Should we have a relationship with our bedders?

Connie Muttock 7 May 2014

The relationship we have with our bedders is a tricky one. While I can’t consider myself from anything but a middle class background, I find it difficult to adjust to the privileged class I seem to have signed myself up to. It’s hard to understand the idea that we, the educated elite, the so-called intelligentsia of tomorrow, should not be asked to clean up after ourselves. With a sister studying nursing, who, after 12 hour shifts, is still asked to clean her own room on threat of inspection, I have to ask: Are we really too important to clean our own toilets?

I find this hard to believe when I bump into a bedder at 11am in my pyjamas (which happens more often than I’d like to admit). I feel ridiculous, wasteful, and embarrassed that my time is deemed more important than that of someone who, unfailingly, comes into work at 9am every day to clean up after a lazy, disorganised student with some ungrounded sense of importance. It becomes less about the fact that we have no time to clean, and more a part of some ancient elitist idea that we are of an intellectual and social class that should never have to reduce ourselves to base manual labour that can be paid for.

There are some among us (those who find Cambridge a let down from a childhood filled with nose-wiping nannies) for whom bedders are an invisible given. Unless, of course, they find cause for complaint: "Bloody hell, my idiot of a bedder put wine glasses where the champagne flutes clearly belong", a frequent exclamation from a friend’s bedroom. This age of intellectual elitism is (or should be) over. With many of us coming from backgrounds with family members and friends undertaking similarly low paid manual labour, the idea of being worked for doesn’t come easily. It’s not the new-found independent university experience I’d had in mind.

That said, while I can self-gratifyingly contend that we don’t need bedders, there is the difficult question of whether bedders need us. Colleges give bedders employment, and when jobs are scarce, removing bedders would put them out of work. Students having cleaners is ridiculous, but during an economic recession, the employment of bedders does more good than harm. And if I’m really honest, I’m quite happy not to have to clean; you don’t catch me joining my bedder with a scrubbing brush of solidarity.

We have a problem with elitism; one that is deeply rooted in the Cambridge psyche. We all remark ashamedly on the controversy around the townie vs gownie rivalry, but this can be broken down at a local level, by treating bedders as the equals they are, not avoiding an uncomfortable situation by slinking off to that 11am lecture you never usually go to.

The solution is simple: to make buddies of our bedders is to acknowledge that they are our equals, providing a welcome service for which they are paid (although, admittedly, not always enough), but not one that we inherently deserve.