It is the last day of 8th week of Trinity Term. All the finalists are finished wearing sub fusc, trading carnations, reading weak-eyed in the afternoons and through the night, frantically flipping through their notes. They no longer have to be herded into the tent outside the exam schools where the shell-shocked students bleat in panic. There’re no more sober hours under the large round face of the clock in the North Schools, and all the dour faces of the ruffed portraits. The irregularities – a blood-curdling scream, the to-ing and fro-ing of a room of people continually going to the bathroom, the intrusion of rock music from the street – are all behind us and part of the pomp and circumstance of the whole event. Everyone has processed out the back door with their red carnations into the cobbled street behind the exam schools where friends wait with flowers, champagne, confetti, silly string, balloons, hats, flour, milk, water guns and in our unfortunate case, an uncooked trout, which left a sticky trail down my sleeve. Now only the occasional dream comes back, tossing up the crumbs of the hours of study, the detritus of books piled on the floor and untidy notes. G dreams of being licked by a gigantic giraffe; I dream of sitting to write a paper (The History of British Thought) I’ve never studied.
The books go back to the library. The notes wait in piles in my room, in limbo. We meet our tutors one last time for dinner with great affection. Suddenly all the stories and anecdotes come out: of their secret lives, of their youths, or the currents of familiarity or power (mostly) hidden from students. For a time, there is a lowering of the barriers, and some mutual jovial irreverence.
I’ve been going over my journals for the last three years and thankful for the details that have been lodged and pegged down. Some record of the reading done, some thoughts of the material. Much doubt, much admiration, much censure. Early uncritical Anglophilia tempers into something less ecstatic, more familiar. Three months left, a summer in Oxford, and then another (smaller) migration.