Christmastime in Kingston: The Last Weeks of My First Semester

In my previous post I spoke about balance. Juggling everything as a Master’s student is challenging, perhaps no more so than the end of the semester. I’d found a way to be more efficient with my assignments and my freelance job, but almost everything else started to fall by the wayside as winter set in. With so many deadlines in the last week, I stopped making much of an effort with my cooking and got by on pizzas and instant noodles for dinner. Sometimes I just said “Fuck it,” and wandered down to the Kokoro in Surbiton.

I was able to finish the semester well though. I mean, I don’t have my grades yet, but I’m proud of the assignments I submitted. My strategy was to make a list of all my deadlines two weeks prior to the final week, and decide then what order I would complete them in. I knew that if I left things to the last minute, undergrad style, I wouldn’t survive. I’m trying to get better at “front-loading” my work; doing as much as I can as early as I can, to save myself stress in the future. It meant I missed out on some social opportunities, including the pub quiz I’m so fond of, but in the end it worked. That’s not to say I wasn’t stressed; only that my stress was lessened. I’d actually managed my time effectively for the first time in my life, so my stress was more related to whether my work was good enough or not.

As it happened, the deadline for the freelance articles I write for a digital marketing agency fell in the same week as all my assignment deadlines at KU, but by “front-loading” (doing as much as I could as soon as I could) I was able to get them done several days early, which was an amazing feeling. On paper it looked like my final week would be an absolute clustermolest, but I was able to get everything done in good time. To try and counteract the fact that I would be missing out on some social opportunities, I decided I would stay in London for a week after the last day of classes. My plan was to use that week to have fun and show my friends here that they were indeed important to me.

The only thing I hadn’t accounted for was Covid, which in the last few weeks was constricting the city of London tighter and tighter like an anaconda around a helpless capybara. Less people were showing up for class each week, Christmas plans were being cancelled left, right and center, and it seemed like one by one everyone I knew was falling sick. By the time my assignments were finished, almost everyone I knew was either isolating or fleeing the city. Somehow, I didn’t catch it, despite learning that I’d been in close contact with several people who had. Every day I tested and each time I came back negative.

I was able to fit in one last pub quiz with my fellow Oven Enthusiasts. As it so often does, the Wipeout Round proved the decider of fates. The daisy chain of answers were Lion, Narcissus, Sorbet, Timberland, Daredevil, and Lakh. We had gotten them all except Timberland, which I’d never heard of before, but which is apparently some big music producer or something. So we didn’t get any points, and learned that if we’d have just got Timberland, we would have comfortably won the quiz. In the end we got 46 points, the winners that night finishing with 48. Carl gave us a shout out for our efforts. The Wipeout Round was as thrilling as ever.

In general, I’ve not felt very festive this holiday season. I haven’t felt like the opposite, a Scrooge, I’ve just felt kind of detached. My priorities are just elsewhere, so much so that it seemed like Christmas snuck up on me like a reminder to be happy. I’ve never really liked the way the bright colors, upbeat songs, and party atmosphere can make people going through hard times feel even worse, but at the same time I don’t begrudge people for getting into the holiday spirit. I do hate that one Mariah Carey song that just refuses to fuck off every year though. I don’t own a Christmas sweater or put up decorations. But I think I would appreciate the festivities more if I were a father, or at the very least an uncle.

The recent Covid outbreak in London prevented any kind of Christmassy end to the semester, but I was able to go to the Christmas market in Kingston with some friends. It was Sunday, December 5th, and the last weekend before people around me started to get sick. Minako and I left in the afternoon (though it was already dark) to join Jolie, Lina, and Giannina, from Quebec, Germany, and Italy respectively. There was a neat little “Christmas Village” set up, filled with stalls selling mulled wine and tents selling all manner of trinkets. I got a mulled cider and wandered around, taking pictures, admiring the lights, and chatting warmly with my friends. Giannina told me about her Christmases back in Emilio-Romagna, about authentic panettone, and the three types of pasta her family would make on Christmas Day. Jolie picked out some fancy tins of Scottish shortbread for her family, which I endorsed as a great gift to bring back from the U.K. I’ve got it on several occasions for my own people across the Atlantic.

We meandered over to the town square to see all the stalls there selling food. I bought myself a spicy Bavarian sausage at Jolie’s recommendation, and it tasted amazing. This prompted me to ask Lina what the Christmas markets were like back in Germany, which she confirmed were incredible. She said that she was very impressed with the German-style Christmas markets she had seen here in the U.K. While they weren’t quite the same, she said they did a great job of being authentic to the markets in Germany.

We didn’t know then that this little trip to the Kingston Christmas market would be the last time we’d gather socially in 2021, so I’m glad we managed to find the time to squeeze it in during the hectic end to the semester.

Happy Holidays everyone. I’ll be back with my usual end-of-the-year content next week, but this is the conclusion of my KU adventures for now.

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