Claudia Blunt: Week 1

Claudia welcomes you back to the madhouse…

all-nighter beauty and the beast belle claudia blunt column columnist essay crisis loony bin lunatic asylum Natsci pps Red Bull week 1

It’s hard not to think of Cambridge as one giant asylum. Occasionally, when people stare up at me with glassy eyes, behind various piles of notes and in the grip of an essay catastrophe, I stop and think: you signed up for this bullshit. We all did.

There is something deeply unhinged and terribly masochistic about the fact that I made a choice to write thousands of words, week after week, on subjects I can never hope to understand. Why?! Because I jumped through bloody hoops to get here, and then it seems as if Cambridge just set those hoops on fire. Indeed, the layout of colleges with their various courts renders them ideal for a film in which the nice young men in their bright white coats can wander about, holding the hands of crazed students quietly weeping and muttering.

Initially, it’s easy to smote the trouser leg enthusiastically and think, ‘Hardeeharhar what a quaint little town this is with all its jolly quirks’. No. Frankly, there are too many ‘only in Cambridge’ moments. To quote that beacon of feminist thought, the protagonist of Disney’s magnum opus Beauty and the Beast (1991): “Little town, what a quiet village, every day like the one before.” Exactly, my dear Belle, exactly.

The ridiculousness of term time life being limited to a cycle of essay crisis, lecture, supervision, essay, get blind drunk, write essay again, is miserable and enough to drive anyone stir crazy. Now, looking back with two and a half years under my academic belt, I can confirm that this loony bin only gets loonier the longer I stay here.

I recently had a date cut short because the gentlemen in question was having some sort of ‘NatSci dilemma’. There I was, gin firmly in hand, literally sitting pretty, alone in one of Cambridge’s finer pubs. I’d been dumped in favour of that notorious harlot, Madame de Gree. Fury started to set in. There is, of course, the possibility that I’ve just got ‘shit chat’ and am hideous – but actually, I thought, if I was anywhere else in Britain, the evening might just have resulted in wild sex (although probably not – sorry NatSci’s). But still. That’s not a bloody thing. You don’t leave a lady sipping gin alone to go and do some number crunching, or play with your protractor, or whatever it is physicists do. Take a walk on the wild side, live a little, reclaim your joie de vivre etc. etc. etc.

But no. After all, this is the best university in the world. Life (in both senses) always comes after degree. I’ve watched various ‘strong’ Cambridge couples crumble because, while you might be having a glorious affair with your boyfriend, my darling, he’ll always be married to his degree.

Is there time to reclaim your life balance? Probably not. As my finals come careering towards me at a rate of knots, I’ve only had to up the work levels. (You can appreciate that for a PPSer, this concept is mildly traumatising). At the end of the day, that little piece of paper that validates me as an academic is, as I am repeatedly told, the golden ticket for the job market. I’ve got to get one. Otherwise, all those hours in the library will have been for nothing.

So then, as all semblance of fun is slowly squeezed out of me and I gradually become a shell of my former self, as the Red Bull no longer comes with a happy jaeger chaser – but is still downed just as fast, only now in the library – what to do? Do I go to bed dreaming of a hillier university somewhere in the North, where essays are termly and men weekly? Do I cry myself to sleep thinking of what might have been? Sometimes.

But non, je ne regrette rien. This place is full of jabbering crackpots, lunatics and nutters. But I’m probably the most bat-shit of the bunch.