Tab Tries: Sleeping with Strangers

CLAUDIA LEONG takes some strangers into her room for the night all in the name of the Cambridge Union.

Cambridge Inter-varsity Debating Tournament Cambridge Union Society Debating King's College London Sleeping with strangers Sleepover Strangers

I’m no union hack. But I am on the Cambridge Union’s mailing list, and last week they sent around an email asking union members to let participants in the Cambridge Inter-Varsity Debating Tournament sleep in their rooms for the duration of the event.

The world’s most skilful debaters aren’t a group of people you’d necessarily associate with psychopathy and, more importantly, volunteers were promised free entry to a black tie social and brownie points on the path to union hackdom – not a bad pay-off at all.

So on Friday evening I picked up a pair of intimidating looking PhD students from King’s College (London, obviously) and took them back to mine. As I hadn’t asked my college for permission to host a party and they both had large suitcases with them, I was advised to smuggle them into accommodation via a side entrance.

Once we were in my room it was rather surprising how easily conversation flowed, although being a smooth talker is a prerequisite of successful debating, I suppose. The awkwardness really began once my guests rolled out their sleeping bags and began describing how they needed an obscenely early start to the next day. I’m doing humanities so the idea of waking up before ten is completely foreign to me. Would my newfound friends be frightened away by my cursing at their alarm clock, and was I supposed to take them to breakfast? What etiquette was there for the morning after, so to speak?

These worries were temporarily put to rest as I found that my poor guests were so knackered they had already nodded off. And then it dawned on me that in spite of my essay deadline, I just couldn’t focus on Max Weber while being serenaded by gentle snoring. If you can’t beat them, join them I thought. All was well until 4 am, when my neighbour was bewildered to meet two strange men who emerged from the bathroom and asked for directions to my room.

I’d heard horror stories from friends who knew people operating at the elite levels of sports, and they mostly revolved around bizarre morning rituals conducted prior to major competitions. Did debaters have similar superstitions? As I woke up the next day, I looked nervously around to see if my guests were chanting Latin phrases, or eating strange food concoctions that would guarantee their success. But they were gone, along with all their luggage, as if it was all a dream. On my table were a box of chocolates and a nice thank-you note.

Do I regret sleeping with strangers? I’m not sure. Yes, there were some awkward moments (“Please don’t judge my pyjamas”) and it’s difficult to admit that I slept with two randomers in order to fund my glamorous lifestyle. But it was certainly an interesting experience. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever become a union hack.