Imagine it. I am sitting in Oxford Curzon with my boyfriend, watching Saltburn and eating fruit pastilles. I watch as the camera pans past the Bod, past the RadCam, to my college: Brasenose. About 40 minutes through the film I am feeling mildly, yet warmingly, represented. A poor northern lad on screen! At my college! Eating in my hall! 

The film progresses, and I find Oliver Quick is standing on that bridge in Magdalen, where I have stood, and he is telling his friend that he doesn’t want to return home for the long vacation – JUST LIKE ME!!! I find we are getting more and more similar. And then …

It turns out I am very much not like the protagonist of Saltburn. I am not a psychopath (brilliant news), I am not lying about my household income (we should have known that if Oliver was truly financially struggling, he would have been on Crankstart), and I’m pretty honest with my mum about the fact that I don’t row. Unlike Oliver, these aren’t my reasons for finding the holidays difficult. Nor am I trying to engineer a heist/murder spree/long-plan inheritance of a country estate. I just find it all a bit disruptive. 

At other universities, when a child makes the big leap out of the nest and flies off to university, they very much leave. They move out. They share a house and they are absent for whole years at a time, before they eventually bugger off completely. However, at Oxford, for non-tenants in college accommodation, you live what I imagine to be a boarding school-like lifestyle, where you’re never quite allowed to settle. You live a life of 9:5 ratio – 9 weeks of Oxford term, 5 weeks of holidays, repeated twice before Trinity term then 8.56 billion weeks of long vacation. 

I find that it is an endless bouncing: you get settled into Oxford, you leave, you get settled into home, you leave. The bounce becomes even more jarring as you stay here longer, getting more used to living alone and cooking for yourself. Then boof, at precisely 10am on Saturday of week 8 you must vamoosh immediately, leaving without a trace, uprooting the life you have built over 9 weeks. Uprooted is the wrong word, because if we extend that gardening metaphor used to describe moving out, then the entire meadow ecosystem of intricate, interweaving plants is decimated, unweaved, at that same 10am. If you have been up writing an essay till 1am the night before? Irrelevant. If you haven’t had time to pack and say goodbye to your friends? Irrelevant. If you haven’t seen which flowers have bloomed on your usual walk today? Irrelevant! Piss off!

Straight back to your house, student! Sucked into another universe of quiet and boredom and vacuuming, with someone telling you when and how to do the jobs you’ve been doing yourself for weeks (I love you mum, lots – mostly). I find it takes me a week to adjust to living at home again, and recently even longer because we moved house last year, in my first year Trinity term. So now I’ve lived in Oxford longer than I’ve lived in my own home, which makes the holidays peculiar, emotionally and logistically. Emotionally because enough time hasn’t passed for it to feel like home, I don’t know people there, my friends live further away and I don’t have favourite walking routes. Logistically, because I don’t know where the spoons are.

At our new home, I live further away from my school friends but closer to the railway station, meaning I can get to see my boyfriend and Oxford friends quicker. It’s nice, but I still feel quite distant from all these people I love, and distant from the places I love, where I was brought up. In comparison to my new and unfamiliar, fairly deprived industrial town, Oxford seems even more lovely. Oxford is just BEAUTIFUL. City-wise, people-wise: birds tweeting, magazines making, spires dreaming, honeyed buildings standing.

This term, you will be pleased to hear, I have solved all my vacation fear and trembling by doing the telethon, meaning I can stay longer FOR FREE! I can get all my vac work done and then have a real holiday, not one where I must write two essays – two essays more difficult to write than if I were at Oxford, where stress is diluted by friends with biscuits and oranges. What I have not solved is missing my mum and my grandparents. I am yet to invent a teleportation device. 

The telethon will also not solve the fact that the majesty of Oxford is created by its people, my friends, who, excepting my boyfriend and best friend, will return home for the vac. Without them, it would just be me with all the beauty and gorgeousity and rivers. 

I know, when I return home for Easter properly, I will miss my friends. I will miss the buzz, Oxford’s insatiable buzz, of magazines made, jazz music played, bars drunk in. Here I can walk down one flight of stairs to tell my friend that the spoonerism of ‘sleeping bag’ is ‘beeping slag’. This is the Oxford I want, the Oxford made of my people and their visitors and their busy, busy lives, intertwining briefly. I know in the holidays I will live more quietly, missing the city in that magical time where all the people are there, buzzing, filling it with their diverse and magnificent lives. 

So when I return to my second home, I will see my mum, and my family, and it will be good. I will watch Downton Abbey with my mum on the sofa and make crêpes suzette. I will go upstairs and see all my books on the shelves, all my postcards and picture frames displayed, fabric piled in corners waiting for its shapes, all waiting for me to return to the museum of my own life and move through it, breathing, until it becomes a home again. 

Maybe my difficulty slipping into these two lives is less about me, and more about the lives. Maybe the two full and beautiful lives that await me at the start and end of the holidays require my energy and commitment, if I am to reap what I sow. Yes, my home life might not be as fun as being at Oxford. But it never will be if I don’t dive into it. Maybe all this change will teach me that they are lives you have to choose each time, reanimate, actively plunge back into, again, and again, and again.