"the unpredictability synonymous with home life"nadia mahmoud

If there is one universally accepted reality, it is that Cambridge life is stressful: unhealthily long library days, relentlessly packed schedules, and monumental social pressures are all but some of the challenges that afflict the average Cambridge student. It was this thinking which gave me the impression that a virtual Easter term would be significantly less stressful. In hindsight, however, I could not have been more wrong. 

A single week into term was sufficient to expose what is perhaps the greatest stress of home study: the unpredictability synonymous with home life. Midway through tackling a journal article regarding family in Early Modern England, I heard a torrent of expletives unleashed from the ground floor of the West London block of flats in which I live. A physical altercation ensued, in which one subject was struck with a metal pole. 

Sigh, the neighbours were at it again. 

This was only one incident in an ongoing long-term feud between two residents. Two weeks prior, my revision was interrupted by an ear-splitting crack which signalled the breaking of a door frame due to a vigorous kick. Both occasions had warranted police presence. Explosive rows, thunderous bangs and blaring sirens have been the convenient backdrop to my studies during the lockdown, and it is these moments which have led me to reminisce on a time, not too long ago, when domestic drama did not thwart my intellectual pursuits. 

"I reminisce on a time when domestic drama did not thwart my intellectual pursuits"

That is not to say that Cambridge life does not come with its own set of stresses. Whether it was my bike getting jammed in those ridiculously overcrowded Churchill bike sheds, the Camcard sensor on my accommodation door malfunctioning to leave me stranded, or my supervisor declaring that they disagreed entirely with my essay interpretation, I can attest to the stressful reality that is everyday Cambridge life.  

The intensity of Cambridge life can be really difficult to endure, especially on days when it feels like the universe is conspiring against you (we’ve all been there). But amidst the flurry of incessant deadlines, short-lived socials, and frantic trips around town that make Cambridge the whirlwind experience that it is, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the most basic privileges it provides us with. 

My lockdown tribulations have imbued within me a profound gratitude for these fortunes, the first of which relates to the plethora of libraries we get to choose from in Cambridge. Only two months ago I would rotate between the Seeley Historical Library, the University Library, and the Churchill Bevin Library in the space of a single week, without pausing to consider how incredibly lucky we are to transition between different workspaces with every passing mood or whim. Equally worthy of tribute is the ambience preserved in our libraries: their quietness and expansiveness render them simultaneously as sanctuaries for the academically overburdened student in crisis, and the one who wishes to unwind with a book in an arena of tranquility. Oh, how I cannot wait to once again bask in the blissful silence of the UL.  

"My lockdown tribulations have imbued me with gratitude for these fortunes... the plethora of libraries we get to choose from in Cambridge."

I have even developed an appreciation for the hectic nature of our schedules. It was no doubt  exhausting to make multiple frenzied daily commutes. One awoke with a certain dread knowing that they had to summon the energy to travel to that lecture/supervision, the library, a friend in town and an extracurricular activity - all in the same day. Nevertheless, the truth is that this rigorous schedule usually resulted in the highest output of work, for it facilitated a particular structure and regularity that is so fundamental to maximising productivity. It is a pity that this is so difficult to replicate outside of Cambridge. It appears that Cambridgeshire alone reserves the superpower to turn a seemingly impossible week into a possible one. 


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Most of all, however, I am deeply grateful for the ‘bubble’ or metaphorical shield in which we exist in Cambridge, as this protects us from some of the more arbitrary, disruptive and undesirable realities of life - in this case exasperating neighbourly dissensions. Although it has always been easy to unthinkingly complain about the stresses of Cambridge life, this lockdown has proven to me that Cambridge categorically provides the most ideal conditions for the production of first-rate quality and quantity work. As such, I am certain that any stress I experience in my next term at Cambridge will pale in comparison to my newfound appreciation for it.