Cambridge Mythbusters

There’s something strange in the neighbourhood. We’re gunna call MELANIE ETHERTON to sort us out…

Cambridge myths Cambridge University Melanie Etherton MI5 mythbuster Rowing spy strange traditions university challenge University library cambridge

The very name ‘Cambridge’ rings with fables and associations.  Here’s to dispeling a few of the more spurious fallacies…

Rowing is fun

The Boat-Race-ingrained ideal of toned bodies powering a sleek vessel amidst a cheering crowd proves an exceedingly hard one to get the better of. The painful truth is, however, that unless you have an innate love of 05:30 starts in the grip of Cambridge’s best imitation of the Soviet winter, you will not enjoy rowing.  Unless you have a particular penchant for mangled and blistered palms – ‘true’ rowers avoid gloves at all costs – you will not enjoy rowing.  Unless you get thrills from the thought of the only distraction from burning lungs being the screams of your cox/Lower Boat Officer reverberating through your skull… I have made my point.

And thus the glamour was gone..

However, forget the downsides that any sane person would consider more insurmountable than K2, and you may glimpse the world beyond.  A world of great team spirit, fabulous parties, communal complaining, beautiful boat houses, socialising and (dare I say it?) fun. Rowing is not fun.  But if you are still tempted to try – and by all means do – the infectious lunacy of the wonderful life around (and occasionally in) the River Cam might just catch you too.

You will be recruited for MI5

Ever since I heard Hugh Dennis was approached by MI5 as an undergraduate here, I have been a worrying combination of evasive and blasé about possible future careers.   I waited, secure in the knowledge that the tap on the shoulder beckoning to a life of noble service would one day come for me – an image unhelpfully reinforced by the advert for Her Majesty’s Secret Service tucked discreetly within the third year graduate recruitment brochure.  I waited, convinced it was just a matter of time.

Then I realised I had competition. On the landing above me lives a lovely girl with a faint Russian accent who holds a sheaf of passports, speaks a bewildering array of languages, is incredibly intelligent and combines all this with the innocent beauty of Bambi.  If she hasn’t got the nod, what possible hope has anyone else?

A person recruited by MI5 should have amazing superpowers, like flying (since those Santa hats on top of King’s Chapel didn’t get there by themselves…) or invisibility (as demonstrated by the worrying number of people who inevitably vanish just after Freshers’ Week and will not re-emerge until graduation).  By the by, on the subject of disappearing, my lovely upstairs neighbour has just left on a flying visit to another distant country for the third time this term.  Hey, hang on…

The University Library is essentially a normal library, only larger

With an exterior resembling the illicit lovechild of a Soviet warhead and a box of LEGO™ and an interior that puts the TARDIS to shame, the University Library is no mere building.  It is an entity. The place itself is enormous, boasting its own time zones in addition to an independent weather system. Someone I know has already prepared a list of titles they would use as firewood once they inevitably lose their way amongst these tomes, while another person was requested by the Librarian to pay their fine in bananas*.

*Only kidding.

Fear of this mighty building means that a number of students may never venture to the U.L., choosing instead the familiar safety of college libraries.  I do not deny that the college library has many positive aspects, including ‘your’ seat (as reserved by the most intimidating pile of books on early Medieval taxation you can find) and the freedom to indulge in an undisturbed game of library Jenga (see picture).  However, all these people are making a terrible mistake. Everyone must visit the U.L. at least once in their Cambridge University career – if only to marvel at corridors that require binoculars to resolve the farthest end and to finally discover, with child-like joy, the secret of the bollards outside….

The Characteristic Equation of the U.L. :

Everyone is a genius apart from me

Spotted in a College Library last term… someone’s clearly over-compensating…

Walking into a room of people where every person’s IQ is probably greater than their height in centimetres can be incredibly intimidating.  Sitting in a lecture staring blankly at an indecipherable PowerPoint, with forty minutes of Outer Mongolian still to cover, is hardly a comforting feeling.  However, all is not as it seems.  When your supervision partner is scribbling furiously and you’re wondering what on earth you missed, fear not.  If you hang back after a lecture, you’ll find that some of the people asking questions are just as confused as you – or possibly even more so.  You see, at Cambridge, a person staringmeditatively into space with a contemplative expression could indeed be figuring out how to fix the particle detector they’re building in their spare time (yes, someone did this).  But they could equally well be trying to remember if Bangers ‘n’ Mash is on the Hall Menu for tonight.

So don’t worry. Go back to whatever it was you were thinking about before you got distracted by this and the chances are you had the ‘vacant boffin’ facial expression spot-on anyway.