The summer before Muhammad applied to CambridgeAuthor's own

Dear Cambridge,

We’ve been together for a year and a half - eighteen months of me getting to know you, falling in love with you, falling out of love with you, learning to make the most out of you.

Like any relationship, ours has been complicated. Don’t get me wrong, not all fingers are pointed your way. I was infatuated long before we met, you see. Looking up your photos online and planning where my graduation pictures would be. I broke all the rules and romanticised our time together. Lucky for me, my obsession did not go to vain.

Muhammad and his friends at Halfway HallAnna Tinsley

You have to understand that back then, you were what sweet dreams were made of. The pinnacle of academic success, the Pierian Spring, the glittering city of promise, the key that would open so many doors. And I am the first to raise my hands and admit that I have relished being with you. I would ironically wear my college sweater like a badge of honour and act surprised when somebody noticed. Every time I engaged in conversation with a stranger and it led, as always, back to you, my heart skipped a beat. I would wait with bated breaths to hear the gasps and nods of approval when I dropped the C-bomb (a skill I have carefully mastered). Prime Ministers were taught on the same grounds I wandered around and Nobel Prize Laureates graced the halls I dined in. Naturally, it followed, I would follow suit. You gratifyingly inflated my self-importance and without much hesitation, I got carried away.

“I am the first to raise my hands and admit that I have relished being with you”

Once the fantasy wore off, the veneer you had done a hell of a job constructing began to falter. I knew you were tough, that you would put up a fight, challenge me intellectually and push my potential. My fragile ego, however, was far from ready to face the complete wrath of academic rigour everyone joked about. Reading lists that never ended, the concept of weekends disappearing, and an alternate rota of library shifts at Sidge. You made me write four essays within five days on topics I had little to no knowledge of. Then, you proceeded to call my work avoidably poor just shy of a month away from tripos. To say, I had not known you were harsh would reveal my foolish naivety but then again, how could I have believed such tales? You held me hostage and left my heart rapt. On the cusp of surrendering, you would draw me in – a cycle along King’s Parade, a brunch at Hot Numbers, Latin grace at Formal Hall – and, against my better judgment, I fall in love with you all over again. Just as I did eighteen months ago.

Cambridge in a state of calmAuthor's own

To be fair, you were different when we met. It would have been difficult to predict one virus would dismantle the bubble you had spent eight centuries constructing. Having survived Reformation, the English Civil War, and both World Wars, I began to think you were invincible. Much to my own dismay, it did not take me long to realise you were not. Porters became Public Enemy Number One, splitting up harmless pasta parties and actual parties. Lectures became podcasts and Zoom and Panopto entered our lexicon. Life had irrevocably changed; I doubt either of us was prepared.

“It was easier, more straightforward having my mind set on you”

But I was willing to look past all that because the goalpost had always been you, Cambridge. And now that we’re together, what’s next? Who do I spend every waking hour pining over? With every torturous exchange about graduate schemes and training contracts, my heart races with anxiety thinking about what is to come. It was easier, more straightforward having my mind set on you. Soon, you’ll leave me to face reality beyond the world of eight-week terms and Rumboogie Wednesdays.


Mountain View

To the Cambridge I applied to

The thing is, we were never meant to last. Our relationship was purely contractual: you offered me three years and I, like any bad law student, accepted without reading the terms and conditions. You promised me the best of times, Cambridge, and exceeded my expectations because, as usual, you only are ever satisfied being second to none. With that, I’m afraid, also came the worst of times. There were the tears on C-Sunday, the tactless flatmate, the humiliating supervisions, the heartless DoS, the consistent dread of inadequacy.

I hate that I cried that one time after being told my Tort essay was shit. I hate how sweaty the first floor of Lola’s gets on a Sunday. I hate when I rush to the Locker only to find there are no seats available. But most of all I hate that I don’t hate you. Not even close. Not even a little bit. Not even at all. Before I know it, you will usher in your new conquest and dazzle them with similar fantasies you once sold to me. I wasn’t your first, nor will I be your last. You will move on inevitably to the next wide-eyed fresher with idealised expectations of punts in the sun, croquet matches over the summer, picnics in Grantchester.

And I’ll be here wondering why I spent half of our time together questioning whether I ever did belong to you.