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Julia’s Weekly Column For The Middy

An important introduction to student life

“Julia, this essay is awful!”

I must have written thousands of essays in my life, but as this was my very first written at Cambridge University, it was not a great start.

My critic was Donald Stevens, my Anatomy tutor. I had only met him a couple of times, and we had sat down for our first tutorial the previous week.

I knew nothing, and my head was whirling from my new-found freedom at Cambridge. I had already been to parties, discos, welcome dinners and other freshman events.

Donald was a slow moving person, who occupied a room in Churchill College which was cluttered with papers and textbooks. He reclined in an easy chair behind a rather good antique desk, whilst we perched uncomfortably on hard chairs in front of him. He never stirred from his chair or altered his position in any tutorial I attended, and if he hadn’t been seen regularly in the Anatomy Department, we might have believed that he never did.

As he talked, he would begin to stuff his pipe with shreds of tobacco. His fingertips were stained yellow from this frequent activity. I assumed it was a task that required considerable concentration, as his remarks to us were tossed over the pipe, without him seeming to really care if we listened or not.

Eventually he would be satisfied that the pipe was stuffed to his liking, and then would begin the ritual of lighting it. He would light a match, suck again and again on the ancient stem, still addressing remarks about Anatomy to his unwilling audience.

Inevitably the pipe would fail to get going. Exasperated at last, the matches would be tossed aside, the tobacco tapped out of the bowl, and the whole ritual begun again, slowly and with great concentration.

I was completely mesmerised. I never heard a word he said as I willed the pipe to light. At the end of our first tutorial the only messages I had got was that the other teenager in the room was to be my friend for the next 6 years by his edict (we are still friends now!) and I was to write an essay on the Inguinal Canal in the Stallion.

I had no idea what the Inguinal Canal was, and despite having all the books in Trinity’s fabulous Wren Library at my disposal, it didn’t seem very important to find out, so my essay was awful! I had to go back and re-write it properly, and now I am always reminded of Donald whenever I perform surgery on that part of a pet’s anatomy.

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