Octavia Sheepshanks: Week 1

OCTAVIA wants us all to stop trying to be so darn individual!

| UPDATED Cambridge cliche column columnist cycling gustav klimt M&S Octavia Sheepshanks the kiss week 1

“You’re not wearing that to go, are you?” my sixteen-year-old brother asks, before I leave for Cambridge for the very first time. “It looks like something my mother would wear”, my father chips in. After conceding that the top half of the outfit (a large, pale blue, cashmere polo neck from M&S) had once belonged to his mother, I defiantly announce that yes, I will be wearing it.

Twenty minutes into the car journey, I change my mind. The suede boots, also from M&S, have gone a bit Jack Sparrow, and I’ve gone off the houndstooth skirt. “Daddy, could you pull in please?” I pipe up. When the opportunity of finding an alternative outfit with dignity is cruelly denied me, I am forced to employ acrobatic techniques I didn’t know I had (shocking passengers of nearby vehicles) in order to change into a snazzy blue dress. Unfortunately, it reeks of manure. As is always the case with dodgy odours, my mother ‘can’t smell it’, but remarks calmly that the scent probably wafted through it from neighbouring fields as it was hanging out to dry. The ensuing strop concludes with me in a field, extremely muddy, irrationally angry and completely out of sight of the car.

Nobody wants to hit Freshers’ Week smelling of manure, but as the above episode highlights, the number of worries I had about what people would think of me probably fell into the ‘average-to-high’ bracket. Yet I normally view popular opinion as something that should not directly affect mine. If someone cares too much about what people think, and formulates his/ her own opinions in line with others’, then that person is usually pretty dull.

So when a voice pops up saying something along the lines of ‘Look, I know you’re really wobbly on your bike because you always turn your head fully to look at things, and don’t notice something in your path – a massive lorry, for example – but helmets are just NOT COOL. Plus, yours makes your hair go flat and clashes with your outfit, and the straps function as little ear-holders, exposing them to the wind and making them go really red’, I consider this a negative voice, one which I must strive to reject. After all, just yesterday the very same voice warned me that people would think I looked like a knob if I wore my new platform boots to the buttery. It will therefore remain an enemy.

But there is also an inverse response to popular opinions: to avoid sharing them at all costs. Enter Patronising Postgrad. It’s a sunny October day, I’ve skipped happily back from the societies fair, clutching my bundle of three posters for £10, and am having lunch with a (new!) friend in another college. Chatting to the postgrad next to me (fresh from The Other Place, no less), I spot a poster roll similar to mine at his feet, and enquire. He does the same. I have chosen prints of Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, an old, cool-looking map, and one reading ‘JAPANESE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS’, and am content with the selection. He is not. A smirk begins to play about his lips. ‘Oh, is something wrong?’ I ask. ‘No…ha…no, it’s fine, you couldn’t have known…it’s just…ha’. Eventually he explains that ‘it’s just a massive, massive cliché. You see, every student has a Klimt in their room. But it’s all right; you didn’t know.’

I have been fuming intermittently ever since. If you like something, why should it matter that other people like it too? When, in the past, I have expressed a burning desire to visit India, I have oft been met with a response of ‘ugh, what a cliché’. Well actually, I don’t care. I would still like to go there, please.

It is lamentable that we feel the need to alter our tastes and actions so that they resemble those of others; still more lamentable that some would sacrifice personal desires solely to avoid being ‘clichéd’. If you try too hard to be individual, you might miss out on something good.