Cambridge should always feel surprising and excitingDaniel Gayne

Who am I supposed to speak to if I can’t find the Porter’s Lodge? What is the BNOC, and is it contagious? Where, for the love of God, is the Wetherspoons? If you’re anything like me, my fresher friend, these are just the sort of questions that are still rattling around your anxious head, even as your train glides serenely into Cambridge.

Most of your burning questions will be answered in due course. While some questions evaporated in the sticky heat of my first Fez night, for me one big concern malingered. Picture the scene: you’ve arrived at the station in style, layering exquisitely the three jumpers and two shirts you couldn’t fit in the suitcase (top tip: invest in a bigger bag). Yet suddenly you’re floored by the realisation that you know have no idea what's in store in the next week, never mind the next year. Well, fear not! Having witnessed the chaos this ignorance wrought upon my own first year, I’m now at hand to offer you deliverance, starting with the weeks after matriculation. Tell all your new friends. 

The iconic Petty CuryLouis Ashworth

Your may have already experienced the Freshers’ Fair on Parker’s Piece, which in many ways is the Cambridge experience compressed into a large marquee: at first you feel fortunate just getting in, given the size of the queues. Then there’s awe, at the sheer number of opportunities available to you and the myriad lives you could forge for yourself. It soon dawns on you that it might actually be quite overwhelming, and as your Hermes begins to fill already with unread society missives, each one needling you with the sense of a chance missed, you cast your eyes furtively towards the exit. You finally leave, dazed amidst a bevy of corporate job offers which your newfound political allegiances forbid you from entertaining.

The Freshers' Fair is in many ways the Cambridge experience compressed into a largue marquee

What you might have missed - while everybody else makes a beeline for their free Domino’s - is the history to be found right beneath your feet. Parker’s Piece, named after a Trinity college cook, was first acquired by the municipality of Cambridge in 1613, and thereafter became a centrepiece for the town’s sporting activities. It was here, in 1848, that the ‘Cambridge Rules’ for football were first practised, which formed the basis for the modern rules of Association Football drawn up fifteen years later. In other words, Parker’s Piece is actually the home which football was supposed to return to this summer, before deciding that it marginally preferred the view from the Champs-Élysées. 

Next up is the student ‘lock-in’ night at the Grand Arcade, where those of a Faustian disposition can trade five hours of freedom for discounted prices at all store. Those who do hang around for the full five hours will have plenty of time to appreciate the arcade’s lettering, which may seem strangely familiar; it’s a tribute to the designer David Kindersley, whose typographical innovations changed the face of street signs up and down the country.

A visual aid to better appreciate the perfect spacing of the capitalsLouis Ashworth

Having moved his workshop to Cambridge in 1945, Kindersley grew so disgruntled at the poor spacing of the area’s post-war signage that he submitted a new street name alphabet to the council. While it was initially turned down the Ministry of Transport selected it as their new typeface, and before long the council had adopted it too, without recognising that they’d previously rejected it. The clearest homage to Kindersley is to be found at the Grand Arcade’s main entrance, where its name is emblazoned across vertical bars, the better to display the perfect spacing of those capitals.

If you don’t quite share Kindersley’s passion for keeping things neat and separate, you can always round things off with a night out at the Regal. The Regal is first year played out on the improvised dancefloor of a fairly grand Wetherspoons: sweat, cheap booze, and a pervading sense that you should be spending your time more wisely.

Cambridge should always feel surprising and exciting, so long as you keep exploring it

Before Tim Martin arrived on the scene the Regal was a much-loved cinema, first opened during the golden age of the movie-palace in the 1930s. Its legacy is the charmingly retro Arts Picturehouse, situated above the pub. The Regal also played a significant role in Cambridge’s music scene, having opened its doors to live acts in the ‘50s: those who graced its stage include Sir Cliff Richard. Perhaps most notable of it's occupants was a band from up North, still relatively obscure at the time, which called itself The Beatles. The legacy of this proud musical history is Saturday night’s ‘Danger-Spoons’, where you can hear every single hit you had forgotten about from the past five years and more.


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Why I chose Cambridge

And that just about does it. I hope you now feel fully primed for the week, and year, ahead. Only, I would like to offer just one or two more words of advice. Don’t pay any heed to the curmudgeons, the sceptics, the wearied - they’ll only get you down. Besides – at risk of undermining half of this article – those words of disaffection are rarely sincere. When getting down over work, remember to look around you at the history of the town.

Even leaving the academia to one side, Cambridge is a town so storied, from its public parks to its street signs, that it should always feel surprising and exciting so long as you keep exploring it, keep inquiring into it, keep it fresh.

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