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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Observing Oxford: The Radcliffe Camera

Kaya Gadhia heads to the Rad Cam to prove that nobody goes there to actually work.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one has ever gone to the Radcliffe Camera to actually do work, and if you do, you’re lying. The truth is that the Rad Cam is the perfect place to show other people that you are doing work when in fact the opposite is the case more frequently than we would like to admit. 

Strutting down the limestone path of the library, head held high and bod card in hand, entering the Rad Cam is an ordeal in itself. Knowing that everyone is watching you as you duck between groups of tourists is the guaranteed ego boost you need to start your day off on the right foot. Of course, the façade of the dreaming spires soon fades away as soon as the card is scanned and the realm of pretending to work to pass the time is entered. 

No one seems to notice that you’re not actually working in the Rad Cam (apart from me, obviously, for the purposes of this article), because they’re all perfectly preoccupied with doing the same. The harmonious whirring of rows of laptops and students anxiously tapping away at their keyboards whilst drinking coffee out of their keep-cups presents an image of academic bliss. Yet, the harsh reality is that the Wi-Fi NEVER works, and I’m unconvinced that it ever has, the library itself operates in a microclimate where it is simultaneously too cold and too stuffy to think about anything else, and everyone is too busy posting photos of on their story to actually get anything done. 

The Rad Cam represents everything about oxford that is quintessential. Students sleeping at their desks, crying in the bathroom because of how much you hate your degree, and smoking outside after being specifically told you are not allowed to. Rule breaking in the mildest sense. 

That has been my experience of the Rad Cam so far. Storming through Brasenose Lane with every intention of doing work and the threat of a looming deadline, only to find myself leaving half an hour later after: a) not getting the Wi-Fi to work that I became so frustrated that I b) cried in the bathroom because of how stressed I was about my degree, resulting in c) running outside to smoke only to get told off for doing so, packing up my things and going home. 

The promise of a new day and the start of 2nd week inspired me to take myself on a date to the rad cam on Monday. Sitting near the main entrance on the ground floor, I witnessed a boy walk in with all the confidence in the world in a ski jacket, and a hat, scarf, and gloves. Yet this was directly offset by the fact that he was also wearing shorts and sliders. Toes out and all. As anyone would, I stared at him for an uncomfortably long amount of time until I received a weird sort of glare/grimace hybrid, but I was perplexed. Either he had mastered Rad Cam appropriate attire, striking the perfect balance between warmth, ventilation, and style, or maybe he just lacked the ability to regulate his internal body temperature. Regardless, it was an active decision, and this was confirmed by the fact that the hat, scarf, and glove set was matching (and baby blue at that), and by the fact that hat had an unironic bobble. 

That afternoon I met up with a friend to continue my Rad Cam adventure with the desperate plea to get some work done. Sitting in the upper library we proceeded to move around twice after being caught next to loud-breathing, loud-typing postgrads with a completely unnecessary amount of tech for the simple act of reading. We alternated between performative work, provoking each other into laughing and spotting people that we knew. Taking to Facebook like a live action version of ‘Guess Who’, we put names to faces, analysed mutual friends and recounted stories of awkward interactions in Bridge and Park End that we could only pray they didn’t remember. 

The Rad Cam is the centre of the Oxford universe, and we are unwittingly stuck in its orbit for three years. Photos of it, in front of it, and time spent in it, punctuate our degree from matriculation to graduation. There are a huge number of other libraries that are probably more conducive to doing work, yet we somehow always end up here. Tinged with an element of narcissism, we go to the Rad Cam to be seen by others. Wearing outfits that scream trying a little bit too hard, we hope for an Oxlove or a forbidden glance in the tunnel of the Gladstone Link. Work is always the intention, yet it never really comes to fruition. 

Image Credit: Tejvan Pettinger, CC BY 2.0

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