'I'd look forward to these calls all week'Illustration by Louise Knight for Varsity

Sitting with someone in the library, eating in the college cafeteria, bumping into someone in the street and going for an impromptu coffee: these happenstance social interactions were the foundation of many of my Cambridge friendships.

Now that I am back in Cambridge for lockdown 3, I find myself in a strange in-between state. I feel like I could bump into friends at any moment, as I round any corner, as we so often do in such a small university town. Only the spooky silence of the empty streets reminds me that this probably won’t happen.

“Once again, I said goodbye without truly knowing how long I was saying goodbye for”

As with lockdown 1 back in March, my friends are scattered across the country, and I’m struggling with the decentralisation. Will we ever all be together in one room again? And just as with March – when we fled Cambridge in a panicked rush – I feel, in many cases, that I haven’t made the most of our last moments together. Once again, I said goodbye without truly knowing how long I was saying goodbye for.

If the first lockdown taught me anything, it’s how to make time for my friends – rather than relying on everyday coincidences and the likelihood that I’d see people around 'at some point’. Though I’ve never been one for phone calls, they became a staple in my daily routine, holding together the suddenly fragmented parts of my life.

I arranged calls with friends – whether video or just voice calls – and added them to my calendar so it looked a little less barren. I’d look forward to these calls all week. We didn’t always have much to talk about, and of course nothing can match up to spending time together in person. Yet often it was nice just to exist in a friend’s presence again, in a way which lockdown (and coronavirus more generally) had put a firm stop to.

Lockdown eventually lifted. The calls became fewer and farther between as plans to see one another (in person!) began to materialise. When I returned to uni and to living with my friends in late September, I could rely on coincidences for a while. I was starting to take socialising for granted again – assuming I’d see people, rather than making the effort to spend meaningful time together.

“Hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll return to a world where bumping into a friend in the street and spontaneously deciding to go for coffee doesn’t sound so ludicrous”

As lockdown 2 descended, my complacency with happenstance socialising was challenged once again. I started to worry that any social interaction could be the last one we had for months. It was time to schedule a new activity: walks.

Walks lend themselves to quality time: you’re alone with someone without a phone to distract you, without jobs to do on your laptop, without a film to fill the silence. I looked forward to these walks as much as my lockdown 1 phone calls, adding them to my calendar, relishing the opportunity to leave the house for whatever reason, but also to just exist alongside the friends I’d spent so much of the year away from.

As a finalist, I’m keenly aware of endings. Everything I do could be the last time I do it. The pandemic has only heightened this, making me feel like everyone I see could be the last time I ever see them. So being in Cambridge for lockdown 3 is feeling especially strange, as if I’m unnaturally prolonging my inevitable goodbye to the city.


New year with the Varsity team

New Year with the Varsity Team


Hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll return to a world where bumping into a friend in the street and spontaneously deciding to go for coffee doesn’t sound so ludicrous. However, even when this world returns, remember to make time for your friends. Check in on them. Schedule time to spend with them. Don’t rely on the likelihood that you’ll see them eventually.

Spontaneous meet ups are great, but if lockdown has eradicated anything, it’s spontaneity. For me, it’s been even better to know that I will see (or hear from) my lovely friends beyond accidentally bumping into them by the market, or exchanging mid-essay crisis smiles in the library. If nothing else, lockdown has taught me to value my friendships even more, so much so that I will willingly spend hours in the cold to be with them – and look forward to doing it again and again.