Cambridge: A Bi-Polar Experience

Ellie Pithers: Had a bad day? Join the club.

Is it just me? Or is a day in the life of a Cambridge student either really great, or really, really shit? Perhaps it’s the fact that no matter how much work you seem to do, there is always another book you should have read. Or maybe it’s something to do with the weekly supervisions spent floundering about in front of a world expert in their field. We could potentially even pin it down to the fact that the only bloody drink we can legitimately afford to down in one of our pretty jaded-looking nightclubs is a VK. But perhaps the most draining aspect of studying in this auspicious institution is the most carnal: Performance Anxiety. 

When it all goes according to plan, Cambridge can be an absolute dream. But when it all goes tits up, the inescapable realisation that you got here because you are supposed to possess one of the best brains in the country can make you feel as useless as a Japanese tourist without a camera. 

Indulge me for just a minute, dearest Tab readers, as I relate to you one most terrible Thursday morning last week. It’s Week 5, but hey, why allow myself to feel exhausted/cynical/ill when I have the sultry tones of that guilty nineties pleasure, The Lighthouse Family, to infuse my ears with optimistic harmonies? It’s not yet raining; I am on course for an early arrival at my 10am lecture; I have a full packet of Fruit Pastilles in my pocket and I am ready to take on the new day. 

That is until I meet a pile of fatefully damp leaves. The next thing I know, I am flying through the air Cartoon Network style, arms scrabbling à la Scooby-Doo, landing dramatically on the fence that lines the exit from college. My only thought, as I face the front tire of my bike, is that I’m lucky to be alive. No, seriously, I mean, I could have died. Or collided with the strange sculpture of the sexually aroused cow that haunts the back entrance to New Hall. 

Three bolshy American Grad students cycle past my prostrate self. Not even so much as a glance at the poor defenceless female, soiled and dishevelled, strung up like Joan of Arc on the wooden balustrade. I choose to interpret this ignorance as an example of the decline of chivalry in today’s society and further evidence to suggest that Americans are gross.  

Today was going to be a terrible day. 9.10am: lecturer is determined to make his last lecture in the series the one which convinces me that he should be in the RSC. Endure assault of passages in Medieval English, his enthusiasm fuelled by polite titters in the audience. All Fruit Pastilles have been eaten within the first fifteen minutes, sugar rush now, sugar low imminent. Fill in lecture feedback form in the style of Simon Cowell. 

Home. Entire loaf of bread appears to be covered in a smurf colony. Can I scrape off some of that mould and salvage at least a slice? Come to terms with the fact that this loaf is definitely well and truly deceased. Email informs me I have a library fine, a presentation to prepare and a match to play. I’ve got a sore throat and I can’t be bothered to finish my essay. There’s no money in my purse and my internet has just stopped working. And now it’s raining. 

Despite the attempts of the college ‘alternative prospectus’ to rebrand Cambridge as a warm and welcoming place full of normal and not remotely-geeky people, six weeks of term has surely been enough to prove to each and every one of us that some of Cambridge’s stereotypes are wholly justified. This university town is home to some pretty strange individuals.  But what if you’re joining them? It’s completely irrational to let your day be ruined by some mouldy bread and an over-zealous lecturer, but for some reason Cambridge brings this dramatic dimension into our lives. In our constant struggle to live up to the expectations of our supervisors, parents and peers, we aim to be the best. And when being the best is impossible, we beat ourselves up. 

Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun, accused The Tab editors of being “simply too nice” when he came to Cambridge last week to sniff out his potential successors in the cut-throat world of journalism. But perhaps he should have accused them of being too earnest. It’s a world that cannot be understood by people that didn’t study at Oxbridge – Cambridge is a hamster wheel, in which emotions always merit metaphoric status, coming in roller-coaster form rather than smooth transitional tea cup rides. But don’t you secretly kind of enjoy this bipolar existence? It’s definitely more exciting being on a roller-coaster rather than just watching it. Our emotions rage from one extreme to another, our behaviour is at times unsociably bizarre, our conversations are sometimes unintelligible – but at least we have an excuse.