Daniel Hilton

It was the night before the move back to Cambridge, that I remembered. Surrounded by stray shoes and clothes that never quite made it to the wash (sorry, mum), I checked my phone – the classic procrastinatory glance. No, there wasn’t a notification, but I did notice the date, something I had not done in a while, as I’d treaded the clear waters of family, friends, and revision. It’s funny, really. Gone are the days of writing the long date at the top of your English book, constantly reminded of the moment in which you are existing – yet, simultaneously scribbling the last digit of the year out hastily for at least the first six months, as you adjust to your new temporal surroundings. Yet, on this occasion, through a cursory glance at my phone I noticed that it was my half-birthday, and I had so nearly forgotten.

“The first three weeks of Michaelmas moved like honey”

The concept of the half-birthday is one that is rooted in the frivolity of childhood. You were never just six, or seven, or eight, or nine. The “half” was always stuck on there with the righteous indignation of youth, pinned to your lapel like a shiny badge of pride; juvenile superiority granted by six extra months of wisdom. Yet, wading through the shallow waters of teenagerhood put me off the tradition, and when I turned nineteen in the third week of my first Michaelmas, I let the passage of time wash over me with little resistance. Time moves differently in Cambridge. Sometimes it is viscous, slow and unrelenting as you trundle through each title on that unending reading list. Other times, however, it runs away with itself – and these are the times that, I think, inspired the installation of the half-birthday as a staple in my circle.

I owe the celebration to one of my closest friends here, who insisted on celebrating hers in the first week of Lent term. As her birthday is deeply entrenched in – what I hope to be – the warm, luxurious depths of summer, we deemed it necessary to mark the occasion when we could all be together. After months of growing so close it seemed impossible that we would be separated for such a momentous occasion. No evenings in the College Bar, or observations of the world from the floor of your friend’s bedroom. To be honest, it turned my stomach slightly. So, diligently, we booked formals (despite the questionable menu choices) and embarked on a gleeful trip to Sainsbury’s, scouring the shelves for the means to bake a half-birthday cake.

“I am often proudly wrong without fearing the consequences”

Crammed into a tiny kitchen, navigating an oven with a dubious heating element, my friend and I measured and mixed and poured. It was oddly comforting, to bake with friends you never have before, to create something together – even if it was mildly inedible. I think back to that moment, and the passing of time, and how it was no longer sand running through my fingers, but sprinkles. Of course, we were celebrating – any excuse to abandon the books for one moment – but we were also marking. We were marking the passage of time. Halfway there, or at least halfway to somewhere.

The first three weeks of Michaelmas moved like honey. As days became shorter and nights longer, I remember staring at my essays, adorned with a Jackson Pollock-esque splattering of red ink (or font in the digital age). Would it ever make sense? The equivocal ‘it’ used to often plague me, but now, as terms have melted into weeks standing solitary at the end of the year, I might be beginning to make sense of it all. After all, time gives you no other option. My stomach no longer twists in anxious knots before supervisions, and I am often proudly wrong without fearing the consequences. My phone remains tucked in my pocket during those rainy walks to Sidgwick – I no longer sheepishly consult Google Maps to find my way. I feel firmly settled here, and for that I am so grateful to my friends. They made the small, almost alien world of Cambridge feel like home.


Mountain View

Notebook: Under the weather, stuck in bed

Thus, I relished the opportunity to note the fact that I was now nineteen and a half. Older, but certainly not wiser; full of excitement for what the next six months would hold. In this respect, I owe a lot to Cambridge Mean Time. There are so many moments that I wish I could freeze, experience them just a little bit more – squeeze out a few more laughs (or a few more tears, if you saw me on C-Sunday). Yet, I have consciously chosen to embrace the passage of time as much as I can – whether it is slow or fast, giving or thieving. There is an adage, often imposed by well-meaning older relatives: “don’t wish your life away”, a call to arms of “living in the moment”. Yet, I can only respond to such a maxim with what has characterised my first year here: a stubborn optimism that has stood the test of time. If these fleeting, fragile seven months have taught me anything at all, I have learnt that the past and the present are by no means in conflict. So, when I reflect upon my first year, I will indulge in a grateful amalgamation of memories, studded with laughter, adversities, and essays. Lots of essays.