It’s unfortunate that Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year, so we’re told – is always directly followed by at least three months of drab, grey misery. No sooner has the last of the turkey been devoured than the twinkling lights are torn down, the trees are cast out of doors to rot in the street, and batches of misguided presents are returned to the shops to raise funds for that last hoorah of feverish consumption, the January sales. Once this distasteful process has run its course, there is nothing left but to hunker down for a very long, very dark winter.
Ennui sets in first, then despair. Productivity is impossible. “I’m bored!” You wail at your housemates every morning. “There’s nothing to do! I’m going mad in this post-apocalyptic winter hell!” “Can’t you start your essay?” they suggest, helpfully. “Of course not!” you bark. “I don’t have any of the books I need!” They blink at you. “Perhaps you could go to the library?” they gingerly enquire. “Go out?” you squeak, incredulous. “Out there? You’re expecting me to trudge for miles through rain, sleet and snow for a few crumby books?”
Even as you utter these words, you catch a glimpse of the view from the window. Outside, the sky is blue, and a pale, winter sun is shining gently through the bare trees. Birds are singing. Children are playing on the grass. You draw the curtains. “I’m staying here”, you say, firmly. “Suit yourself”, say your housemates, and continue going about their busy, fulfilling lives.
Now the house is empty, and you are forced to entertain yourself. Perhaps you could have a stab at one of those job applications? Not wise, you think. You’re riddled with Seasonal Affected Disorder; potential employers will sense the lethargy a mile off. How about finally getting started on Crime and Punishment? Well, maybe. But just one episode of the West Wing first. Oh, and there might be a bar or two of chocolate in the fridge…
And this is how, night after night, my housemates return, flushed and bright-eyed from long days of rewarding endeavour, to find me sprawled on the sofa, surrounded by half-eaten snacks and discarded wrappers, and embarking upon episode fourteen.
It’s a curious thing, the obsession among some students with fast-paced, dizzyingly scripted American dramas like the West Wing. My theory is that we’re bored enough to crave high action and stimulating dialogue, and listless enough never to try creating it for ourselves. These shows are the perfect antidote to the monotony of undergraduate life.
In the onscreen corridors of power, the likes of Josh Lyman and Sam Seabourn stroll faster than I run, sipping coffee and communing in urgent tones. In the Situation Room, Leo McGarry slams his fist on the table, enraged by the truculence of yet another rogue state. The Leader of the Free World (Martin Sheen) rises to his feet, thundering “I’m tired of waiting, dammit! This is candy ass! We are going to draw up a response scenario, I’m going to give the order, and we’re going to strike back today!” “Yes!” I cry, reaching for another doughnut. “That’s exactly what I would say if I were President!”
On my own for hours, watching the West Wing with the curtains drawn, the boundaries between fiction and reality can become alarmingly blurred. Why isn’t real life like this? These glowing, wisecracking stars make my real friends look like pasty, vapid zombies. They don’t understand me! They don’t see I’m a world-class strategist and policy maker; my searing wit is lost on them. Perhaps they’re jealous? Perhaps I should go to Washington, hurl myself into the cut and thrust of U.S. politics, and start a new life…
Suddenly I am C.J. Cregg, striding back and forth the Oval Office. I counsel the President. I brief the press. I practise whipping off my glasses and slipping them back on again for maximum effect. There’s a commotion in the office. We’re polling to establish our job approval; bad results could scupper our chances of a second term. Others have become bogged down in detail, but I see the bigger picture. “This is an important poll!” shout Josh and Leo. “I’m well aware of its importance” I reply acidly, swinging my glossy auburn hair. “I’m also aware that if we don’t start the phone banks right now, I won’t have time to leak the internals to media outlets before we hit the weekend!” The others nod sagely, wowed by my lucidity and candour. “Start the banks!” I cry, and 30 men and women obediently pick up their phones and start dialling.
My telephone rings. I snatch it up eagerly, yelling “Give me some good news, goddammit!” into the receiver. It’s my mum. She wants to check I’m eating properly. I survey the carnage of comestibles around me, and utter a low, guttural groan.
I am not in Washington. I am not eating properly. And it is still winter. “Have you made any progress with your work?” she asks, nervously. I tell her that she should not expect too much too soon. Checks and balances make rapid change impossible. We have to take Congress with us.
Blake 13:32: the parable of Chav D
My personal congratulations go out to Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, YUSU’s diminutive Academic and Welfare Officer turned free-marketeer, who lent clout to the Union’s decision to scrap its Ethical Merchandising Policy last week by swinging the clunking fist of student welfare directly into the beatific face of Dan Taylor, self-appointed Guardian of Public Morals and sometime scourge of the NUS.
If the slurred reports of onlookers are to be believed, the spat occurred when Taylor, a giant among men in physique if not in subtlety of thought, approached Fletcher-Hackwood outside Chav D.
Drawing himself up to full height and salivating visibly, he bellowed: “You guys are, like, well hypocritical about all that ethical merchandise stuff!” Whereupon, Fletcher-Hackwood, who makes up in pluck what she lacks in stature, shrieked “Ethical merchandise? I’ll show you ethical bloody merchandise!” and swung in a stiff right hook.
Quite how she managed to reach his hairy earlobe, which is where the clunk apparently landed, is a matter still under investigation.
However, few would deny that the episode is a modern fable of biblical proportions. Move over David! Step aside, Samson! This spunky heroine doesn’t even need a slingshot – she’ll floor Goliath and strike a blow for feminism with a mere flick of the wrist!
“Sound the alarm! Call the police! I’ve been assaulted!” the stricken giant was heard to roar, as Fletcher-Hackwood beat a hasty retreat to higher ground. “Gutted, mate. You’ve just been whacked by a midget,” his loyal companions helpfully intoned.
Surely, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.