Time–less: Keeping up with the pace of Cambridge

Meggie Fairclough 30 January 2015

Time is relative. I have often heard this said, but I didn’t truly understand what it meant until I came to Cambridge. Here, the days pass by slowly with busy timetables, lectures and essays seeming to blur mornings into afternoons, and afternoons into nights.

And yet, the weeks seem to fly. With lectures on Saturdays and supervisions on Sundays, my whole weekly cycle has been thrown out of equilibrium, with the concepts of weekend trash TV, pyjama days, or lie-ins replaced with endless work.

At home, the days seemed to pass by so much quicker, where sometimes it seemed that I hadn’t even woken up before it was time to go back to sleep.

I think this is partly due to routine. At home, every day was predictable, following the same cyclical pattern. Every morning I was woken by the low grisly chuckle of a tractor trudging sleepily through the patchwork fields of Derbyshire. The radio’s sharp consonants cut through the valley’s morning clouds, as if to remind me that I wasn’t living in a postcard world devoid of modernity.

Now, I may be woken by the higher pitched giggles of the girls next door, who share stories of the ‘night before’, oblivious to the time (and the thinness of the walls). Alternatively, I may be rudely awoken by the roar of the cleaner’s vacuum, bustling through the corridor and my dreaming. Another time, my alarm wakes me, to get me up and at my first lecture by 9 a.m. With new topics and work being set each day, routine becomes less predictable.

But in the countryside the pace is slower. Grandmothers dressed in bright aprons would spend hours raking lawns and feeding hens. The farmers used to queue for morning papers like their own lowing cows, who lined up to be milked many hours before. They were simply more patient and in a way, more respectful of time, letting it ebb and flow around them. Perhaps this stillness and calmness of the people is what made days seem to race by.

Yet, in the city, the people seem to be too busy to move slowly, always hurrying around with places to go and people to see, working to the buzzing of their smartphones instead of to the steady heartbeat of the morning and afternoon milking.

This is made clear to me in the rain: in wet Cambridge, where umbrellas flower and people continue to run about frantically, I stick out like a sore thumb, and will stop, wait and watch the rain pour down from under a lamp post or in a shop doorway. Like the cows, I will stand and stare but this only seems to make time trickle instead of pour.

If at dusk, you – as I do – look out of the window, imagine being home. Wherever that may be, country or city, no doubt you may have experienced a time shift coming to University. Perhaps life is like an extravagant stage set, positioned behind blinking cars and flashing railway tracks. And as the scenery, people, and routine change, so too does our perception of time.