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The Not So Secret History: moments of clarity

Is ‘happy fifth week’ a contradiction in terms? Either way, I hope yours isn’t going too badly. We’ve reached the stage in term where no one realistically has the mental capacity to read a whole page of information, so instead I’m going to give you a series of episodes that have taken place in the house over the past few weeks. Besides, until the inevitable end-of-fourth-week crash I wasn’t generally in the house and conscious for more than a few minutes each day, so this way you’ll get my authentic experience. Lucky you!

We’ve had quite a few visitors over the past couple of weeks, both of the two and the four-legged variety. A few weekends ago I hesitantly left The Cook in charge of my two dogs while my parents took me out for lunch. 

‘Will they be ok?’ the parents asked me anxiously as we left, ‘The dogs can be quite full-on!’

‘I’m sure they’ll manage,’ I reassured them. Halfway through lunch I checked my phone, to be met by no less than thirteen images from The Cook. They had apparently decided to give the dogs an impromptu photoshoot, posing them everywhere from the arm of the sofa to sitting under the oven while they cooked. Needless to say my parents’ fears were assuaged. 

The Cook also went back for a few much-needed home comforts the following weekend and, fed up with overpaying for supermarket herbs we would inevitably throw away after they died on our window sill, returned with a mini herb garden they’d smuggled onto the train. We are now the proud owners of rosemary, basil, thyme and parsley plants, and ‘Herb Tending’ has been duly added to the weekly list of chores. We got into some difficulty at first deciding which should become indoor residents and which outdoor, and quickly discovered the advice online is far from clear. Not wanting to put all our basils on one windowsill so to speak, we decided a little scientific investigation was necessary, and split the plants up with the aim of testing how they fared in different conditions.

Five humanities students who haven’t so much as lit a bunsen burner since GCSE double science struggled to recall the difference between a control and an independent variable, but after trial and error and some help from a biologist college spouse we managed to get at least one plant of each type in the right place. If anyone’s wondering, basil does need direct sunlight, but thyme likes a shady indoor spot. Who said this column wasn’t educational?

Last week was a big week for The Thespian and The Classicist, who spent most of this term in rehearsals for their big show before being out every evening of fourth week making sure it ran smoothly. It has curiously become something of a whole household project: I was officially involved on the show on the marketing side, but even The Poet and The Cook managed to wheedle a mention in the programme. Admittedly, if you count all the rehearsals and production meetings that they overheard taking place in our kitchen, they have probably put more hours into the show than some of the crew, but their most concrete (and unexpected) contribution was made last week. I came home late one evening to find The Classicist had left a bottle of whiskey in the kitchen – seeing a full bottle of alcohol was immediately a suspicious sign, and upon closer inspection  I saw the following note: ‘DRINK ME. Need it for a prop but I don’t like whiskey.’ It soon transpired that none of us actually liked neat whiskey very much, so I suggested we make whiskey sours–which happens to be one of my favourite cocktails–as a nice housemate activity one evening.

Imagine my outrage when I arrived home, admittedly again quite late, the following evening to an empty whiskey bottle, a pile of lemon rinds and a very sticky cocktail shaker. I’m ashamed to say my shriek of indignation actually roused The Poet from their bed and sent them running to the kitchen for fear of an intruder. Once I’d been calmed down enough to listen to reason, it transpired The Poet had taken up my suggestion and made whiskey sours all round, making short work of the bottle in my absence. I suppose it serves me right for spending too many evenings out of the house. At least I can now watch the show safe in the knowledge that their valiant efforts have made it possible for an actor to appear to get very drunk off nothing stronger than peach ice tea, and the non-thespians can say they’ve made their Oxford theatre debut.

And now for the bit you’ve all been waiting for: the landlord updates. Not much to report here, except that the council came in for routine inspection. The Cook’s first reaction: ‘Oh no! I accidentally left some soil in the shower when I was watering the herbs. The council people are going to think I’m really dirty’. They didn’t mention it. What was slightly strange was that a representative from the letting agency came too, which resulted in a highly entertaining sitcom style routine, whereby the council person would tell us something was wrong (for example, the mould sprouting from the bathroom wall), the letting agent would tell us it was our fault, and then the council person would politely tell the letting agent that no, actually, it’s their responsibility and they shouldn’t be expecting us to live in these conditions.

It quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be getting in any trouble, so we started showing them all the many things that are wrong with the house. The council man, feverishly scribbling away at his clipboard, was barely able to keep up, and the letting agent began to look at us like a parent whose child is embarrassing it in front of other grown-ups. The only backlash we’ve had so far was being sent a bottle of mould spray in the post by the letting agents, which when sprayed onto the wall and wiped off took all the paint work with it. And so it goes on…Perhaps one week I’ll write this column and have no complaints whatsoever about our lovely house. But what fun would that be?

After the madness of the first half of term it’s safe to say I’ll be retreating into the house to hibernate for a while, although since we have a housemate pact not to turn the heating on until at least Hilary I might get forced out again by the cold. But until that time, I plan to stay firmly put, and hopefully I’ll have a more cohesive story for you all next time.

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