Life in Cambridge, UK. As students scramble to find a place to work other than their room, a place to socialise other than their zoom, a life beyond their webcam, Cambridge and the University itself has tried to keep a sense of normalcy. Is the new normal the lack of hordes of tourists don't block your way on your cycle to work, obstinately refusing to finish their selfie stick selfies a second earlier than they had planned? Is the new normal when shops are empty, shut down, one-wayed, or 'open for business as usual'. There is nothing usual about this, a sense of eeriness can't help but enter my mind when I walk around some previously bustling areas of Cambridge. My office is but a ghost town, the only way in is to follow someone in who miraculously has access, I assume the cleaners are the best bet. What used to be full of students, collaborators, meetings, staff and lab workers now consists of a handful of cleaning staff. They wear masks and carry at least one of some assortment of alcohol concoction to 'disinfect' after themselves, as if anywhere they now decide to be for more than '15 minutes', is now tainted. I wonder whom they are cleaning up after so persistently, when there is no one there in the first place. Themselves?
Cambridge has become somewhat of a parody of the government's rules. Naturally, their arbitrarity has come through in full effect in some of the University's decisions. For example, people can socialise only in masks 2m away outdoors and with a risk assessment filled out less than the rule of six and before 10pm. It's not hard to imagine a Cambridge where people can socialise only in masks 2m away outdoors and with a risk assessment filled out less than the rule of six whilst holding your feet at a 90 degree angle and whistling and before 10pm. I jest crudely because it is infuriating; in a place where students are meant to be treated like adults (the undergraduate supervision system is an excellent example of this), SARS-CoV-2 and its partner disease COVID-19, have caused, what presumably was always threatening to bubble up, to be enforced in full effect. A complete lack of understanding of what it is like to be a student and a complete disregard for the adult status of the students they are dealing with.
King's College sent out an email in the first week of term discussing what they called 'illicit and illegal parties'. I understand that rules were broken and it is worse off for everyone, it is our right as upstanding citizens to follow the rules to the best of our ability. Rules were broken, there should be a consequence and an explanation or understanding of why they are so important to uphold should follow. What actually transpired was an overblown telling-off akin to that of an overly power-hungry teacher to a year 7 student, fresh to secondary school, who just went around the back of the bike sheds to buy some sugary sweets and was late for maths. We should have thought better than to trust these children and their socialising ways, and so for the rest of our rant, lets drill it down that we are the parents and you are the children. What do they think the response will be? An English stiff upper lip? Just like the cane was in schools?
I don't really know what I expected. I was promised libraries would be open, colleges would be open for at least eating with your friends, places to work would be open. Instead the best I get, is having to scour every library's poorly kept website and twitter accounts retweeting the same nonsense about virtual open days and characters from Second life floating like a bad photoshop in a photo of some nondescript library space. Nothing is really open. My college, even canteen, is completely closed bar a sad takeaway in a sad bag in your sad room. On the library front, I found the Seeley library was open 10-1 and 2-6. This is better than nothing, but better than nothing is a fool's acceptance of far worse than it should be. You owe it to your students, to whom you made very clear that they had to be in Cambridge and had to pay full tuition. Now, Cambridge pay your full dues to us, make it a place to work and to learn how to learn and think and meet people as safely as we can; most importantly, allow mistakes to happen. This is what university is for, not for school detentions and being locked in extremely substandard accommodation for the year with prerecorded lectures and technical problems, a complete lack of empathy and a complete focus on the financials. Cambridge is one the richest universities in Europe and this should come with leeway that I have not seen yet. People are willing to overlook your mishaps for now as your name carries so much gravitas and are paying for a very sub-standard service, but please, don't take it for granted. This can't go on for ever, and it won't.