Showing posts with label exams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label exams. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Afternoon tea at the Old Parsonage in Oxford

It was my birthday yesterday and the last day of my son’s exams – so what better way to celebrate than afternoon tea in Oxford?

And what better place to choose than the Old Parsonage? One of the best-known hotels in Oxford, it’s housed in a pretty 17th century building and boasts a shady stone terrace that’s just perfect for afternoon tea. No wonder the place is so popular with newly-graduated students. There were loads of them there yesterday, resplendent in their mortar boards and gowns, taking tea with their proud parents.

The three of us went for broke and chose what the Old Parsonage calls its “very high tea.” Actually, it was a “very big tea” – a mix of smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches (with their crusts cut off of course), scones and cream and divine-looking cakes, all washed down by a special blend of tea named after the Old Parsonage. We tucked in with alacrity, although we couldn’t quite manage the cakes. “No problem,” said the charming waiter. He hurried inside and reappeared a few minutes later with the cakes packed into neat brown boxes.

At £16.95 a head, afternoon tea at the Old Parsonage wasn’t exactly cheap but it was a special occasion after all. Not only that, we were so full by the time we got home that none of us could possibly manage supper later on. And even better, we’ve got these luscious cakes (below) to look forward to for tea today…

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Exam time in Oxford, carnations and Inspector Rebus

Just before nine each morning I spot hordes of anxious-looking students hurrying along the pavement below my office.

It’s exam time in Oxford and the undergraduates are on their way to the exam hall up the road. The Starbucks round the corner is full of them, all drinking endless cups of black coffee and poring over closely-typed revision notes. Forget the old saying about policemen seeming absurdly young as you get older. As far as I’m concerned, these students look about 12.

While students at other universities (my daughter included) can wear whatever they like to sit their exams, it’s different in Oxford. Here they look like they’ve come straight off the film set of Brideshead Revisited. They all wear distinguished black academic gowns, the men in dark suits and white bow ties, the women in short black skirts and white shirts. For some reason, I’m not sure why, they sport carnations in their buttonholes – white for their first exams, red for their last and pink for all exams in between. I’m not a huge fan of carnations as a rule but the students cut a real dash in them. And one thing’s for sure, the local florist must be doing a roaring trade.

PS. The best news to come out of the Hay Festival this weekend was Ian Rankin’s revelation that a new Rebus novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, will be out in November. Rankin had hinted as much at the Oxford Literary Festival earlier in the year when he said he felt a sense of “unfinished business” about Rebus. But to have it confirmed is a treat. Like millions of loyal Rebus fans, I can’t wait to read it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Sweltering in the sunshine, revision and The Great Gatsby

Phew, what a scorcher… I’ve wanted to write those words ever since my newspaper days. 

But deep down I wish the azure blue skies and sweltering heat hadn't arrived quite yet. Why? Because every teenager I know is revising for exams right now. And while the papers are full of annoying articles declaring that A levels and GCSEs have been dumbed down (not true, they’re just different), a generation of 16 to 18 year olds are stuck indoors trying to memorise endless quotes from Of Mice and Men. They look pale and stressed and keep muttering anxiously about the scores of exams ahead.

Funnily, enough, the year I took my A levels was a scorcher too. But I didn’t treat them half so seriously as today’s teenagers. Actually, I spent the entire summer lying on a Dorset riverbank sunbathing with friends and reading old copies of Jackie magazine.

But on the up side, teenagers are definitely less sartorially challenged in the sun than grown-ups. I hate my scary white legs and avoid baring them for as long as possible. Even though the sun’s been shining for a few days it’s been a real wrench to discard my habitual black tights and hunt out the fake tan. A London friend told me that on the first day of the heat wave a fellow passenger eyed her thick tights with disdain. “I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and tell her it wasn’t my fault I left for work before the weather changed,” she said. I had much the same feeling today when my daughter arrived home and eyed my blotchy orange ankles. “It's amazing how easy it is to forget to fake tan your feet,” she said.

PS. My son’s just made me watch the trailer for the remake of The Great Gatsby. I adored the novel (did it for A level, in fact) and swooned at Robert Redford in the original movie, so wasn’t that interested. But just take a look. I reckon it’s going to be the movie of the year…

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The annual French exchange

As the exam season kicks in with a vengeance, my student daughter hit on a brilliant idea to revise for her impending French oral. She and her flatmate booked a budget flight to Lyon and spent two days immersed in speaking French. It was a far better (and more fun) idea than the usual method of improving teenagers’ language skills – the dreaded French exchange.

Apart from my schoolfriend Sarah, who became lifelong pals with the French girl she exchanged with, I’ve never come across a success story.

When I was 16, I swapped with a sweet French girl called Marie-Line who lived in a fishing village on the Normandy coast. I was desperately homesick, barely uttered a word of French and had nightmares for weeks after walking into the basement and discovering a massive tank of crabs, fish and other creatures from the ocean swimming around – the results of her father’s latest fishing trip.

My daughter did a French exchange at the age of 12, which was far too young. It came about after a French business contact of my husband’s suggested it – and we reckoned it would be churlish to refuse.

When Jean-Paul delivered his daughter Sabine to our house she was clearly appalled by the whole idea. She loathed the food I cooked, couldn’t understand a word I said in either French or English and spent the week buying up her body weight in sweets. It wasn’t her fault at all that she hated the whole experience but it certainly didn’t do anything for the entente cordiale. Worse still, when her father politely rang the following week to thank us for having Sabine to stay, he added: “Oh, and I hope you didn’t let her eat any sweets. I forgot to tell you that she isn’t allowed them at home.”

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