We’re a sexy bunch- those were the last words Mr. David Benedictus said to his Creative Writing class. Glad I remember it.
It all began with a chocolate cookie. Yes, that’s what I was eating when I decided to apply for the Oxford Prep Experience 2013. OxPrep is a program like the many others done by Oxbridge Academic Programs (founded by Prof. James G. Basker) in New York, Barcelona, Paris, Montpellier, Oxford and Cambridge. OxPrep is an academic program for 8-9th graders interested in studying from a range of subjects at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford by the best teachers one can have. The teachers include Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars and Fullbright Scholars. We, as OxPreppers, felt proud to be taught by Oxford and Cambridge graduates as well as graduates from Ivy League Universities and other reputed institutions of the world. Oxford was a city I always wanted to explore. Therefore, OxPrep was my first choice. Each student was supposed to choose a MAJOR and a MINOR subject. MAJOR class took place every day (barring Sundays) and MINOR took place three days a week. My MAJOR was Creative Writing (taught by the much celebrated author, David Benedictus) and MINOR was Philosophy (taught by Mark Fisher).
Hellos were pouring. Sun was shining in Oxford like never before. No one had expected the English summer to be so sunny. People were looking for their teachers and someone who had the same MAJOR/MINOR. But friends were made too fast. There were two lodgings- The Old and The New (A perfect way to summarise everything in Oxford). Old Lodgings had the Thomas Building and the various staircases (which is where I was) and New Lodgings were across the street and consisted of ‘the boys at Magpie Lane’ (you’ll know why we called them that) and the New Building which was right next to the house of the President of Corpus Christi. Oxford was peculiar but enchanting. Corpus Christi was one of the smallest but also one of the best colleges. It was sandwiched between Christ Church College and Merton College. My roommate, Jordan Malveaux was a lovely person and my room on Staircase 3 was one of the best. It allowed me to have a beautiful view of the quad of Corpus. The quad had a tower in the centre which had a pelican atop. Therefore, it was always referred to as ‘The Pelican.’ I didn’t quite like the name though. It made it sound like a zoo. (Read LUNCH). On the first day we had an assembly at The Pelican. We were introduced to our deans- Dean Morgan, Dean Vann and Dean Martin. The Activities Director were lovingly called ‘Ministers Of Fun.’ The program director of OxPrep, Mr. John Pendergast was called ‘Papa P’. We always had an assembly on Tuesdays and Saturdays were he’d recite 3 verses. We used to call them as ‘Papa P’s 3s’. He always tried to make them rhyme and that was pretty disastrous, sometimes. The people at the Program Office were really friendly. (They said we’d have to turn in our passports if we wanted our room keys. Funnily enough, everyone did it readily. Room keys were extremely beneficial. Read LUNCH, though losing them would mean wearing THE DISCO BALL OF SHAME). However, what made Oxford peculiar was the fact that all colleges had their own idiosyncrasies. Magdalen College was pronounced as ‘Maudeline’ (the Oxford way, if you can do it). You could sit on the grass of Keble College only if you were to play croquet (which is a sophisticated game many people would play in the fellows’ garden of Corpus Christi). For examinations and other formal events, you must wear quaint robes or what Oxonians call ‘sub fuscs’. You could go the University store and buy several strange Oxford souvenirs. Moreover, in All Souls College, which has no undergrads, every hundred years, there is a feast where people sing the Mallard song in search of a legendary Mallard who flew out of the college when it was being built and there’s a man who carries a pole to which a mallard is tied (formerly a live bird was used. However, they started using a dead or a wooden bird later). Thankfully, the gardens of Corpus were accessible to us. Wadham had a separate garden for the professors where no students were allowed. Each college had a chapel which was hundreds of years old. Corpus itself was nearly 600 years old. On the first day, we had some ice breaker sessions, tours of Oxford and were taken to the church of St. Mary The Virgin where we were addressed by Prof. James Basker. We were divided into our MAJOR classes and showed our classrooms. So, that’s that about the first days.
A range of subjects were available to all the students who had come from far and wide to spend their summer, layered with history, amidst the city of Oxford. The subjects included Architecture, Applied Science, British History and Culture, Creative Writing, Studio Art, Philosophy, Psychology, Law and Society, Medical Science, Literature and The Fantastic, Journalism, History’s Secrets, Business and Finance, Global Economics, International Relations, Business Communication, Photography, Speech and Debate and Drama.
STAFF AND TEACHERS
The Staff was extremely helpful and the teachers were exceptional. We felt lucky and proud to have two Rhodes scholars among us as well people who had graduated from or were currently studying in Universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard etc. The teachers included Mariam Naskidashvili (Journalism), David Benedictus (Creative Writing), Mark Fisher (Philosophy), Vikram Kushwah (Photography), Dhvani Mehta (Law and Society), Marco Fernandez (Applied Science), Abara Khalidi (British History and Culture), Tahreem Arshad (Business and Finance), Chris McConnachie (Speech and Debate), Dr. Predrag Bjelogrlic (Medical Science), Fiona Wheldon (History’s Secrets), Funda Ustek (International Relations), Jakov Milatvic (Global Economics), Maria Teresa Florez (Drama), Michel Djandji (Business Communication), Mike Ramirez (Architecture), Dominika Napela (Psychology) and Stephanie Yorke (Literature and The Fantastic), Lia Marcoux (Studio Art). The staff included Anne Basker (Jr. Program Asst.), Flo Barnett (Program Asst.), David Wray (Program Asst.), Mackenzie (a.k.a. Max) Pendergast (Program Asst.), T.J. Bolt (Activities Director), Lizzie Murphy (Activities Director), Justin Martin (Program Dean), Morgan McLaughin (Program Dean), Lindy Van Alstine (Program Dean), Brook Mecham (Executive Coordinator and my Staircase Dean) and last but not the least, Master of the 3s- John Pendergast a.k.a. Papa P ( Program Director). Thanks to these extraordinary people for an extraordinary experience!
My teachers- Mr. David Benedictus (Creative Writing) and Mr. Mark Fisher (Philosophy) were excellent. I feel lucky to have met people like them.
Mr. David Benedictus made every morning delightful. Not only was he a very passionate, experienced and lovable teacher but also one of the most honest, nicest and funniest people I’ve met. Mr. Benedictus was educated at Eton College, Balliol College- University Of Oxford and State University Of Iowa. He’s done a lot of work in Journalism and he’s also worked for the BBC. He penned a bestseller- The Fourth Of June at the age of 22 and wrote Return To The Hundred Acre Wood, the first authorised sequel to A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. He is a much celebrated author and little did we know that his life is a legend in itself. Mr. Benedictus used to call himself ‘lucky’ though I think luck comes to those who deserve it. Mr. Benedictus would regale us with stories and poems and he had compiled his favourite short stories and poems and gave each of us a copy to read during the course. All the pieces were simply excellent. Mr. Ben surely had a great taste! One reason I recommend a visit England is because beautiful people like Mr. Benedictus live there. (Call him Mr. Ben. He thinks Benedictus is too pompous).
Mr. Mark Fisher, the brilliant philosophy teacher who claimed throughout the course to be corrupting the young. He made us wear our thinking caps and made a bunch of teenagers like myself, who hadn’t read Plato or Socrates before, to actually read them whilst fully understanding, examining and arguing their philosophies. Mark was the kind of teacher who would listen to his students’ requests and teach them in the way they wanted to be taught. Philosophy class seemed like two hours of fun during which one could learn the complexities of life, nature and the world. He was really nice company and we only managed to make him blurt a few of his own philosophies and the very many truths he was keeping from us. However, since Philosophy was my minor class, I couldn’t get as much as I could’ve if I took it for my Major. Anyway, it was still enjoyable and ignited a spark in me. Both Socrates and Mr. Fisher would be responsible if I go around corrupting the young.
Breakfast was provided by the college every day except Sundays. It started at 8 a.m. continuing till 9 a.m. though everyone was expected to be done by 8.45 a.m. so that everyone could reach on time for their major class. Before breakfast, however, you could wake up early and before stepping in for a shower, you could go for a walk in Christ Church Meadows which was next door to Corpus. University Parks are a nice place too but it takes a little time to go there. You could see people punting and their dogs jumping out of the punts and falling into the water. Punting isn’t a hard task except for the person who’s in charge of the oars. Anyway, for breakfast we always had toast, a selection of jams, marmalades and of course, how could one do without butter or nutella? We had a few jugs of fruit juices to choose from and a wide variety of cereals. Choco Pops is a nice option. If you’re a fan of nutella, you could try Krave. Tea and coffee was served in the English way- with an Oxonian touch. Let’s talk about the breakfast on Sundays. A perfect place for a Sunday breakfast is…Vault’s and Garden’s Café. If you trust me, it’s heaven. You can have scrambled eggs on toast with smoked salmon, freshly prepared for you to see with your very own eyes. You could have brilliant almond croissants, butter croissant, pain au chocolats, cookies, tea, omelettes and bacon which made Vault’s And Garden’s Café a perfect place in every way, for an English breakfast. And there’s more, it was behind the church of St. Mary the Virgin. Therefore, you could feel something ethereal crawling onto you. Apart for Vault’s And Garden’s, there are several cafés where one can grab a cappuccino or hot chocolate or perhaps, a sandwich. There is Café Nero, Starbucks, Pret A Manger and how can one forget- George And Danver’s Ice Cream Parlour (if you want to seem like a native, call it G&D’s with a topping of Oxfordshire accent). G&D’s is on St. Aldate’s, close to the Post Office (More about the Post Office in FREE TIME). Oxford Blue is a brilliant flavour. Actually, the best thing about G&D’s is that they possess a unique treasure- an Ed Hooper’s painting. Not exactly. It has been played with but it is charming in its own way. That’s for your morning breakfast. It’s time for your MAJOR. There are lots of stories next.
MAJOR class took place from 9 a.m. to noon. When it comes to Creative Writing, I can never get tired of it. Ask me to write a novel or narrate a story, I’ll do it instantly. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. A month-long course in Creative Writing didn’t seem a tad bit excruciating. Homework or assignments appeared to be terms used for ‘bliss’ and ‘pleasure’. Stories used to run in my mind, always. The kind of freedom I enjoyed in Oxford and also the fact that you have to withdraw yourself from everything else and explore, think and write was heavenly. It’s something that I miss terribly.
The first major class was a shocking revelation of the fact that women are better than men, even in Creative Writing (Rowling’s not involved, I’m afraid). There were no boys in Creative Writing (MAJOR), so the girls had it all to themselves. It all began with a game of ‘two truths and a lie’ and the doll was christened. The ‘doll’ of the Creative Writing class (or the creatives, as we called ourselves along with Mr. Benedictus- a.k.a. Mr. Ben, The Supreme Creator Of The Creatives) was a naked doll with curly black hair, dark flesh, fractured limbs and what was more- she was naked. We were a feminist group. We found a BIG reason to buy clothes. I went to Build-A-Bear workshop which is a delightful toy store in Westgate opposite Primark (unbelievably cheap bargains found here) to buy clothes for her. A T-Shirt with a Union Jack and a pair of decent shorts was what the doll would wear. The doll and I had a connection. Though I wasn’t its keeper, I acted as a surrogate mother to her on our field trip to London. Moreover, I thought of a name and most of my classmates seemed to approve of it. Thus, she was named (that’s my doing) – Betty Black. Currently, my dear sweetheart is with her keeper, Kimmy. If you are desperate to meet this brilliant doll and her extraordinary keeper, you could email me. She was given the best of treatment by the 13 creatives. And why not? She was the most mysteriously beautiful thing we had seen and she had always been the ultimate muse for us. Gosh! How it feels to return to a time when you liked dolls. I wonder why children are treated as toys.
Everyday, the class used to start with The Daily Basker. The Daily Basker was the daily newsletter in OxPrep which contained a list of all the activities and our schedule for the day. Its Editor-in-chief was Dean Martin. Thanks to TDB, he gained a reputation as the ‘master of puns’. With every event of the day, Dean Martin used to add a joke or witty sentence with it. However, it consisted of several incomprehensible things sometimes and an excess of hash tags. Mr. Benedictus would always look at TDB with a furrow in his brow when terms such as ‘BFFL’ or ‘TTYL’ or ‘LOL’ was used. Here’s how it used to be (TIP: Read it aloud):
9a.m. to noon- MAJOR class- You know which one you go to. That’s not a MAJOR deal.
Noon to 1.30 p.m.- Lunch. Dean Martin recommends Mission Burrito’s. Flash your room keys and you will get a 25% discount. Burrito’s is not for the small stomachs. #truth.
1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.- MINOR class- No minor work done here.
4p.m.- Guest Speaker in the Auditorium. Dean Martin’s going so you should be going too.
5p.m.- Turn up at the Fellows’ Garden for an English Tea Party. Dean Martin’s coming and that provides a good reason for you to come. #a royal affair
6 p.m.- Dinner and Check In- Dinner is grand like any other engagement with the Kardashians. #they are crazy. Dean Martin asked Taylor Swift to make a guest appearance at dinner with him but she said ‘we are never ever ever coming back together’.
7p.m.- OxPrep Harlem Shake- Turn up with your BFFLs at The Pelican and show your grooves. #madness
9p.m. to 10 p.m.- Check In and Sign Up- Make sure you do unless you want Study Hall.
11:00p.m.- Bed Check- Make sure you have something on and that doesn’t mean a towel. Boys, turn off Rihanna for a minute and put on some underwear.
Your editor-in chief,
Post TDB, we used to listen to some good music to start the day. I remember Mr. Ben saying that he was a technophobe. Sometimes when Mr. YouTube wouldn’t listen, he’d say- “C’mon baby, you can do it” and all the Creatives would pass smiles and giggles. We listened to songs such as Short People, The Man with The Child In His Eyes, The Logical Song, Penny Lane, Breakfast In America, In Germany Before The war, Tom’s Diner and many more. My favourites were Tom’s Diner and Blackbird. While we listened to these songs, we’d observe the lyrics and discuss them. By the end of the course, each of us realized what good song writing is and got a fair idea of how to get about it ourselves.
Every writer wants to write a novel. But how do you do it? So, the thirteen Creatives were asked to think of a character first. We did. A seventeen year old boy named Collin, a tall-guy with dark hair and blue eyes. Or as Mr. Ben said it “It seems to me that your novel, Creatives, is becoming a teenage girl’s dream”. Some girls blushed and some simply shook their heads. Well, we were divided into groups and asked to think of the novel. Each of us came up with brilliant stories and then, we were introduced to the ‘hotseating’ technique. One representative from each group was to sit in the middle of the room and everyone posed their questions. This made all the unrefined ideas refined and allowed each of the Creatives to get a fair view of the novel. Thank you, Mr. Ben! It’s been really helpful for all of us.
We also talked about Journalism and Advertising. We flicked through the pages of the The Guardian and discussed which story we would’ve continued with if we were the editors. Later, we were given a topic and asked to plan a newspaper article on it. So, we were supposed to think of an opening sentence and the content of the article.
When we were to discuss advertising, we came up with various names for the cereal. This list included names such as Squiggle Loops – The World’s First Ever Curly Breakfast Cereal, Lick, Pika-chews and many more. We also came up with a very unusual sort of a toothpaste – Colourmorph which changes colour as you brush your teeth. We also came up with fart pills called FartNoMore. I’m still not sure why we decided on the Fart pills. It was really fun doing it.
Throughout the month, we were introduced to various new words. This proved really helpful as words help you to write better and the more you know, the more descriptive your story can be. So, Mr Benedictus, a storehouse of words himself, gave us several interesting but seldom used words and all that we could do, was use them all and keep on learning.
So, every course had a guest speaker. Ours was Alan Frank who was an eminent journalist, lyricist, novelist and playwright. He told us about Journalism, how to cope up with rejection, song writing and how to get published. In the end, we got a marvellous treat. Mr Frank played us a song on his guitar! Oh, how we loved it!
Furthermore, The Creatives would discuss books, publishing and literature, sometimes with Mr Benedictus. We spent hours reading Equus by Peter Shaffer and learnt the techniques to write a good play. Mr Ben would sometimes read us stories and poems and we would examine them closely. Every part of it was fun.
Mr. Ben made us watch two movies – True Grit and Little Miss Sunshine. This introduced us to what it meant when you say ‘fiction to film’ or vice versa.
At the end, we had a pile of short – stories and poems.
Mr. Ben often had a tutorial with us and would give us suggestions for our writing. In the end, all of us compiled our best works to make a literary magazine entitled Vacansopapurosophobia (Fear of the Blank Page). It has a treasure and mind you, in the years to come, it might be worth a billion $.
It was fun. I remember everything. The 13 Creatives had become really close. I felt free. There was no limitation to imagination. I had the liberty to try out different genres and write as much as I wanted to. A whole month spent with books, Creative Writing and in the picturesque city of Oxford has been the most beautiful experience. It’s been a month after I came home and not a single day has passed that I don’t miss the Oxprep experience.
You can’t do away with it, can you? Oxford is filled with cafés and restaurants. Plus, lunch was our own responsibility. Here are a few suggestions:
Starbucks: For a good coffee and a chat. Take a latte and strut down in your high heels.
Brown’s Café: That’s in the Covered Market. You can never get tired of Covered Market. Try the soup of the day, lemon water and an almond croissant with a chicken Caesar salad and chicken mayo wrap. That will help you for the day.
Café Nero: The Hot Chocolate is pretty good. They have loads of snacks too.
Shezan Indian Restaurant: I wasn’t homesick at all, but it’s worth a try. They have pretty good Indian food, though. It makes you feel like home. Repeat: Oxford keeps you away from homesickness.
Taylor’s: Great deli with mouth watering sandwiches and wraps. You could even get flapjacks and pastries plus, a samosa.
Pizza Hut: You know what I’m talking about.
McDonald’s: Must I tell you? It tastes the same in every corner of the world.
The Oxford Café: I didn’t expect Parantha rolls here. Though it’s a really nice place to sit and chat with a sandwich in hand. My suggestion is that you grab a sandwich and leave for a picnic in the Christ Church Meadows. It
KFC: No need at all.
Burger King: The name tells it.
West Cornwall Pasties: Cheese and Onion is pretty nice.
Shakespeare’s: Grab a few milkshakes.
Moo-Moo’s: They can make a milkshake out of anything. Buy a Ben’s Cookies (Triple Chocolate, if you may) and ask them at Moo-Moo’s to make a milkshake. My personal favourites- Nutella, Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate and Ferero Rocher Moo-Moo’s. (The reason for the zoo, Read UPON ARRIVAL)
Ben’s Cookies: Not the normal cookie size but the best cookies you can find.
Pret A Manger: Great sandwiches!
The Head Of The River: A great pub! The view is excellent and so is the food. I went there with my staircase mates! A good place to have Fish ‘N’ Chips or a chicken roast.
The Bear: Oldest pub in Oxford. If you’re above 18, go for a ‘pint of ale’. (The second reason for the zoo, Read UPON ARRIVAL).
The Turf: A great many people have walked in here. Try it out!
Pizza Express: Here is where Shakespeare sojourned between his journey from London to Stratford. Eat a pizza in Shakespeare’s bedroom. However, he might be hacked off if you leave crumbs about.
The Crown: The chicken roast is pretty nice. And a good place for a Sunday pub lunch.
The Royal Oak: We’d been off to Port Meadow for a pub dinner. After reaching Port Meadow (which is an hour long walk), we came to know that the pub is closed. The Royal Oak (not so far) came to the rescue. Thanks for the grilled mac and cheese.
Mission Burrito’s: This isn’t for the small stomach. If you’re an OxPrepper, you could get a 25% discount if you flashed your room-keys.
Byron’s: The Creatives recommend this place for burgers.
It took place three days a week and we would sit and think as great philosophers do. Mr. Fisher had bought a few rugs, which meant we could have our class outdoors. We went to the Ashmolean Museum and looked at paintings, examined the emotions they evoked in us and how our thoughts differed from one another. We would sit on the banks of river Cherwell in Christ Church Meadows or University Parks and would read Plato’s Socratic Dialogues. We covered the Apology, Crito, Pheado, Meno and Gorigas. We had to examine and analyse each sentence and would then argue what we felt about it. We were introduced to sub – fields of Philosophy such as: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. We would read about what knowledge is and what one means by ‘knowing’ something. We learned the difference between the good and bad and how to define these terms as being what. We discussed what religion is and had quite a time trying to figure out what pleasure and pain meant. Throughout the course, we not only focused on Plato or Socrates but got a chance to explore ourselves and question every action we took. It was kind of a starter, but Philosophy is an interesting subject which intersects with many others such as Law, Ethics, Politics, Literature and even the Arts. It was brilliant and with such a good teacher as Mr. Mark Fisher who introduced us to this brilliant world, Philosophy is a new step I’ve taken.
Activities didn’t mean the mundane activities. They meant giving you a taste of Oxford. You could go for a literary tour of Oxford and explore Oxford as the inspiration for the world’s greatest writers. You could also go for a tour of Oxford’s picturesque colleges with gargoyle-embellished cornices and sprawling lawns, each with their pedantic aura. In the evenings, one could go for a music concert or a play. I watched Jekyll and Hyde in Blackwell’s (Read FREE TIME), and The Merry Wives Of Windsor in Wadham College garden, Macbeth in Oxford Castle, a performance by the Oxford Pro Musica Group in the auditorium of Corpus Christi, a music concert in Holywell Music Room, a musical of The Happy Hypocrite (which was directed by Mr. Ben) in the auditorium of Corpus Christi and the Evensong in Christ Church Chapel. I went on a tour to Christ Church and saw the chapel, the quad, Tom’s Tower and the dining hall (which inspired the one in Harry Potter. The one in Corpus was a miniature, you could say). One could also go Berry Picking in Port Meadow, that was always fun (especially when you get to eat the berries). We used to have English tea parties in the Fellow’s garden sometimes. I also got the chance to meet the president of Corpus Christi who was also advisor to the movie Lincoln. Prof. Richard Carwardine was a really humble and welcoming person who treated a pack of teenagers like us, with a very ‘English’ scoop of ice-cream, cranberry juice, strawberries and tea. He talked to each one of us and it was a delight to meet him. We actually went into his house and sat in the back garden. While he was talking to the others, his wife would regale us. She certainly had a lot to tell and was the most enjoyable company. Punting was one of my favourites. It was always enjoyable. Sometimes we’d have dance parties which meant getting ready according to the theme. We had a Jungle Dance Party, a Neon Bop and one formal dance on the last night. Well, Dean Martin would always drop a pun in TBD about the music which they would be playing. Well, I loved to dance on the Macarena. Thanks to one student, we even had an OxPrep Harlem Shake. The video is on the net, I presume and I bet it’s going viral behind our backs. For the Harlem Shake, all of us were supposed to put on the weirdest outfits we had. For me, it was a tracksuit with a matching cap and gaudy shoes. About the dance which we did……don’t ask me. We seemed like a bunch of nincompoops working for the Council of Mental Teenagers. The good thing about staying in Corpus was that we were very close to the City Centre. Every place was ten minutes away. You could find all the things in the city centre. My mother dropped me at Corpus and stayed in Oxford for about three days before leaving for India. I accidentally bumped into her outside G&D’s. Oxford Quest was a really nice activity conjured by OxPrep’s very own Ministers Of Fun- Lizzie and T.J. Oxford Quest involved going around the city of Oxford and taking pictures and answering a set of questions which were given to us. This helped us to get around Oxford and familiarise ourselves with terms like ‘Pigeonhole’, ‘Porters’, ‘Tab’ (A Cambridge connection), ‘Oxbridge’, ‘Banter’ and other Oxford terminology. Oxford is as Oxford does. It is a magical place with beautiful people. Oxford Quest was my favourite since my group won the second prize. We didn’t win the first prize since a policeman refused to let us take his picture. I don’t think I look that ‘bad’. We got Oxford University T-shirts. The sad part- the day before the announcement of the prizes I had already bought a T-shirt for £25. How was I supposed to know I could’ve got one for free the very next day? Ice-breakers were pretty fun. All the deans and The Ministers Of Fun were going around the Fellows’ Garden shouting “Mingle, Mingle, Mingle!” Nah! No prizes here. I was rather lousy at playing Stone,Paper,Rock. We didn’t get much of Internet time and the source of entertainment was probably a game of poker or Scrabble in the JCR or the auditorium to watch a movie. I watched Harry Potter, Mulan and a few episodes of Sherlock. That’s all about some of the activities. There were more. But they were far too much for me to remember.
This was the best part. It was the time of the day, when you could probably go around town and do absolutely nothing. You could do shopping in Primark or Debenhams, maybe. If you were like me, you’d go hunting for strawberries and juices and flavoured yogurts to Sainsbury’s. However, if you are a bookworm like me, Oxford is a great city. Not only is it pedantic and academic, but also a great place for book-lovers. There was the Oxford University Press Bookstore on High Street. I got a few Oxford World Classics from there as well as a few books based on Postcolonial Literature and I got a book I’d been looking for all over – The Mysteries of Udolpho (Jane Austen told me about that one). Apart from OUP bookstore, there was the University of Oxford shop which sold official licensed products and souvenirs of Oxford University. I bought a few souvenirs and T-shirt for myself. It is a bit pricey but it’s worth it. You might get nice portraits and paintings of Oxford from there. Another bookstore which is worth a visit is Blackwell’s. Blackwell’s is a multi – storeyed bookstore which has every book published in the UK. Once you enter the bookstore, chances of coming out are scarce. I spent more money in Blackwell’s than I did on lunch, breakfast, dinner, shopping etcetera combined. I bought a hell lot of books and everyday I’d walk into the bookstore and was greeted with a smile by the cashiers. One of them remembered me coming to the bookstore every day and she said – “How many books have you bought in a month?” I think if they look at the sales records, the month of July was perhaps most fruitful. Papa P used to say in the assemblies – “Do not succumb to a moment of weakness.” (He meant: Do not drink, smoke or take drugs). My friends used to nudge me and remind me every now and then that I need to GO HOME and so many books will not fit in my luggage. They were right. They didn’t. I ended up spending £150 to send them back. The guy at the post office stared at me suspiciously when I told him that the big package (carried by three people since it was too heavy) I had was full of books. I sent it as a Global Priority Mail and I used to visit the Post Office everyday just to check if it had been sent. It reached on time (Thank you, Royal Mail) and my father sent me an SMS stating – Dear, your bigggggggg package arrived. I heaved a sigh of relief and lay down on my bed and missed Check-in, that day. The Norrington Room in Blackwell’s is a must see. Sometimes, I wish I could work part-time in a bookstore like Blackwell’s and read all day long. The best part was that I got to read The Cuckoo’s Calling before it released in India. My friends were really envious. Blackwell’s is a heaven on earth. One reason I didn’t want to come home was Blackwell’s. There’s no bookstore like it and the staff was really friendly given the fact that I made all of them run around looking for books. It’s like a short lived relationship. I was so in love but as it happens – The Great Separation takes place. That’s pain. The ambience of Oxford was so book-friendly that I missed dinner twice because I was reading despite the repeated reminders by the kind Porters that I must go and eat. Plus, you could go and challenge Mr. Benedictus to a game of chess. He hasn’t lost a single game of chess for the past decade. In fact, he’d give you £25, if you defeated him. However, no OxPrepper could do it this year, despite several efforts. The Brilliant Benedictus! I can’t tell you much about what to do in free time because this is all that I did. However, go to Scriptum for some antique stuff. I bought a quill and it does draw me back to the Olden Golden days.
SALISBURY and STONEHENGE: We saw the Salisbury Cathedral and went around the town of Salisbury. It was a beautiful place, the Cathedral was bursting with tourists and the city was less crowded than Oxford. We saw the Magna Carta and enjoyed admiring the wonderful architecture of the Cathedral. The Architecture teacher – Mike Ramirez told us more about it and that had our minds racing faster than ever. Stonehenge was a pleasure too. We lay in the green grass of Stonehenge and layered ourselves with the mysteries of History. The British History and Culture teacher told us about Stonehenge in the most entertaining way. The day was spent well with a nice bus ride and a lot to learn.
LONDON: We went around London with Mr. Ben. He took the Creatives to the Queen’s Private Chapel. Mr. Ben used to be a London tour guide and he’s written a London guide. We walked in Savoy Street and he told us many stories after which said – When I was a London tour guide, I would fill tourists with misinformation. The statement made The Creatives go wondering. We were taken to a second hand bookstore where I couldn’t restrain myself from buying seven books. The Creatives looked at me, as if telling me, “Get over it!” Mr. Benedictus asked us to grab some lunch from Pret a Manger and took us to a garden where we all had a picnic. We headed towards the Thames and the Globe Theatre and crossed the Wobbly Bridge. Mr. Ben took us to the National Portrait Gallery and St. Paul’s Cathedral after which we separated for dinner and then boarded the bus back to Corpus.
THE CREATIVES’ FIELD TRIP TO HENLEY, MARLOW, QUARRY WOODS, COOKHAM, STANLEY SPENCER’S ART GALLERY, ETON COLLEGE AND AN 11TH CENTURY CHURCH AND HERE’S A WRITE – UP BY THE CREATIVES:
Our Field Trip Down Memory Lane – By the Creative Writing Class
Bright and early on Thursday morning 13 creatives plus a certain supreme creative, Mr. Ben, boarded a little shuttle bus and took off on a “magical mystery tour.” Mr. Ben showed us the hidden, quieter, less visited scenes of England starting at the “Cardboard Castle” (a beautiful castlesque house that Mr. Ben spent some of his childhood in). We drove around visiting the houses and special places of Mr. Ben’s childhood. We enjoyed a nice munching, from Burger’s, and entertain ourselves with stories and with waving to passing boats on the river. We proceeded to sit and dwell with our thoughts in a beautiful church, older than Corpus Christi. Thank goodness no one was older than 16 because we had free admission to Stanley Spencer’s Art Gallery, a former family friend of Mr. Ben. Anyone remember the scandalous book about Eton College, The 4th of June? Surprisingly enough, we weren’t stopped when the author of the book, himself, gave us a exclusive look at the campus’ special places. We once again boarded our shuttle bus and our “magical mystery tour” came to a close. We have a more holistic view of English Culture and the “Creator of the Creatives.”
Dinner was very delightful. It was always Oxford – I.e., with many choices for dessert, strawberry with cream, cherry Garcia ice cream and juices, pasta with several sauces, roast chicken, bacon, a healthy English burger, pizza, eggs, fish and turkey. It was grand and scrumptious. We were left baffled when we used to see the dinner menu written on a chalkboard. And, of course, there were watermelons! Indian food was also made. We had chicken curry with fried rice and poppadums (the Oxford way for writing Papad. I told you – Oxford is as Oxford does). We had samosas with onion bhaji which was the best samosa I had had in England. Big thanks to the kitchen staff at Corpus for the filling meals.
Brook Mecham was the best staircase dean. Whenever, she’d come for bed check, either me or my roommate would be in the shower. On the first day, we had a mug of hot chocolate in her room and went on a tour of Corpus and then, I came to know where Magpie Lane was (famous for the Oxprep boys, all of whom would wear nothing more than an underwear when the deans would come for bed check. TDB helped spread a word about them. Dean Martin always called them as ‘The Boys At Magpie’. Read: That was the most they could wear. You probably know what I’m talking about). Brook took us out for a pub lunch once to The Head Of The River. She was the friendliest, happiest and one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. She’d take us to G&D’s for a treat of Oxford Blue. She knew perfectly well about teenage girls like us. Brook, you were amazing! An hour before I was supposed to leave, I gave her a big hug and I still miss her!
GUEST SPEAKERS AND LECTURES
Every day was filled with the pursuit of knowledge. Being in Oxford, we couldn’t possibly evade it. We used to have eminent scholars, guest speakers and lecturers from across the world coming to Corpus Christi every evening. These included Prof. James Basker (Founder of Oxbridge Academic Programs and Richard Gilder, Professor of Literary History, Barnard College, Columbia University. I had read an anthology he had edited and asked him a question about 18th century poetry. In return, I got his business card), Collin Holmes (Bursar, Corpus Christi College. He gave us a lecture about the history of Corpus. As soon as we walked out of the lecture, we imagined ourselves to be wearing sub-fuscs and robes and talking with an Oxford accent), Nick Hutchinson (actor and educator, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. A fifteen minute talk by Nick Hutchinson can teach you more about Shakespeare than other biography), Andrew Motion (former poet laureate. His poems are really nice. He told us what it’s like to be a poet laureate. We were in a lecture theatre at Oriel College and he was reciting his poetry. Mind you, it’s not an easy task to keep a lot of teenagers quiet and engaged for more than an hour. I got his autograph and a picture with him. Sweet!), Tony Benn (Former Labour Party M.P. International Relations Class and Global Economics class enjoyed his talk in the Union. He told us about the relationships between the US and the UK and we had a lot to think about), Dr. Christopher Sangwin (a mathematical genius. I can’t even solve a Sudoku properly), International Education Forum (representatives from UK’s best universities such as University College London, Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh, St. Andrew’s University and London School of Economics told us about the life in each of these Universities, the courses available and how to get into them), David Benedictus (the Supreme Creator of the Creatives told us about his journey, his eventful life, the bestsellers he’s written, Eton College, life at Balliol College, Oxford and Winnie The Pooh and what he’s planning to do next – that’s TOP SECRET.. The Creatives listened carefully. After all, who gets a legend to teach them Creative Writing. I brought home three of Mr. Benedictus’ books signed by him – The Fourth of June, Return To The Hundred Acre Wood and Dropping Names.How cool is that!), Jekyll and Hyde (A drama workshop) and many more guest speakers. Another guest speaker who used to come every Tuesday and Saturday … was …. Papa P with his 3s. You can’t count him out! But these are the guest lectures I went to.
Andy Murray won the Wimbledon and Kate Middleton delivered the royal baby. As soon as the news broke out, it started raining. Everyone was in their major classes but rushed outside to enjoy the rain. Everyone was drenched and all the Creatives simply leaned out of the window and enjoyed the scene. The Church bells rang and everyone hugged each other and cameras started to click. It was one of our last days. The Creative Writing magazines had arrived and The Creatives crowded around Mr. Ben for a last picture. The last days saw a few more rounds of Punting and Ice Skating. We had the talent show where Papa P and Mackenzie (Max) sung for us. The Drama class gave us a delightful treat with their showcase. The Creatives were writing sad songs. It felt as if the world was coming to an end. It was. The OxPrep Experience 2013 was about to finish in a few hours. So, we went on to see what our friends had been doing. The Speech and Debate organized a Debate in the Union. The Law and Society class did a moot court. The Creatives were sitting in the Fellows’ Garden reading the magazines. We were leaving letters for the Porters and the Scouts. A big thanks to them! We were packing up our stuff and I was making last minute visits to Blackwell’s and Scriptum. I finally got a mask for the masquerade dance at the last night. My formal dress was ready and I was hugging my goodbyes. OxPreppers were making visits to the Ruskin School of Art to see the exhibition Architecture, Studio Art and Photography class had put up. The night saw the Awards Ceremony and the final banquet in the Great Hall. People hugged as tears were falling on the ground. I couldn’t keep myself from crying. I pressed a hastily written sheet of paper in Mr. Ben’s hands, telling him how awfully I’ll miss him. Everyone was dancing and then, there was the departure day. Papa P had told us that it would be the most difficult day of the month for us. He was true. It was. I still remember everything. Every moment that walked by, is a memory. It is evergreen. It is full of smiles, except the last days. I miss the Oxprep family so terribly. I wish we never had to part.
A big thanks Vikram Kushwah and his students – Lily Debutts, Claire Mason, Yasmic Gulec, Lindsey Dudley, Jordan Klein, Maria Fleury, Emilie Kern, Tanya Mirchandani, Sonia Chen, Ting Ting, Emery Hansell, Naymal Mirza, Sarah Teskova, Victoria Rackley, Hang Yuk, Sydney Agus, Jonathan Tsang, Elizabeth Mahoney and Edward Staley for their photographs.
The Creatives – I loved you guys! Thanks for making the month so special – India Woolmington, Emery hansell, Emily Walker, Emma Hoffman, Jordon Smith, Claire Kao, Molly Lovett, Kimmi Kerner, Elena Ravizza, Alexandria Moore, Julia Longo, Natalie Wong and Betty Black.
The budding Philosophers – Sabina, Hayden, Paul, Maria, Jordon, Will, Trishala and John and Socrates.
Jordon Malveaux, the sweetest roommate one can get (who hated bugs as much as I did).
Brook Mecham – the best staircase dean.
Thanks to the Scouts, Porters, the Gardener, the Bursar and the Kitchen Staff.
Papa P – I miss you terribly!
Mr. David Benedictus – I’m going to dedicate my next book to you.
Mr. Mark Fisher – Thank you for introducing me to Philosophy. You were great!
The staff and teachers – who always helped me.
Thanks to Prof. James Basker – the man behind it all!
I aplogise if I have forgotten someone. Thanks to the Oxford Prep Experience 2013 family!
That seems like a really
That seems like a really great experience! Congratulations.