Gimme a Break

By Zahra Seyyad 

A ‘bubble’. A ‘whirlwind’. These words are commonly used to refer to Cambridge as a university environment. ‘Home’ eventually becomes a popular choice too. Those first two words, however, are what strike me the most: they serve to characterise the Cambridge experience. You’re closed off from the outside world and you’re constantly rushed off your feet during the eight-week terms, pressured into thinking you must always be busy. After all, having shorter terms means having six-week vacation periods in which to recover and reflect.

But there is a curious narrative surrounding ‘holidays’ in the Cambridge context. For starters, we don’t even get to refer them as that. ‘Vacation’ is a choice of word justified by the fact students are asked to physically ‘vacate’ their rooms at the end of term. It soon becomes clear, however, that the concept of a break does not extend much further than this process of physically ‘vacating’ Cambridge. During these six-week periods away, the expectation is that academic focus must transcend a student’s location.

The opportunity cost of having short terms is allegedly that, during them, all our energy be devoted to ‘all things Tripos’. It would appear that we all missed the fine print, though. The fine print that details how Cambridge will ultimately pervade every aspect of your life, how giving it your all for eight weeks is not actually enough. Yet, home cannot truly be healing if I am dragging myself there, shackled to reading lists or essays.

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Girl Talk Listens: Songs We’re Not Leaving in 2017

As 2018 dawns, the committee looks back on what kept us grooving last year.

We’re just a few days into 2018 and already Lana Del Rey has blessed us with a new collaboration with Børns. For Leila (Co- Blog Editor), Lana’s “Cherry” and “Coachella” from her new album Lust for Life were the songs of 2017. “They’re nostalgic and hyper-feminine and different in tone from her previous work. The whole album came at a time where I felt like my identity was shifting and I really relate to how she describes falling in love and feeling at once young but also observing girls younger than her and almost experiencing a coming of age (specifically in “Coachella”.) Also, “Coachella” has a sort of political edge to it which I like. In general I just love everything about her voice and tone and lyrics. The album makes me feel like I’m in a super-bright blue swimming pool as well, I don’t know why. The whole thing just feels like being underwater and everything around you going super slow and the light being really soft. It makes me feel nostalgic for the summer I didn’t really have this year. Also her saying “bitch” and “fuck” at random intervals during “Cherry” was my entire approach to 2017 so ultimately the whole thing is just very relatable.”

Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey, from Dazed and Confused 2017 cover edit

Nostalgia comes up a bit in our song picks; Billie Holiday’s timeless “These Foolish Things” is the song that made her year for our Artist in Residence, Grace Whorrall-Campbell. “Its blues-y swing always reminds me of this time of year. It’s a great song to unwind with – it’s kind of luxurious and it always transports me to another time and place whenever I hear it. I listened to it a lot this year and it always de-stressed me when Cambridge terms got too much.”

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Manifesto for 2018 | I Resolve

By Leila Sackur 

First and foremost it is necessary to understand that 2017 has been, whilst contained within the same number of sunrises and sunsets, the longest year on record. To make 2018 better (and I believe it can be better) I declare all that I resolve, written like lines; tally marks on the wall in the purgatory of the end of December. I am itching to bury this year beneath the cold dead ground, and to never look back on it. But equally I am scared of it ending, because I want to remember it fully, and am afraid that memories I hold either fondly or with revulsion now will soon become pinpricks in my mind, and more than anything I don’t want to forget because to forget is to lose feeling.

So whilst stuck in this limbo I have written down my resolutions, my personal manifesto, my pledges to myself;

Ultimately I resolve for honesty. Most, I resolve to be honest about what I need and desire. I accept that I am deeply needy of constant love and validation, as all human beings are. So I will stop demonising neediness, I will send that vulnerable text, and when I am scared that people find me irritating or annoying (read: I am always scared that people find me irritating or annoying), I will make the effort to call them or see them to determine whether or not, this time, it is true. Even though I am terrible at talking to people on the phone. (I resolve to be better at talking to people on the phone.)

I resolve to stop sucking in when I look in the mirror, but admire the curves and planes of my stomach. I resolve to stop sucking in during sex. I resolve to become better at accepting compliments, other people find it awkward when they’re trying to be nice and you’re trying to shut them up. I resolve to stop demonising critics (EVEN THOUGH I AM PERFECT). I resolve to stop seeking validation from mediocre men. I will not judge a night out by how many Fila-clad boys find me fuckable but instead on the music and the dancing and the food at the end. I resolve to stop idolising older girls who I don’t know but deem to be cooler than me anyway. I resolve to stop spending hours scrolling through their social media. I resolve to stop projecting my insecurities onto other people. I HEREBY RESOLVE to apologise to everyone I have ever hurt, and to stop apologising to everyone else for no reason whatsoever.

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Twenty Ladyteen

Johanna Kinnock shares the perfect girl power party playlist to ring in the New Year. 

The New Year: a time to reflect on the past 365 days, assess your achievements and how far you’ve come. Mostly this process is painful, as you realise that you haven’t been to the gym once and make a half-hearted resolution to do it every morning next year knowing full well that come 1st January you’ll be in the foetal position using one hand to eat a kebab and the other to text your ex.

But some things are worth reflecting on, such as what 2017 was like for women. This year, it has been reiterated that some men will stop at nothing to retain power in what they deem ‘their’ spaces (Hollywood, business, politics, music and more), making it all the more impressive and refreshing that 2017 also saw lady musicians popping up left, right and centre to tell unique stories which, shock horror, aren’t always about wanting/missing/being in love with a guy. SZA sang as honestly as anything about Tinder love and its disappointments, Lorde was 20 and bloody excited to go dancing after her breakup, and St Vincent was busy doing… I don’t know what, but I digged it. Not to mention the tons of female DJs, rappers and producers sidling in loudly from the left-field and changing what it means to be an artist. Anyone who said that the ‘wokeness’ of 2016 was a ‘trend’ has been forced to admit that, at least in music, these girls and what they represent are here to stay.

So here is our New Year’s playlist spiced with 2017 hits as well as homages to all the other ladies that came before, without whom we couldn’t have made it this far. Come New Year’s Eve, put this on to be reminded that your hips don’t lie and that with every lady-shake you are paring off the patriarchy.

In Conversation with Baroness Cohen

Interview by Xanthe Fuller

Baroness Cohen is a senior lawyer and Labour peer. Graduating from Newnham College with a B.A. in Law in 1962, Janet Cohen went on to forge a colourful career as a solicitor, civil servant and merchant banker, culminating with her appointment to The House of Lords in 2000. She was formerly Director of the London Stock Exchange for over ten years, Governor of the BBC, Chairman of the Cambridge Arts Theatre and currently holds the position as Chancellor of BPP. A published author specialising in crime fiction, Cohen has also written 10 books. I sat down to talk with Baroness Cohen before our Women in Law event in November, and I found her impressive and remarkably likeable.

Baroness Cohen came to Cambridge for the first time when she was fifteen, as a prospective student. She fell in love with King’s, ‘fat lot of good that did me’, a college that was, at that time, a complete impossibility. The only colleges open for women in the late fifties were Newnham, Girton and the newly-founded Newhall (now Murray-Edwards). Women being few and far between was a bit of a recurring theme during Cohen’s time at Cambridge, Cohen was never supervised by a woman, ‘I cannot name you a single female lawyer of that time who was here’. The Law School itself had 702 students, 700 men and 2 women, quite a contrast to the contemporary statistics, in 2014 55.9% of the admission acceptances to the Law school were by women. To look at Cohen’s professional trajectory in the civil service, merchant banking, the London Stock Exchange and the House of Lords, one could believe that she continued to face similar ratios, but in fact she ‘never had as bad a ratio as in the Cambridge Law school’.

From left: Judge Liza Helen Gordon-Saker, Baroness Janet Cohen, and Jackie Wells.

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Bedside Table Manners

By Xanthe Fuller

Bedside tables are funny things, they are immensely practical and mundane, yet have a somewhat symbolic status. While many pieces of furniture are exchangeable – tables for desks, cupboards for wardrobes etc. – the function, or indeed absence, of a bedside table is categorical. But why is this object quite so important?

Like all tables, it is a gathering place, although in this case of objects rather than people.  It is the surface for things that have been forgotten until the end of the day and things that must be remembered at the start of the next; rings, wallets, passports, post-it notes and phones placed like monuments on day’s final table-top.

Beyond the practical, it gathers up our most valued – and secret – items. The surface, or interior of the bedside table, is littered with books we read or intend to read, diaries we fill, and pills we take. It has strong associations with sex, as the custodian of contraception, and yet is also, somewhat ironically, a well-established home for sacred texts and religious acts, with the distribution of Gideon Bibles in hotel bedside tables and the perfect space for pre-bed prayers.  Novelist and academic, Ian Sansom, states that ‘everything significant that happen to us, tends to take place in bed’, from birth, to sleep, to sex, to death itself. If this is the case, the bedside table is of great importance. It reflects who we are, what we chose to conceal and reveal, and emphasises the objects and acts that we deem most immediately important.

With the long evenings of winter stretching out, and the increasing need for warm bedside lamps, and restorative lie-ins, I asked the women of Cambridge Girl Talk to share this private space.




Photo of my family in Rome in 2016, in Zara Home frame

‘Confabulations’ by John Berger with Girl Talk bookmark

The Pill

Watch (grandmother’s), ring (mother’s), ring (mine)

‘Advantages of Being a Woman Artist’ poster by the Guerrilla Girls, a gift from my friend Luke


Continue reading Bedside Table Manners

A Not-So-Happy Birthday: Waving the Teenage Years Goodbye

Text collated by Ciara Dossett

Recently a number of my friends and I have turned 20. We’ve been joking, calling each other old ladies in our birthday cards but why are we so scared of growing older? Here, a few friends and I discuss our feelings towards entering our third decade.

Amy Baxter

On my nineteenth birthday, my coworker handed me a cup of coffee with a nostalgic sniff and said words that changed my attitude to life forever. Maybe not quite forever, but at the least a significant period of time. ‘Nineteen was the best year of my life,’ she said, and as she was a great deal wiser at twenty-five years old, I took her at her word. So, I went about the next year living my life sure that it was to be the best time I did anything. First boyfriend? Best boyfriend of my life. First term at university? Best term of my life. First time in hospital? Best hospital trip of my life.

The problem was on my twentieth birthday. I woke up, and I cried. Well, perhaps not cried outright. But I cried in my head. Because I was no longer a teenager, I was no longer living a fun and carefree life. I was twenty, and I’d have to fill in a tax return. Twenty year olds did not have the excuse of ‘just being a teenager’. They were old and full of responsibilities. No one was nostalgic for their first year of responsibilities. But I was wrong. Nineteen wasn’t the best year of my life, it was just the best year of my life so far. Twenty was actually much more fun, especially after I got an accountant to do my tax return for me instead.

India Gommo

I entered into the first hour of my 20th birthday with little outward excitement or abnormality; I was sat curled up in my bed, hair scruffily tied up, finishing a movie. Seemingly just the start of another day that just happened to be my birthday. Yet inwardly, my head was filled with a whirlwind of thoughts that produced an odd sense of a new and heightened consciousness about ageing. I was entering my third decade and the notorious stage of a quarter-life crisis: the uncertainty between teenagerhood and adulthood, between complete reliance and total independence, between recognisable youth and, as my brother so understatedly put it, ‘’the unrelenting approach of death’’. It is this paradoxical limbo of 20 that can be somewhat unnerving and overwhelming- you feel at once terribly aged (let us all gasp in horror at the realisation that Finding Nemo came out 14 years ago) yet still awfully unprepared for your future in the ‘real world’ (not least embodied in the fact that it is no longer acceptable for your Mum to book your doctor’s appointments for you). The number 20 itself is thus charged with contradiction. However, let it not be necessarily negative. This limbo, this abyss, is a turning point of change, excitement and choice! It is a year in which most of us can look fondly at our teenage years and determinedly to our future ones. 20 maintains the youthful and forgiving elements of the past while bestowing a new sense of control and maturity. From all its daunting uncertainties, there emerges freedom and adventure.

Ciara Dossett

For me, although it may seem futile, turning 20 seemed like a much bigger deal than turning 19. My fear of turning 20 partly came from regretting things things I never did. Like Theresa May, when asked what the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done is I am dumbfounded. Not only have I not done anything vaguely rebellious, I haven’t done anything particularly phenomenal either. Simone Biles is 20 and she has five gold medals and with only a slightly wonky cartwheel to my repertoire an international gymnastics career now seems unfeasible. Before I turned 20, I had somehow tricked myself into thinking that one day I would carry out one of these extraordinary feats at a young age. Now, the possibility seems unlikely.

I recently had to write an essay on British youth culture: images of Twiggy light-heartedly flying through the streets on a moped made me feel like I had wasted something, wishing I had done more with my teenage years. Perhaps this is part of the problem: so many of the images of what is seemingly the ‘epitomé of female teenage culture’ are unattainable. In so many films and TV shows teenage girls are played by older women and thus their composure and allure are impossible for us mere mortals to meet. There is a contradictory pressure in popular culture for girls to be both youthful and ‘together’. The Dancing Queen was only 17 but simultaneously young girls in many popular TV programmes, Rory Gilmore of Gilmore Girls springs to mind, seem to have their whole lives perfectly planned. From their perfectly curled hair (seriously who looks like that all the time?) to their straight A grades. In this youth culture girls are encouraged to be perfect whilst boys often receive the treatment of ‘boys will be boys’. None of my male friends, for example, seem to feel scared about turning 20. As Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, said in her 2016 Ted talk “we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave”. This social pressure for perfection is perhaps part of the reason for my short list of youthful indiscretions.


Feature Photo: Siblings Sharing Birthday Party – Corbis – XX Century in Black and White Photos BBC