“But my heart’s in the unobtrusive”

This is a quote which has not left my mind ever since I first read it, sitting in a musty classroom which still reeked of the year 7s who had been in there for lunch; sitting next to people whose friendship I underestimated at the time; sitting in front of the teacher who facilitated me getting into Oxford (although I didn’t know it yet). I began this column with the unobtrusive in mind, and it’s time I pay U. A. Fanthorpe his due. A Minor Role is, arguably, the greatest piece of media anyone could create about finding love in the little things. The poem is about a person dealing with an unnamed chronic illness (either their own or a loved one’s: I have debated this many a time), and choosing to go on living at your lowest. I think U. A. Fanthorpe would support the way I rely on my college library to bring me up at my lowest.

My favourite thing about poetry is the way you can take a line and wring out any context from it like a rag, leaving the line and its significance to you bare and dry. I took the refrain “but nothing happens” from Exposure and applied it to the boring monotony of my everyday life, the feeling of hopelessness that can sometimes come with a lack of change. Definitely not the way that refrain was intended but we are still reading the words he wrote over a hundred years ago today – so what if we change them? What greater honour could there be than remembrance after you’re dead?   

If you can’t tell by the nonsensical rambling, this article is a certified product of 3 A.M. thoughts. Perhaps the most unobtrusive of any time of day. Perhaps the best time of day. 

3 A.M. tends to be the time when I am going to sleep. It is also, somewhat annoyingly, the time my boyfriend is waking up. I have often stayed up an extra 15 minutes just so I can text him when he wakes up, and so 3 A.M. is now a uniquely romantic time for me.

But I have always loved 3 A.M., even before I had any romantic reason to. It is such a peaceful time, when everyone else is asleep. It is quiet. It is unobtrusive. And where is the heart if not in the unobtrusive? 

I think my obsession with 3 A.M. could be about control. When you feel listless and out of control of your own life, staying up doing nothing for 3 hours can feel restorative – it can feel like self-care. Let me be clear: I am not recommending the unhealthy sleep schedule that I have created for myself. It is not sustainable to be sleeping for 4 hours each night (shocking, I know). I am not writing this for the STEM students with 9am lectures and perfectly organised schedules. This is for the messy humanities students who drink more often than they should and have to pull all-nighters just to get a passable essay finished – not that I’m writing from experience or anything… 

There is nothing that quite matches the experience of walking around Oxford at 3 A.M.. It’s part of what I love about this city: how easy it is to feel safe at night. Taking 10 minutes out from essay-writing to walk past all the drunk clubbers getting chips from Hussain’s has got to be on my top 10 list of quintessentially Oxford experiences. 

3 A.M. doesn’t have to be done alone, either. Staying up with friends talking for hours in your kitchen until you realise that “oh god at this point we won’t be getting any sleep”, is magical. Movie nights that stretch into conversations about how biblically accurate Prince of Egypt is. Staying up until the more sociable members of your friendship group get back from Atik so you can ask them how their night went. Taking an everything shower, knowing no-one else is awake so you don’t feel bad about hogging the communal bathroom. At the right time of year, staying up for the sunrise. 

The unobtrusive is full of wonders. Those quiet moments are, I think, who we truly are as people. They define us more than anything else could. The quiet of 3 A.M., at least for me, is when I am most myself. No masks, no pretending to be something cooler and better than you actually are. Just silence.