University of Oxford
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32403: Walking and Teaching in Michaelmas 2020

online resource
posted on 2023-12-08, 21:46 authored by Lockdown2020 and Beyond Project

I recently re-watched the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series. I never used to watch much television, and I still don't, but finding myself with long hours in which I'm too tired to work, but not tired enough to sleep, I'm having to find new ways to 'rest'. I used to swim every day in an effort to bring my body to the same level of exhaustion as my mind. But with the pools closed during the pandemic, or inaccessible as they are this term, long walks have become a staple of my days, not unlike Elizabeth Bennett.

Yesterday I walked the 3 miles from north of Summertown, down through Uni Parks to the Faculty of English where I had a seminar to attend/facilitate as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. These long walks take time away from my doctoral thesis, and I could just cycle in, but I need the time outdoors and the physical movement, even when it's pouring down. In summer Uni Parks was busy with people having socially-distant picnics, or families getting in some Vitamin D. I was so aware of how lucky we are in Oxford to have so much green space so nearby particularly as the permissible activities out of the house were so (necessarily) restricted.

It was cold and wet yesterday, and I was glad for my umbrella, and impressed by the people out running at this time of year in the autumn drizzle. I didn't meet any other 'casual walkers' though. It's such a beautiful time of year in Oxford, with the leaves changing. This month is also the anniversary of my arrival in the UK, three years now. Autumn is the best time of year to move to a new place, I discovered. You see how beautiful it can be while having a few months to prepare for the oncoming cold. It's topping 30 degrees Celsius at home in the Southern Hemisphere, and I miss my parents with an ache that rests somehow at the top of my lungs. They're starting to look older in photos, though it's only been a year since I last saw them in person. I don't know when I will be able to go home. More than ever what home means is so charged. Stay Home, Save Lives. I know this means I must stay in the cosy flat I'm renting with my long-term partner, and I am so lucky to have it and him. But… Home. 30-degree heat. Covering myself in Tabard in order to sleep. My dad's homemade chili sauce. Mamma reading on the stoep.

Still, it's so lovely in Oxford this time of year, and the trees in Uni Parks, the very existence of Uni Parks to walk through, is such a boon. Once at the Faculty I had to wrestle my 'teaching mask' on, standing outside in the rain as I tried to get the straps over the back of my head, my hair catching in my scarf and the straps, becoming increasingly frustrating. I have a few masks, and this one is 'hearing aid compatible', even though I don't wear or need a hearing aid. I bought it upon discovering that a normal mask moves up and down on my face as I talk, sliding under my nose or up over my chin and thus is not actually very safe. It's fine if I'm hurrying through Sainsbury's in silence, but not in conversation, not while teaching. We're teaching F2F, face-to-face, which might actually be worse than doing it all online. I can't see the expressions on the students' faces, and I'm not sure how it's going, or how they are. I like to make jokes and wry comments while teaching, and now I understand a little of what a stand-up comedian might feel when a joke doesn't land. Are they smiling behind the masks? Am I a 'cool' tutor?

I also can't always immediately tell who's speaking. In a seminar of 90% young women, I'm having to learn what body language people use when they're claiming a space to speak in, without being able to see their mouth moving. Often I look at the wrong person when identifying a speaker, trying to work out what's incongruous, before realising that someone else in that part of the room has spoken. Hand gestures are becoming more common, and I'm definitely waving my arms around a fair bit more to emphasise a point, or indicate a question.

When the seminar is over it's such a relief to get back outside, out of the stuffy, musty-smelling room which used to be the Graduate Workspace, now kitted out for f2f teaching. There's a squidgy bottle of Dettol and some blue paper towel on every desk. Very few of us graduates ever used the room before, because as I mentioned it smells funky, and I've now spent more time in there in the last two weeks of term than I have in the last two years. The new rules in the Faculty of English have also driven me deeper into the rabbit warren that is the St Cross building. I'm always surprised by where I end up when following the one-way systems around the building. I discover that these bits are connected to those bits by way of fluorescents-lit corridors lined by the offices of Profs I've never heard of. Eventually I emerged into the light having escaped the maze of the building, and pulled my mask off, getting entangled in my hair and scarf again. And then I began the long walk home, picking up a bit of holly on the pavement and then back making my way through Uni Parks towards home. The light is fading earlier every day now, the long nights encroaching as I try each day to keep my body moving, my mind ticking over, waiting for something to change.


Message for the future

Be kind.

About the picture(s)

The trees and pond in Uni Parks, and a bit of holly found on the pavement.




St Cross Building, Faculty of English, Oxford


Chelsea Haith

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