A Cambridge Christmas Carol
As Charles Dickens may or may not have opened his festive 1843 novella: “optimism was dead: to begin with.”
It’s hard not to feel crushingly disillusioned at the end of a Cambridge term. You’re chronically overworked despite having done the barest minimum, liver disease is an alarmingly real possibility, and on the third day of Bridgemas your library gave to you – not three French hens, but a three-figure fine.
There’s more festive cheer to be found in a morgue that in your average post-Michaelmas Cantab, and as I sat down for my annual re-read of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (or you know, watched the film version done by the Muppets – if studying English has taught me anything, it’s that I actually hate reading), I found myself identifying more and more with the twisted twat that is Scrooge.
Maybe it’s because the amount of work I have to do during this so-called ‘season of goodwill’ makes me strongly in favour of the idea that “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” (Has Scrooge ever considered writing for the Tab?)
Or maybe it’s just because a scene in the 1970 film adaptation, where Scrooge flies through a sky which is teeming with the spirits of the tormented undead, reminds me so strongly of the Dangerspoons dance-floor.
Either way, Christmas and New Year are times for reflection, introspection and resolution. Much as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future persuade Scrooge to change his wankerish ways, the Christmas holidays are a chance for us to acquaint ourselves with our very own festive spirits – and I don’t mean the bottle of vodka you down on NYE. After all, a little constructive haunting never did anyone any harm.
The Ghost of Cambridge Past
The Ghost of Christmas Past, a gentle spirit wearing a dress trimmed with flowers, takes Scrooge by the hand to go back in time and observe his younger self. The Ghost of Cambridge Past has exactly the same agenda, only with none of the reassuring hand-holding: “Remember that time you were sick down yourself at pres? Or the time you spent £60 on jägerbombs in one night? How about the time you slept through your supervision, and then slept through the one you rescheduled for the next day too? Or hey, what about that time you went to a lecture? No wait, I don’t remember that either, because you don’t go to lectures, do you?”
It’s safe to say that if the Ghost of Cambridge Past weren’t already dead, I’d definitely have strangled him with that flower garland by now.
The Ghost of Cambridge Present
A jovial and red-faced spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge just how much festive cheer he’s missing out on by opting to mould away in his mansion. The Ghost of Cambridge Present, meanwhile, likes to remind you how hard all your friends are working over the holidays. While your current idea of a productive day is putting on leggings and a sweatshirt instead of your pyjamas, other people are out there actually doing things – earning money, writing essays, blitzing reading lists. The very notion.
The Ghost of Cambridge Future
The dénouement of A Christmas Carol is preceded by a chilling image: Scrooge, newly-awakened to the outcomes of his selfishness, sobs over a vision of his lonely tombstone, before turning to the (really fucking terrifying) Ghost of Christmas Future and begging him for help, promising that he’ll mend his ways and honour Christmas in his heart. The Ghost of Cambridge Future is frighteningly similar. Described by Dickens as being “shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible”, I’m yet to come across a better metaphor for tripos.
If, like Scrooge, you choose to learn from your mistakes, congratulations! But secretly, I hope your shit is as irreparably untogether as mine – because I’m selfish as fuck, and no number of ghosts is ever likely to change that.