The Age of Dril

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 24 February 2017.

“fuck “jokes”. everything i tweet is real. raw insight without the horse shit. no, i will NOT follow trolls. twitter dot com. i live for this”

Such is the manifesto of the Twitter user known only as Dril (wint to his friends). An anonymous surrealist comedian, his first tweet was in 2008: the single word ‘no’. Since then he has provided an endless stream of memeable verbiage. Highlights include “the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: “theres actually zero difference between good & bad things. you imbecile. you fucking moron”, and “who the fuck is scraeming “LOG OFF” at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never log off”.

They’re funny, weird, nonsensical, even a little unnerving – but they all represent some aspect of internet behaviour. We’ve all seen naive appeals to moderation, we’ve all seen desperate flame war posturing. Dril is the internet’s collective id, given form. He’s the online equivalent of the Beowulf-poet; we may never know who he really is, but we recognise when he is being channeled.

This helps explain the proliferation of accounts riffing on Dril – his tweets are not owned, but freely distributed, remixed, re-memed. The most interesting of these riff accounts is @EveryoneIsDril, a bot which retweets other users who happen to sound like Dril. One of its most memorable retweets is some bloke called @realDonaldTrump: “When someone attacks me, I always attack back…except 100x more. This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life!”

Ah, yes. Politics. The increasingly nonsensical nature of political discourse has been fertile ground for Dril and his riffers. Another great riff account is @parliawint, which uses Dril tweets to caption photos of British politicians. Recent highlights include a picture of Theresa May at her Brexit speech, captioned “Downlioading 6 Terabytes of Info On Deal’s” and that infamous picture of Michael Gove doing the thumbs up with Trump, captioned “Louis? gosh, it’s been years. it’s me, Neal, from Law School. anyway, i got this big juicy onion here, was thinking me and you could fuck it”. There is a visceral glee to this kind of satire, reflecting the topsy-turvy aesthetic of modern politics in a way no traditional cartoon could.

Artefacts like these are perfect satirical expressions for this new age of reactionism. Gluts of nonsense are a political tool; it’s been remarked that the Trump administration seems to be trying to exhaust and befuddle the opposition through the sheer volume of bad policies and public scandals, and our political vocabulary is vulgarising at hyperspeed. It’s hard to think of a more Dril-like phrase than ‘The Bowling Green Massacre’, or indeed ‘Brexit Means Brexit’.

This, then, is the Age of Dril. A culture weaponised against us, an international discourse gone mad, the entire world a perverted Hieronymus Bosch painting, watched over by Pepe and Pixellated Fascists. In a world poisoned by nonsense, our only recourse is to be nonsensical ourselves. Evolve and become unrecognisable. Become multi-tentacled, pan-dimensional, and incorporeal strobe lights of blood and supernova. And even as the world gradually shrinks, slowly transforming into the shriveled corncob of neoreaction, scream into the howling void: “I’m not owned!”

Embrace your paradox. Refuse to be someone else’s.

Live for that.

Confessions of a student journalist

Photo: David Barker

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 10 June 2016. I was asked for a short article about how to get into student journalism, and it just ran away with me. This may be the single most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever written, but I hope it’s helpful and/or amusing to someone.

I didn’t choose the hack life. The hack life chose me, because it had a deadline that week and I was the only one available. I’ve been a student journalist for almost as long as I’ve been a student – you may remember me from such articles as the one about Christmas adverts, the one about dank memes, or the one from last October where I predicted the inevitable downfall of Donald Trump (lol). I have, in CV-speak, ‘been around the block’ – I’ve written for every section of this humble student rag, and I’ve spent over a year editing it. But now, with the herpes-like persistence of dissertation prep and the grim prospect of Finals Year looming on the horizon, it’s looking like I won’t be writing at the rate I currently am (about two or three articles a week) for much longer. It is at this point that you should imagine me as a fist-shaking supervillain: you haven’t heard the last of me! But you are, at least, less likely to hear quite so much from me in the near future. So as the fat lady winds down into the slower-tempo tunes, and the waiter begins eyeing half-empty dessert plates, I thought it might be nice to take a look back on my two years in the business, and offer advice to any potential future hacks while I’m at it. Because this torch needs passing to someone, and I did mention there was a deadline this week, didn’t I?

The first thing I learned as a student journalist, and the first lesson I offer to any trainee Oxford hack, is that nobody cares. At halfway hall this year there was an award for best student journalist. There were four options on the ballot, one of which was me, two of which were other venerable college hacks, and finally there was the joke option ‘I don’t care about student journalism’. This option won. By a considerable margin. I came second. Not that it matters. None of this matters. The vital lesson to impress upon padawan hacks is that no-one will read what they produce. The OxStu and Cherwell clog up JCR bins, the Tab is itself a giant bin, and no-one but the mad or utterly starving will go rooting through them for nourishment. The student papers are a training ground; they’re a place where aspiring writers, free from the burden of readership, can experiment, test themselves, and ultimately, with a bit of luck and a lot of hard graft, improve their abilities. No-one reads the articles we produce. And thank god for that. To assume a readership is to misunderstand the student press’s purpose; it is a place to develop a style that might earn one a readership, not a place where you are automatically given one.

The other thing a writer needs is a work ethic. You need to work for those stories that nobody will read. That means hitting deadlines, ideally several days ahead of time. Editors like people like that – it’s how they reproduce. The sort of person who will be given a Friday deadline and submit the Monday before is exactly the kind of ruthlessly efficient anal-retentive hack who is guaranteed a long and successful career in editorship. On that subject, or at least close enough for the digression not to matter too much, please stick to your word counts. When I first became an editor, literally the first article I ever commissioned came in over length. We had asked for 500 words. We were given 1,500 words, complete with a five hundred word introduction describing the precise motions involved in rolling a home-made cigarette. It was supposed to be an article about student accommodation. So it would be nice if you could stay on topic and know your limits, as it’s a nice way of not making your editors utterly hate you (he said, looking worriedly over the last six hundred and sixty-seven words). It’s also not a good idea to get overly precious about your articles – things get cut, and what gets cut is always the editor’s call. You are not being censored. You are being edited. If you don’t like it, start a blog of your own and realise all of your embarrassing mistakes forty-eight hours after the damn thing has already been uploaded for all the world to see. You have entered into this writer-editor relationship consensually, and this one of the criteria for doing so. Think the editor as a dominatrix for your articles – there’s a reason they call them ‘submissions’, after all.

On a related subject: editing. Should you ever find yourself editing a section, or, god forbid, an entire newspaper, there are two things you need to know. The first is that Adobe InDesign is the invention of the devil, sent to torture all journalists after a scandal in the 1980s where multiple tabloids accused him of being really, really, into Dungeons and Dragons. It will be the bane of your life for as long as you bear the name ‘editor’. Just accept it. The second thing is that content can be remarkably difficult to come by  – many people simply don’t have time to bash out 350 words about the new roundabout, let alone a rambling semi-coherent essay by way of industry advice. My recommended solution is simply to throw shit at the wall, and eventually a week’s worth of content will stick. Always commission more articles than you need for a given week, and be prepared to chop and change on the fly, as a certain amount of articles will inevitably be delayed or outright dropped. The shit-throwing approach also works well for getting interviews – most A-listers are too busy for the likes of you, so start plumbing the depths of United Agents. Anyone who looks even remotely interesting is probably worth a go, and in my experience the struggling authors selling through Amazon are usually a lot more interesting to talk to than the vapid million-selling thriller writer, even if his car is slightly nicer. No-one should get into student journalism for the glamour, or for the vain hope of meeting celebrities – any who do will be very disappointed very quickly, though if you buy me a drink I will tell you about the time I met Nick Jonas and accidentally told him to fuck off.

Oh god, I’ve barely started. I’ve not even mentioned the crewdates, or the office playlists, or the time I used sigil magic on a particularly difficult article. Suffice it to say that there’s a certain amount of hacking you need to learn on to job. But there’s one thing I do need to talk about before I go, and that’s the importance of networking. (No, I’m not talking about OUSU’s poor WiFi). I have met some extraordinary people on my hacking odyssey, from the editors who believed in me back in first year to my comrades in the dep ed trenches to the new hacks coming up behind me (at least some of whom are editing this very article). Know ye this, aspiring hack: you are only as good as the team that surrounds you, and I was lucky enough to consistently be surrounded by champions. It has been an absolute privilege to know and work with all of them, and I’m glad to call many of them friends. So if this article is for anyone (other than the dear readers who have made it this far), then it’s for you, my Comrades InDesign. Splendid folks, the lot of you. You were the reason I kept coming back, and you are what I’m going to miss most when I finally, at long last, bid my reluctant farewell to student journalism.

Although I should point out that I will still be coming to all your events. Especially the ones with free drinks.

Oxford’s Final Frontier: a chat with Oxford TrekSoc

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 3 June 2016.

They say Oxford is another world, but for many students that simply isn’t enough. Some want to seek out new friends, new experiences, to boldly split infinitives that no man (or indeed woman) has ever split before. Hence the existence of the Oxford Star Trek Society, a group of Trekkies who meet every Monday to watch the show, discuss its nearly fifty years of history, and generally appreciate what lies beyond the final frontier. Heading them up is the newly-elected Captain Rose Atkinson, who was kind enough to meet with me to discuss Star Trek, ropey special effects and the social life of the society.

We started by discussing her role within the society. “I’m the Captain of the Star Trek Society, so I’m responsible for organisation the weekly meetings, arranging the themes of the episodes we pick, keeping the society finances in order, and organising events. There are four of us on the society committee – we’ve got the First Officer, who assists me and helps out with food, that kind of thing. Then there’s the Morale Officer, who also does events, and the Technical Officer, who’s responsible for showing the episodes we watch during the meetings.”

So what does a typical meeting involve? “Usually beforehand we have a poll on the Facebook page, so everyone can pick some episodes that they want to see. Then we turn up, watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek, maybe share some fun Star Trek-related information, but all in a very light-hearted sort of way. Then we go to the pub, usually. It’s quite a nice, easygoing time.”

Star Trek fandom often involves a high level of commitment. How did Rose get involved in the society, and how did she first get into the show generally? “Well, being a lifelong (almost) Trekkie, I went looking for them at the freshers’ fair, because I had heard about them on the offer group, and signed up from there. In terms of how I first got into the show, I think my mum showed me it when I was about ten, or something. I’m a big fan of the original series, and I liked its outlook. It’s a very hopeful show, a very forward-looking show, and also one with a lot of fun in it. The whole Star Trek community is one that enjoys the flaws of the show as well as its selling points, I think. And it has some very good stories, as well.”

What’s the social dynamic of the society like, and what sort of crowd does it draw week to week? “Well, there’s about fourteen or fifteen regular members, so we’re quite a small and close-knit bunch. But to be honest, it’s quite a wide selection: we have grad students, undergrads, all sorts of sciences and humanities. It’s not a stereotypically “nerd” society, really. There’s a lot of different types of people within the group.”

What are the challenges of running a society like this in Oxford specifically? “I think that does have a dint on numbers, because I’m always meeting people who say they are interested in Star Trek, or they signed up at freshers’ fair and they’re still getting emails, but they just don’t have time. And I think maybe it’s perceived as more of a fun society, one that’s not going to look good on your CV, like for instance being a committee member of the Oxford Union or whatever. So it’s perceived as being a sort of frivolous society. I mean it is frivolous and fun, but I think it’s a good way to relax from the Oxford lifestyle. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously for the most part. I mean we all very much love it, but we can appreciate the silly side of Star Trek, the terrible low budget, the silly costumes and so on. I think it’s a show that lends itself to good-natured fun, really, and the small size of the society means that we all know each other. I mean, we had a contested election this year but it was never in the slightest bit aggressive, or a “hacking” election – there’s nothing to hack for, really, which is why it’s so much fun.”

Having been made Captain this term, does Rose have any grand plans for the society? “Well at the moment I hear this year’s batch of freshers has been bigger than previous years. In previous years the society has been down to about five people, I believe. So we would like to increase from the fourteen, fifteen members. We’re probably going to the fiftieth anniversary convention later this year, and organising a few more social events, because it is very much a society for friends with a similar interest, and getting along with each other. So we’d like a few more social activities to cater that. We’re hopefully going to have a crewdate with another nerdy society. We’d like to get in touch with maybe the Harry Potter society or something later in the year, and we’d like to try and go for a Star Trek picnic, and try and make some of the food that they have on the show. Off the top of my mind I think I’ve seen some recipes for Klingon worm dishes which I’d like to try. Though not using any actual worms, I hope.”

What are Rose’s favourite bits from the half-century of the Star Trek franchise? “I’m an original series Trekkie. My First Officer is more of a Next Generation fan – we tend to watch a lot of the Next Generation in the society, but I think we get quite a good balance of all the series’. It’s always the same people who suggest the episodes of a particular season. We’ve got some people who are very keen on one series and not on the others, so there’s a bit of a split there, but it’s entirely amicable.”

In that spirit, where does Rose stand on that great Trekkie debate, Kirk or Picard? “Well, personally, I don’t think my Captainhood is much like Captain Kirk’s [William Shatner], but he will always be my favourite captain, because he’s just a lot more fun than Picard [Patrick Stewart]. Picard is rather more realistic, but he’s not half as bombastic.”

Finally, how would Rose try persuade someone to come along to the society? “We’re not a society for “hardcore fans”. Some of us really love the original series, know all the different battleships, all the different cruiser classes, or whatever, and some of us have watched them once or twice, and think they’d like to get into it more. It’s a very welcoming society, there’s not a certain level of knowledge you need about Star Trek in order to get in. You can just turn up and give it a go, even if you’ve never seen it before. It is, after all, a cultural icon, turning fifty this year. It’s such a popular culture reference point that it’s worth coming just to understand the influence it’s had – if you look for it, you start seeing Star Trek everywhere.”

 

Cards, Charizard and Championships: a chat with Oxford Pokémon Society

Photo: Stéfan on Flickr

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 27 May 2016. It was a collaboration with my good friend Redha Rubaie, who is a very good student journalist in his own right – he doesn’t have a blog, but as soon as I persuade him to get one I’ll point you all his way. Huge thanks also to Lychee Lu for being so nice when we interviewed him, and putting up with out dumb questions about Charizard.

‘Gotta catch ’em all!’ The rallying cry of a generation of schoolchildren, a generation currently in the process of growing up, getting jobs, and (in some unfortunate cases) studying at Oxford. Hence the Oxford Pokémon Society, a group of young aficionados who meet regularly to play, discuss, and generally enjoy everyone’s favourite child-friendly blood sport. Heading them up is Lychee Lu, a third-year biochemist and lifelong Poké-fan, who met with us to discuss trading cards, orange dragons and the ever-changing nature of the franchise.

Lychee kicked off by telling us his role within the society. “In the Pokémon society, like most other societies, we have standard committee positions, but we’ve also decided to give them an interesting spin. So the president is the Champion, followed by the vice president, who’s the Dragon Tamer, and the secretary is the Master of Minutes, and the welfare officer is Nurse Joy, understandably. And the treasurer is the Keeper of Plushies, because out society has lots of plushies, as you’ll know if you’ve seen our stall at freshers’ fair.”

What plushies does the society have? “We started with just what our members had – we had Pikachu, who’s the obvious choice, I suppose. And then we have a few random ones as well, I think some people had some Evolutions, which seem to be very popular with people, just because maybe they look kind of cute, and we have some of the Legendary Pokémon as well.”

What are Lychee’s favourite starter Pokémon, and which generation of the game does he prefer? “I’ve always played the card game, but I was never allowed a GameBoy growing up, and then when I came to Oxford I got the money to actually buy one, that was when Omega Ruby and Sapphire came out, so that was technically my first game. But I’ve since played some of the others on emulators and such. I first started playing the card game competitively at the Diamond and Pearl stage, so a lot of my favourite Pokémon come from that generation. But generation one is probably my favourite, in terms of the all-roundedness and the different aspects of the Pokémon world it represents.”

“I used to collect the cards a lot as a child. I grew up in Singapore, and I think a lot of my friends around me were playing as well. But I never played it until I got on to secondary school. One day I was watching TV, watching the Pokémon TV show actually, and one of the commercial breaks they had an ad for the Pokémon national championships. I didn’t realise people had actual competitions for this, so I went along, and I’ve been playing ever since. I played in Singapore through my A levels, and then I came here and discovered the local Pokémon community, and I’ve since been travelling around the country with my friends to play.”

Pokémon is a famously competitive scene – why does the game create such passion? “I suppose, with any kind of game, when you reach a rather high level it does get pretty skill-based, which I’d like to think Pokémon is. Certainly it has a lot of players, though not as many as it used to. I was at last year’s UK National Championships, and I’d say we had a good 250 people for the card game, and about 600-700 for the video game side, it was quite a sizeable number, and with that kind of pool you do get a good amount of competition.”

What does Lychee think of the criminally overrated Charizard? “I’m not sure – my personal favourite is Dialga, the metal dragon from Pokémon Diamond. I think people just have a strange fascination with dragons in general, they’re such a huge thing in popular culture. I suppose Charizard is essentially a fire dragon, and he’s one of the starters, which made it quite accessible to people, so I guess that all contributed to the reputation he’s got.”

Many a Pokémon player will remember the infamously creepy Lavender Town from the early games. Is Pokémon ultimately for kids or adults? “This is actually something my fellow card game players and I have discussed quite often – most of them are older than I am, generally mid-twenties or early thirties. We were comparing the designs of the older cards and the newer ones. The newer cards have a lot more text on them, and some of it’s even quite complicated. There is actually a professional exam now which you have to be able to pass to judge competitions officially, and it’s mainly about the intricate wordings of the text. It’s not quite something that small children would be able to pick up immediately. So in that sense, I’d say their target audience has shifted, slightly. There’s a generation which grew up with Pokémon, so it’s adjusted along with them.”

How would Lychee persuade potential new members to give Pokémon a go? “We do face this problem a lot at freshers’ fair;  a lot of people walk by and say ‘oh, I remember that from like ten, fifteen years ago’, but they might be reluctant to give it a go now. It’s a similar situation for almost all of us in the society, and we tell them, essentially, you can always pick it up again. Especially the competitive side to it, I guess when people see it they realise it can actually be a lot more fun and skill-based, which can help get people interested. If you enjoyed it in the past, you’ll certainly enjoy it a lot more now. Like, have you tried Pokémon with alcohol? That’s something most ten year-olds won’t have tried, and I can say from experience that it’s great fun.”

Such dank, much meme: an interview with Oxford Dank Memes Society

Photo: Luis Bambi

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 13 May 2016. Ada was absolutely brilliant, and I recommend everyone check out the group. DISCLAIMER ADDED 28/08/16 – Pepe the Frog has been designated a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League due to its popularity among white supremacists. This article was written before this came to light, and both Ada and myself strongly disavow any and all white supremacists, regardless of whether they use this meme. 

Oxford has a lot of student societies but earlier this year second-year PPEist and Corpuscle Ada Pospiszyl noticed that there was no society for lovers of the iconic images we so love to share online; a requiem for a meme. So she decided to rectify this by creating the Oxford Dank Memes Society, a Facebook page for Oxford students to share whatever memes necessary. Assisted by her fellow founders Mark Scott, Srishti Suresh, Shane Finn and Harrison Edmonds, they have turned the page into Oxford’s premier destination for light relief and Doge pictures. She met with me to discuss internet culture, Pepe the Frog, and the secrets of Oxford’s heart of dankness.

I started by asking how the society was first established. “There was one event late last Hilary that we called the Dank Memes Society launch, but then there was no plan for an actual society. We just kind of did it as a joke. Then by the end of term I was obviously doing everything I could do to avoid doing work, so I thought ‘Hey, let’s make it into a real society, that’ll be really funny’. The meme culture is not very strong in Oxford, because we think we’re all so serious, and we have to have Serious Societies. I just thought, you know, it would be an interesting experiment to set one up. If you go on [political Facebook group] Open Oxford, sometimes they’ll start posting memes, and most of them are irrelevant, unfunny, they’re not dank at all. They’re way too political, and mostly like two years old. So we wanted to try and do something better.”

A truly dank meme, to Ada’s mind, “has to be relatable. The whole funniness comes from the fact that this joke is repeated so many times, even if it wasn’t funny at the beginning. I mean, there’s nothing funny about Pepe – it’s just a frog, right? That’s what made it funny in the beginning. It’s not a funny image, it’s a miserable-looking frog, it’s sad if anything, but that repetition makes it funny when it does appear. It’s like a second level of funniness, if you know what I mean. It just sort of comes from nowhere. So I think the secret to a good meme is just accepting that it’s basically quite lame, and sort of laughing at yourself.”

What are the president’s favourite memes? “I love Pepe, just because I think it represents everything that memes are, it’s so lame. I like Doge as well, just because I think it’s very hard to make an offensive Doge meme. I don’t think political memes are the best memes. I think the best memes are just really pure, and I think that Doge represents that. I also love that it lets you use Comic Sans “ironically”. Memes are a very twenty-first century thing, because of the way they’re shared so many times, and that makes them funny. I think that interconnectedness is something that’s quite basic to all memes.”

Memes can also play a unique social, even political role for society members. “If you go on, I don’t know, a Libertarian fan page, there will be so many memes, if you go on a Communist fan page, you have Sassy Socialist Memes, about five different Communist memes fan pages. Every single sub-group in society has their own memes, so I don’t think there is a specific group that likes memes more than others, but I suppose some groups are maybe more open about it. Although on Dank Memes Society we try not to encourage too many political memes, because people get way too excited, and it often becomes quite offensive really easily. That’s not the point of memes.”

Being an admin for a group like this also has its challenges. “Once, one of the admins thought it would be a good idea to accept a middle-aged woman who’d been on Facebook for five days onto the group, and she started just offering everyone a cheap loan. So that was a bit embarrassing. A lot of the stuff that gets posted is quite off-limits, like swastikas, porn, that sort of stuff. Not a lot, but we do get it frequently. It’s a bit gross, but then you just click ‘Delete’. But sometimes you do get borderline cases where something is a bit funny but also not really OK, especially at the very beginning there were a lot of Socialist memes. Some of them were funny, but some of them were just, like pictures of Stalin going ‘Ha ha, I don’t know where all the capitalists went’, and then a picture of a gulag or whatever. It might be funny to a small group of people, but it’s not really OK. At the same time you don’t want to discourage people from posting, so it’s quite hard sometimes to decide whether something is so offensive that you don’t want it there.”

“It can sometimes be difficult to get people to try and make jokes about their weaknesses, so many Oxford students think we all need to be having serious debates about Freedom and so on. That’s good in a way, because it means we’re having meaningful and important discussions, but I think it’s also good to try and take a step back and laugh at it all.”

How would Ada persuade potential new members to sign up? “It’s easy and it’s free. If you feel bored, if you have to write an essay, you can always go on the group, have a bit of fun, or judge the bad memes, because let’s face it, those do get posted. There’s nothing to lose. really, and there is so much dankness to gain.”

A chat with Oxford WhoSoc

Photo: Hannah Taylor

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 6 May 2016. Hannah and Beth are friends of mine, so this was a really fun interview as well, and I’m happy to say they’ve converted me to their cause – I started going to WhoSoc after writing this article, so I can attest it is exactly as fun as they say it is.

So, there’s this show called Doctor Who. You might have heard of it. It’s good fun. Similarly fun are the show’s fans, a number of whom attend Oxford University. The Doctor Who Society (WhoSoc for short) organise weekly meetings involving TV-watching, geek quizzes, and speaker events. Taking over the club this term are Corpuscles Hannah Taylor and Beth Graham, who met with me to discuss Peter Capaldi, Dalek-related accidents and the joys of green bubble wrap.

 

Could you start by telling us your roles within WhoSoc?

Hannah: I’m the current president. I look after the society, and I uphold the constitution. Which involves fabulous clauses such as “Every meeting should end by zooming in on Colin Baker’s face”.

Beth: I’m treasurer. I basically make sure we don’t go into financial ruin, and occasionally pester people to give us money, as we’re not the richest society.

Hannah: It involves sending me emails going “we can’t afford this, because otherwise we’ll have no money.” Our main expense is that when we have speakers, we pay for their travel expenses and so on, which is only fair really as we’ve asked them to speak.

 

The BBC have recently announced a new companion, any thoughts on that? What do you think of the show at the moment?

Hannah: I really liked what we saw of the new companion [Pearl Mackie] – there’s not much to go on yet, but there’s a bit of humour in there, which works quite well. This is the blessing of the show, that it’s constantly regenerating, you’ve always got new faces, so it always has a different feel whenever you watch it. Given the nature of Peter Capaldi as an actor, it’s been more serious lately, which I think is a nice change from what we’ve had previously.

Beth: Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing how Peter Capaldi interacts with Pearl Mackie, it’s nice to have a more comedic companion. It’ll be nice to have someone who’s up for a bit of a laugh.

Hannah: Yes, and this is part of the nature of Peter Capaldi, as much as I love the odd bit of romance now and then, it’s nice to have a change from companions falling in love with the Doctor. The way he plays it, it’s much more obvious he’s not a human.

 

How did you both get involved in Oxford WhoSoc?

Hannah: When I first got the Oxford prospectus, on the Clubs and Societies page the one photo was of the Doctor Who Society stall at freshers’ fair. I remember looking at that prospectus and thinking “that’s the dream, isn’t it? Going to Oxford and joining the Doctor Who Society!” I knew it existed, so it was the one thing I was looking for at freshers’ fair. I knew I wanted to join, straight off.

Beth: Part of what drew me in is that they had new episodes showing at the time, and it was a way to go and see them.

Hannah: That’s quite a good way of doing things, actually, draw them in with new episodes on the Saturday and then convince them to stay for the classic stuff.

 

What sort of crowd does WhoSoc draw?

Hannah: It’s quite a mix. The stereotype is you expect lots of scientists, and very geeky sorts.

Beth: I’d say there were more humanities than scientists.

Hannah: Yeah, strangely enough, there are a lot of humanities. It does depend on the day you come, really. It’s quite a good society because everyone’s just very nice to each other, so it’s good to turn up and speak to people who love the show as much as you do.

Beth: The people are lovely, and it’s quite nice meeting with older people, who have been through the university system, but are still around for the meetings.

 

What are your favourite aspects of the job?

Hannah: Being able to say that you’re the President of the Doctor Who Society is really quite cool. It’s like, yeah, I’ve reached Ultimate Fan Level. Plus you do get experience running an organisation, which is always useful.

Beth: The history of the society is almost as rich as the history of the show itself, it’s been running since the eighties, so it’s great to be a part of that history.

 

What are your plans for the society?

Hannah: Freshers’ fair, we’re looking forward to, I think.

Beth: We’ve got Doctor Who cookies, a remote control Dalek going around – which I nearly sent down the stairs – that was a scary time, Hannah told me off.

Hannah: Daleks and stairs do not mix. But yeah, the plan is to get more people in, so we don’t collapse as a society. I think the geeky societies can be quite insular.

Beth: Yes, we want to make it a bit more open, so the casual fan can go too. As someone who was very much a casual fan joining the society, it can seem intimidating to be sat in a room with people who know far more than you do. But really, you’re there to watch and enjoy the show, so that’s personally what I would want to project.

 

How would you persuade someone to come to WhoSoc?

Hannah: I’d pitch the society the same way I’d pitch the show, really. It’s got something for everyone: there’s action, there’s humour, there’s drama, there’s romance, there’s everything you could want, at any point in time. It makes it very fun to watch as a group, and to get new friends out of it, and we have a lot of fun together.

Beth: There’s a good sense of humour about it as well – if the episode we’re showing has got ridiculous special effects, like one story we watched with a monster made of green bubble wrap, we’re going to laugh and heckle. It’s good-natured fun, and a chance to discuss it with people.

Hannah: And trips to the pub.

Beth: Oh yeah. No meeting is complete without a trip to the pub.

Confessions of a Telethon Caller

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 29 April 2016.

Picture it. It’s the summer of 2015. You are a young, handsome, carefree undergraduate, looking to earn some money while trying desperately to cling on to Oxford life in the face of the idle and pensive mass of the summer vacation. This was precisely my situation (okay, minus the handsome, and the carefree too for that matter) at the end of Trinity 2015, and I did what many of my kind end up doing; I got a job as a telethon caller. This job entailed phoning up the various alumni either altruistic or absent-minded enough to let their contact details fall into university hands, and begging them for a few quid to pay for the upkeep. I thought it would be easy. Turned out it wasn’t. It was an experience best summarized by one call I made, in which I dialed what I took to be somebody’s home number at ten o’clock in the evening, only to hear the response, “Hello, Houses of Parliament?” Such are the perils of the job – you never can be sure who will pick up the phone.

This particular telethon was not, like most of the ones in Oxford, organized by a college desperately trying to make ends meet (Cecil Rhodes statues don’t pay for themselves, you know). This was instead organized by the Bodleian Libraries, who were themselves in need of a few quid to pay for the upkeep, what with having had a large chunk of their government funding jealously snatched away by a George Osborne presumably resentful about all those miserable hours spent trapped in the Upper Reading Room. Theoretically, this meant that we had more persuasive power, what with being a university-wide organisation, meaning that donations would benefit everyone at Oxford equally. In reality, however, most people inclined to donate had already donated to their own colleges, which had perfectly functional libraries of their own, thank you very much, and in any case they had never used the Bodleian (not that I blame them – have you seen the Gladstone Link? It’s like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy down there).

But in these scenarios, the wily telethon caller has one trick up their sleeves that most colleges don’t: chairs. Now I know what you’re thinking, surely every college has chairs? Not like these. These were specially designed chairs for the brand new Weston Library, created by the bloke who designed the 2012 Olympic torch, and for the very reasonable price of five hundred quid you could have one inscribed with a dedication of your choice. I had no idea that the overlap between designing things meant to catch fire and designing large wooden objects meant for use in a place surrounded by paper was so large, but what do I know? So, shall I put you down for £500? We take all the major the credit cards.

Not that it was all fun and games; ‘slammers’ were a frequent occurrence, meaning several people simply hung up the instant I started speaking, or very shortly after the question ‘Is this about money?’ was answered with a sheepish ‘Yes, I’m afraid it is’. Most, I’m glad to say, kept it polite, but a certain amount of rudeness was to be expected. What made things truly awkward were a few occasions of having to ring people back after receiving incorrect credit card information, and by the end of the first week I had developed an irrational hatred of answering machines. Even worse were the few ‘big names’ I ended up calling, who were always either furious that I didn’t know who they were, or far too busy being rich and successful to answer their bloody phones.

At the end of the day, though, I’m glad I did it. I had some interesting conversations, learned a lot about communication and salesmanship, and the team I worked with were absolutely lovely. Plus, it felt nice to be making a contribution to the university, to give something back to an institution I owe so much too, and to raise money for a truly worthy cause.

Although, it did help that the pay was pretty decent too.