Enjoy College Accommodation – You’ll Miss It

JIM ROSS, AKA Mother James Fox, takes you through the perils and pitfalls of student accommodation at real universities.

The old adage goes that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

The tricky group to place into this platitude is your flatmates – sometimes you have total control and other times you have none. Having lived in University accommodation and private accommodation in both Edinburgh and Cambridge, however, I get the feeling that Cambridge students, in the process of moaning about college-this and college-that, forget how well the college accommodation system can serve them.

Although I was lucky enough to live with an excellent bunch of guys during my first two years at Edinburgh, when we were scattered to the four winds in our third year I was forced to find new flatmates – a stressful process. One woman that moved in, who shall remain anonymous, eventually accused the other three of us of systematically stealing the berries out of her Special K Berry Mix. We could also examine the time I was immediately exonerated from the theft of cuppa-soup and hot chocolate mix on the basis that they were the diet versions.

After hastily hiding my deluxe berry panning equipment for fear of false accusations, I concluded she was slightly bonkers. I eventually jumped ship from that flat mid-lease as the accusations, all unfounded, escalated – which was a rather expensive business and unfortunate given I liked the other flatmates (who also jumped ship).

During my one year in college accommodation here there were undoubtedly frustrations, such as when my washing rack was placed outdoors in a torrential downpour as it was a ‘fire hazard’ or living next to a shower that squealed like a skewered cat when flow began.

However, it was refreshing not to have to deal with a great number of the administrative nightmares living in private accommodation could be a gateway to. After spending two hours on the phone and sending several proof-of-status letters, I finally received council tax exemption from Edinburgh City Council. However, rather than Mr James Ross, the exemption was put in the name of Mother James Fox. Short of dressing up in religious drag, I had to repeat the process all over again.

All the above could be true of Cambridge, but here commercial student accommodation is even scarcer (given that the University owns everything central) and, therefore, pricier than the already steep Edinburgh. Even in the case of Edinburgh’s first-year halls, though, Cambridge (on average, at least) can do far better.

Although I have eaten some dodgy Hall food in my time, I am yet to be served a ‘Wolfdog’ – a staple of the Pollock Halls menu in 2004. I found out the hard way that these were hotdogs injected with warm cream cheese that squirted into your mouth. Picture the image and no colourful analogies are needed. It was a month before I went near the (prepaid in rent) canteen again.

Having dealt with private accommodation over 5 years living in Edinburgh, the college setup here initially felt stifling. However, when you get into the full weight of the workload that Cambridge inevitably comes with, the last thing you want to be dealing with is convincing British Gas that their rep read the meter wrong and you don’t owe them over £21,000 on this month’s bill.

That’s why I’ll be moving back into college as I embark upon what is hopefully the home straight of my PhD. College accommodation varies wildly in location and quality within the college, let alone between different ones, but make the most of it while you can. Chances are that you’ll miss it once it’s gone.

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