Epilogue

Two and a half years ago, I started writing this blog, mainly because I’m an attention seeker but also as a sort of mass media group therapy for the fact that I wasn’t overly happy about, well, anything. I think people enjoyed those early posts (what I refer to as my ‘Bitter Privileged Whinging’ period) because, despite the glibness and all the selfies, there was a strain of genuine unhappiness, which most people who’ve been engaged in life on this shitty planet can associate with.

I took the X90 out of Oxford today. Cruising down the High Street, over Magdalen Bridge, into the great wilderness beyond. I felt bus sick pretty much straight away, otherwise it might’ve been quite an emotional journey. Leaving three years behind; moving on to…something.

Because of a genetic predisposition towards suspicion and anxiety, I fully expected to not enjoy Oxford. I expected the work to be hard; I expected the people to be nerds and/or Etonians; I expected ‘university life’ to be just as amorphous and indefinable as it had been all my life. When my Dad would self-indulgently tell me that university would be ‘the best years’ of my life, I’d shrug and privately disagree.

And, for a few months, Oxford lived up to my expectations. I hadn’t set pen to paper on an essay in something like 18 months before arriving. I was rusty, I was bored, I was underprepared. And, for the first time in my (so far) short life, I felt old; everyone was fresh-faced with enthusiasm for this new challenge, whilst I felt like, somehow, I’d been through it all before. I did badly, I enjoyed nothing, and I started to write a masturbatory blog.

Of course, my close readers will have noticed a gradual shift in tone over the years. I neither meant for it to happen, nor wanted it to – I know that I’m at my most lucid when I’m complaining. But, slowly but surely, I ran out of shit to complain about. Yeah, some books are still boring (and always will be) but anything more substantial than yawning at Paradise Lost was all but gone. University rapidly became the best years of my life.

And now…done, dusted.

The X90 out of Oxford was a low-key departure, with none of the fanfare that the occasion deserved. Normally, my go-to Oscar acceptance speech to cite is Sally Field’s 1985 Best Actress win for Places In The Heartbut today I feel compelled to look towards Cuba Gooding Jr’s 1997 win for Jerry Maguire.

'My Nexus account, I love you! Room 16.1, I love you! Mark Atherton's boring-as-fuck guide to Anglo-Saxon, I love you! My bench in the botanic gardens, I love you! Tom Cruise, I love you brother! All the coffees in all the coffee shops, I love you! Dismal picnics in Uni Parks, I love you! Oxford SSL, I love you! My outstanding library fines, I love you!'

It’s all over and I’m more than a little bit nervous about the future. But even though looking ahead to the next few months (or next few years…) causes me the same stormy gloom that clouded my pre-university impressions, I am glad that the grim origins of this blog eventually gave way. Perhaps I would’ve accumulated followers more rapidly if I had continued to use it as an outlet for despair, but sacrificing that has been accompanied by the best months, and years, of my short, uneventful life (so far).

Hopefully I’ll be graduating at the end of July and then that’s done. My relationship with Oxford – stormy and steamy – is over (at least until they offer me an honorary teaching job, or *hint* the Mastership of a college). It’s taken me two and a half years of blogging to get here (God I wish I’d started writing this at the beginning of my first year, if only for the symmetry), but I made it out the other side at last.

And when you stumble along blindly for long enough, you start to realise that not knowing where you’re going, or seeing what’s ahead of you, is almost the best way to travel. Almost.

'Oh shit, what next?'
                     - Nick Hilton, 2014

'Oh shit, what next?'

                     - Nick Hilton, 2014

If you can’t see it in my eyes, I’m listening to Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, and its dramatic pageantry could scarcely be less of a fitting soundtrack to my evening. Elevator music would be too intense for the drama of the library.

I am only 3 days away from the start of my exams, and yet, try as I may to knuckle down to 72 hours of outrageously grown-up, focused work, I am finding myself more bored than ever. I’ve scarcely moved from this spot. When I do move, I do it with reluctance and all the energy of a slowly sinking ship. I got a frappucino from Starbucks’ Happy Hour (the first, and hopefully only, time I’ve been suckered in by a promoted trend on Twitter), but that sugar/caffeine injection only provided me with a slight stomach ache. If I had butterflies in my stomach, they’ve been drowned by coffee and reborn as abominable flying insults-to-God.

My first exam is Shakespeare, which, for better or worse, is the paper I feel most confident about. I find it hard to confine my attentions to it when I know how little of Milton, or Shelley, or Herbert, I understand. So, instead, I’ll dip into Richard II, then freak out and read some of Sidney’s sonnets, then remember my exam order and return to Shakespeare, and then reward myself with a 15-minute break to play 2048 on my phone. As destructive cycles go, this is pretty much as boring as they get.

I’ve actually ‘completed’ 2048 four times now (although, misleadingly, they just keep increasing my target) which is a good reason to stop playing, but I still get some satisfaction from sliding those goddam pieces together. OMFG, what if it’s cos I wish that I could slide the component parts of my degree together in a similar manner? I hadn’t thought of that…

Inside I’m crying, of course. But they’re tears of boredom and frustration, rather than fear and preemptive sadness. The Verve once, prophetically, said that ‘the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse’, and I’m having a similar experience (albeit with revision in lieu of narcotics). It’s a bittersweet symphony in many ways, but I guess I’m a lucky man. What happened to The Verve? Are they still alive? They were great.

As with all destructive cycles, I must soon reenter the first phase and think about Macbeth and, like, violence’n’witches’n’shit. I don’t even know. It’s all just words, words, words, caffeine, words, words, words, 2048, words, Shostakovich, words, and words.

This should really, if I’m being sensible, be my last post before Finals. For those among you who haven’t been avidly following my schedule, I have 10 days until I sit my first exam (Shakespeare). 10 days. That’s all.

For the past two weeks I’ve, somewhat selfishly, occupied an entire desk in the library, night and day. I’ve bedded down to the extent that it feels like home; I stick motivational notes on the wall ('You can do it Nick!', 'Almost there, stay focused!', 'You look glamorous today, babe!’), have a stack of books to block out any distraction, and I keep a steaming thermos of coffee with me at all times. It’s comfortable, possibly to the point where the ‘formal’ atmosphere of the library has evaporated somewhat.

Still, at least I’m not yet in a dark dungeon of despair. A dungeon, yes, but artificially lit, and occupied with something more akin to ‘apprehension’ than ‘despair’. Whichever way I look at it, the post-Finals world is a more worrying prospect than this one. In a sense, it’s not the doing of the exams that concerns me, but the finishing of them. Anyhow, that’s rather indulgent talk.

So yes, with only 10 days to go, it would seem sensible to devote myself wholeheartedly to my task. But though I force myself to put pen in hand, eyes on book, and mind on task, my sense of wanderlust has never been stronger. I dream of doing literally anything – running a marathon, eating extravagant lunches, pissing in the furthest toilet from the library – in order to avoid actually focusing on the work that sits in front of me. I’m sure it’s some form of psychological disorder.

That said, the person who sits next to me on my desk (who shall rename anonymous, so let’s just call him Yuri the Ukrainian) has been adopting an even more cavalier attitude. His work day seems to be filled mainly with funny videos and games of pool, which I find immensely comforting. Maybe the world isn’t such a dark place, when people like Yuri bring lightness and frivolity to it. Of course, we shall have to wait to see his results before knowing the outcome of his strategy…

On New Year’s Eve, the huddled masses on the banks of the Thames – who are largely a combination of tourists and masochists – start to chant the countdown to the New Year, and to the promises and expectations it brings. They start that countdown at 10 – the final double-digit number in a decreasing scale. For the preceding minutes and seconds, the reality of sliding from one calendar year into another had been an abstract concept, but when the projected clock on Big Ben (or the Southbank Centre, I forget) reads ‘10’, people know that we’re almost there. Squeezing into another year, those ten seconds aren’t just ten seconds; they’re the final ten seconds, an immortal ten seconds.

Much as it might irritate people, I choose to celebrate the fact that there are only 10 days to go. I do this in order to keep myself sane and, as previously mentioned, to irritate people. After all, if everyone else succumbs to despair, I will do proportionally better in my exams.

That’s first class logic, and I hope it evens out my third class work.

The single greatest discovery of my adult (or advanced adolescent) life has been puddles.

I haven’t discovered them by the conventional sense in which Christopher Columbus discovered America or Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In point of fact, I’ve been aware of puddles my entire life.

But, as a child, you are taught to avoid them. They are dirty, wet and potentially infinite. Your shoes are small and usually made of canvas and polyurethane, allowing water to seep in and dampen your Thomas the Tank Engine socks. And, as a child, it is hard to resist the temptation to leap into a puddle; like a neatly raked pile of leaves, or a contentedly resting family of pigeons, they appear to be waiting for destruction.

So I understand exactly why my parents told me not to jump in puddles. The 7-year-old version of myself would’ve taken great pleasure in watching flecks of mud streaking through the air and planting themselves gracefully on my father’s beige trousers, or my mother’s pink summer dress. Glorious, unadulterated childish vandalism.

But now, I can control myself. Not only that, but I almost always wear big size-9 leather shoes. Experience and common sense has taught me that the potentially fathomless depth of puddles is, usually, about 3 centimetres. There is no chance of me disappearing through the street, into the murky subterranean Atlantis beneath.

But still, despite all this, I went a number of years avoiding puddles. The indoctrination I’d experienced as a child left its mark on me – puddles are to be walked around, not through.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I decided, recklessly, that I would start to intentionally step in puddles. Splish splash. I found it intensely satisfying, fulfilling a childish urge but with an adult sense of control. The water spins away from my feet, lapping over the edge of its boundary, without so much as a soggy sock in sight. The propaganda of my formative years is stripped away, Man and puddles can coexist peacefully.

And thus I discovered a new way of interacting with puddles, a method which might well have been stumbled upon before, but which gives me about 20 seconds of youthful delight per day.

Merry Easter! (I’ve never been completely clear on what the adjective in the greeting for Easter is supposed to be…)

I’ve gone back home for one last, sad weekend before finals, which kick-off in less than a month now (and less than a month before the World Cup, fact fans). Of course, being in a house with patchy wi-fi, non-academic books, and two adorable dogs, has not been without its disadvantages, but it certainly makes a change from my 10-hours-a-day bunkering in the Pembroke library.

'Easter is, I'm told, a time to celebrate-' That’s how far I got through that sentence before I started Wikipediaing ‘easter’. Let’s face it, very few people really know what we’re supposed to be celebrating (if anything) this weekend. It’s the end of lent, right? So we’re celebrating not being punished anymore? Or some resurrection thing? Happy slightly-less-dead, out-of-jail Easter!

My mum got me an Easter card and an Easter present, neither of which are really things, I don’t think. The Easter card has a bunny, on its hind legs, reaching to get to some eggs, which are tied to a tree with ribbon. I’m not sure what the imagery is meant to represent. There’s a vague point about commercialising a religious festival in here somewhere, but, also, I just feel like there’s too much celebrating going on. First, it was the Olympics, then it was Christmas, then another Christmas, now Easter. What next?

As mentioned prior to my Easter digression, it’s less than a month now until I start my exams. I’m starting to think about practical things, like making sure I bring my crummy suit back to Oxford in order to get trashed in, or wondering who the shit is gonna buy me my carnations. I’m even going on an outing to the shops tomorrow morning in order to buy pens. The ink with which I shall write my scintillating, history-making essay about Byron, water and nocturnal enuresis, shall be purchased, tomorrow morning, from the WH Smith’s in the market town of Horsham. Sing, Heav’nly Muse, of the ball-point pen! 

But yeah, if that doesn’t set my pugging tooth on edge (a quote from The Winter’s Tale which I’m very fond of, even though I don’t know what a ‘pugging tooth’ is (though it sounds adorable)) then I don’t know what will. I’ll be back in Oxford on Tuesday for my final stint in the city of dreaming spires, before the real world comes to catch me. Preparations for that, it appears, are somewhat harder to fathom, though I am planning an ambitious collage of all my job application rejections.

11 Reasons Why I’m Getting No Work Done

1) I am close enough to coffee for me to feel a constant desire for coffee, but far enough from coffee that it takes 15 mins (there and back) to get it.

2) There is no-one else in my section of the library, thus I feel no shame about watching The Royal Tenenbaums on Netflix.

3) People continue to write annoyingly captivating bullshit (and engaging in equally enthralling Pyrrhic arguments) on Facebook groups which I am a member of.

4) Whilst I’ve installed StayFocusd to keep me from going on websites like this, all I have to do to get round it is open an Incognito window - you’re making it too fucking easy for me!

5) I then spend quite a lot of time wondering why I am trying to beat a system that I chose to install for my own good.

6) Much as I believe I can listen to Desert Island Discs and take notes simultaneously, I cannot. This is one of the great fallacies of my academic career.

7) My spelling has gone to shit. Took me like three attempts to write ‘simultaneously’.

8) I installed the game ‘2048’ onto my phone and have yet to complete it, despite spending approximately two hours a day attempting to.

9) I started following James Franco on Instagram, which is really a full-time job.

10) I spend a lot of time getting half-way through job (or graduate course) applications, then get cold feet and ‘accidentally’ delete my form.

11) Every book I try and read is so dry that my eyes glaze over and I start to crave a coffee, hence the cycle begins again.

(Employ me, Buzzfeed?)

Very tired. Convinced I am going to fail. Concerned that I will be unemployed for foreseeable future. Desperate for another haircut. These are all sensations that I am currently experiencing.

If my entire life is one very long day, then this is the late-morning dip before elevenses. Knowing whether to be confident or despairing has always been a problem of mine, and those moods have fluctuated with rhythmic consistency during my time at Oxford. If it’s hard to guess, my mood is currently closer to the latter. Try as I may to read Milton’s Aeropagitica, I can’t get past the first few paragraphs. i just stare dumbly at the page and start to wonder what the weather is like, outside, amongst the birds and the trees and the running water…

At the same time, I have to tolerate the flood of Instagram pictures that show my fellow English finalists engaging in mock-hilarious intellectual coitus with texts that I have never heard of, let alone considered. Congratulations guys, I really hope that your maniacal colour coding and psychopathically systemic annotations work out for you. I’ll just continue to sit here, staring at paragraph five of Aeropagitica, wishing it was an episode of Game of Thrones, or anything else which I understand/enjoy.

And, of course, on top of all that, I have to worry about next year. Calling it ‘next year’ is something that everyone does, partly because we’re still indoctrinated in the schoolchild mentality - where units of time are governed by ‘years’ - and partly because calling it ‘next year’ is a form of lexical self-denial. ‘Next year’, of course, means the rest of my life. ‘Next year’ is the year that the sequential progression is broken; where being 21-years-old stops informing people of how far through life you really are.

There’s a baby in a red high-chair in this café and it keeps staring at me with a look of disappointment. It’s not even smiling at me. In a horror movie, that’d be a big clue that I’m either a serial killer or a ghost.

If I could fast-forward through the next two months, I probably would (even though I’d be really scared that I’d die in hyper-speed). Not because I’m scared of the exams themselves - worryingly, I’m not an historic worrier about exams - but because I want to get past the point of no return, so that I can stop wondering whether there is/was more than I can/could do. The moment I hang up my sub-fusc at the end of May, I promise not to regret, or even consider, these long, futile days of ambling revision.

But that seems a long time away. Until then, please use the ‘About’ section to find details on how to offer me a job.

Nick invents a word

image

For the first time in the past few years, I had sort-of-semi-forgotten that I do this. Maybe I’m too busy working. Maybe my heart’s not really in it. Maybe I write a very similar column for The Oxford Times. I don’t know, it just hasn’t happened.

The end of term has actually been and gone, in a flurry of coursework deadlines and missed celebrations. I handed in my sort-of-thesis on South African literature, which which I am deeply dissatisfied (alas…), and, with that, my mind and body went into a prescheduled slumber that usually greets the end of term. Of course, this term hasn’t ended. I am still sitting in Pembroke, pretending to work, and will be doing this all Easter. My exams will be starting in under two months according to my calendar, and the only thing I can remember about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the phrase ‘bob-and-wheel’, although I have no idea what it means or pertains to. 

I am trying to avoid, for once, my tendency towards preemptive nostalgia. I’m not sure if there’s already a word for this (please get in touch if there is and you could win some great prizes, ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘shit all’) but, if there isn’t, there should be. I’d like to coin the word pronostos and hopefully, one day, I’ll have a citation in the OED. Here is my suggested entry:

pronostos, n.

Etymology: <Ancient Greek προ before, pro, Ancient Greek νόστος return home nostos>

1. A preemptive longing to return to an event or situation that has yet to occur, or is currently occurring. 

      2014 NFT Hilton, I’d like to coin the word pronostos…

Related forms: pronost (v), pronostic (adj), pronostically (avb)

                                                    * * *

There you go. I hope the editors of the dictionary are taking note of this. In my mania to avoid talking about my pronostos, I have inadvertently done almost nothing else. I hope nobody had high expectations for this blog post…

English literature is a truly trivial subject. 

I&#8217;ve spent today sitting in a cafe, flicking through books I&#8217;ve already read (which I bought from Waterstones), and generally luxuriating in the glow of this surreal real work, which is meaningless and pointless in equal measure, but also infinitely preferable to working on something impactful or profound. I feel like the only job this could possibly be preparing me for is to work as a judge on some literary prize. Or perhaps a librarian, I haven&#8217;t spoken since I ordered my second coffee.

I am nervous, excited and terrified about my finals exams, which is so complex an emotional response it could come from a Taylor Swift song. It&#8217;s a sensation that&#8217;s full of contradictions- God Oh God I want it to be over, but Christ Oh Christ I&#8217;m scared of being done. I know things are going to get worse, get more intense (possibly stray into Evanescence territory) before bursting, like a salmon from the stream, into the heady brightness of summer, success and serial unemployment.

But the more vexed I get about my impending joblessness (though I am currently jobless, no-one is worrying about it), the more acutely aware I become of my need to get over the finish line. Jesse Owens didn&#8217;t pull up in 1936 after 90 metres and start wondering how he was going to celebrate on the podium, or what he&#8217;d wear for his ticker-tape parade. No, he just powered over that line, won the race, beat the Nazis, and enjoyed the future as and when it came to him. This must be the spirit with which I endeavour to complete finals.

Even though I have none of Owens&#8217; motivation, talent or work ethic, I am going to try and perform to the best of my ability. A better comparison might be to a British athlete at the Winter Olympics: no, snow is not my natural habitat, nor was I capable of being an athlete in any mainstream and sociable sport, but yes, I will give it my all, enjoy my 15 minutes of fame, and then go back to my real career as a professional plumber. Life goes on. I&#8217;ve made it to Sochi, now I&#8217;ve just got to skate my way to victory.

This post was in no way affected by the fact that the cafe I am in has a TV which is showing Winter Olympics highlights. Norwegians are a truly awesome people.

English literature is a truly trivial subject.

I’ve spent today sitting in a cafe, flicking through books I’ve already read (which I bought from Waterstones), and generally luxuriating in the glow of this surreal real work, which is meaningless and pointless in equal measure, but also infinitely preferable to working on something impactful or profound. I feel like the only job this could possibly be preparing me for is to work as a judge on some literary prize. Or perhaps a librarian, I haven’t spoken since I ordered my second coffee.

I am nervous, excited and terrified about my finals exams, which is so complex an emotional response it could come from a Taylor Swift song. It’s a sensation that’s full of contradictions- God Oh God I want it to be over, but Christ Oh Christ I’m scared of being done. I know things are going to get worse, get more intense (possibly stray into Evanescence territory) before bursting, like a salmon from the stream, into the heady brightness of summer, success and serial unemployment.

But the more vexed I get about my impending joblessness (though I am currently jobless, no-one is worrying about it), the more acutely aware I become of my need to get over the finish line. Jesse Owens didn’t pull up in 1936 after 90 metres and start wondering how he was going to celebrate on the podium, or what he’d wear for his ticker-tape parade. No, he just powered over that line, won the race, beat the Nazis, and enjoyed the future as and when it came to him. This must be the spirit with which I endeavour to complete finals.

Even though I have none of Owens’ motivation, talent or work ethic, I am going to try and perform to the best of my ability. A better comparison might be to a British athlete at the Winter Olympics: no, snow is not my natural habitat, nor was I capable of being an athlete in any mainstream and sociable sport, but yes, I will give it my all, enjoy my 15 minutes of fame, and then go back to my real career as a professional plumber. Life goes on. I’ve made it to Sochi, now I’ve just got to skate my way to victory.

This post was in no way affected by the fact that the cafe I am in has a TV which is showing Winter Olympics highlights. Norwegians are a truly awesome people.