent Term also destroyed my confidence in my ability to write. I went into it with very clearly defined goals for my dissertation. I was going to write 1500 words per week, so as to be finished the dissertation by mid-April. What I ended up with were 5000 rather disjointed, badly put together words, most of which I’m too ashamed to show to my supervisor. I spent many an hour convincing myself that I was not cut out to be an academic, and that what I wanted to do in fact was to return home to Australia, work in a dead-end retail job and feed my brain by blogging about books.

I think I’ve mostly got over this self-doubt, thankfully.

When I set out my experiences like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lent Term was unremittingly bleak. This was not the case. What got me through was the people around me. The longer I stay at Cambridge, the more I appreciate the ASNaCs. Who else would think to build a snow longship on a snowy day? Who else would bring port to the weekly departmental lunch? Where else would you find a common-room full of people able to tell you the tense, person and number of a Latin verb that you’re too lazy to look up for yourself?

It’s the little things that matter the most. Weekly coffee sessions with my fellow M.Phils. Latin study group. The crazy conversations at ASNaC pub. The enthusiastic turn-out at CCASNaC. The fact that my Irish tutor spent a month patiently going through unseen translations with me. Consolatory trips to Borders on Wednesday afternoons.

My non-ASNaC friends are wonderful too. Again, it’s the little things that matter. Watching films at the John’s film nights. Being able to borrow milk, bread or cooking oil when I need it. Late-night, drunken post-Hall conversations in the kitchen. The fact that my American housemate bought me a small jar of Vegemite from the big Sainsbury’s.

Almost every week I have a moment where I think that this is it, I cannot endure being away from home any longer, I’m going to go crazy, this is intolerable. And every week, it is the accumulation of little things such as those I’ve outlined above that make me realise that not only can I endure being here, but that I enjoy it. Coming to Cambridge forced me to grow up, to live outside my own head and to open my eyes to a world beyond my front door. If nothing else, I feel it’s made me a slightly better person, and for that I have my wonderful friends to thank.

Round Two January 27, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in university.
Tags: ,
add a comment

I’ve been meaning to write an update here for a while, but Lent Term has tied me screaming to the railway tracks and then proceeded to run me over with the force of a train (and caused me to make silly metaphors, too) and I’ve spent the past few weeks feeling utterly exhausted.

Things have been carrying on nicely, however. I felt like I finished Michaelmas Term on a high note. I was pleased with how my Review of Scholarship turned out, and my supervisor was very happy with how I’d worked, and life was good. I then proceeded to have the most unproductive Christmas holidays ever. I had fun, though.

I spent Christmas with Middleton relatives I’d never met before, in Southport (which is near Liverpool). I only stayed for four days, but I had an excellent time. My relatives were lovely, and so welcoming to the Australian stranger in their midst. On Christmas Day, Mum and Mim rang me, and I surprised us all by not falling to pieces. (As Mimi said incredulously to Mum afterwards, ‘I can’t believe Ronni didn’t start crying’.)

I was back in Cambridge for New Year’s Eve, which I spent at the house of one of my M.Phil friends. We played poker with her housemates, ate excellent food and drank mead. It was a very low-key New Year’s, but was exactly how I like to celebrate it. I’d much prefer a small gathering with good food, where I can talk properly to everyone, than a large party filled with inane small-talk.

The rest of the holidays rushed by in a blur of fantasy novels and streamings of Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica. Suddenly it was time for term to start.

That was a bit of a shock. Suddenly I realised that I had eight weeks before my exams. Let me point out something here. I loathe exams. I haven’t taken one since 2004. I don’t normally go too badly in them, but I always survive due to my memory, rather than any actual understanding of the work. In my second-year Old Irish exam, rather than learning any of the grammar, I memorised an entire Táin story, so that when I got to the exam, I simply had to scroll through my mental map of the story to the appropriate part, and spew out my memory onto the page. For my IB biology exam, I memorised the entire syllabus in one night. Can I tell you anything about biology? No.

On Wednesday last week, I was hysterical. Whoever was in the common room at 1pm was treated to the return of PanicRonni. At one point I was so distressed I had to leave the room and take several deep breaths in the kitchen to avoid crying. I’ve calmed down a bit now (mainly because I started revising and realised I actually do know some things about the grammar of medieval Irish and Latin) but I wasn’t very pleasant to be around last week.

I suppose it’s karma. Last term, I was dancing around, carrying on about how much fun I was finding writing the Review of Scholarship. Everyone else glared at me and muttered inarticulately about the lack of resources for their particular subject. Now, all these exam-conditioned Cambridge people are calm, while the Australian interloper freaks out.

Life is going well, though. I’m still inordinately pleased to be here, and still can’t believe it, at times. There’s a surreal element to my Cambridge existence.

This year, the university turned 800. Yes, that’s right, 800. My university is older than my country by a good 550 years. As part of the celebration, a series of images supposedly summarising the university’s many achievements were projected onto the walls of the Senate House. These included very wonderful Quentin Blake illustrations portraying Darwin riding on the back of a Galapagos Island tortoise, and apples falling onto Newton’s head. But the coolest moment came when a photo of Stephen Hawking appeared on the wall, and I looked around to see Hawking himself, watching the display. No matter how long I stay here, I will never get used to such surreal moments.

Another night, another morning, another cup of coffee December 17, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in sraffies, university.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

It’s been a very long time since I’ve updated this journal, and I apologise.  I’m very good up adding to my LiveJournal with all kinds of silly memes, links and fangirling, but I always feel that this blog should be a bit more well thought out, so I write less.  I was chatting to Anna last night and she mentioned that lots of people had been asking her how I was going, so I thought I should do something to let everyone know.

I’m on holidays right now, and have been for about a week and a half.  First term was tough, but not as insane as I had first thought.  I had two classes – Latin and Irish – which required quite a bit of preparation (mainly translation and exercises).  On top of that was Welsh, which I’m taking, but not being assessed in, and the M.Phil seminars, which require reading and preparation.  It was hard to get back into the confidence I had felt as an undergrad in tutorials, and I was very silent and shy in class the first few weeks, before suddenly finding my voice and then not being able to shut up.

The main piece of assesssment last term was the review of scholarship (literature review), a 5000-word piece of writing summarising previous research that had been done on my area and locating my intended research in the previous scholarship.  While many of my friends found this exercise both distressing and annoying, I found it oddly relaxing.  Some people do this for the love of research, and some do it for the love of writing.  I am the second type of person.  I adore writing, putting sentences together, choosing words well, and it was a joy to write something other than a blog post or book review after so long away from the academic world.  I found it an oddly satisfying challenge.

When that was finished, I worked franticallly on my PhD research proposal (AKA Please Give Me Lots of Shiny Money).  I’m reasonably happy with it, and my supervisor checked it over and seemed pleased too, so let’s hope it’s good enough.

When I look back over this term, it’s measured out in coffee spoons and small glasses of wine.  There were the cups of strong coffee, enjoyed at a cafe I’m not prepared to name (it’s the only decent place in town, and it’s small, so I don’t want too many people to know about it.  Those who know me know what I’m talking about).  There were the two glasses of wine, usually pinot grigio or Australian shiraz, that I allowed myself every Friday night at ASNaC pub.  Sometimes there were people around me, sometimes there weren’t.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed this term.  I’ve always craved a good balance between company and solitude, but it’s only now that I’ve been completely comfortable alone.  I’m utterly happy when left alone with my own thoughts (and even happier if I have a keyboard upon which to type these thoughts), and view people as a sort of added bonus.

People.  There have been a lot of them these past few months.  Sometimes I think I’ve met more people since October than I’ve met in my whole life.  There’s something about the college environment that causes everyone to rush out and befriend every stranger they come across.

The first people I met here were my flatmates.  There are 14 of them.  Of course, I am closer to some than others (some I simply never see), but I’m very happy how the whole sharing-space-with-strangers thing worked out.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly wretched, it’s enough to walk out to the kitchen or downstairs to the common room and talk to whoever happens to be there, remind myself that there are other human beings in the world, and I feel oddly happy.

I mainly hang out with the other ASNaCs, a mixed crowd of undergrads, PhD students from around the world, and M.Phils like me.  Unfortunately, most of the M.Phils aren’t particularly sociable, whether due to shyess, work pressures or lack of interest.  However, they’re all very nice, and I spent a fantastic weekend in London recently at the house of one of them.  She invited me to come and stay: I must have been sending out needy vibes, because she thought I could do with some home-cooked food and life in a non-student house.  I relished it, of course.

It’s been great to meet many of the sraffies, too. I had five of them come and visit, and we met up with several others, including the founder of TRoH, which was very cool.  I was a rather stressed out host, as I always am, but I still had a good time.  Meeting internet people is always a bit odd to begin with, because they are a strange combination of known and unknown, strikingly similar to their chatroom and forum personalities and different at the same time.

At the moment I’m just hanging around in Cambridge until I head off to Southport to visit relatives I’ve never met before.  I’ll spend Christmas there.  It should be fun.

On LiveJournal I’ve been promising to reveal a Secret Project for a while.  I promise that by the new year, all will be clear.  Right now, however, I’m looking forward to a bit of a holiday.

‘Far from my home/ is the country I have reached.’ September 30, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in sraffies, university.
Tags: , , ,
7 comments

Yes, I’m quoting Suibhne, and I make no apologies about it.  After all, that’s why I’m here.

I’ve recovered sufficiently from the long journey over here to finally post about my first impressions of Cambridge.

The flight over was horrendous, but I was expecting that. I was wedged between two other people, hemmed in by my numerous items of carry-on luggage (stored, overflowingly, under the seat in front of me). The food, as all plane food is, was disgusting. My feet, legs, hands and face swelled up. I slept for three hours of the 24. I then dragged my small suitcase, 28kg suitcase, laptop and overstuffed handbag from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2 at Heathrow, and boarded a bus that would take me to Cambridge. The weather was incredible, with a layer of mist covering the land until about 10am. Although I was very tired, it was too beautiful to sleep, although I felt my first pang of homesickness, when, thinking of telling my friends and family about the landscape, realised I had no words with which to describe it. I didn’t know the names of any of the vegetation. Even the grass looked foreign, lush, green and silky-looking, as opposed to the tough, scraggly brown stuff in Australia. I arrived at Cambridge at 11am. A woman (who must’ve been on my plane over, since she had also come from Australia) took pity on me, offering to share her taxi, and when it arrived at St. John’s refusing to accept payment for my half of the fare. A kindly porter offered me free biscuits. I must’ve looked really pathetic.

Another taxi took me to my house, which is very nice (although the bathrooms make me feel like throwing up. They have no windows or fans, and their heavy doors slam shut. This lack of ventilation makes for a rather steamy and mouldy environment.) Several of my housemates had moved in already, but the majority arrived just after me, so it was nice to come into a house with a whole lot of other newbies.

Although I was fainting with exhaustion, I forced myself to walk back into town, to familiarise myself with the layout of the streets and to shop at the (very expensive) supermarket. Then I staggered back home and went to sleep for four hours. In the evening I went downstairs and hung out with my housemates. They’re a good bunch – quite a few girls from America, an American guy, a South African guy, an English guy who’s been at Cambridge for five years now, and a Canadian girl who’s also a medievalist (although she’s studying 15th-century English literature). A few more people have since moved in, and I’m expecting the rest to arrive on Wednesday, the ‘official’ opening day of university.

Sunday was fabulous. The English guy graciously played host-with-local-knowledge, and took us all around town. First we wandered around St. John’s and some of the other colleges (Trinity, Clare and King’s). Then we went and heard the choir at King’s, which was an amazing experience. (I’m supposed to say that John’s choir is better, but I find the whole inter-college rivalry thing thoroughly ridiculous.) When we emerged from the chapel, my English housemate had hired a punt from St. John’s and was waiting for us on the river. Luckily it was a nice sunny day. We all had a turn punting. I was shockingly bad (yes, it did ‘keep steering to the left’), but it was still fun. After that we had a bit of a look around town, and I picked up a UK phone number and got some phone credit.

The next day, I began my ongoing struggle with St. John’s insane bureaucracy. I’m used to everything being centralised. When you sign up at Sydney Uni, everything is in one room. You collect your card, perhaps sit for your Access card photo, pick up a university-made yearly planner and confirm enrolment all at once. Sometimes you have to wait a while, but it’s a straightforward matter. A week later you find your timetable online, confirm your choices (or, if you’re like me, fiddle around with them to squash all your classes onto three days), print it out. Much later, you’re sent a bill for your semester’s fees, which you pay upfront if you want a discount, or defer, according to the HECS system.

Here, it’s insane. Everything is in a different place. No-one volunteers any information. I have even asked, ‘Is there anything more I need to collect, sign or whatever?’ and been told ‘No,’ simply because there was nothing more to be done in that specific room. Needless to say, my bemused housemates have been a godsend. Each of us seems to find out one piece of inside information, which we pool in the evenings, and then make use of the next day.

What more to be said?

Classes don’t start until next week, when there are also a lot of meet and greet events (including a formal dinner for all new St. John’s graduate students, where we wear academic robes and sit in the College’s Great Hall). I’m feeling a little apprehensive because it’s been a while since I’ve been a student. I need to get back into that academic frame of mind. Also, I kind of coasted along a lot at Sydney Uni, to be honest. It was possible to do well there without putting in a huge amount of effort. But judging by my housemates, everyone here is super-ambitious. Most of them have conferences lined up, which makes me feel like a huge, publication-less fraud. I freaked myself out sufficiently to do a bit of translation of the Tain, borrow a book that may be useful for my thesis, and also Branwen Uerch Llyr to see if my Welsh has faded from existence.

Things I love so far:
My housemates seem very nice, and there’s a lot of hanging around in common areas and socialising, which makes me confident we won’t turn into one of those ‘everyone sitting alone in their rooms’-type households.
Cambridge is really really beautiful, but in an awe-inspiring, daunting way. It’s a grand, bold, imposing beauty. I still feel like a bit of an upstart visitor, rather than a local.
The sraffies have been really wonderful. They’ve been posting supportive replies to my angst-ridden posts on the forum. The instant they found out my mobile number, they sent me welcome text messages. Barney’s arriving soon, and wants to meet up, which will be great. I’m lucky to have had such good, caring friends around when I moved to a new country.
The libraries. Oh, the libraries. Massive. The university library has a copy of every book ever published in the UK (I’d assume over the past hundred years or so, but I may be wrong). Even my college’s library has some good Irish texts. I haven’t even seen my departmental library, but I’m sure it’s good too.

Things I don’t like so much:
The feeling of anxiety and self-doubt that creeps up on me every so often when I worry that I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll fail and flee back to Australia with no more options.
The sense of entitlement that some (not all) longer-term students of this university seem to have, almost unconsciously. Let’s hope I don’t transform into one of them. If I keep feeling anxiety about my ability to cope here, I imagine such a transformation would be impossible. I hope.