Taste a difference?

Laura Mountain and Colm Flannigan 10 November 2007

Laura Mountain and Colm Flannigan

Access leaders parade up and down the kingdom waxing lyrical about diversity, equality, and fraternity. At Cambridge, we were assured, everyone arrives on an equal footing. Indeed, they were so persuasive that I truly believed that I was going to discover some sort of egalitarian utopia, where the ghetto and the aristocracy mixed in a Dizzee-Rascal-meets-Stephen-Fry kind of way. Reading that 54% of people came from state schools, part of me expected to be labelled, even shunned, as a posh ‘fee-paying’ kid. But apparently ‘state-school’ didn’t mean that Moss Side youths blasting their garage music from a car stereo were a primary feeder for the university. Rather, as the world had already guessed, this ‘majority’ come from the 11+ selection processes, and suburbs where people substitute house prices for fees. Needless to say, the upshot of this is that I have never felt so badly spoken in my entire life, suffering the pitiful ‘Are you from the North?’ opener to all freshers’ convos.

I have to say though, this somewhat takes the pressure away from having to say clever things all the time. Everyone’s so amazed that you can string a sentence together that by the time you’re done with the niceties they’re already blown away. Some people thought accents were reserved only for foreigners. It’s quite fun to be fascinating. Anyway, everyone’s so polite all the time that it’s hard to tell whether or not they are really enchanted at the notion that one doesn’t always ‘come up to Cambridge’.

At first I thought people were being constantly sarcastic as they exclaimed ‘thank you so much! ‘ to the least of actions. Genuine or otherwise, they can’t help it. Positivity is a way of life here, and though it may be a little harder to make friends you can pretty much avoid making enemies.

However, there is one major division that I’m currently finding irreconcilable with my natural climate: healthy eating. Offering me a Nutri-Grain for dessert really is a step too far. Buying a pre-packed salad for lunch in Starbucks instead of having a cookie treat is even worse. Refusing to glance down a biscuit aisle is approaching the ridiculous. Whereas a 19 year old male ordering a jacket potato as part of a pub lunch is truly bad form. On these occasions I ordered cake, Sainsbury’s own 30p digestives and a burger .

In the Sunday Times, months ago, I was reading the food supplement. They discussed how ‘even’ men were beginning to think about their appearance, asking ‘show me a man who says yes to seconds these days’. I couldn’t think of one who would say no. But not here in Cambridge! Eating between meals is abhorred: the right balance of nutrients is Gospel and eating on a budget (bread and a packet of biscuits) provokes outrage. It may not be ideal, but you certainly need your comfort food at Cambridge.

Such a preoccupation with eating is an unknown entity where I’m from. Sure, teenage girls and teenage magazines rouse the usual discontents and eating disorders exist in the North as elsewhere in the country, as they always have done and always will do. However, this over-analysing of each morsel that passes one’s lips, and the guilt-trips it provokes, is yet to be transferred up North. I don’t think people have the energy.

I’ve not seen one fat person here; currently my eyes are brimming with pictures of svelte things, young and old, gallivanting around, glancing disparagingly at my sausage rolls. It’s rather discomforting, and must take a superhuman amount of effort what with lovely cakes and bakes from Nadia’s Patisserie. Not to mention a whole market of savoury-smelling delicacies and eye-popping sweeties. My blue skinnies are growing steadily tighter, as my body finds itself an extra layer for winter. Perhaps it’s because everything’s so darned expensive down here.

Having said that Gourmet Burger Kitchen is doing well. Perhaps if we make common food posh enough and shove in some pretentious oxymorons, the South will revert to the heady greed of our wealthy ancestors and begin piling on the pounds. Although would the North will stop eating? Fat chance.