Trinity student, Zach Foster, reflects on whether or not having his bedsheets changed for him is really helping him in the long run...Louis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

“You’re just so mollycoddled at university; how on earth are you going to survive when you have to look after yourself?”

So spoke my mum as I returned for the Christmas vacation after a (very hectic) first Michaelmas term in Cambridge, faced with her eldest son once again proving to be hopelessly incompetent in completing the basic tasks required to sustain human life.

As I mumbled my usual retort of such a criticism being unfair - that I worked (and played) very hard at university; that all I really wanted to do following the trek back home was to hibernate for a week or so – a deeply-hidden introspection within me stirred: perhaps she did have a point.

“Students at Cambridge are some of the most sheltered in the country”

Certainly, students at Cambridge (and unfortunately, needless to say, the "other place") are some of the most sheltered in the country. Far from what we were told growing up - that university was a place that turned children into adults, the place in which those that had fled the nest learned to survive – our university experience is, in some ways, a dreamlike idyll.

While my friends at unis across the country have to cook – one particularly experimental medic has a Jamie Oliver-esque food blog on Instagram – we are but a few steps away from a college hall, buttery, cafeteria, or bar (gastronomic preferences – and the time of day – are near-totally of our choosing). Our fantastic bedders ensure our rooms, gyps and bathrooms are in a permanent state of spotlessness, while others flail with the Henry Hoover on a bleary-eyed Sunday afternoon. My own college, Trinity, even changes our bedsheets (“Hotel-level service!” as my flabbergasted parents commented), while others (looking at you, Emma) offer a washing service for students’ clothes. Nearly all of us greatly appreciate these conveniences; whether their being at our fingertips is really in our best interests, though, is an entirely different question.

"My own college, Trinity, even changes our bedsheets"

The arguments the university (and many students) would put forward in support of this unique system are legitimate. Cambridge is an especially intense academic environment: faculty heads and supervisors would rather our focus be on our studies, alongside the incredible richness of student life here, rather than staying both alive, and, crucially, happy and healthy enough to survive blockbuster eight week chunks. Taking much of the domestic work, critical within any household up and down the country, out of our hands supposedly allows us to do just that, liberated as we are to stack up as many consecutive hours in a dimly-lit corner of the college library as possible.

Increasingly, however, our blinkered isolation from the menial cycle of daily life has seemed to me as problematic as it is a relief. There is something very mature about caring for ourselves and, likewise, something infantilising about having our every need seen to. I remember the sense of grown-upness I felt, for instance, when on our first DofE expedition (as with many teenagers across the country) my friends and I were responsible for our shelter, our food, staying warm and dry, and – consequently and of far greater importance – staying together as a team. Equally, a feeling of chipping in and helping out at home grounds us – whether changing beds, washing up, ironing, or even attempting to not completely incinerate a pitiful cooking experiment. As I’ve begun to notice by my third term here, these formative experiences are simply not replicated in the ‘Cambridge bubble’.


Mountain View

Messy rooms or messed up priorities?

Yet not only is looking after yourself formative, empowering and grown-up, it is also necessary from a purely practical perspective. Many of us will emerge, squinting into the sunshine at the end of our degrees, having to learn, in desperation and at breakneck speed, how to navigate the various perils of the ‘real’ world. And if you don’t have a few simple meals under your belt, you can’t work a dishwasher or unblock a loo (a job I’m still grateful to have not yet been assigned), you’re going to struggle. Hearing stories of forks (?!) cooked in microwaves and the carefree reheating of rice throughout our city further add to the sense that many Cambridge students are in desperate need of a lesson from what I’ve often heard referred to – with a knowing smile from those who’ve seen it all before – as the ‘school of life’.

While many of us might benefit from a few lessons at such a school, I can’t say that when I hear my bedder knocking on the door or embark on the five-minute commute to Mainsbury’s that I’m not extraordinarily grateful for the conveniences of the special Cambridge environment. Though perhaps cooking for yourself once in a while, cleaning up a stain, or even replenishing the gyp’s dishwasher soap supply, would be no bad thing: not just a service to our time at university, but for all those years beyond.