Cheese rolling in Gloucestershire

Today I took a break from revision to attend the annual Cheese rolling race on Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth with a friend of mine and one of his colleagues. This is a traditional event in which a 9lb round of Gloucester Cheese is rolled down the hill, with competitors chasing after it. The first person across the finish line wins the cheese.

I had first heard about this event years ago and thought it sounded pretty funny, but when my friend suggested last week that we try to attend this year I couldn’t pass it up. He drove to Oxford early in the morning and picked me up before we set out to Brockworth along with a colleague of his.

The walk up to the hill was a steep climb, with a lot of queuing. The event runs without any real marshalls or even a first aid stand, as it now run without council approval, who have repeatedly tried to place restrictions on the event due to Health-and-Safety concerns.

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Although it was raining heavily, the crowds which came out to watch were huge and it was difficult at times to get a clear view of what was going on. I regretted my choice of clothing for the event, having underestimated the location (jeans are not ideal in the rain), and not bringing water. Fortunately there were a few stands selling food and drink nearby.

I have to admit that it was highly entertaining to watch large groups of people hurtling down the hill after a large round of cheese. That said – if I chose to go again I would probably bring some provisions with me, dress properly for hillwalking and come earlier to get a better spot – as you can see from the picture it was difficult to get a full view of the course.

Finals Diary, part 9: Five down, Five to go

I am currently halfway through my finals, having done 5 exams this last week with 5 left to go. I will be finished on the 8th of June, which means there are just 11 days to go!

I started with my exam on the Hellenistic World on Tuesday afternoon. It was a challenging paper and I was very, very nervous about it going into the exam.

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(A picture of me in academic dress which I sent to my friends just before I left to go to the exam room).

The exam itself went well: I think I managed to put something coherent on paper at least and show off what I actually knew, which is the best you can hope for. The other four exams, which consisted of two translation papers and two Roman history papers, went a bit better. I had a much better grasp on the material, the questions were more predictable and in general I was feeling more relaxed and confident having got the first one out of the way. The translation, too, went well. Although I had been worried I hadn’t revised my texts enough, once I got into the exam I found that my Latin was better than I had thought and I was able to understand the passages relatively well.

This coming week I will have two archaeology papers: one on urbanism and the Roman economy, the other on Roman Art. Truth be told, I am a little bit nervous about these ones as the knowledge required is very specific, and the exam technique required is very different than for the history papers. I am going to do some work on them this afternoon and on Tuesday, and hopefully that will be enough to see me through.

Finals Diary, part 8: Calm before the Storm?

My first exam will be on Tuesday.

I am feeling optimistic about it, and also relieved. As far as my countdown stands, it is now only 18 days until my exams will be over. Honestly – I am excited. I can’t wait for it to be over, and to move on from Oxford.

This weekend has been fairly chilled out. I’m trying not to think about the exams themselves, and trying not to think too much about the question of the “result”. I find thinking in terms of the stakes involved is what’s most effective in sending me into a panic, and that isn’t what I need right now.

Today I bought my subfusc and carnations for sitting the exams. For those not familiar with Oxford tradition, this might sound somewhat bewildering. However – and I’m being serious here – it’s obligatory to wear academic dress to sit your university exams in Oxford. For me, this means a white blouse, black skirt or trousers, a ribbon, gown and mortarboard. Carnations are not a compulsory part of the getup, but are common. You wear a white one for the first exam, pink for those in between and a red one for the final exam. As far as I’m able to tell, this is a “tradition” invented in… the 90s, but I suppose it adds to the ritual of the whole thing. I am not sure if I will be able to update this blog midweek as I have will have five exams to sit, but I will update at the weekend with how things are going.

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A Vegetarian Goulash with Dumplings

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

Goulash
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
2 red peppers, cut into chunk
400g butter beans, drained
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
5 tbsp hot smoked paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp dill
2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
Sour cream (to serve), optional
Fresh dill (to serve), optional

Dumplings
6 tbsp plain flour
1 egg
2 tbsp water

Instructions
1. Prepare all the vegetables.  Sieve the flour into a bowl, before adding the egg and water and kneading into a sticky dough. Wrap this in cling film and allow to rest for 30 min before cooking.
2. Heat the oil and fry the onions and garlic until translucent.
3. Add the peppers and paprika and fry for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the potatoes, as well as the other spices and herbs, and stir until they are coated with the mixture.
4. Add enough water to cover 3/4 of the potatoes, and add the tomato paste.
5. Bring to the boil, before letting simmer on a medium heat for 20-25 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings. Set a pot of water to boil on the hob and add salt. When it is rapidly boiling, pinch off bits of the dough, twist it into a noodle shape and drop them into the water. They will sink and then float as they cook. Allow them to boil for 15-20 minutes.
7. Add the butter beans and dumplings to the goulash, stir well and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes.
8. Serve hot with sour cream and dill.

Finals diary, part 7: the Final Hurdles

Right now, I have one full week left before the exam period starts. In total, it is less than four weeks until my exams will be completely finished. I am looking forward to it being over immensely, but my motivation and discipline has started to slump a little bit this week. Nevertheless, I’m confident that it will return. As I’m now at a stage where I have most of my notes finished, next week I am going to focus on memorizing things and doing some practice essays and commentaries before the real deal starts on Tuesday 23rd May.

In general I have been feeling good. The days are getting longer, the weather is getting better and better, and I feel that I’m on top of things. I’ve substantially managed to improve my lifestyle in order to operate in a more healthy and happy way, and I hope that I’ll be able to sustain that going forward. I’m also immensely looking forward to having finished with my degree and the plans I’ve made for after my exams finish.

I am still socializing a lot and seeing my friends. I have managed to cut down my drinking significantly, but I am still going out regularly and seeing people which I think is a healthy way to approach things. I know that quite a few of my friends have sequestered themselves away, but to me this seems almost counter-productive, and from what I’ve observed it’s started to have some somewhat negative effects on their emotional health.

In general, though, at this stage it just feels like a waiting game. I have so much I’m ready to do when this is all over; I’m beyond ready to leave. After five years, I have to say that being at Oxford feels a lot like groundhog day: the same day repeated over and over again, with no obvious end point. And yet, I am nearly there.

Some Punjabi recipes

These are recipes I learned from friends. They are very easy to make, are very nutritious and are also very cheap and freeze well. Serve with rice or chapatis.

Chana Masala

3 400g tins chickpeas, drained
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp fennel seeds
200ml whisked curd (dahi) (NB – it is also possible to use natural yoghurt, or substitute coconut milk for a vegan version)
2-3 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil

Instructions

1. Prepare the vegetables.
2. Fry the onions and chilli in the oil until translucent, and then add the ginger-garlic paste and fry until it lose the pungent smell.
3. Add the spices except garam masala and fennel seeds, and cook for one more minute
4. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid starts to run out from them.
5. Add the chickpeas and stir until they are coated by the mixture.
6. Add water until the chickpeas are 3/4 covered, bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the curd with the fennel seeds.
7. Turn to a low heat, and add the garam masala and curd mixture.
8. Serve immediately.

Rajma Masala

3 400g tins kidney beans, drained
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp mango powder (amchoor) (Available online or in Indian supermarkets). 
2-3 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil

Instructions

1. Prepare the vegetables.
2. Heat the oil and cook the cumin seeds in it until they crackle.
3. Fry the onions and chilli in the oil until translucent, and then add the ginger-garlic paste and fry until it lose the pungent smell.
3. Add the spices except garam masala and mango powder, and cook for one more minute
4. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid starts to run out from them.
5. Add the kidney beans and stir until they are coated by the mixture.
6. Add water until the kidney beans are 3/4 covered, bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
7. Turn to a medium heat, add the garam masala and mango powder and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
8. Serve immediately.

Finals diary, part 6: Nearly there

32 days until my finals are over, or just over a month to go.

This week has been good for me. I’ve managed to get a lot of revision done, but I’m starting to feel a little bit of fatigue with working all day every day. I’ve decided to take two days off this weekend just to give myself a little bit of breathing space to recover. I am fairly confident about how things will go, and now I almost feel a kind of impatience as I wait for things to finally be over.

Yesterday I went to Cheltenham to visit friends, which was a welcome break from Oxford. We visited a gallery in the morning, before cooking lunch together and then going for a walk in a Cotswolds village with a drink in a pub at the end. It was very relaxing and calm, and also was great to spend some time with people who are not under exam pressure at the minute.

I also got through the assessment stage of the British Council assistantship application. As far as I understand it, this means that I have a very strong chance of being allocated a post in Germany, but it is still not 100% certain, particularly because I will not be a third year languages student taking a year abroad. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic that it will work out, and the only thing I can do is wait and see.