The DPhil Diaries: exploring nature, dodgy haircuts and a long distance love story

Image Description: Nupur Patel’s DPhil Diaries

We’re now in the full swing of term and first week has come with ever-so-slightly warmer and sunnier weather than the last few weeks! Whenever I can, I’ve tried to seize the opportunity to get some fresh air, away from the computer screen that I’m used to staring at for hours on end! Nature has honestly been one of my saving graces during lockdown. Within the regulations I’ve ventured to a few new places including Aston’s Eyot which is a great spot if you want to go on a nice run, quiet stroll or run into cute dogs! On my most recent visit, I went with my housemate, Alice, who is an avid bird watcher; she pointed out different birds on our trail and their distinctive calls. She did the same when a few of us walked around Christ Church Meadow on our lazy Sunday afternoon. It was a particularly nice time to go with the sun shining down on our faces and a massive flight of birds in sight! These days, I like to think of Alice as pretty much a David Attenborough in the making; she’s taught me a lot about the local wildlife and it has really made me appreciate what I’ve got around me.

I’ve even tried to reign in the beast that is life admin; is it me or is it just the absolute worst sometimes?

Walks have been a prominent activity this week since my DPhil has come to a bit of a standstill. I don’t expect to receive feedback from my supervisor until the end of second week, so while I wait for him to read through the hefty thesis draft (pray for him, please), I’ve been catching up on a bit of self-care in the form of walking and watching some Netflix. I’ve even tried to reign in the beast that is life admin; is it me or is it just the absolute worst sometimes? Some days I can feel so accomplished, having caught up on everything, and literally the next day I’ll have five or six more things to do! I have to admit that I haven’t completely taken the week off. I’ve tried to finish off some articles for journals that I’ve put off for the past few months. Since many of these have been inspired by my DPhil project, completing them this week has been a good way of staying connected to my thesis without completely submerging myself in it. This period of writing has surprisingly coincided with a renewed love of Britpop – namely Oasis, Suede, Ash and Pulp – as well as more current artists like Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift who have kept me inspired during the process.  All of this and banana bread, of course! It turns out that Taylor Swift’s Willow has been the perfect song for getting my head down! It has, however, caused me to sing (very badly) at the top of my lungs on many occasions, which some housemates appreciate more than others. Loki, our collie puppy, was particularly fascinated one day, putting his head to the floor and running around to try and find out where exactly the racket was coming from!

Loki has certainly provided us with a lot of entertainment this week, as always! He’s started learning more tricks and by the end of the week, we’ll be able to take the pup out for walks which will certainly reduce his tendency to bite every piece of furniture that he sees in the house! My housemates and I have also tried some new skills this week, first with house yoga, directed by Alice. We’ve committed ourselves to the 30 days of Yoga challenge by the iconic ‘Yoga with Adrienne’, and so far it seems to be a hit! It has definitely made me realise that I’m as stiff as a board, but I’m hoping that by the end of the challenge I can successfully do a downward dog without collapsing three seconds in!

All good, right? Wrong, oh so very wrong… Unfortunately, Alice was too preoccupied with Loki and the other housemates to properly hear me or look at the video.

Alice and I also tried our hands at haircuts by agreeing to cut Max’s hair (another housemate). I’m quite surprised that he trusted us to do this considering that neither of us had any experience. Looking back we were shockingly confident about the whole thing after only watching half of a video on YouTube. Before you carry on reading, I’d like to emphasize that it was going really well until the very end when, well, we ruined it. While Alice used the clippers and scissors on Max, I guided her with the YouTube video on standby, in case we had any doubts. So far so good: Alice was doing a great job of making things look even and together we were pretty smug about it, especially when our other housemates were hyping us up. But when it got to the final bit of cleaning up, we well and truly destroyed our masterpiece. To try and clean up the little hairs just above Max’s ears I told Alice to use the corner of the clipper to cut them off, pointing to the video which showed how the lady did it. All good, right? Wrong, oh so very wrong… Unfortunately, Alice was too preoccupied with Loki and the other housemates to properly hear me or look at the video. She just nodded and said ‘Yep!’ and before I knew it, a fatal mistake had taken place. One smooth trim of the shaver and “Nupppppp! Oh god!”

Oh yes, Max now had a massive bald patch on the right side of his head. Yikes!

We were all in disbelief and poor Max tried his best to assess the situation through the kitchen window. After the mixture of gasps and laughter that followed, some suggested that he go straight for the buzz cut look, but the noble Max decided to style it out. Luckily he took it all quite well and at the very least his work colleagues got a good laugh in the lab on Monday morning! Oops…!

Hilarious moments like these have kept me entertained and distracted from the fact that I’ve really missed my loved ones this week, especially my boyfriend, James. We’re coming up to four and a half years together and most of that has been long-distance. We had the luxury of being together in the first lockdown and while we were (and still are) in the midst of very scary and uncertain times, it was a lovely feeling being in the same place for more than a long weekend. We spent a lot of quality time together and I made sure to not take any of it for granted. Even though we knew that this wouldn’t be the case once we got back to our respective unis, we perhaps naively thought that by Michaelmas term things would be better, that we would get back into our routine of seeing each other every few weeks. Now that we’re back to being hundreds of miles apart, and the pandemic has worsened in the UK, we know that it’s going to be a lot longer before we can see each other again in person.

it’s tough to not have the next date in the diary for when we’ll see each other before that end goal.

It’s really hard. One of the things that has kept us strong in long-distance is knowing that there’s an endpoint. We had always planned for me to move up to live with him after the DPhil and while that’s still going ahead, it’s tough to not have the next date in the diary for when we’ll see each other before that end goal. It’s even tougher when he’s going through a difficult time, because I feel really helpless here in Oxford, unable to just give him a hug and tell him that everything will be alright. Luckily we have the privilege of not living in different time zones so we can Skype and message a lot during the day, but there’s still a deep longing to be with him and constant thoughts racing in my mind about what he’s doing and how he’s coping far away. I’m by no means a relationship expert but I have found some ways of making sure that we still maintain our connection across the miles. We’ve kept up our communication pretty well via different forms of social media and have sent often each other memes for our morning dose of laughter! A few thoughtful gifts have been exchanged to show that we’re thinking of each other and I’m planning on instigating some new creative activities like Netflix party sessions for virtual dinner dates. It’s not quite the same as being together in the same room, but it’s something that allows us to touch base with each other more often.

For anyone in a long-distance relationship, I’m sending you lots of love! I know it’s tough and life in a pandemic makes everything so much harder. Things will get better and the moment that you can safely reunite with your loved one will be so special and something worth looking forward to in the midst of the difficulties that you’re currently facing. Equally, to everyone who has made it through 1st week, congratulations! We’re living in very challenging times, and each week that we get through is an achievement that should be recognised.

Look after yourselves, stay safe and I’ll see you all next week. Sending lots of virtual hugs.

Image credits: Nupur Patel and The Oxford Student Creative Team