Poo-niversity Challenge: what I learnt from going for a shit in every college

What started off as a joke between friends about the best way to visit every college in Cambridge soon became a journey of self-discovery for Devarshi Lodhia

Devarshi Lodhia

Get your copy of Varsity in your Plodge!!Sian Bradshaw

According to someone at Vice, Sigmund Freud once said that the three greatest pleasures in this life are eating, orgasming and shitting. I can’t be bothered to properly verify that but it sounds about right to me, and more importantly, it works well for the purposes of this article. Shitting is one of the great levellers of our society: literally everyone does it. Yes, even Beyoncé has been for a shit in her life.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated by shitting for as long as I can remember. As a kid, there was legitimately a point in my life when I wanted to be a toilet inspector, just after the astronaut/dinosaur expert phase and just before the Buddhist monk one. The highlight of my visit to Japan was seeing the toilets in action and in Year Seven, I photocopied my biology teacher’s Bristol stool chart and hung it up on my wall at home.

Cambridge's worst bathroom (toilet not pictured)Devarshi Lodhia

That’s why, when talking to friends about the best way to visit every college before I graduate, it dawned on me. I’d thought about going to every formal but as a vegetarian there’s only so many times I can eat a lazily-assembled combination of spinach, goats cheese, and mushrooms. Visiting every bar was ruled out by the fact I can’t be bothered to try and make a friend at every college to sign me in. So shitting it was.

31 Colleges, 31 toilets over 31 consecutive days (save for an impromptu mid-term trip to India). The greatest journey of self discovery since Julia Roberts’ gap year in Eat Pray Love.

This is what I learnt:

I need to diversify my wardrobe:

One of eight grey t-shirts I ownDevarshi Lodhia

I was once described by a friend as having the dress sense of someone who has a 17-year-old girlfriend. I don’t really know what that means although I don’t appreciate the suggestion I look like a wrong’un. Either way if they’re commenting on the fact I need to change up how I dress they might have a point. In 23 of the 31 photos I’m wearing the same coat. In 29 I’m wearing at least one grey item of clothing. My wardrobe is definitely one in need of an overhaul so if there’s a Cambridge version of Queer Eye please hmu.

Shitting in the dark when you’re scared is tough:

Pre-shit fear at MagdaleneDevarshi Lodhia

Magdalene may well have the scariest toilet I’ve ever visited, and I’ve used public toilets in India. What I came across can only be described as the set from a low-budget horror film: a large wet room with exposed pipes and horrendous floral tiles. To make matters worse, there was no working light and the pipes were making weird noises. I can comfortably say this made for the most distressing shit of my life. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that former Archbishop of Canterbury and current college Master, Rowan Williams was probably nearby and can banish demons I think.

Going to an all boys school has left me with a lifelong fear of women:

Extra scared at MedwardsDevarshi Lodhia

Other than Magdalene, my most challenging shits were probably at the all women’s colleges. I can only put this down to going to an all boys school for nine years leaving me terrified of going into all women’s spaces I’m not really meant to be in. Although it’s been six years since I left, that stuff messes you up big time. Thankfully Newnham has a nice coffee shop which I used as a cover while at Medwards I had to pretend to be interested in frighteningly large beetles. I might need to see a therapist.

I look “suspicious”:

Super suspicious (or maybe just brown)Devarshi Lodhia

While Medwards and Newnham have their individual attractions I could use as cover for my clandestine shitting, Lucy Cav unfortunately doesn’t. This meant I had to get creative and think of a backstory to get in. Unfortunately the porter saw right through me and decided to escort me to the bar where my “friend” was “waiting for me”. He told me they don’t normally let men into college on their own for security reasons, especially “suspicious” looking ones. Maybe he’s had a chat with my friend about my dress sense, or maybe he’s a racist, who knows.

I’m addicted to my phone:

Felt cute, might delete laterDevarshi Lodhia

The toilets at Catz bar are a nightmare. In part because they’re next to Catz bar which is a grim subterranean futuristic hellscape but more importantly because there’s no phone signal. I normally spend my time on the toilet doing admin: checking my emails, sending pictures of possums and racoons to friends, and looking at what all the dickheads from school are up to on LinkedIn (it’s always recruitment). But unfortunately at Catz none of these were an option and it legitimately triggered my anxiety. Safe to say I’m considering a lawsuit.

Girton’s (almost) worth the journey:

The happiest anyone's been to find themselves at Girton on a Sunday afternoonDevarshi Lodhia

Look, all jokes aside, Girton’s far. My bike’s currently broken so I was forced to make the six mile round trip on foot. By the time I got there I looked like what 1980s wrestling star Ravishing Rick Rude would call a “fat, ugly, inner city sweathog” although I wasn’t helped by the fact it was pissing it down on my walk there. But once I got there it was actually really nice. Not quite the nicest toilet I visited (that honour goes to Downing) but up there with the best. And the college wasn’t bad too. Also, I really need to work on my fitness as at various intervals along my journey I seriously considered getting a taxi.

Planning your day around shitting disrupts your schedule:

The face of a confused finalistDevarshi Lodhia

In all honesty, I probably should have done more work on my dissertation. But planning and executing a shitting strategy as complicated as this is a time consuming business. Scoping out the most convenient toilet in each college and making sure to consume a suitably high fibre diet to make sure I could shit when I needed to doesn’t happen by accident - it’s the result of meticulous planning and flawless execution. But with my dissertation deadline approaching, I kind of wish I had that sort of commitment to history too.

Parents don’t appreciate art:

Yep, this is artDevarshi Lodhia

While most of my friends enjoy receiving updates on my shitting escapades (or so they claim) safe to say most parents did not. My own regularly asked me “tu su kare che” when I’d send pictures to the family WhatsApp group. The megababe that is Ken Bradshaw now knows me as “the guy who sends pooing pictures” and not in the complimentary way I’d hoped. Considering my parents taught me how to use a toilet I’d expect more support from them if I’m being totally honest, although I reckon the charms of having a 24-year-old manchild for a son must be wearing thin.

Probably best to avoid talking about shit on a first date:

Single and ready to mingleDevarshi Lodhia

Since starting my shitting odyssey, I’ve been on three first dates. Unfortunately, in every instance there was never a second. On one occasion, sitting in The Anchor showing one of my dates pictures of me pre, mid, and post-shit and my detailed notes about each toilet, I realised this might be why I’m still single. Credit to all of them though for putting up with it and at least feigning interest.

Nearly every toilet roll dispenser is different:

Fun fact: the disabled toilets next to the Pembroke Graduate Parlour has the highest sink to toilet ratio I've ever come acrossDevarshi Lodhia

If you’ve got this far, firstly congratulations and secondly why? Just a point of clarification, the reason I’ve gone to great lengths to include the toilet roll dispensers is to show I’m at a different toilet in each one and not just in my own bathroom 31 times. I’m nothing if not professional. The fact no one’s given me a job offer yet still baffles me.

I’d like to thank everyone who supported me from day 1 and told me to never give up even though all the haters and losers told me this was a stupid idea and “not real journalism.” And Sian Bradshaw for squatting in a bathtub.