You always know it’s that time of year again when the BBC goes rifling through one’s taxidermy and curiosities instructing you what to pack, although of course, everything in a documentary is “natural” (as keep trying to tell me). Between my ever expanding wardrobe, my necessary academic trifles and colossal amount of crockery, tea services and vintage paraphernalia – I never do quite know how I manage to pack it all up three times a year, move it across half the country and unpack in what always happens to be a room of box proportions. But these are the necessary trauma’s we all must go through, if we are to maintain a reasonable quality of life when back at university.
For many, this will have been the first of such traumas, I would like to reassure you that things get easier, but I’m afraid it may simply be the case that you grow used to the pain. This annual return, this cramming of one’s life into a single vehicle, is actually a cathartic experience, a detox, an opportunity for re-invention. It demands your full attention, no longer can you avoid the awkward question of who am i? As you are ruthlessly forced to select which items define or represent you the most. Am I more of a stuffed hare with a dickie-bow or grimacing Amazonian boar? Do I take the Margaret Thatcher Pop-art or mere portrait?
Naturally, this is far more difficult for the Freshers amongst us – for you, first impressions are everything! For the rest, our reputations are known, for us it is either a case of major rebranding or simple consolidation. But my point is, it is at this time each year that the whole of Britain attempts re-invention – from Freshers to Prime Ministers, you are about to be bombarded by caricatures of sorts.
As we are two-thirds the way through party conference season, we have a nice example of the creative adjustments people are making. The Liberal Democrats are attempting to alert the British public to their existence, the difficulty being Nick Clegg is trying to do the opposite. This year they’re all about not being Tories, in fact they are the great defenders of Britain, preventing those Conservative monsters from slashing and cutting Britain back to the stone-age. This does marvels for the health of the coalition and literally causes Nadine Dorries to froth at the mouth.
But the real transformations have occurred in Liverpool, that once great maritime city renowned for its ever changing persona (and historic decline). Yes, my good friends the Labour Party. Ed Milliband is reinventing himself not as Count Duckula (although he has less bite, there is an uncanny resemblance) but as a man with a personality – you heard it here first! The man, who can even send electronics to sleep, is just like each of us neither an ‘insider’ nor an ‘outsider’ (who knows what that means?). Ed Balls is human, revealing his more intimate nature and domestic servitude to his darling wife. That brings me on the resounding success, the caterpillar well on her way to being a butterfly – Yvette. She had passion, she had conviction, and she somehow managed to develop a northern accent! God only knows how the Tories will attempt to reinvent their flagging brand. Oh yes, Europe’s saviour – providing the road map to global economic sanity! We were right about the Euro though, and the threat imposed by dangerous levels of debt – but this isn’t a manifesto.
In the shadow of these tweaks and alterations of persona – we mere mortals ourselves face a similar challenge. For many it is their first time living away from home, their first experience of the magnificence that Oxford has to offer, but this has a risk of leading to false expectations. I’m in full support of seasonal character changes and rebranding – but there are a few pit falls to avoid. First of all, Brideshead is dead, for your own sake don’t go there, you will only be hated. Second, the Union has seen it all, you are not exceptional, you will not blow us away with your oratorical skills, so please don’t make us endure. The union will eat you up and spit you back out. And I simply refuse to go down the ‘I’m an arts student’ path.
Shedding something of the past and moving on with a semi-new persona opens the possibilities that metamorphosis provides – but do so to discover yourself, not to present a façade to the world. And whatever you do, do it with style and conviction. Half-hearted imitations are enough to turn the stomach! As for myself, I’m now writing for my former arch nemesis, attempting to go civilian (semi-political retirement) and being absolutely myself – sort of.