Matthew Taylor with permission for Varsity

A large mess of duvet in my childhood bedroom swaddles me as I write this. Admittedly, it struggles to be particularly cosy thanks to my mother’s aversion to having the radiators on for anything more than an hour each day, but it’s doing its best. I have appreciated the respite it (we’re talking about home more generally now, rather than just my bedlinen) has offered me for a couple of weeks, an interlude between my fourth and fifth Cambridge terms in which chaos has become an indisputable fact of student life. But this intermission must end; I will be back in that chaotic little city (read town if you are a Londoner) in 48 hours and I cannot wait. 

Picture the scene. It was late November and my resolve to attend lectures was failing. Unwilling, or unable I’m tempted to contend, to roll out of bed for my disastrously early first lecture of the day (11am), I was proud when I made it to the afternoon debrief of the events of the night before. Important information acquired, as I vacated the hostel I passed another friend.

“Oh, Matthew, when are you going?”, she asked.

“Not for a few weeks”.

Her eyes widened in a manner that I could only describe as bush-baby-like. She was incredulous as though I had just told her it was my intention to book myself in for a fourteen-day teeth-pulling surgery at the dentist. 

“Why, when are you going?”

“The day after tomorrow”, she scoffed. “I am not staying any longer than I have to”.

It seems that for many Cambridge is little more than a place to turn up at, get through and get the hell out of. In this sense, it exists as a sort of all-encompassing, suffocating entity in space and time. While I’ll concede that the university, both academically and socially, has often proven stoic in its resolution to tyrannise, I think those who fail to recognise the distinction between Cambridge the city and Cambridge the university (the university included) are missing a trick. What my friend needed to get the hell out of, I daresay, was the area within a half-mile radius of King’s Parade and Sidgwick Avenue. You heard it from our lifestyle editors first, CB1 is in for 2024. You don’t need to go back to your hometown, you just need to venture to Mill Road and beyond. 

"For many Cambridge is little more than a place to turn up to, get through and get the hell out of."

If I asked the average Cambridge student to name some of the villages in our incredibly rural surroundings, I might get a ‘Girton’ and a ‘Grantchester’ in response, yet the Londoners among you seem to have no difficulty remembering all the stops on the Piccadilly Line. I’m not saying I could do any better, but as I travel through the Cambridgeshire countryside courtesy of Greater Anglia railways (you didn’t think I was writing this in one sitting did you?), Chaka Khan's seminal I’m Every Woman blasting through my ears, I can’t help but think what a shame that is. In my first term here, my friends and I made a concerted effort to walk to Grantchester every other weekend. It kept us sane, and I also think it is partly why I never felt homesick. Being from Dorset, I need a bit of countryside to feel whole. I’m not saying everyone needs to go on a muddy stomp, but I think it is very sad indeed if someone looks around themselves here, with all it has to offer, and decides they will wait until they are home to be fulfilled. 

I have heard of people, for example, not getting into relationships because they will be moving home after university. Of course the decision not to date is a valid one but I’m not sure I like that reason. While I can’t wait for what comes after this inherently transitional period, proper adulthood (a world of dinner parties in which my contribution will be an inexplicably blue soup à la Bridget Jones), I think I will regret it if I let these formative years pass by without trying to extract just as much out of them as I intend to do with those in my future.

"Venture outside the city centre during term, even if you only get as far as the botanic garden... "

There is, of course, immense value in going home and spending time with your family to make this transition to adulthood easier, but the Cambridge vacations are egregiously long and perhaps seven weeks is a little excessive. Our financial arrangements do reflect these periods though and to make the blanket suggestion that all students should stay a little longer than they might otherwise do is out of touch with reality - Pembroke is kind enough to heavily subsidise vacation rent for academic purposes but I know this isn’t the case for all colleges.


Mountain View

Cambridge is just London 2.0

My manifesto then: if you can, stay a little longer into the holidays. Venture outside the city centre during term, even if you only get as far as the botanic garden (that doesn’t count as escaping your vicinity if you’re a Homertonian by the way). Explore the city beyond its magnificent but student-dominated cafés and pubs. This final point is radical, so hold onto your hats, but maybe take a day off every now and then and experience the city without the university. I still remember the secret joy I felt when I accidentally dropped my first home-bomb in front of my mother - that is, I referred to Cambridge as home… That said, if I have just one piece of advice for you, let it be this: don’t try that at home.