Stephen Craven

At school, I remember reading The Pedestrian, a dystopian short story by Ray Bradbury about a man walking through a television-obsessed city, who is arrested for “just walking” without a destination. The irony in this story has become much more vivid to me since living in Cambridge.

One evening this term, I emerged from the Corpus Playroom, plugged in my earphones and headed off towards Downing, despite the fact that my college is Queens’. I needed a walk. On the way, I passed a group of teenage girls. When I felt I’d walked far enough, I turned back towards Queens’. Unfortunately, the girls had come the same way as me. Upon recognising me, one of them gawped, and said loudly, right into my ear as I walked by, “I swear we literally just passed her!” much to the hilarity of her friends. Clearly they hadn’t considered the practice of ‘just walking’.

Anything that makes me happy, excited or inspired demands a walk afterwards

It’s amazing what an act of rebellion it can feel to change direction in the street. Some friends tell me they can just turn on their heel and walk the other way, but I’m so self-conscious that I go through a little performance to excuse my decision to onlookers. I might check my iPod – “Ooh, battery’s dying” – look at the sky – “Looks like it might rain!” – look pointedly both ways down the street – “Is this the right way?” – rifle through my bag – “Did I leave my mascara?” – or check my phone – “My God, what happened to Serena? I’d better head back!”

Usually I walk to work off adrenaline. Anything that makes me happy, excited or inspired – meeting friends, going to a show, taking part in a show – demands a walk afterwards. My first step after any good thing that’s happened to me in the last three years has been to go for a walk. The bigger, better and more exciting the good thing is, the longer the walk, and the more exuberant the music. Then there’s walking through Cambridge at night, along Trumpington Street or the Backs, looking at the stars and listening to those inspirational anthems that everybody has on their iPod, the ones that make you cry, smile and feel like you’re at the end of a film.

I’m leaving Cambridge this year. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a place like Cambridge again. At times it’s felt a little like an extended family, not in the sentimental sense, but in the sense of being slightly dysfunctional, filled with one-upmanship and clashing personalities and sudden, terrifying, formative experience and all of them living within 15 minutes’ walk of each other. You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. The closeness can be uncomfortable, especially when you are so often looking for validation from your peers who pass you in the street.


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My advice to those who aren’t leaving yet is the usual: to make the most of your time here, take every opportunity to spend time with people, and make those opportunities as well, even if it’s just asking friends for a drink. But there’s no need to restrict the good times you spend here to the times when your friends are available. Self-dating is a wonderful thing. Take yourself to dinner or for a coffee, especially with a good book or a laptop, or just sit by the river. Personally I like ‘writing dates’ – I take myself to a pub and write something over a lemonade. I wrote almost the entirety of my last play while sitting in the Granta. Then there’s my wonderful college bar. Make the most of your college bar, alone or with others.

Lastly, to my first-year friends who find the prospect of leaving Cambridge so terrifying, don’t worry about that. You change a lot in these years. I was worried about leaving too, but now I feel ready, as I suspect you will. All the same, this city is a delight in the evenings when the tourists are gone, and you’re not here for long. You don’t always need company. Plug yourself into some music, and go for a walk.

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