Jonny Walker

JONNY WALKER talks about why he’s at Cambridge, and why we should widen access.

Cambridge curiosity CUSU cuts Enid Blyton eugenics Gap Yah Jonny Walker maintenance bursaries money prostitutes trinity street

My week has been unusually steeped in politics. I spent a hefty gobbet of it pestering academics to sign CUSU petitions in order to protect maintenance bursaries. The thought of students from ‘non-traditional university backgrounds’ arriving in Cambridge and being unable to spend their time and others’ money with the same wanton disregard as me is despicable.

Admittedly, I’m being facetious in order to boost my authorial voice, but seriously: the cuts to bursaries are savage, and will present a huge obstacle to raising access.

Everyone knows that Cambridge is pretty intense, and this intensity extends beyond the listless cravings for validation, which see us taking blankets and toothpaste to the library. As graduation beckons, I’m starting to get the first pangs of future nostalgia and I’m beginning to see the city with alumn-eyes.

Before arriving in Cambridge, I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a job. Now, I don’t know how anybody would survive balancing paid work with study. Even this – the ability to have three years to dedicate to learning – is an absolute luxury. It didn’t feel like a luxury two hours ago, when I was embroiled in a tempestuous hissyfit in Starbucks because of my inability to develop a ‘new angle’ on the interplay between sexualities and eugenics. But, it is a luxury – one that should be accessible to anybody who loves learning.

So, what got you into Cambridge, good reader of The Tab?

Money definitely counts. A furtive glance down Trinity Street is enough to prove that most Cambridge students haven’t been dragged face-down through poverty to get here. I disagree with the idea that some social groups are intrinsically more intelligent than others. Money is no substitute for intellectual success, but it certainly acts as its catalyst.

Money can buy you financial stability in your home life, private tuition, private education (if you like that sort of thing), the entrance to cultural events, the ability to mingle in the right milieu, enriching holidays, school trips, and The Gap Yah. Of course all this stuff has a huge benefit. The point is: culture counts.

So, what got me here? It certainly wasn’t money, but I would be bullshitting to the extreme if I said I worked hard. I didn’t get here because of natural intelligence either. I think I got here because of my curiosity: priceless, but limitless, curiosity.

Curiosity can open doors for you regardless of where you come from. Mine wasn’t an Enid Blyton-like inquisitiveness, and I didn’t have any amazing rites of passage from it. I was just interested to know about different people’s lives.

Curiosity impelled the 14-year-old me to make the naïve and potential life-ending blunder of taking a video camera into Doncaster’s red light district in order to interview the women who were working as prostitutes. It made me ask questions. It made me enter competitions. It made me write poems and stories. It made read books.

I’m beginning to think that being successful is all about having belief in your ability, and surrendering yourselves to your passions. Most kids have stuff that fascinates them, but then they grow up, get Facebook, spend their time moping about, and start being all pubertal. Our culture is so staid and docile.

The best thing we could do to get more people to consider Cambridge is to encourage more people to cling onto their interests and passions. We need to demystify our weird university and welcome curious people, regardless of their background, with open arms. Cambridge is their turf.