St Edmund’s wasn’t my first choice of college. In fact, I had applied for the all female Lucy Cavendish and came fourth in a three place race. But, having bonded in my interview with their Senior Tutor about our mutual back problems she kindly recommended me to St Edmund’s. After what can only be described as a ‘spirited’ interview with Dr Michael Murphy (the college Senior Tutor) and Dr Stephen Logan (Director, English) I was absolutely delighted to be offered a place to read English which, as an aspiring screenwriter and novelist was the best fit for me. I was even more delighted when Dr Logan told me to drop one of my three A levels I was trying to complete whilst working full-time in a demanding role as PA to the chairman of a massive international conglomerate.
Fast forward to October 1994, aged 28, and I arrive at the Eddie’s Porter’s Lodge a bit like Harry Potter at Hogwarts with a heady mix of bewildered terror and absolute exhilaration. At my inner city school, out of each year’s 120 students, only one or two per year max had gone to university. Even after my gap decade including a couple of years in Hollywood, to be working class and be at Cambridge was mind-blowing and quite intimidating. In fact, everyone I spoke to at college or the English faculty, no matter their background, had the same heavy dose of ‘imposter syndrome’ and most of us feared being thrown out by the end of the first term. Perhaps the college was acutely aware of this as the first night at college I remember attending a wine tasting session which was wonderfully illuminating and an excellent ice-breaker. Kind of the equivalent of the which-cutlery-do-I-use scene in Pretty Woman. That night or the next day I met Paula Aliwell my fellow mature student on the English BA, Cath de Maid (MA in Criminology), Anna Melville James (Arch & Anth BA), Louise Robinson (PGCE), Lomey Singh (PhD Sociology) and Neelam Sharma (BA Land Economy). We would go on to enjoy many social nights together at Eddie’s and beyond, row in the college team together and all become members of the College Womens Society, the Maenads – and, thanks to social media, we are mostly still in touch. The first year I lived in college in the Okinawa Tower on the first floor in a small but perfectly formed newly built room with a view down the hill towards town but wickedly cold when the East winds blew. The catering in college was always amazing, other college’s students couldn’t believe how lucky we were as they seemed to exist on a kind of Dickensian gruel. My favourite meal-times were Tuesday lunches which was a kind of delicious endless buffet and Tuesday and Friday formal hall (which during the BSE crisis had started serving ostrich in place of beef for fear of poisoning us all). It was great to get out of our grungy student clothes (this was the Nirvana era after all) and dress up. I’d never drunk sherry or port before in my life, but I made up for lost time. Back then, in a small student community it was difficult to find people to step up and ‘run things’, so Paula and another St Ed’s friend, vet student Rachel, began to run the bar and I remember working in it many fun nights. Sometime that year I was voted in as Entertainments Officer and I like to think I threw a few good few parties and events for the students and freshers over the years. Cambridge can be a very stressful place, so it’s vital to counteract that somehow. I humbly apologise to all the tutors who had students missing (in mind or body) the mornings after these parties.