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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The how-to guide to Hilary: How to live your main character life

Uma Gurav explains how the disappointments of Oxford life give us our main character moments.

You may not have noticed, but they happen to be filming a movie in Oxford at the moment. 

I remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being read to me as a bedtime story at an age when I was still young enough to believe that I might one day sail down chocolate rivers, or that squirrels really were quality-checking walnuts in a Sorting Room somewhere out there, and that Oompa Loompas were alive and kicking. There is still a part of me that opens every chocolate bar with the hope that there really will be a Golden Ticket in there. 

Yet like most of us, I am sure, I have been walking around the centre of Oxford watching the filming of Wonka over the last few days with an air of feigned exasperation, tutting and complaining about how inconvenient it all is. Oxford is abuzz with the frustrated cries of: ‘Oh, how will I ever get to the libraries?’ or ‘He is not even that famous’. And I can only wish I had a pound for every time I have heard the urgent whisper of some new pronunciation of ‘Timothée Chalamet’ (how do you pronounce it anyway?) over the last few days. 

Honestly? I have to confess: I am finding it all rather exciting. There is something captivating about knowing that the city we live and work in is being transformed into the setting of a story that will be brought to the screen. I admit it, I am one of those annoying people who simply cannot resist the urge to linger around the sets for a moment too long, even as the marshals desperately try to usher people away from the Radcliffe Camera. There is something simply magical about the Sun beaming down on the (fake) snow-covered streets around the Bodleian and the costumed actors parading up the library steps like a vision from a bygone era. Surrounded by the lights, cameras and the action, it has been so easy to make life in Oxford seem like its own charming movie. 

Storm Eunice has had other ideas. 

You would think we would be used to dealing with disappointment by now. Cancelled plans seem to have become an old friend over the last couple of years. I often think back to the first thing I remember being cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic – Hertford Ball – when my friends and I were still freshers, bristling with excitement as the thought of going to an Oxford Ball. A lot of things have been cancelled this weekend, a stark reminder after the restrictions of the pandemic that there are things other than coronavirus which can disrupt our lives and our plans. Rowing races, netball matches, walks in the park – the stuff of movies – have one-by-one been cancelled over the last few days. 

Sometimes, life seems so disappointingly far from the movies that captivate us. If this was a movie, this weekend would just be a sped-up montage section which only showed brief shots of us staring gloomily outside from our window seats or sighing deeply with our chins on our knuckles as we all waited for the storm to pass. 

My roommate and I were laughing over whether we thought we would be the main characters in a movie the other day – we decided we definitely would be. In truth though, we are all the stars of our own lives – even if there are slightly fewer musical interludes or spontaneous dance numbers. True, maybe not every day is a packed action-thriller or a tear-jerking romantic-comedy. 

Dance down the streets; read in a coffee shop as you are illuminated by the first rays of sunshine; throw your head back and smile as the first drops of rain begin to fall one day. Or maybe, just take a deep breath as you draw your curtains in the morning, sigh as you sit down to work in the library and hum under your breath as you scan your weekly shop at the Tesco self-checkouts. Remember: you are your own main character. 

The thing about tales like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that, as good as they are, you always tend to be able to predict how things will end. After the storm – that moment where the main character has to overcome their challenges – you know they will ultimately find their inner strength, defeat the villains and win their true love (or something like that). Real life is far more exciting – you never know quite what is going to happen next. 

When Wonka hits the cinemas next year, I will definitely be going to see it. Not for the star-studded cast or to annoyingly point out to my family all the spots I recognise –  (did you know I have been inside the Radcliffe Camera?) – but because it has reminded me that life is not like those fairy-tales that we see on the big screen: it is better. 

Storms, disruptions and cancelled plans have their own special place in our lives. Disappointment is just a reminder that we can look forward to things, that we relish the anticipation of plans and that we are capable of taking such genuine pleasure from so much in life. 

So the next time you get stuck outside a barricade in front of the Bodleian, linger for a minute or two. Have your main character moment. And maybe, just maybe, you will get a glance of Timothée Chalamet. 

Image Credit: Tejvan Pettinger, CC BY 2.0

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