1. I arrived in Cambridge in 2009, thin to the point of sickness, ragingingly bipolar, heavily theatrical, and possessed by a horrifying feeling that I had lost all control over my life. I left Cambridge in 2016, thin to the point of sickness, savagely depressed, heavily pierced and possessed by a horrifying feeling that I still had not found control over my life.
  2. The oddest people stick in my mind. One in particular, in fact. I’d waited for them on the bridge in King’s College, looking out at Queens’ Gardens, my old smoking spot, the Mathematical Bridge. It was the first time I had not tried to find the face of the one I was to meet while still at a distance, because I knew that if I had caught the sparks flying from their gaze as I tried to catch their eye, I would have gone up like an ammo dump.
  3. During the years 2009-2012, I was taught many things; the names of the post structuralists, the nature of exegesis, the methodologies laid down by William Empson and I.A. Richards, yet the one thing I learned, during those years, was that I was not who I had expected to be.
  4. 2012, June – I smuggled 32 people onto the roof above my set in C Staircase, Sidney Sussex. Here, we sat furtively, smoked cigarettes, and watched the sky explode with the fireworks of St John’s. It was that night I realised that I fell in love with the wrong woman, as the red glow of sparks illuminated her long, blonde hair.
  5. It was at Cambridge that I realised I was a Labour man, but that my Labour was one that existed in some halcyon fantasy that I projected into the past. I have always been a lifelong member of Labour, with only a slight pause between 1990 and whenever it was that Jeremy Corbyn announced he was standing for the leadership.
  6. Pets: one tortoise I didn’t tell anyone about, two guinea pigs, a cat that I was accused of stealing after it was temporarily abandoned in my house, a cat I was sad to lose, and a growing sense of unease.
  7. Cambridge has a tradition called May Week, which confusingly doesn’t occur in May and is longer than one week. You get up late, drink Pimms in the garden, bemoan the lack of cava in Sainsburys, and then go to all night balls to queue for bland burgers and listen to music by people who may have gotten to number one once in 1996 in Uzbekistan. This follows on immediately after the Exam Term, where you do nothing but work, and develop a healthy hatred for yourself for doing nothing but work, and also not doing enough work. The transition between these two modes of being has no warning, and is akin to Christian austerity of Lent bursting unexpected into the full indulgence of Easter. It leaves you feeling exhausted, though it is presumably someone’s idea of fun.
  8. I spent most of December 2010 living in the Combination Room of the Old Schools, because someone somewhere thought education was worth both nothing and lots at the same time. About a week in, amidst the solidarity from lecturers and townsfolk, a Ceilidh band appeared and we danced till 3 am. The Left always have the best parties. A friend told me that, the same night, that the Right were doing a crossword, and weren’t enjoying it.
  9. Cigarettes – 67,881 smoked over the course of four years. Bottles of wine: 567 downed, with a dramatic increase in consumption after August 2015. Amount of weight lost: lots. Amount of friends lost: lots. Amount of books purchased: lots. Amount of questions answers: None.
  10. In late 2015, I lost the ability to walk. I became reliant on crutches for all mobility, moving with the ponderous lethargy of an elephant from a Salvador Dali painting, walking on spindly metal legs. I hobbled to work, struggled with stairs, and tried to ignore the excruciating pain. On the 2nd of November, as I was hobbling past the entrance to St John’s College, a friend approached me. She spat in my face and kicked my crutches out from underneath me. Three day later, while at an ATM on Sidney Street, another friend did the same thing. Some weeks later, I watched the grainy, silent CCTV footage of the assault. It is disorientating to watch the face of someone you had been close to wide with rage. Even more so, perhaps, because I was none of the things I was accused of. I did not leave my house for almost two months after that.  
  11. There is a passage leading off King’s Parade I find rather charming. You dodge between Campkins and the King’s College shop, and past the entrance of Corpus Playroom and before you know it you find yourself staring uncomprehendingly at the Guildhall. I walked this route thousands of times, each time hoping I might emerge is some other dream kingdom, kept away from the prying eyes of the academics. There, perhaps, I would find evidence for all those golden reminiscences of Cambridge I’d read.
  12. In 2016, the United Kingdom, or at least bits of it, voted to leave the European Union. Since I believe in knowing your enemy (not in the biblical sense), I had spent much of previous years familiarising myself with the recent history of the Tory Party, and was struck by the fact that the referendum was as much about a feud between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, as it was about questions of sovereignty and immigration. The two had been rivals since Oxford, and that rivalry now had blossomed into a situation where, by year’s end, I should wager there would be an independent Scotland, a flare in sectarian violence in Ireland, and a dramatic increase in racial crime. This perspective on Brexit was perhaps more terrifying than any other, because as a student, I had witnessed those feuds beginning in hushed whispers over the sticky tables of my college bar, and hinted at in the bright corridors of the Cambridge Union Society, which stood in defence of free speech for the reasonable price of £170 for student membership. Was this the future? Were the smooth faced, red trousered drinking society boys (whom I’d served pints to as I’d worked my college bar to survive), future ministers, members of cabinets, or even PMs? When Scotland leave, I shall send a polite letter asking if I can go with them, clinging onto the Mull of Kintyre like an urchin onto a tailcoat.
  13. Time works very differently in Cambridge. Terms are short (8 weeks at a time), Freshers Week lasts 3 days, and despite your best efforts you’ll inevitably fall behind and feel like you’re out of time, aware of time roaring on ahead of you like a raging bull. The Cambridge supervision system is a fine form of teaching – when else do you get to have an intimate intellectual discussion with a world leading expert? – but my constant feeling was that I could never fully enjoy these experiences because I was always painfully aware that I could be working on something else and that no matter how good the supervision, it would result with more work being set and thus a small fragment of my future being written off. No matter how much I kept on top of work I was always out of time because the person I became at 25 was arguably the person I needed to be at 18: Not happy but high functioning. That’s as much as anyone can ask for at Cambridge.
  14. There’s no way to really leave Cambridge. A short jaunt will get you on a train to London, or a bus to Oxford, or perhaps a friend will offer to drive you as far as Ely; you never truly leave. Cambridge becomes the centrifugal point to the lives of everyone who has ever lived there for any significant amount of time. No matter how far you go, you will always be drawn back as if by gravity itself, to find familiar cobbles beneath your feet, known spires piercing the sky, and at the hour, the discordant bong of a thousand college clocks sounding their own hour. As I write this, I swore I would never return. I’d left too much of myself there, and that absence haunts me. But as I made this oath to myself, I knew that before the end of my days, I would inevitably find myself sitting crossed legged on the low wall on King’s Parade, blowing plumes of vape into the dry winter air.
  15. Christ knows how many books I own. I acquired thousands while I was at Cambridge. Only a few hundred of them survived the journey north. A practical measure, really.
  16. Packing is always an odd experience; it feels like the most awkward form of archeology. You dig around under your bed, and you discover, for instance, the remains of a packet of baccy nine months after you gave up fags; a Greek phrase book; more socks than any sane man should reasonably own, but it’s the pictures that bother me the most. Photos, mostly. The permanence of photos of happier times are offensive in their indelicacy. I’ll be sure not to display them in future.
  17. For a brief period during my time in Cambridge, I considered myself polyamorous, though I ultimately felt that way for entirely the wrong reasons. While I have every philosophical sympathy with polyamory, I can no longer live my life that way. I suppose a lot of that comes down to the poly crowd in Cambridge. Decent folk, mostly, but every now and again I’d meet the same man over and over; charismatic, warm, funny, possessing a rather striking gaze – enough to make even the most resolutely heterosexual gentleman have second thoughts – and also an utter bastard. Monogamy is, I’m told, boring, but I’ll take boredom over narcissism any day.
  18. Someone said to me a phrase I considered extremely wise: “When you look at the world through rose tinted glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” They told me it was something said by Auden, or Cummings. Turns out it’s from Bojack Horseman, and it took all of my strength to ignore Cambridge’s elitist mindset and still consider it wise.
  19. Speaking of Auden, what he did once say was “I was put on this earth to be kind to people. What the other people are here for, I just don’t know.” Words to live, by those.
  20. So what, exactly, did I gain from being in Cambridge? A pair of degrees, one of which I was reliably informed wasn’t up to much because I “didn’t quite get that first.” A fairly mixed tapestry of experiences. Thirteen facial piercings. Three tattoos. Five hundred and fifty stand up shows. Countless demos. Too many books. Harassment. Never quite punted to Grantchester. A sense that I had made both the right, and wrong, decisions, all at once. Most of all, I realised the gigantic truth of someone, who, much wiser than me, once wrote: “We read such golden reminiscences of Cambridge…but I must include this other kind of fact; Cambridge can break you up, to no good purpose: confuse you, sicken you, wring you dry.” I consider myself well wrung.

 

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