Whether you're using an alarm clock or the Corpus clock, chances are you'll still be running late John Tyson via Unsplash

Back home, I was never particularly revered for my punctuality –so my parents found it unbelievable when I claimed to be ‘one of the more on time ones’ here. I vividly recall my first-year experience during Michaelmas as I rushed to a 9am at Sidge, only to find the lecturer absent on my arrival. It was at that moment that I realised Cambridge, with its unique sense of time, was a perfect fit for me.

An epidemic of pervasive tardiness continues to infect the Cambridge bubble every day. The irony of the procrastination of this article, in part delayed due to a wilful ignorance of our collective struggle with time management, mirrors the broader issue. Peers saunter into lectures late, lecturers send last-minute emails to apologise for their time keeping, and occasionally faculty supervisors keep students for a few extra minutes after the bell. Consequently, students find themselves perpetually running late, trapped in a cycle where leaving class early is socially awkward, and a late arrival to the next one becomes the norm. The so-called ‘Cambridge hour’ generously allots an additional five minutes for transitioning between contact hours. Yet, it seems more like an acknowledgement of its habitually late target audience, albeit a subtle acceptance that most individuals will not arrive on time regardless. Supervisors also tend to exhibit considerable flexibility, often accepting work after the deadline if given advance notice. Whilst this leniency promotes the idea that it is okay to take your time, which should be an upheld belief in Cambridge’s hustle and bustle, it’s crucial for the other party not to be burdened in the process of doing so.

“How can a prestigious establishment expect its members to be prompt if it fails to lead by example?”

Being fashionably late extends beyond academic realms too. Lateness is so rampant here that people, including me, are late to things they actually enjoy attending. If pres start at a certain time, expect to see everyone at least thirty minutes after the specified hour. Catering staff have refused entry to some of my fellow college peers to formal dinner because they’ve shown up too close to the start of the meal. And of course, lateness to a Cambridge club will either mean refused entry or a fast track through the queue – though, with that one, one will never know.

Yet punctuality does hold a significant weight, especially in a place like Cambridge. While minor delays are usually tolerated, consistent tardiness and prolonged waiting times are often viewed unfavourably. In this chaotic environment, where everyone is engrossed in their own busy schedules, there remains little patience for delays caused by last-minute indulgences, like a hurried visit to Nero before a supervision. Its prevalence might continue to be shrugged off as a quirky characteristic of the quintessential Cambridge experience, but it’s key to remember that the habits formed at Cambridge, if unchecked, could pose significant challenges when transitioning into careers in the city where every second counts.

However, the problem isn’t limited to daily, individual time management. It runs institutional as well. Colleges, the pillars of the esteemed institution, are notorious for paying their student helpers late for events, which sets a precedent that punctuality isn’t a top priority. How can a prestigious establishment expect its members to be prompt if it fails to lead by example?

So why do we have such a problem with lateness? In a place where academic demands meet personal ones, a few extra minutes can mean a world of difference. The hectic atmosphere of Cambridge sometimes necessitates procrastination breaks for a makeup touch-up or a brief Tiktok scroll. In this shared experience of a perpetual rush, slight lateness is embraced rather than perceived as rude most of the time.

“This shared struggle with time might just lead us to experiences we never planned for”

The Cambridge bubble fostering lateness makes being late easier and somewhat more acceptable. Students here do tend to appreciate that it is not only a natural part of the human experience, but a predicate of the Cambridge existence. There remains an unspoken understanding amongst Cambridge students, especially if the excuse is valid. It’s safe to say I wasn’t struck down by my friends when I showed up to dinner in town twenty minutes late because a car had squirted ketchup out the window onto my outfit at the Sidge traffic lights. Cambridge is busy enough and expecting someone to be perfectly on time all the time is optimistic. If someone being three minutes late to our coffee catch up is going to save them from a mental breakdown, I think I’ll survive standing alone for a couple more minutes. But let’s just say it’s quite the culture shock when moving back home however, especially if you’re a Londoner running for the tube.


Mountain View

Cambridge colleges have a clique problem

It appears that we literally do not have any hope of beating the lateness allegations at Cambridge. The iconic Corpus clock reflects the erratic irregularity of the Cambridge scene by the mere fact that it is only entirely accurate once every five minutes. The rest of the time, the pendulum appears to catch or stop and the lights can be caught lagging and racing ahead.

We may never escape the vicious cycle and will continue to always pass the late baton down to our college kids, but perhaps in the grand scheme of things we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. After all, this shared struggle with time might just lead us to experiences we never planned for, turning the hurried steps and delayed arrivals into moments of connection and discovery, all of it worthwhile in the end.