Student Stories – Ella Muir, first year English student

The summer before my first term at Newnham, I would cycle down Sidgwick Avenue on my way into town and glance through Newnham’s windows. My family lives just outside Cambridge, so I indulged my excitement about starting at Newnham by imagining myself sitting in the window through which I could see the ceiling of the Yates Thompson library.

A few weeks ago, I cycled past Newnham for the first time since lockdown began. I now know that window to the Yates Thompson library as the place where I can nearly always find my friend Roshni reading at a wooden table, so it was strange to see nobody sitting there. Newnham looked beautiful sleeping in the sunlight, but the people that make it a living, working institution had dispersed.

Since moving back home, I have been trying to immerse myself in the Shakespeare term of my English degree. I have never been more grateful for the filmed productions of Shakespeare plays that a Cambridge student can find online; watching and reading Shakespeare’s plays was the best distraction from the pandemic I could have asked for. It could never feel truly normal Skyping my DOS at 9am for supervisions, but thanks to her and my fellow Englings I think I have learned more this term than any other.

Along with my degree I’ve written a few reviews for the ADC’s Online season and helped with design for a digital play that was ‘staged’ online just yesterday. It’s no secret that the theatre industry is suffering badly from the pandemic, but judging by what I’ve seen this term, creativity is not. On the contrary, it’s blossoming; I have watched my peers put on radio play after radio play, and fellow Newnhamite Katrina Rose put together a whole musical in isolation. I don’t know how we’re going to go back to making theatre in Michaelmas, but the work produced this term gives me hope.

My mother has been sewing scrubs to donate to local surgeries and care homes, so in my spare time I’ve been making masks with the extra fabric. If it happens that we need to wear masks when we go back to Newnham at Michaelmas, I’m determined to become a one-woman mask machine – no one at Newnham will go unmasked under my watch.

I need to remind myself that none of this is normal, even though it seems natural now to stay inside or close to home, wary of other people. My family has been fortunate in that no one close to us has caught the virus, so the reality of the pandemic is easier to forget than it should be. Other aspects of reality elude me too; when I cycled past Newnham the other day, I felt the same wave of ‘do I really get to go there?’ disbelief that I felt the summer before I started. One thing I know for sure, though. Being away from Newnham has helped me realise the value and privilege of the friendship and education I found there. I owe a lot of hugs to a lot of people.