Halfway Hall or Half-cooked hopes?

High hopes for Halfway Hall were met with an anti-climatic reality.

I highly doubt that when Alice Walker penned “time moves slowly, but passes quickly,” she was referring to Halfway Hall, and yet the quote captures the experience perfectly. Under the glow of candle light and watchful eyes peering from portraits of famed predecessors, John’s second years dined at Halfway Hall.

Though a relatively new tradition (in Cambridge terms), Halfway Hall is a staple in the college calendar, marking the middle of our university experience. Yet despite the grandeur of the hall, the elaborate four course meal, and the remarks from the master on the brevity of time through her carpe diem-esque speech, the experience was not all I expected it to be.

The food was fantastic, the company enjoyable, and the evening pleasant, yet that was all it was. Naively, perhaps, I was expecting something more, something ground-breaking or mind-altering, a moment when I realised how far I had come and how much further I had to go, striving to experience all I could at Cambridge. This moment did not come, not during the soup, the fish course, nor even as I ate my chicken supreme.

I think the chicken supreme – a meal I have eaten at nearly every formal hall – sums up why. Displayed on the plate in the same appealing manner as last Thursday, the meal is a staple in the John’s culinary establishment and rightly so.

Yet move the fellows to the high table, or change the students in our seats and it is the same as any other formal. But this is not about the chicken of course. This is about how a hall did not mark time in the manner I expected it to because university has not occurred in the manner I expected it to.

Image credit: Freddie Ancliff  

Halfway hall did not feel halfway because it’s not. When our first-year experience was decimated by Covid regulations, lockdowns and last-minute cancelations, it’s hard to feel that this years’ experience truly marks a definitive middle to our time at university.

We are so frequently confronted with the fact that we have not experienced university to its fullest. We have not been to a May Ball, we have not been to an Ent without a lateral flow, or the library without a mask. Therefore, it is difficult to accept that this is the halfway point. Listening to the master talk of all these Cambridge experiences, many of which we have yet to experience really emphasised this point and no refreshers event will give us that time back.

But maybe I’m cynical, first year was unique, a marker of a generation. Who else gets to fondly reminisce of the time they got portered for having six people in their room (whilst the other ten hid in a cupboard, or shower, under the bed or behind the door)?

Or perhaps it’s that I’m scared? I’m horrified and fascinated about my life outside of university and unable to accept that it is only “eight and a half months of full term away” as the master reminded us. Fearful of having to find my feet again after only just beginning to find them now.

Image credit: Becca Dunstan 

Reasons aside, the anti-climax of Halfway Hall did not make it unenjoyable, nor did the hours of small talk with fellows about the sun and the moon and the soup. And there was a lot of talk about soup.

So, what will I take from this experience? A memory, I suppose, that I can glorify, paint in rose – gold and remanence about to unsuspecting relatives 20 years down the line. But realistically, Halfway Hall presents no turning point.

I’ll carry on as I am, doing more sport than work, more work than sleep and more snacking in the kitchen with my housemates than the other two experiences combined.

Feature image credit: Rupert Gardner

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