Outsider In Cambridge

It’s only when our family come to visit that we realise just how strange Cambridge is, says MOLLIE WINTLE…

ADC cambridge bubble gyp room mollie wintle pennying supervision Swap TCS

This week my brother came to visit, free from all duties due to a gap year, and laden down with the fruits of my requests – any books that we had on T.S Eliot and any food we had knocking about (just salami, as it turned out).

I was excited to show off Cambridge and my newfound independence but, to my surprise, his initial reactions were less than positive.

I think this was originally prompted by our visit to the gyp, where I insisted on scraping day-old Special K out of Max’s mug before making him tea (we are family after all), and where he got a swift and unpleasant introduction to swap culture. My college had gone on two swaps the night before – both at respective curry houses, both penny-heavy – and various pale-faced girls were traipsing in throughout the morning, each with a worse tale than the one before.

When, for the third time, a girl cheerfully informed my brother that our friend had thrown up in her own plate of curry, Max looked at me and quietly said that the Mahal sounded like a place of nightmares.

To be fair, it’s difficult to explain the concept of a swap to someone who’s never been on one. Pennying takes on an oddly sinister note. I told him that I for one had not been sick, nor had I smashed a poppadum over anyone’s head. He replied that this shouldn’t be the measure of a successful night out. Some truth in that, one feels.

Thinking that some intellectual stimulus would surely impress him, I took him to my favourite lecture (politics of the Victorian supernatural, if you insist). Happily he liked this, but asked me why I took so few notes. I gently informed him that it was not actually the breadth of notes which mattered, but the depth, and that it was much more important to really think about and digest the lecturer’s words rather than just take notes for the sake of it. To this he pointed out that I had only actually written one word (‘betweeness’) and asked how exactly this would further my study. I threw a mini-sulk at this on the way back. Though a significant number of girls did come up to me at lunch and tell me that my boyfriend was fit. So that was nice.

People talk about the Cambridge bubble (a lot), but I hadn’t really thought about it until someone from The Outside intruded. We inhabit a world where TCS, DoS, ADC and CUSU all make perfect sense, a world where no one really watches proper TV. Max doesn’t know what a supervision, a plodge or a Natsci are. He can’t understand the trauma of someone padlocking their bike ON TOP of your bike and forcing you to walk back to college in the rain. Or knowing that the gown you came back with from formal with isn’t yours because ‘it just doesn’t smell right’. To him, the walk from Murray Edwards to Sainsbury’s is ‘minimal’, £6 entry to Life acceptable, and the idea that someone has already dropped out due to the workload insane.

These things only feel strange when someone points out to you that they are – which makes me feel that it’s important to invite an outsider in every now and again, if only to let us marvel at our strangeness.