Cambridge’s Best Benches: Part 3(a)

All you need to know about Cambridge’s Benches

Art benches cake Cambridge Cambridge University critic despot exam term procrastination existentialism jesus college materialism neoliberalism Newnham Peterhouse scenery seating

Benches. They have fascinated humanity for generations.

What is a bench? What distinguishes it from a long chair, or an out-of-context pew? Can a flattened log, or a low wall, be considered a bench?

Both public and private, the Outdoor Seating Sphere is one alien to hierarchy: its wooden (and occasionally stone) structure can be a home for derrieres of any gender, race and background; it’s a place on which the lowliest pauper and the richest rich person can sit side by side and watch the proverbial Ducks of Life waddle by.

It was never my intention to write a third instalment of the Best Benches saga. I felt the previous two extensive – and, might I say, groundbreaking – editions had already said everything that needed saying.

But I realise, as I watch students search desperately for liberation from musty, sweaty libraries and the collapse of the neoliberal facade pushes us ever closer to international crisis, that Cambridge needs an updated guide to its benches now more than ever.

And so, humbly, I present to you Cambridge’s Best Benches, Part 3. Taking inspiration from Hollywood I have split the third part of my trilogy into 2 equally satisfactory halves so as to best provide the detail you, avid Tab reader, rightfully deserve.

A brief methodological note: after several accusations of “despotism” regarding my “arbitrary judgement” in the two last editions of this saga, I have decided to break my ranking system down to the following categories: a) “design”, b) “view”, c) “thrill factor” and d) “location”. I hope this metric is satisfactory.

10) “The Burden of Choice” – Silver Street

This bench – or rather, triad of benches – is perfect for those who can’t decide whether they would prefer to take in the pastoral beauty of the Mill Pond or bask in the splendour of Cambridge’s second ugliest building slowly falling into the Cam.

Situated comfortably close to the bins, “The Burden of Choice” is a must if you ever find yourself in a group of bench-lovers you don’t actually want to talk to.

Design – 7.5/10

View – 9/10 and 4/10

Thrill Factor – 4.5/10

Location – 6/10

Overall – 6.2/10

9) “The Lonely Sentimentalist” – Peterhouse

One of Peterhouse’s many fine benches, this solid number – tragically omitted from the college’s recreation in cake form – offers the user an excellent view of Peterhouse’s garden wall, the perfect muse for pondering life’s greater mysteries. Its solitude makes it the ideal spot for artists, poets, frustrated Adonians and University Challenge winners desperate to escape the pressures of newly-found fame.

Design – 8/10

View – 8/10

Thrill Factor – 4/10

Location – 7/10

Overall: a solid, melancholy – if slightly bogstandard – entry – 6.75/10

8) Jesus College Horse

Perhaps my years in the Bench Press have turned me jaded, but I imagine this entry will send many purists rushing to the comments section to scrawl accusations I have gone the way of the American Presidential Primaries and put sensation over substance.

“Pointless controversy will tear us apart Luke! Have you learnt nothing from the Tit Wall riots?”, you cry as the barricades go up. Well, hear me out.

Jesus Horse has all of the necessary components of a bench (see fig.1). It is outside, it has a seat, it is elevated and it has a back. Perhaps I have fallen prey to materialism, as I’m sure many will feel that a bench is more than simply its physical components, but such discussions are academic and do not belong in the intellectually lightweight Tab. If you have a response, contact Varsity.

Design – 6/10

View – 7/10

Thrill Factor: 10/10 – getting caught on this bench will almost certainly get you Deaned

Location – 8/10

Overall: The real daredevil’s bench, uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding – 7.5/10

7) “The Postmodern Condition” – Pembroke College

Throwing functionality to the wind, this bench embraces its own lack of purpose and forces us to ask “Why shouldn’t a bench be on it’s side?”, all the while reminding us of our insignificance by turning our gaze to the lofty infinity of the sky.

Design – 10/10

View – 7/10

Thrill Factor – 9/10

Location – 7/10

Overall – This bench sees your Grand Narrative of Progress and does a huge shit all over it. 8.2/10

6) “The Flying Dutch(wo)man” – Newnham College

For decades designers have attempted to fuse the comfortable zen of the bench with the heart-pumping thrill of the roller coaster: in Newnham College, it seems, they have finally succeeded.

The simple exploitation of gravitational potential energy turns the most everyday activities into an electrifying adventure: dour conversations become giddy exaltations of joy, the dullest of revision topics become filled with adrenal excitement as the world around you swings back and forth; while your devil-may-care oscillations will likely turn any romantic sojourn toward the throes of passion.

Design: 8/10

View: 7/10

Thrill Factor: 9/10

Location: 8/10

Overall: an innovative bench for those who like to live life on the edge, though I can’t help but feel it tries too hard to be unique. Perhaps in that sense it is a reflection of us all.

+0.5 points for existential relevance – 8.5/10

Tune in next time for the second, equally (if not more) thrilling instalment of Cambridge’s Best Benches, Part 3.

New readers may wish to catch up on Parts one and two of the saga before the climactic finale.