Cambridge Blue

Tonight, not for the first time, I find myself in a serviced apartment in anticipation of starting a new position the next morning. It’s always a rather unsettling experience, mainly because everything’s new, you don’t know anybody, and you’re alone. Everything that was familiar in the last place is now gone.

At least this place is nice. The place I stayed in when I moved to Paris had a puddle in the middle of the floor which didn’t go away. Fortunately my six week stay was dissected by the two weeks I spent in Pau on French training. I don’t know what part of Cambridge I’m in because this is the first time I’ve been to this city, or anywhere near it. I was welcomed by the agent who runs the place who showed me how everything worked, and they’d even provided a welcome pack with just enough food to last until I can get to a supermarket. These places are always a touch smaller than is ideal. When you mobilise to a new country you bring as many clothes as you can carry, which doesn’t all fit in the solitary wardrobe they put in one-bed serviced apartments. And then you’ve got to figure out what to do with the suitcases once they’re unpacked. Usually they serve as modern art in the corners of the bedroom until you move out.

Eating is always a rather sad experience when you’re in a serviced apartment. It feels too much like a hotel to get the saucepans out and start cooking properly, so you eat lots of quick and easy stuff, alone and in front of the computer. In Paris I ate a lot of cheese and ham sandwiches; in Seoul it was pot noodles. I’ve just eaten a microwave meal for one and I’ve not felt like such sad, lonely bastard in a long time. I even felt that way buying the damned thing. The initial phase in a serviced apartment is something which must be got through as quickly as possible. Once it’s over, it’s hard to recall it without an effort.

So I start my job in a totally new company tomorrow, almost exactly 9 years since I arrived in Nigeria to do the same thing with my last outfit. I’m optimistic, and it should be fun. As you know, my original plan was to rent an apartment near Kings Cross but I can’t see it being feasible within my budget. So I have two other options: rent in Cambridge, which is only an hour to London on the fast train and they run late into the night. Or I rent at the extreme end of the Northern Line and drive up the M1 to work against the flow each day for about 45 minutes, which is fine in theory. The only trouble is I don’t know what those northern suburbs are like to live in. From what I’m hearing they’re a bit dull, and it takes about an hour to get into London on the tube from there anyway. What does everyone reckon?


47 thoughts on “Cambridge Blue

  1. Cant you get a kebab?

    Assuming the job is in Cambridge and you elect to live there, what has the train time to Kings Cross got to do with it?

    I dont like the sound of living in outer ring London and commuting as well, that’s no mans land and I would be giving that option a miss.

  2. Assuming the job is in Cambridge

    It’s not, it’s south of Cambridge.

    what has the train time to Kings Cross got to do with it?

    I’m not sure Cambridge has enough going on in it for me; I have friends and family in London, and stuff I’m sure I’ll want to do there. So being able to get into London is quite important.

    that’s no mans land and I would be giving that option a miss.


  3. Never having had a ‘real’ job I can’t really relate to your position but I guess its scary/exciting? good luck either way.

  4. Get a place in Cambridge and you can visit London with ease, and minimize the daily commute, its not like you need to be there every day. I am pretty sure that its not a dead end town and a place is always what you make it. Just get settled into the new job and you will be thinking a bit clearer and things will work out fine, one thing at a time and all that.

    I would be giving those microwave meals away though.

  5. Live in Cambridge. It’s a lively town full of attractive bright young interesting people. You’ll rarely need to go to London. Dating-wise, you’ll meet plenty of PhD girls in their mid-to-late 20s who will be over the moon to meet someone with a real, paying job.

    Life is short; don’t waste 90+ minutes a day on a rush-hour commute from a dull suburb. Long commutes are for people trapped into a specific location because of their kids’ schools. (I declare an interest: I hope you’ll use the time saved to write wry blog posts instead.)

  6. Congratulations and good luck on the new job. Before long you’ll have new friends and new places in sight.

    In your shoes, I’m pretty sure I’d be looking for a place in Cambridge. Commutes are an evil timesuck, increasingly unpredictable and expensive. Remember, your masters in parliament and local council want to make you suffer for travelling. And the last thing you want is to become Mr Late in your new office. That said, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in Blighty, so maybe not as bad as I remember? Anyway, perhaps you could suffer in temp accommodation for long enough to survey your new colleagues and find out what they’ve learned about commuting from London?

  7. The trains from Cambridge to London are okay for off peak trips but I wouldn’t want to commute on them. They used to be okay but they recently linked them up to the thameslink network and absolutely ruined the punctuality they used to have. Things have apparently gotten better since but I doubt they’re anywhere near good.

    If you can afford it in your position I’d go with Cambridge. There are plenty of cheaper options if you want to save money but as others said none have the feel, nightlife and general stuff going on of Cambridge, although personally I can only handle it in small doses. I live in a rural town about halfway down the railway to London but wouldn’t swap 🙂

    Where abouts south of Cambridge are you working if I may ask? Might be able to suggest other places to look at. I’d understand if you deferred for the firm’s anonymity though.

  8. Been there a few too many times, but it now has a kind of comfort for me. I have to say, I’ve never been into one of those apartments with any food provided. Usually, I’ve arrived far too late to get anything after 2 days of travel and all there is a fridge with a couple of bottles of water at best.

    As for where to live, I’d shoot for as close to work as you can assuming it looks a decent place and there are good links elsewhere. I liked the UK for the proximity to airports and trains, even in the more remote areas it easy to get about. I used to stay overnight in London quite a lot, just getting a hotel, and on the odd occasion I’d be out all night and get the dawn train back home in something of a state…

  9. I’d got totally the wrong end of the stick about where your job is, hence trying to pimp you my flat in Clapham.

    Live in Cambridge, it’s a decent place and plenty of opps to meet bright girls as yet unaffected by The London Madness. Whatever your housing budget, you will do better in Cambridge than anywhere in London.

    If you are visiting friends or family in London and you don’t want to or can’t impose on them, there’s a ton of cheap airbnbs around. Last time I visited I found a place 5 mins from Kings Cross for £50 a night. Spotless, en-suite and accessible any time via a lockbox. No need to even see the host.

    And of course it is perfectly feasible to have a weeknight out in London from Cambridge.

    Good luck!

  10. If you want to try somewhere halfway then have a look at Stevenage or Welwyn Garden City. That way you have relatively cheap accommodation and fast trains in either direction.

    I’ve lived in both towns and was quite happy there, especially Welwyn Garden City where I was only about 300 yards from the station.

    Another option would be Bishops Stortford on the Eastern line, but that is a lot slower and problematic.

  11. Don’t commute. It sucks and wastes siesta/blog/boozing/scientific research/sex time

    What Andrew M said.

  12. I live near the end of the jubilee, so near where you’d be looking and you’ll be bored silly. Don’t do it. It’s great for me as I have kids so appreciate parks, actual houses with gardens etc, but little to recommend it in your situation. It takes me around an hour door to door to get into the city of London, the northern line runs all night but I suspect it’ll be just as easy to take a train up to Cambridge after an evening of revelry.

  13. Oh, and I’ve commuted up the M1 against the flow of traffic in the mornings to work at client sites. It’s no where near as bad as going south, but it still sucks.

  14. In general, a driving commute is a very bad idea. You are committed to – at least…- 90 minutes every day sitting on your arse, without any possibility of doing something useful.

    In particular, with your lifestyle, I can see you putting on two stone in fairly short order which will do you no good at all. To add emphasis, should this be needed further, we did a useful “get to know you” type interview slot for new(ish) joiners at a recent company event and when asked the question “what superpower would you like to have and why?”, the answers universally referenced something to make the commute easier.

    East Anglia is flat. What’s your chances of finding somewhere that is a 20-30 cycle ride to work? By far your best option.

  15. My own feeling is always live as close to a city centre as possible & the worst place to be is in its outer suburbs or ring towns . Cities act like a gravity well & draw all the interesting things & people to their cores. So further out lacks the critical mass of either to enable anything to happen worth bothering about. It’s only when you get far enough away from a city that accessing it has a degree of difficulty, the locals are thrown back on their own resources & you get any sort of “scene” develops.
    My experience of Cambridge is several decades ago. Had a girlfriend who was at uni there & we used to alternate weekends between London & Cambridge. Cambridge was a lot less impersonal than London. London’s a place its very easy to be lonely in if you don’t “connect”. And its “churn”” is frantic. You can think you’ve acquired a circle of acquaintances &places to go, go away for a month & you return to find half the people you know have vanished & your favourite places have mutated into something else. Cambridge seemed a lot more stable. More a place one could dip into & still find it much the same as the last time.
    If I were you, I’d opt for Cambridge. Having a social life in London is virtually a full time occupation on its own. If work commitments mean you won’t be able to give it the attention it needs you’ll probably find you never get properly ensconced.

  16. Does the job come with a company car? If it doesn’t, try and avoid getting one. Owning a car in London is madness itself, owning one in Cambridge is probably just as expensive PITA as in other big towns.

  17. Also Cambridge is very convenient for Stansted, either by train or straight down the M11. Ok, the nightmare that is Ryanair, but for weekends in European cities (I gather that floats your boat) then the O’Leary Express is hackable.

  18. I’m with the Pedant-General: somewhere pretty and out of town within an easy commute to work and within reasonably painless reach of London or Cambridge as and when you feel the need to go to either rather than blog.

  19. I used to live south of Cambridge near Saffron Walden when I was in the military. I now live in London. I’d say live in Cambridge if you can – Bishop’s would be too boring for you I think. I agree that there will be some decent mid/late 20’s Phd girls there who will really like a street smart as opposed to book smart man.

    London is v expensive and I wouldn’t bother living there having to commute up to Cambridge each day. TBH you’d be better off using the time you would otherwise spend commuting learning marital arts or going to the gym.

    The other thing is that your living location doesn’t have to be fixed. I’d go for Cambridge for a 6-12 month trial and if it doesn’t work out then head to London. Personally I find London too crowded and I actually prefer the people (esp girls) in the ‘provinces’ as they tend not to have drunk the ‘woke’ kool aid and seem to be far less hedonistic.

    When I meet out of town friends in the Liverpool St/Kings Cross areas, we tend to meet mid-afternoon for beers. That way we have all head a skin full by 10pm and they can get their trains home easily. So that could be how you manage catching up with friends over the weekend without feeling like you are leaving early.

    The other issue is that when I lived in that area, the local station was Audley End. It was usual for us (young Army Officers at the time) to get the train back from L/Street, fall asleep end up in Cambridge, take the last train back to Audley End, fall asleep and end up back in L/Street. Then take a very expensive taxi back to camp in time for 1st parade Monday morning. End of the line stations are quite convenient in that regard!

  20. You may well get bored eventually, but it’s worth giving Cambridge a go for a year or two – it’s a nice town to be in (albeit not so much in winter, which can be windy and cold), with some decent pubs (Pickerel used to be my favourite, but it has been a long time).

  21. “I’m not sure Cambridge has enough going on in it for me; I have friends and family in London, and stuff I’m sure I’ll want to do there. So being able to get into London is quite important.”

    There’s a couple of questions from this:
    1) what stuff are you into? Because Cambridge is a university town. It has stuff going on. More than you’ll get in a commuter town (which are mostly soulless, as London sucks everything out of them plus they tend to have lots of families in them).
    2) how often are you going to go and see them? If it’s not that often, take cheap rent, find somewhere near a reasonably good line.

    For where you’re working, Cambridge is probably the best option.

  22. Best of luck Tim. Cambridge is a nice place. Good food to be had if that is a worry: find the Smokeworks (the one near the Eagle pub – the other one nearer the station closes at 5pm) for great meaty things. Thanh Binh on Magdalene St good Vietnamese. If it’s a nice day, a pint on the green out the front of The Mill pub is a fab spot. Decent beer too. Pint Shop at the ‘bottom’ of Peas Hill is good also. Twice in the last 20 years I saw Stephen Hawkins whizzing along in his wheelchair too (interesting to see a proper legend in person!), but alas that is no longer possible.

    I’m just up the road / rail-line in Norwich if you ever fancy a day out there – can show you around!

  23. Everyone should spend some time living in London. I’m grateful, though, that my 5-year stint ended nearly 20 years ago. The outskirts are the worst of all worlds. If you’re going to be inside the M25 at all, Zone 1-2 is a must if you want to enjoy the benefits.

    I’ve never lived in Cambridge, but I’ve spent a lot of time there: It’d be my first choice all day long, provided a place within Brompton-distance of the station were in budget. Otherwise Huntingdon and Ely should be considered too.

    As for places like Stevenage (where I’ve spent far too much time)… I imagine after time in Nigeria and Russia you’d at least feel at home there, but it’s really not the ‘best of British’.

  24. Oh, I’d definitely say Cambridge, as long as you avoid the Chabad do-gooders. But you’ll be fine no matter what synagogue you wind up with – even the CTJC is surprisingly agreeable, because the Rabbi has enough sense to to gab on forever when everyone’s just dying to break the fast, which more than… uh… compensates for the usual Ashkenazi… um…



    … yeah, Cambridge is a great place, I’m sure you’ll do fine.

  25. Al Jahom: Otherwise […] Ely should be considered too.

    That’s a cracking idea. I wonder if there are any tin-pot academics there letting out rooms because they’re short of a bob?

  26. “…you’d be better off using the time you would otherwise spend commuting learning marital arts or going to the gym.”

    Christ! You get some fucking weird people in your comments, Tim.

  27. I’ve lived in both London (currently) and Cambridge (for uni). Near Kings Cross look to Islington or East of Camden for some isolated nice spots (along the canal). But as everyone else says, choose Cambridge instead. It’s not actually that much cheaper but much more liveable. Cambridge pubs are good and in the summer the city is lovely. Winter can be cold, prevailing wind is from the North Sea and the entire area is flat so it whips across. But not Sakhalin cold…

    One alternative could be St Albans which is nice but probably out of your way. Avoid Welwyn Garden Shitty and definitely avoid Stevenage. The first is a boring commuter town (or at least looks like it when I travel through), the second is just shit.

  28. Key issue — retain flexibility at this stage! You don’t know the area, don’t know how the job is going to work out. There is a lot to be said for a short-term rent on a convenient minimally-furnished apartment as a place to start.

    Major point you did not mention, Tim — How do you get to the salt-mine? Since you mention south of Cambridge, does that mean it is more than a short walk from the station? You may find you need a car in order to get to your place of employment without the frustration of irregular bus service. Since you are likely to find yourself working 6 or 7 days a week at the beginning as you get your arms around the job, it would be wise to focus on how you get to the front door of the mill, and then work back from there for your temporary home.

    Happy memories — for one job, I found the only practical way to get to the place of employment was a car (a cheap rented old model Toyota shaker), which took about 25 minutes. I got a bunch of CDs from the “Great Courses” people with series of half-hour lectures on history, economics, science, etc. The commute was not a waste of time.

    For social life, in Cambridge (or even London), it might be fun to find a Chinese PhD student or researcher who would be prepared to help you learn Chinese. You clearly have language abilities, and many more years of working life ahead of you — in this changing world, reading & speaking Chinese would give you a real competitive advantage in almost any line of empolyment. If the PhD student happens to be a cute lady, so much the better!

    Above all, have fun!

  29. Yet another one for living in Cambridge. It’s got a large enough young population (not all students) and – thanks to the various sorts of higher end industries – the right kind of population to make it an interesting and lively place.

    It’s cheaper than London. Not much, but it all helps.

    You won’t have much of a social life in London if you’re commuting a lot, so whilst it’s London with all that has to offer, you simply won’t maximise the benefits of a London life. It’s not somewhere where it’s easy to make friends, even though there’s lots of people around.

    Long commutes sap your soul. Admittedly going against the flow is far better, but do it for five years and you’ll realise what it’s taken from you in terms of fitness and leisure time.

    North north London contains some nice but boring suburbs, and the more ‘value’ districts are only worthwhile if you really appreciate a local halal butcher (actually many of them are ok communities, less nutty than certain areas of Luton or Bradford, but still not places to feel alive).

    Central North London has a lot going on these days but it’s £££ and not worth it in my opinion (and I speak with a London budget, not as a jealous provincial)

    Cambridge can be beautiful. The landscape around is flat but getting out into the countryside is easier. Tourists can be a bit frustrating sometimes. Maybe a student house as a neighbour too. There’s a few more druggies than you might expect. But generally it’s a really nice place.

  30. I’d stay in Cambridge, mate. Since the universiity is heading straight for clown quarter central (if it’s not there already), you’ll find plenty to write about right on your doorstep and can keep us avid readers entertained.

  31. I’d definitely stick with Cambridge, I think. Long commute and dull suburbs (doesn’t really matter whether we’re talking End of Barnet Branch Northern Line ones or the more Essexy ones around the bottom of the M11) is not a great welcome back to England. As for Stevenage (wheer I have several relatives), hell, no! It’s far from being entirely horrible – just not far enough, unfortunately. There are worse dystopian new towns pretty nearby, actually, and worse still non-dystopian non-new towns too.
    Saffron Walden I consider a rather lovely, but also somewhat sleepy town, but I’m not sure there are any very obvious more appealling alternatives to Cambridge that spring immediately to my mind.

    Best of luck!

  32. Another no for Stevenage, where I happen to be at this moment – daughter lives here & commutes to Barnet. There is stuff going on but not up your street I would guess. Few Russian lovelies and I have no idea what the polygamy scene is like…
    It seems to be largely family-oriented, and is basically the whole of the UK space industry.

  33. Thanks everyone! So it seems fairly unanimous: live in Cambridge. If I can live close to the railway station it means I can take the train to work, or drive, as I see fit. Does that put me with easy distance of the nice parts of town?

  34. You can easily walk to the centre from the railway station

    No to N. London, I spent the greater art of my youth there, it has gone a long way down since, I then spent the next thirty years in Kings Cross, I left when it became clear I was fast become the only native Londoner left. The proceeds from the sale the flat has bought me a nice house in Somerset.

  35. Live where you are going to socialise and give yourself chance to settle in a “community” (however that word is defined).

    Long commutes can be viewed as a waste of time but, if they are on trains, they are also great opportunities to catch up on tasks.

    Jobs, and therefore commutes, are temporary. If you’ve put down roots right next to one job, what’s the chance the next job will be in the same location.

  36. “…you’d be better off using the time you would otherwise spend commuting learning marital arts or going to the gym.”

    Christ! You get some fucking weird people in your comments, Tim

    Lol thanks for the endorsement! I’ll offer you two stories if it will help.

    11 years ago when I was working in South Sudan, I once saved a Ugandan girl from being gang raped and murdered by 4 South Sudanese men. It wasn’t a fight, but the fact I was willing to stand my ground (this was an incident I came across when I was heading home at midnight after a long meeting with the project team I was working with) allowed her an exit and I was able to extract her from that situation.

    Last year when I was working in Iraq (Mosul) I was told a story by a guy who lived there for 3 years under the Islamic State…..’A man and his wife, who was extremely beautiful entered a shop. An ISIS member who was in there saw her and drew a knife on the husband. The husband was told to say ‘Talaq’ three times (if you don’t know what it is, look it up) or he gets a knife in the belly. He complied. She then was taken by the ISIS guy who married her, and being a generous soul he passed her around his friends. The original husband who could no longer bear what he allowed to happen and what happened to his wife committed suicide’. I don’t know what happened to the woman or if she is alive or dead.

    So what? Well in these sad times, I have to say that practicing the noble art of self defence is no longer negotiable nor is it ‘fucking weird’. When it happens, as it did to me in South Sudan and as it did to that man in Mosul there is no time to prepare, and you have to decide if you are the kind to walk away (with the resulting angst, and in the case of the Mosul guy – suicide) or stand your ground and uphold principles you believe in.

    Anyway, why spend 2 hours a day commuting when you can spend that time to more productive ends.

    Please don’t think I’m having a go as I do understand where you are coming from, and I wish you all the best in sunny Spain! I just felt that I should explain my reasoning.

  37. Damian, I think it was the confusion (was it ?) between marital arts and martial arts. Practicing the marital arts has a rather different connotation…

  38. Indeed confusion, Mr Snack. They are not options one should have any problems choosing between. In fact, the availability of one should automatically preclude the other. Why get hot & sweaty if not in a good cause?

  39. “Long commutes can be viewed as a waste of time but, if they are on trains, they are also great opportunities to catch up on tasks.”

    Not if you are standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowded carriage

  40. I’d try and get something around the Mill Road area: close to the station, some decent pubs, and a bit outside the touristy centre (but easy enough to walk to the centre of town). Probably not the cheapest area, but hopefully cheaper than London!

  41. Tim places shopping on counter…

    Sexy Cashier: “ooh, I bet you’re single, out every night, trying to chat up girls?”

    Tim: “Ah yes, have you spotted the meals for one?”

    Sexy Cashier: “No, you’re just a really ugly bastard.”

  42. @Whiteboard Technician. I liked that.

    It reminds me of the time a single gent around town asked a waitress if she’d ‘answer some questions about the menu, please?’

    She responded she’d do better than answer his questions, for a fiver she’d show him all her best tricks.

    On more substantial notes- I second Cambridge, at least if you are comparing that with ring road London. Personally, I’d look for somewhere in the rurals out that way, but I’m married, so enlightening the female student population isn’t something I can be bothered with.

  43. As an ex-resident am loving the comments about Stevenage, certainly I agree it wouldn’t really fit Tim I don’t think. Similarly the rest of the commuter towns in between Cambridge and London are probably a bit boring and family-orientated, with the possible exception perhaps of Hitchin which is pleasant enough and has a lively nightlife although not on the same scale as Cambridge. As for Ely, while it’s a pleasant town I think it would also be a bit on the boring side too.

    As for commuting to London from Cambridge by train, it being at the end of the line you’re much more likely to get a seat so can at least in theory get stuff done.

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