Boy about Gowns
LUKE HEPPENSTALL-WEST explores the complex relationship between a boy, his gown, and the town
‘You know,’ whispered one of my friends as we waited, sweating poshly in the afternoon sun, all gowned up for matriculation, ‘this is what people from other countries think England is actually like all the time.’
I laughed and tried hard to think of something else witty to say (someone had already made the ‘fashion crisis – we’re all wearing the same thing!’ joke), but deep down the comment really struck me.
I grew up in a very different England to this one, in a very built up street of the very urban city of Birmingham, where we wear normal clothes and couldn’t punt down the river if we tried and the only people who would choose to cycle are those that couldn’t afford the trip to Switzerland for the op (too dark? Sorry).
I realised that not only do Cambridge students have to come to terms with living away from home for the first time, massive workloads and meeting loads of new people, we also have to deal with the effects of Time Travel: we are whisked away to this archaic world where your teachers are all Fellows (even if they’re women) and you have to call the cleaners ‘bedders’ (which sounds like an archaic word for something else), a place where you can get a scholarship if you’re good at playing the organ and where ‘Land Economy’ is a real thing.
And you have to pretend that it’s all normal because the man who recites Latin at the beginning of a formal meal can keep a straight face.
Alright, so you get it, Cambridge is posh and old-fashioned. Cool story. Unfortunately, it’s a posh, old-fashioned place filled with actual real people from the actual modern world.
I decided to try to highlight the tension between these two Cambridges by going about my daily routine in all its banality dressed in the epitome of Cambridgian weirdness – the gown.
It wasn’t just an excuse for me to be silly and wander round town in a gown. No way. This is deep stuff.
Because Gownies are people too – we’re just like you, except we have to wear gowns.