Please don’t feel sorry for me or expect me to be enviousWikiMedia Commons

After seven years in a college catering department, I have come to terms with many of the peculiarities so treasured by the "gown" half of the population. I know what "Bumps" is. I am no longer filled with civilian indignation when I walk into work the morning after the King’s Affair. Hell, I even learnt your ridiculous names for terms (even if I do refuse to call it Michaelmas). But if there’s one thing that still perplexes me to this day, it’s the sheer frivolousness of student arguments.

I’ve seen it all: articles written decrying the loss of that death trap that is the King’s Bunker (There is one fire escape for a capacity of 200 and it constantly smells of gasoline). I’ve seen full scale parliamentary hustings over whether or not we should take down the Soviet Flag in the bar – and some people defending it. I know there are no perfect countries but... come on. Usually you just raise your eyebrow and keep setting up the three course dinner for these faithful comrades. When the argument is about the realities of my own job however, I feel I have a responsibility to wade in.

The impetus for this article comes from two previous articles in this paper. The first one written by a student who – in what I’m sure was an honest attempt to open a dialogue with the wider university community – worked a formal hall shift at Corpus. The second was the rebuttal from a student with a regular job at a college catering department which was a cathartic read – if a little terse.

Both articles were brilliantly written and made some salient points but there is still a piece missing – the non-student perspective. What is a formal like for someone who has worked their fair share of them (just over 100 by my estimate) but never attended one yet?

The first article is a good portrait of the night of the formal but that is in actuality part of the problem. It starts when the formal starts, far too late to truly illustrate the headache of prepping. Yes, Ents committees try their best but they have to compete with strained budgets, academic pressure, and an organisational ability that would make the Fyre Fest guys tut. I spent my Wednesday night chasing a gospel choir around the college because they simply had not been told where they needed to be nor when they needed to be there.

We joke about the students who can’t hold their drink

After a hundred different last minute changes the doors open, and then the fun really begins. People coming in without tickets or worse; bringing in bottles of wine bought off campus. We confiscate these bottles and try to explain that if they were caught the college would lose their licence. There’s only so many times the same people can tell you they didn’t know before you conclude that they simply don’t think the rules – the law even – apply to them.

They laugh at the wait staff who ask them to sit down so they can serve, argue with the bar staff, and start instagram pages belittling the work of chefs who sometimes working 50 hour weeks to keep them fed. We serve them until after midnight and then come in the next morning to clean up their mess.

And the most ridiculous thing is that we love formals. They’re by far the most fun shifts to work. We joke about the students who can’t hold their drink. We love the dressing up and the naff entertainment. And while "students" is a byword for an impending inconvenience we’d be hard pressed to name one we actually dislike. Jonathan Swift wrote “principally I hate and detest that race called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas and so forth” and that’s how most staff feel about students. Besides, you’ll never be half as annoying as that bane on the catering department: the external client.

The writer of the first article said that if they worked full time in a dining hall "I wouldn’t hate students, but I would certainly envy them". I can’t agree and in fact I think it’s a patronising comment, like they didn’t really listen to anything the people they worked with had to say. It felt like the academic equivalent of white saviourism.

This may surprise you, but, I don’t envy you. I don’t envy your posh dinners (not least because we eat the same meals of you anyway). I don’t worry about cooking for myself because that is something about which only a student could worry and frankly you’re not really served "in a manner analogous to a wedding" (your DJs are better and your wine far worse than any wedding I’ve ever served).


Mountain View

Students, get over yourselves – some of us have a job

So please don’t feel sorry for me or expect me to be envious. I work a well paid, secure job and I have a great employer in King’s College. Truth be told, I feel fortunate. I have all the perks of being a member of King’s College without having to cope with the stress of exams, or of making sure my outfit is quirky enough to make it onto the "Humans of Cambridge" instagram.

So you "bookish engineers and humanities soft boys", feel free to take a seat in the dining hall. We’re perfectly happy to stay "outside of the spotlight".