Joshua Paul

Night-time in Cambridge, as with most university towns and cities, is the time when the city is most awake. Perhaps it’s a Wednesday, the familiar queue for Cindies seen snaking its way up towards Grand Arcade, chatter bubbling up into Market Square where Uncle Frank’s and the Van of Life wait in fluorescent, electric anticipation. Or a Saturday, when the lazy streets become saturated with stilettoed legs defying basic physics as they teeter over uneven cobbles. When Spoons prefixes itself with ‘danger’, in order to justify dimmer lights and an impromptu dance floor which still sticks to your trainers the following morning, when you drag yourself back for the mandatory hangover breakfast, unsure whether the sight of those 11am pints is more sickening or appealing.

Even the indoors of Cambridge is buzzing activity in those early hours - libraries sound-tracked by the furious tapping of under-prepared, over-caffeinated students pulling all- nighters with nothing but easy peelers for company, overpopulated bedrooms in which limbs and mugs of cheap wine lie akimbo, laughter and a portable speaker intermingling in the air.

The night-time in Cambridge is the backdrop for more tears, revelations, bonding, and obscene amounts of cheesy chips than any other. It is a period when our quasi-religious observation of time during the day, our forced adherence to meetings and mealtimes, dissolve into insignificance. At night, the hours stretch endlessly ahead of us and possibilities become abundant and within reach (a dangerous transformation, which once led one of my friends to believe he would be able to post himself through the Sidgbox outside the English Faculty - needless to say he was wrong). 

"The very hours that I value so much in Cambridge for their hive of action are so important to me now because of their inaction."

Yet, we now find ourselves unceremoniously plucked out of the place in which these night-time memories are made. Holed up in our separate homes, our pub trips and club nights have been replaced with virtual quizzes, Google’s answers sitting invitingly close by. Those wine-fuelled hours in packed bedrooms are swapped for twenty tiny faces displayed in disappointingly few pixels on a Zoom screen, engaged in conversations which take twice as long and are half as satisfying. But do not fear - I’m not here to rant about how awful being stuck at home is - not only is it important, but I’m sure such sentiments are already plaguing your own thoughts. No, the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve come to find lockdown after dark at home just as special as those hours in Cambridge, but for a very different reason.

"After days that sometimes feel stifling, at night I am my most creative, artistically productive, and peaceful"Joshua Paul

In many ways, lockdown has been a refreshing opportunity for me to reconnect with my family - long walks, communal meals, and shared hours in front of the TV are not something our busy schedules usually allow time for. Before lockdown, we hadn’t even been on the same continent, let alone at the same dinner table, for several months. Yet despite the nice addition of unexpected family time elicited by The Great Pause (as I’ve come to call it), sharing a house which you cannot leave can feel - at times - painfully claustrophobic. Even more so when contrasted with the freedom and independence associated with university life.

It is for this reason that I love the night so much. The early hours after the rest of the house has gone to bed provide the greatest comfort to me. These are the hours when I do not feel trapped in my house but rather that I’m there out of choice, when I don’t feel quite so mocked by the UK’s unreasonably sunny weather, when my domain extends from my room to every other corner of my sleeping house, and my brain gets to breathe.


Mountain View

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After days that sometimes feel stifling, at night I am my most creative, artistically productive, and peaceful. It is time I feel I do not need to fill, but rather seems to speed away, dissolving into bird calls and the first tell-tale streaks of light across an inky sky. The very hours that I value so much in Cambridge for their hive of action are so important to me now because of their inaction. I feel that in these early hours, where the only lit window is my own and the only sounds those of the wind and my cat’s incessant pawing (she maintains a similar sleeping schedule to me), I am really learning what I believe to be the most valuable lesson of these unprecedented times. I am learning the patience and stillness to simply be, to reset for the long day ahead and sink into all this time we may not desire but have been given nonetheless.

I have found the early hours of a locked down house to be a breath of fresh air. I will happily take the daily ‘good morning - or should I say good afternoon’ comments I receive from my family when I emerge from another late night to find them already halfway through the next day. It’s worth it if it means I can keep those precious, liminal night-time hours which I consider to be the only ones that are truly my own.