I’ve left Cambridge, but I’m not going home – not really
Emma Turner reminisces on Cambridge memories, memories from one of her many ‘homes’ after she was forced to leave the campus at short notice due to the start of the Covid19 pandemic.
At the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry looks longingly back at Hogwarts as he boards the train back to London and sighs, “I’m not going home. Not really.” As I stood in my college gardens a few days ago, knowing it would be the last time in a long time that I would see the sun fall upon the red brick fortress, I felt pretty much the same.
‘Home’ has always been a funny kind of word for me. I tend to use it liberally, believing that someone can have more than one at a time. Over the past eighteen months, ‘home’ has been a dim apartment in the suburbs of Paris, a draughty house at the foot of a mountain in Santiago de Chile, various hostels across Europe during an interrail trip, a cosy room in a college-owned house and, now, my busy family house in the North-East. But, of all these, Cambridge has been more of a home than most – and it is a strange kind of ache knowing that I might never return to call it that again. I was ready to leave it when the time came... but not right now. Not yet.
It’s not just the city I’ll miss, and it’s not just the people, either – it’s the kind of magic that happens when the people and the places come together. Flicking back through the snapshot memories of the last four years, I cannot separate the two: the strange fin-like sculpture in Front Court where I met my friends to walk to dinner almost every day during my first ever term; the tiny kitchen where I cooked a stir fry with the friend who would later be my college wife; the fairy lights hanging the length of my friend’s room, where we shared wine and secrets alike; the college gardens, where I dragged my boyfriend up to dance to an ABBA tribute act at my college May Ball two years ago.
Outside of college, the town holds similarly infinite memories. I will miss the little independent cafés down side streets where I caught up with old friends and made new ones; I will miss the little involuntary intake of breath every time I cycle into town, look up, and see the spires of Caius towering against the blue sky; I will miss the cakes on the market stall and the Italian restaurant where I went on my first Cambridge date. I’ll miss late-night trips to the Van of Life for cheesy chips, and shivering on the Midsummer Common to watch the fireworks in November amongst a crowd of excited strangers. I’ll miss the madness of the University Library’s endless, identical, darkened corridors, though I might not miss the length of time it always took to find anything. I might even miss dodging tourists on King’s parade when I’m in a rush (...okay, maybe not).
I applied to Cambridge partly because of the city; other cities might have been more lively (and other University Libraries might look altogether less phallic) but, from the moment I visited Cambridge for a summer school, it just felt more like home. It was the perfect size for someone who hates big cities. There was no other way I could describe it: I could imagine myself living there. And now I cannot work out how to come to terms with the fact that I no longer live there and may never do so again, when I expected not to have to say goodbye for another three months.
It’s funny how our entire perspective on something as seemingly simple as ‘home’ can change in the time it takes to read an email telling you that you must leave as soon as possible.
Away from Cambridge, almost nothing about my degree will feel the same: I no longer have my own room, or even a desk at which to work. My internet connection is indescribably slow. The fridge is fully stocked. I can’t rustle up a glass of wine over dinner whenever I feel like one, or pop into a shop for some hummus – there is no shop within walking distance. I look out of the window and, instead of a college garden, I find sheep staring at me from fields that stretch as far as the eye can see.
However, some things never change. Cambridge will always be a kind of home to me – even if it’s only in my mind. Most importantly, the friends with whom I shared my university home will still be in my life. Somehow, in the unfathomable uncertainty that shrouds the final term of our university lives, we will form a new ‘home’, one unlike any I’ve ever inhabited before.
Next term, our home will be a virtual one: one inhabited through video calls and online messaging, with Skype dinners and synchronised Netflix nights. I will still no doubt complain about essay deadlines – though perhaps doing so over the phone instead of in person will make me more mindful about appreciating what I have when I have it. The best part? Anyone can live with us in our online home, even people who graduated last year, or who live in different countries.
Whatever next term holds, and however or whenever I eventually graduate, Cambridge will always be my home in some form… I’ll be back, when I can, to say a proper goodbye.
This article was originally published on Cambridge University's Varsity website: https://www.varsity.co.uk/features/18987