Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cambridge market, King's spires, Great St Mary's Posted by Hello

“We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart”

American neighbour: “You, know, I’m beginning to think I’m a binge drinker.”

Doug: “Good, you’ll fit right in.”

It’s not that in Cambridge socialising is entirely impossible without alcohol … oh, wait, scratch that. Ahem. In Cambridge socialising is entirely impossible without alcohol. In fact, it’s about the only way to get anything done at all.

Let me back up.

At my induction camp with the nice people giving me money to be here, the trust Provost (with refreshing honesty) said: “The most frustrating – and wonderful – thing about Cambridge is that it’s not managed at all. I’m Provost of the Trust, Master of this College, Head of that Faculty and President of the Following Organisation – all of which means I have the power to do precisely nothing. If you want something to happen, make it happen.”

What Cambridge does well, in fact, brilliantly is to teach people to network – but nicely. You live in a sort of Venn-diagram of social relations: you have an existence within your college, your faculty, student societies and so on where no one is actually responsible for doing anything much – but you have a lot of opportunity to meet people who can make your life simpler if you treat them well.

The principle thing is to never turn down an event. I have had invaluable advice through being seated next to the college Law Fellows at dinners, and – surprise, surprise – going drinking with them afterwards. College is also where you get to eat and drink with a cross-disciplinary community, something I never really had to the same extent as an Australian undergrad.

You also need to maximise your friends in other colleges, if only to be in with the remotest hope of getting into swanky May Balls run by the mega-wealthy colleges.

All of which just tends to make the start of the year rather tiring. On my third real day of PhD research I couldn’t get past lunch because – after the excesses of Freshers week – I had the Scholar’s dinner in College last night and was being bought celebratory gin and tonics for some time afterwards by the law fellows in the college bar. End result, by two o’clock I had to stumble home for a nap.

Tonight was graduate formal hall, a lovely occasion with my kitchen (the drop-in centre in our accommodation block) hosting a dozen people for blackcurrant tea and strategising the acquisition of May Ball tickets until midnight.

Tomorrow I have drinks in my LLM supervisor’s rooms at St John’s and Monday I have the law research student’s dinner.

All of this is wonderfully valuable professional networking the only way Cambridge knows how.

But I really am beginning to wish I’d banked half my liver before admission to legal practice.

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