Claudia Blunt: Week 8

CLAUDIA has nearly conquered Cambridge. Her final column offers a few words of advice for those still struggling to beat the Bubble!

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“Life’s an elevator, it goes up and down.”

– Marc Bolan, 1976

‘Up and down’ is probably the best way to describe my time at Cambridge. There have been countless moments where I have been uncontrollably happy (drunk) and others when I have been inconsolable (more drunk).

In this, my last column, I want to offer some survivor’s tips. Despite the best efforts of both my GP and my DoS, I am still here. I never degraded (although I probably should have done). Indeed, despite being fabulous on the face of things, I have spent too many nights in Cambridge crying myself to sleep. (And yes, before you all ask, on at least four of those occasions I was not crying simply because I’m still irrevocably single).

The intensity of Cambridge terms means that more often than not, you feel like you’re part of some sort of terrible assault course. Instead of mud, you’re wading through hundreds of pages and writing thousands of words. What I wished I had known at the start? That this is a marathon, not a sprint. My house has a running joke about how I’ve never managed to survive a term without having to ring my father in tears (normally around Week 6), insisting he come and get me. This is always because I’ve burnt myself out. We call it the ‘Statutory Six Breakdown’.

With this in mind, and in this last week of fun before I shackle myself to a desk until June, I want to offer you some tips for keeping sane in Cam.

1. Most people have gone from being very big fish in very small ponds to suddenly feeling about as useful as a piece of plankton…or at least that’s how I felt. You’re not. You’re here for a reason, so channel some of those feelings of inadequacy into actually embracing this silly town and all its quirks.

2. Revel in the fact that you’re surrounded by other whizz kids. I’d never felt more engaged in every conversation before I got here.

3. Embrace the crap nightlife and bizarre traditions. These are the last few years when you’ll be able to go out in public in an outfit entirely crafted from bin bags and not have people look at you strangely. The same goes for body paint and stash (which, outside the realms of University is terribly offensive on the eye and should be confined to pyjamas).

4. Never walk past King’s Chapel or any of the other landmark sites without pausing for a moment to take in exactly where it is you’re living for three years. I doubt there is anything more architecturally splendid than the sun bouncing off the chapel spires in exactly the right way.

5. Get over your fear of the UL and take a wander round. Those moments in which I’m totally alone in the stacks are when I feel like I’ve achieved something in life. Being in the presence of all those volumes is mindboggling, but the smell of a dusty first edition quietly hiding on North Wing Floor 4 is like a little slice of heaven.

6. Prioritise: never sweat the small stuff. I’ve had days when the mere prospect of going to buy a pint of milk has been too much to bear and sent me into stress overdrive. It’s ridiculous, but just adding one more thing to an endless To-Do list can leave me feeling completely overwhelmed. Focus on what’s important, lean on your friends and let them lean on you. It’s often the only way to get through.

7. On that note, make a point of leaving Cambridge with more friends than you’ve written essays.

8. Stop being afraid to ask for help. I’m not only a control freak but I’m also an enormous perfectionist – a combination that means I tend never to seek help when I most need it. If you’re having a rubbish time, tell someone, please.  The world is not going to implode if you tell your DoS that this week you won’t be doing the essay because you’re exhausted.

9. A supervisor once told me that a good essay should have 30 hours spent on it. So, if I’m doing a supposedly easy course but still writing two essays a week, that’s still a 60 hour week before we factor in any contact time or lectures. That’s an extraordinary amount more than your average Joe works in a 9-5. Next time one of your friends from home whinges about Oxbridge grads taking all the top jobs, just remind them: If you want something done, ask a busy person.

10. Next time someone asks you how you are, have something else to say other than “Yeh, good…loadsa work…very busy.”

11. Don’t feel the pressure to sell your soul to the city. I’d never even considered investment banking until I got here and then suddenly thought there must be something terribly wrong with me because I hadn’t. (I imagine Canary Wharf is a bit like this).

12. On days when you’re feeling distinctly mediocre, never ever forget that you’re the crème de la crème – and not in the way the Daily Mail want you to think. In the way that only someone here could possibly understand. That is, only someone who represents the proverbial mouse who has fallen into that crème and has no choice but to churn. Churn or drown.

Cherish the shit that happens to you here. Shit doesn’t smell quite like this anywhere else.

And now I leave you. Finals loom, life beckons. It’s been an uphill struggle, but I’m so very nearly there.