You know you’re an English student when… (Part Five)

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1. You and your friends make only the highest quality birthday cards.

(Such as the example on the right.)

2. You play with layers of meaning.

“He’s such a Riddle 25 in the Exeter book.”
I’m a what?”
“She says you’re an onion.”
“Yes… That’s what I meant.”

3. You get all essayed out and forget how to use your words.

“Hey, we’re watching a movie. Do you want to come?”
“Go away, ‘m studenting.”
“You’re studenting? Do you mean you’re studying?”
“I’m sleeping.”

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You know you’re an English student when… (Part Four)

1. You have a special place in your heart for wordplay.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“I wonder what pictures of bookcases are called.”

2. You don’t ever make a rough draft before writing an essay. You don’t have the time.

“Are you even going to read over your essay before submitting it?”
“I like to live dangerously.”

3. You feel like you’re letting the side down when you misquote Shakespeare.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a nose by any other word would still smell. Oh, fiddlesticks.”

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Things I should have said at my Oxbridge interview (but that I’d never have the nerve for)

Greetings from your friendly neighbourhood Oxbridge reject.

That’s right, I can claim membership to that very exclusive club. Like many others, I fell in love with Oxbridge – I won’t say which university – on my first visit there. I was fourteen.

I still like Oxbridge. Pretty place, nice reputation. The people aren’t half as snobby as TV makes them out to be.

I might never recover from my Oxbridge interviews though. I had two, both at the same college, and both for English. One interview was a marked improvement on the other.

Let’s have some background.

I took an ELAT (an aptitude test) and scored an interview at my chosen college. My interview was in December 2012. I chose a rather old college, with the best academic records in the business. The room was lovely though – I’ve included a picture. There was a problem with earwigs in the taps, I recall, and they had to give us cans of coke because we couldn’t drink the water. Imagine a college full of nervous potential candidates hyped up on caffeine. You don’t understand the meaning of competitiveness until you’ve played Articulate with a room full of emotionally unstable teenagers.

As I’ve said, one interview was quite nice. The professors shook my hand, told me they valued my views and everything. The other – not so much. The girl just before me ran out crying, sure she wouldn’t be accepted. The professors sat me down right across the room from them, so I had to shout to be heard. They didn’t smile. It began.

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You know you’re an English student when… (Part Three)

1. Your friends think you’re some kind of intellectual hero.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

(An updated drawing from my best friend, who drew the lovely image on my ‘About’ page. I’ve changed in her view, evidently.)

2. You’ve seen a male lecturer stumble through a ‘Language and Gender’ topic with a predominantly female audience.

“And so the difference between sex and gender is in the mind. No, I didn’t mean to say that. What I mean is that sex is about genitalia and – no, forget that. What I really mean to say is – oh, for the love of my job, just ask your parents.”

3. Alternatively, you’ve had to bear witness to a secular lecturer talking about the Bible.

“Of course this is only one interpretation of the Bible. There are many interpretations – unless you believe that there’s only one. This part is clearly metaphoric, but it can be taken literally! There’s nothing wrong with that either.”
“He’s backpedalling so much that I’m not sure which way is up any more.”
“I’m pretty sure he said that heaven is up and hell is down, unless you believe otherwise, of course.”

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You know you’re an English student when… (Part Two)

1. Your local paper prints this.Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 13.40.06

“Me no know how to sudoku. Me forget how to maths.”

2. Hunger is the only thing that can get you to leave the library.

“Have you heard the news? The library is going to let us bring food in with us.”
“Oh god. I’m going to die there, aren’t I?”

3. You thought that guy/ girl in the library was Hot, with a majuscule.

“Baby, you’re just like the books in this library. I love checking you out.”

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You know you’re an English student when…

1. You insult people with terminology.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“You’re an oxymoron!”
“Yeah, then you’re an idiom!

(Also, note the recurring bad pun in the picture to the right. Oh yes, that’s all my work.)

2. After reading poetry, your thoughts start to rhyme.

“I am hungry and I fancy some cake, but my mum didn’t show me how to bake. Maybe I will have dinner first tonight, but my parents aren’t watching to see if I’m polite, and cake is just too hard to resist, and will this awful rhyming please desist?”

3. You are amazed when a lecturer knows about Youtube.

“It’s not the clear sheets for the old projector what-you-call-’ems today!”
“It’s not even VHS.”
“What is this sorcery?”

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All the philosophy of a big drink and a foghorn

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neilllong-days-journey

The story

Firstly, let’s raise the tone. This play is lively, witty and has some of the snappiest comebacks in theatre (if you can survive the Americanisms).

Now I shall drop the bass.

Mundanity. Shame. Bitterness. Can we keep our spirits and our spirits (preferably whiskey) up when beneath the surface we feel so much more than our light-hearted jokes can say? What we get to see in O’Neill’s most personal work is a play that takes place in an American family summer house over the course of a day. Two parents; two sons, and something has been corrupted in each one.

Why should you read Long Day’s Journey into Night? Because the demons we face are sometimes in our head, and sometimes in our loved ones. There has never been such an apt study of this fact.

The back of the book informs us:

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“So much does Odysseus excel all others in cunning wiles; no human being can vie with him”

The Odyssey by Homerodyssey

The story

I’ve recently been told that nostos, from which we get the word ‘nostalgia’, means homecoming. This epic tale is all about nostos. After the Trojan war, a great hero (not the greatest, but pretty well-respected) Odysseus, somehow both favoured and cursed by the Gods, struggles to get home to his wife and his son. His journey will include ‘outwitting’ (or out-brutalising) monsters, avoiding seduction by beautiful women and denying the truth that he is an ageing man clinging to his inflated reputation. Basically, an Ancient Greek James Bond. Meanwhile, evil suitors have installed themselves in his kingdom (did I mention he’s a king?), eating his wife and son out of house and home.

Intrigued at all?

The blurb unsatisfactorily tells us:

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“Shot me down with the love and it go bang bang”

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsenfour major plays

The story

Ibsen lived quite a while ago, so you would be forgiven for thinking that, when he sat down to write about the faults of modern society in his exciting Hedda Gabler, his views might be a little old-fashioned. Not so.

Published in 1890, Hedda Gabler is a world which is both recognisable and alien. It was a time when Aunt Julle could still care about her fancy hat, and the late General Gabler could carry pistols. Homely, mundane and utterly vicious. If you just happen to be middle or upper class though, it’s a world you should still be familiar with.

The story follows the supposed wedded bliss of Mr. and Mrs. Hedda Tesman, an academic and his discontent, and most likely pregnant, wife. Both have just returned from a long honeymoon. Of course, Mr. Tesman remains blind to the secret manipulations that his spouse inflicts on his rivals.

All the while, Hedda plays with her late father’s pistols, and we are all made to wonder who is going to end up shot. The synopsis offers us:

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What would you do if you were the luckiest man in the world?

The Story of the Grail (Perceval) by Chrétien de Troyesarthurian romances

The story

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that The Story of the Grail was originally a 12th century French poem. Let us focus on how there are many prosaic (and English) translations of the tale, making it very accessible. Don’t ignore that it is just one of many other Arthurian legends that can be enjoyed. And yes, they are very much about glory, codes of honour and pretty maidens.

What makes The Story of the Grail different then? For a start, it follows the parallel adventures of two knights – Perceval and Gawain; one a naïve country boy, and the other is a seasoned fighter. Perceval is still at the stage of hanging on his mother’s every word, and Gawain is apparently an expert in all he does.

Excited yet? Here’s the twist. It is not the story of the grail as you know it. Indeed, the grail isn’t really a grail. It’s a serving dish. It may or may not have been used by Jesus (probably not). Oh, and here’s the real shocker – King Arthur doesn’t go on a quest in order to own the grail.

The synopsis tells us:

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