We are delighted to publish this as the first in a series of blog posts from Charlie Mackintosh (Cr 13-20) reporting on his time as a new OV and first-year student at Oxford University. We look forward to following Charlie’s journey this year.
“To say that the last few months have differed from my expectations for them would perhaps be an understatement. Leaving school in March, having no A Level exams, missing King’s Day and having all my holiday plans cancelled was not the glorious farewell from King’s and compulsory education that I hoped for but at least throughout the tedium of lockdown I had one thing to hold on to; the knowledge that, grade dependent, I would be starting at university in October. I had received my offer to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at New College, Oxford back in January following tests and interviews but there was one final hurdle to clear – meeting my offer. I was relatively confident in my ability to make my offer; it was comparatively low and for 3 subjects which gave me leeway considering I did 4 A Levels. However, the uncertainty over how we would actually get our grades, and the confusion over the IB results and Scottish results the week before meant that my friends and I were terrified for results day.
Thankfully, despite three of my grades being arbitrarily modified down by the Government, I made my offer, as did the overwhelming majority of my friends. We all celebrated with a champagne picnic on College Green in the morning followed by a trip to a bar in Worcester that evening. Even those who had received bad news on results day were pleased in a few days’ time when their centre assessed grades were restored by the government. Following results day, however, I still had a two month wait until my term started on October 5th and so, in a hastily constructed plan I went on a three week road trip around Scotland with two of my close friends, Will Bradley (Ca 13-20) and Ted Poel (Os 14-20). It wasn’t quite the interrailing trip we had booked 6 months ago but we had a fantastic time and managed to cover nearly 1500 miles.
The weeks after our return were lonely, depressing and rather surreal. From mid-September onwards, the mass exodus of new OVs began. My contemporaries studying in Scotland were the first to go, followed by those at Exeter and Birmingham. By the end of September it practically felt as if I was the last person left in Worcestershire! The restrictions were becoming ever more severe and I was worried I may not be able to go up to Oxford at all. Thankfully these fears were not well-founded and after a weekend of packing and goodbyes, mum and I drove up to Oxford on the 5th of October to begin the next chapter of my life.
New College was built in 1379 by William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester. It was built on land next to the Mediaeval city wall that had become available following the Black Death and one of the college’s most remarkable features is a 30 foot mound, rumoured to have originally been a plague burial site. It thus felt very apt to move into the college in the middle of another world-ravishing pandemic. Fresher’s week (or 0th week as it is called at Oxford) was much more normal than I expected. With the college bar and common room open, there were plenty of opportunities to socialise and the warden of the college had organised for us still to be able to have the traditional Freshman’s Formal Dinner (in gowns, three courses complete with free wine and port). I was able to meet most of the 127 freshmen and women at New College and get involved with several university-wide activities.
Perhaps, due to the socialising that took place in 0th week, the Covid-19 cases in College began to rise in first week. Almost every day, several people would test positive or head into isolation and so the feel around college began to change noticeably. Mealtimes became almost deathly quiet with no more than a handful of people in Hall, the rest locked up in their rooms. Work had also begun to be set and although it was slow at first, the famous Oxford workload began to ramp up, the only difference being that tutorials were happening virtually.
It was on Friday of that week that I began to get symptoms and got a coronavirus test. That Saturday was the day of our matriculation (official start of our membership of the University) but unfortunately, several hours before the ceremony and celebrations, I tested positive.
Normally the centuries-old tradition takes place in the Sheldonian Theatre with the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University inducting the students. This ceremony has weathered world wars, plagues and goodness knows what else and so it felt rather odd sitting in my room in sub fusc and gown watching the ceremony online. It is a testament to how peculiar the last few months have been that rather than sitting in the same hall that my mother, grandfather and great grandparents sat in for their matriculation, I was instead staring wistfully out the window at my friends customarily spraying each other with champagne.
Whilst the Coronavirus has disrupted the way in which I have both left school and started university, I am very grateful for the fact that despite the global chaos, I have still been able to go from Vigornian, to Old Vigornian to Oxonian. Both King’s and New College have managed through far greater crises than this one and both the institutions are still playing their role of looking after and educating people like me. That feat of dedication, hard work and compassion has enabled the lives of myself and all my contemporaries to continue with some normality in the most abnormal of times and long may that continue!”