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Pillow Talk

Bedders are a Cambridge institution. They have been part of College life for centuries, but their role has changed dramatically over the years. So what do bedders actually do nowadays?

Every summer, Pembroke’s Housekeeping Department employs around 35 current undergraduates as temporary bedders. This helps to cover a particularly busy period and gives students an insight into the daily life of a Cambridge bedder. Housekeeper Caroline Adams also has another motive. ‘I hope it’ll open their eyes to what some of our girls have to put up with,’ she laughs.

Holly and Jessie are two of the students working as bedders this summer. We spoke to them about the good, the bad and the downright ugly parts of their job.


Standard day

8.00am – Sign in at the Laundry Room

8.15am – Head to assigned staircase; clean the toilets and kitchens

9.30am – Start on bedrooms: empty bins, wipe sinks and dust surfaces

10.30am – Break for tea, biscuits and fruit (or a cigarette)

10.50am – Continue with bedrooms: once a week this includes changing bed sheets and vacuuming the floor

1.00pm – Sign out for the day and go for lunch



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‘Some of my friends worked as summer bedders last year and they said it was a really good experience, so I thought I’d give it a try. You get paid, you get free accommodation and you only work until lunchtime, so we spend the afternoons and evenings having fun.

‘When we first arrived we were taught how to do everything in a very particular way. It’s really thorough. Now when I clean a toilet it gets so clean! And I can make a really neat bed with “hospital corners”. Some of the other bedders are real perfectionists. The woman I work with is so quick at making the beds: it only takes her about two minutes, but it takes me ages.

‘During my first week of work I found that there wasn’t too much to do, so I thought it was going to be easy. Since then it’s got busier. All of the rooms are occupied, so every day we have to do the sinks, the toilets, the kitchens, the bins… It’s hard work and you come back exhausted. There are quite a lot of stairs and it’s really tiring carrying your vacuum cleaner up and down. I also have my own bucket of cleaning things to carry around. I like to have mine organised – you don’t want your blue toilet cloth touching your pink kitchen cloth!

‘Sometimes you knock on someone’s door and wake them up. This morning we knocked on one girl’s door at nine o’clock and she told us she hadn’t even been to bed yet. In another room there were just dirty glasses everywhere. We also find that lots of rooms have marks on the walls where students have used Blu Tack, even though they are told not to. I used to use it because I didn’t believe that it would leave a mark, but now I’ve had to scrub the walls myself I’ve realised that it does!

‘Occasionally we do other areas, like the Porters’ Lodge or the Chapel. That’s where you get lots of cobwebs or you run a cloth along the pews and it comes up black. It’s because these rooms don’t get done as much as bedrooms. I actually find that it is most rewarding to start with something really dirty and make it clean.

‘I know that I can be untidy. Especially in exam term I sometimes just run out of my room and don’t think of how I’m leaving it for the bedder. The kitchen in particular can get really bad: there’s no clear surface space, it’s just dirty plates. I do feel bad for our bedder. Now when I come into a dirty room I think: “Oh for goodness sake, can they not tidy up after themselves?” I hope I’ll be tidier next year. I have met the bedder who will be on our staircase and she has been really friendly towards me. But to be honest, I’ll probably get into term time and not change anything!

‘Overall, I would do it again. It’s really nice being in Cambridge for the summer and the other bedders are so lovely.’


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‘When you come in on Monday morning you are assigned to a team made up of the bedders who work here all year round; each team gets a couple of students to help them out. Some people change around into different teams, but I’ve been with my team for three weeks now and I want to stay with them. They’re really nice. You actually get quite friendly with the people you work with.

‘Some of the bedders really get to know the students on their staircase. An old student came to stay on our staircase the other day and she bumped into her bedder. They recognised each other straight away and it was just so nice. I work with one woman in particular and she gets along really well with the students. She told me that they play pranks on her. She is terrified of spiders and one day she went in the bathroom to find that the students had put a massive fake spider in the shower.

‘I often start off by cleaning in the library. During the holidays there aren’t many students in there so it’s not as bad. Then we move on to the bedrooms. People have a lot of pride in their own particular way of doing things. For example, everyone has their own method for making a bed to get it looking perfect. For guests there are sheets, pillowcases and towels embroidered with the College’s name. You have to fold the towel so that the name shows and then you also leave them a little box with things inside: a shower hat and soap I think. You get to see lots of other rooms and I’ve found the one I want to live in. It’s really nice: a living room with a bedroom and a double bed and an ensuite and a sofa. I think it must be a Fellow’s room.

‘People leave so many things on the floor and I don’t want to mess up their stuff, so I try to vacuum and dust around things. It’s so annoying. I definitely won’t be leaving so much stuff on my floor any more. I always used to be that person who was asleep when the bedder came. They’d be knocking on the door, get no answer, assume it was safe to come in and then find me passed out in bed. I’m not sure that’s going to change!

‘I’m always shattered when I get back from work. We only do five hours each day but it’s quite tiring. Luckily some days are easier going and we get weekends off too. I would recommend other people did it, definitely. The best thing is that we all get these little blue pinnies. Well, the boys don’t but the girls do. And we get name badges. I’m going to ask if I can keep mine!’

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