Saturday, May 09, 2009

Formal apologies

The author of this blog (hereafter "The Author") wishes to make a full, unlimited, and public apology to anyone who has had the misfortune to stumble across any of her posts since the beginning of 2008. (Although thinking about it, 2007 wasn't so hot either...) The levels of self-pity and general gloom expressed therein have, as The Author now acknowledges, been wholly inappropriate and, no doubt, burdensome to the spirit of any unfortunate reader.* The Author offers in mitigation the great shock and sense of isolation she experienced when the last West Wing episode finally aired; the absolute impossibility of buying Wild Cherry Pepsi in Great Britain; the failure of every man she has met to be anything other than a) married, b) gay, or c) a complete twatface; the emotional drain of dealing with the labyrinthine administrative systems of Oxford Colleges; and the English climate.

Nonetheless, The Author accepts sole responsibility for her egregious and unfortunate behaviour, and offers a promise never again to descend to such depths in public, whether online or in person.**

The Author hopes that readers will accept her fulsome apology. She might also send them some chocolate if they ask nicely.


Flashbolt Bagman and Co., Esquires, Solicitors at Law.

* The author has, in fact, removed the more egregious of these posts to ensure your continued comfort and enjoyment.

** With the proviso that all such promises shall become null and void in the event of the next man The Author meets also being a twatface.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You live... learn.

So here I am, annoyed again. This time the culprit is some poor guy who had the misfortune to fail to gain an Oxford place, and to have his letter of complaint published in the Times, exposing what should be private disappointment and upset to the full scrutiny of the assembled masses. Or at least the readers of the Times. Presumably this august publication hopes that a bit of Oxford-bashing will help it sell papers. It's the politically correct thing to do after all, right?

Well, no. It's not. Let's look closely at Mr. Roberts' complaints:

"I must have spent more than a thousand hours, over five years, sat at my desk trying to learn the facts, figures and phrases that would allow me to get the best marks and grades in the best subjects."

Firstly, let me ask what the "best subjects" are? Of course, some of the practical A levels are less highly-valued than others simply because they don't develop skills which are helpful in studying at degree level. But choosing your courses with a utilitarian, I might even say cynical, eye towards what will gain you material advantages doesn't suggest a genuine enthusiasm for them. Now, barring the odd aberration, everyone who gains an interview at Oxford will have been working their socks off in preparation for exams and tests. They will all have clocked up this kind of mileage during GCSEs and A-levels. They are all generally diligent and deserve a lot of praise for the effort they put in. Mr. Roberts is exemplary, but not unique.

"On top of that I read a small library’s worth of books..."

Yes, I would really hope so. Reading in the subject should ideally be something a candidate does with appetite and enjoyment if they're going to get through a demanding degree course. That said, it's not all about coming to University already knowing all you need to know, but about your potential to absorb knowledge when you get there. Not every candidate comes from a background where they have liberal access to appropriate reading material, the money to afford hundreds of books, or the guidance on what to read in their area of interest. Reading a lot is a wonderful thing to do, but again it isn't something that's unique to any single candidate.

"...spent three summers making coffee on work experience placements..."

There is some kind of myth that work experience is necessary for an Oxford application, as it shows responsibility, diligence, reliability, and that kind of thing. Maybe it does. But the kinds of things that you learn on work experience are not usually applicable to your degree course. With the utmost respect, how does experience in making coffee add anything to someone's qualification for University? All it does is allow you to put something in the "work experience" box on the UCAS form, and I'm afraid that it almost certainly doesn't register very strongly on admissions tutors.

"...and did my absolute best to win prizes and captaincies and the like at school."

Again, I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't think admissions tutors necessarily want to rely on whether the teachers at your school think you're good at playing cricket or at art. It shows that you have other interests, sure, but there's no requirement that someone who comes to University has to be a good sportsman. In the end, there are plenty of Oxford students who are really not interested in much other than their chosen subject, and to penalise that kind of passion would be an odd thing to do. Let's also remember that, on the whole, school prizes, captaincies, head-boy or -girl positions, prefectships and such things are more characteristic of grammar or independent schools than of state schools. For a tutor to value a head-girl over a non-head-girl would be hugely discriminatory. It's admirable that someone is well-thought-of by their school, but it speaks more to their personal character than their talent for a subject.

"What is the point of toiling away trying to get top grades in GCSE, AS level and A-level exams only to be told afterwards that they do not mean a thing?"

Well, may I risk saying that the point of working at something is that you really like it and enjoy it? I'm sorry to say that it isn't enough to put the hours in when you're competing against candidates who have all done exactly the same. You need a genuine passion for your subject and a love of study for its own sake if you're going to get the most out of a degree course. Your grades aren't meaningless and absolutely no-one is saying that they are. What the emphatically do not mean, though, is that you have a right to an interview at Oxford.

"I am more than happy to concede that A levels are a bit soft — so make them harder."

I'm not sure that the average Oxford admissions tutor would be so crass as to say that A-levels are soft. They're a lot of hard work, and not everyone is capable of getting the top grades in them. A lot of people are capable of that, though, and a lot of those people will apply to Oxford - often five or ten times the number that a college can accept.

"Whatever you do do not follow the current line of duping young people into thinking that hard work, dedication and genuine interest will be rewarded with a place at the university."

Where exactly is this "current line" exemplified? Who has told Mr. Roberts that hard work, dedication and interest will guarantee him a place at Oxford? These characteristics are shared by 99.9% of the applicants and I doubt the University would ever claim that there are specific attributes that will be "rewarded" with a place. What they probably do say is that there are certain attributes that are relatively essential if a candidate is going to have a good chance of having their application considered.

Here's the problem: school teachers think they know what admissions tutors are looking for. They don't. This can't be stressed strongly enough. Most teachers have no idea what an Oxford interview is like or what qualities are being assessed. So they drive their pupils into extra-curricular activities, work experience, and all other kinds of things that are largely irrelevant. They decide that talented young people are "not the Oxford type" and discourage them from applying. They give pre-interview “advice” that is often, at best, unhelpful, and at worst hugely harmful.

I’m not saying that all teachers are like this, of course. I was very, very lucky at my sixth-form college - one of those “bog-standard” ones, allegedly, which had an indifferent socio-economic profile, and an anything-but-indifferent teaching staff. We were given intelligent advice and teaching that I would rival any public school to beat. But even that didn’t “guarantee” me my place at Oxford. With so many applicants for so few places, there simply has to be an element of luck. It’s tragic, but it’s real life. Oxford is not the birthright of anyone – not the rich, not the powerful, and not even the head boy and cricket captain. Maybe Mr. Roberts will one day see this. I hope so. I hope that he won't remain bitter and angry forever. But regardless, he should have been left to mourn his lost dream in private.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Joy of Tech

Everything is logged. I was going to go to sleep a few hours ago. Then I realised that Skype probably still has logs of all the chats I had with my ex. So I just searched them out and re-read them all. Now I'm feeling really happy and ready for a peaceful night's sleep. Except it's half past four in the a.m., so a night's sleep is out of the question anyway.

Today I was accused of evangelising. I wasn't, and no-one in their right mind would think that telling a story about an idiotic thing someone said in Church equals an attempt at forcible conversion. But it bothers me how upset I am at the accusation. I feel dirty, as though I've been accused of sexual molestation or something. I don't want to evangelise people. I don't want to spread the good news. I think Christianity has become an intellectual exercise for me. Knotty theological questions are just ways of keeping my brain active - what ingenious bullshit answer can I come up with this time? Plus I'm a junkie for love and attention, and God is the ultimate indulgent parent. Never mind plausibility, tell me that someone loves me and I'm theirs for life. Which is a problem when they change their mind, but God never changes his mind.

Though, as Shania Twain once said, "that won't keep me warm in the middle of the night".

Monday, February 11, 2008

Woo-hoo for Ubuntu!

May I encourage all you Windows users out there to switch to Linux? It's unbelievably cool. OK, so admittedly it's not as easy to set it up and get it working. But when you do... ah! The power and the glory shall all be yours. [Note to self: check whether that's blasphemous; rewrite if so.]

The prompt for my change (well, not so much a change, since my laptop will still also boot Windows) was the acquisition of a new ASUS Eee PC - a posthumous gift from my wonderful grandma. I must also recommend these very highly - they weigh less than a kilo, cost less than 200 pounds, and just work, straight out of the box. You need to play around with them if you want the standard desktop configuration, but that's easily done. And they ship with Linux (Xandros) installed.

So, after a taster of Linux via the Eee, I decided to take the plunge. All in all, it's probably taken me about ten hours' work to get everything up and running (including partitioning the hard drive, which involves a long time spent defragmenting). Most of that has been dedicated to the wireless card, something which Linux doesn't support hugely well. Still, now it's up and running and I'm quite delighted.

Now, all I have to do is learn regular expressions and the world is mine...

Friday, January 11, 2008


I just realised that I didn't post my New Year's resolutions.

1. Finish my doctorate. No, really. It's getting beyond a joke.
2. Publish something. Something academic, that is, not a poem in the school magazine.
3. Get a job. Preferably in America.
4. Find true love. This will probably have to be accomplished by getting a cat.
5. Make more monsters. It's been too long.

Do I need more than 5? I suppose the more there are, the better the chance that I will actually stick to one of them. Okay, let's add another:

6. Be obsessive about something, someone, or somewhere.

Which means that I'm already a whole sixth of the way towards keeping all of my New Year's resolutions for 2008. Hooray!


It's odd when the thing you were dreaming about but never thought would happen happens. And it's an anticlimax. At least it is when all it does is provide evidence of something you realise you didn't want to know about anyway.

OK, I had vodka and cocktails and I'm not too coherent.

But what I do want to tell you about is the book I'm reading. It's called A Game of Thrones and is utterly wonderful. I don't usually read fantasy fiction any more (apart from my annual rereading of LotR, of course) but my friend JZ recommended this one and I can never refuse him anything. And I'm so glad that I can't, because I'm completely hooked. The Americanisms grate just a little for me, but that's like complaining that Dickens is Victorian or that Shakespeare can't spell. Really, I would urge anyone who has even the remotest liking for dragons, wolves, swords and really brilliant plots to buy this right now. Here's an Amazon link to make it even easier. And here's one in case you're American. The rest of you benighted heathen can fend for yourselves.

Friday, November 02, 2007


...are now at Bow down in awe.

That is all.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I am the walrus

Let a hundred flowers bloom

My hundredth post. Well, technically, my hundred-and-first, but my ex made me take down one I wrote when I first had the blog (and we were still talking to each other), because he feared it might harm his future career. Despite the fact that it never mentioned his name or anything about him. Who'd have thought that someone who believed so strongly in liberty and justice would advocate censorship? Obsessive, paranoid people are a very bad thing, and I have stuck to my resolve never to date one again. (Admittedly, I did try very hard to break that rule, but was saved by the gentleman in question's refusal to become even slightly enamoured of me. His loss, naturally.)

Funny, I've been thinking about people from the past recently. And realised that they're rarely as much to blame as you think they are. It's so easy to solidify bad things that happen into one big lump of hatred and bitterness, but it just distorts your memory. The fact that someone treated you badly on a grand scale doesn't mean that you didn't do anything wrong. Being a victim doesn't make you a good person. Being a good person makes you a good person.

The quotation which entitles this post is from Mao Zedong. Which only goes to show that even crazy, despotic, genocidal maniacs can talk pretty.