My room, your room: Mike Gibson MBE and Elaina Davis chat about life in Room Q4A, Queens' College Cambridge
Mike Gibson MBE (Queens’ 1963) is regarded as one of the greatest rugby union players of all time. While representing Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, he earned 81 caps between 1964 and 1979, while also running his own successful law practice. Elaina Davis is a final year Geography student who is hoping to forge a career in international development. “But after that I’ll be teaching. I’ve worked with children a lot and I know that it’s what I want to do.” Words by Lucy Jolin.
For Mike Gibson, Room Q4A was a retreat: a secluded,tranquil space filled with natural light. Tucked away up a flight of stairs, it was a place where he could cut himself off and channel all his mental energy into his work. However, he hastens to add, the room did have another major attraction.
“The boiler rooms are down below and that contributed to the heat in winter,” he points out. “The Cambridge weather can be quite severe.”
The big windows and natural light are still there, and they, in turn, made the room equally attractive to its current occupant, Elaina Davis. She’s more likely to be turning the heating down these days “to save money,” but, like Mike, she wanted a place to focus.
I think it’s nice to have a space where, if you want to, you can shut yourself away from it all. If I want to go and socialise I can, but I don’t have that intruding all the time. Here, I can shut the door and if anyone knocks, I don’t have to answer!
Mike nods. “I agree entirely,” he says. “I would play my rugby, have the after-match discussions, then back to the retreat. There was a large door that closed everything off.”
Sport, needless to say, was an integral part of Gibson’s university experience. In fact, he says, high-level sporting prowess sits very comfortably alongside academic qualities.
“The mental side of rugby is more demanding than the physical,” he says. “You can work hard and acquire the physical attributes if necessary. But mistakes are often due to a lapse in concentration, a poor decision, and that’s where the mental side is extremely important. The qualities of commitment and concentration, the capacity to analyse situations and to make decisions are all very useful in developing academically, and also developing as a person.”
Sport has also played a big part in Elaina’s time at Cambridge. She began rowing in her first year and carried on until Easter this year, until the pressure of Finals meant something had to go. “It’s a sport that lots of people haven’t really done before,” she says. “So you get a lot of novices all trying it out and you’re all in the same boat. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, so it’s a great platform to learn from.”
Elaina’s knick-knacks and photos make the room very much her own, along with a homemade collage of National Geographic covers on the wall by her bed. (“My mum asked me what I was going to do with all my old copies, so I thought I’d go through and choose my favourites. They’re very colourful.”) But Mike is delighted to find that one piece of furniture – a rather imposing oak dresser – still remains from his time.
And there was a table here – it’s not the same one, but it’s in the same place. And a gas fire. I acquired a couple of pictures from the previous occupant, who had abandoned them. They weren’t unpleasant, so I kept them. One was a view of Coventry Cathedral. I didn’t really change anything. I had very basic requirements.
The view hasn’t changed either: the bicycle sheds outside still stand. Elaina, like Mike, has watched the trees change colour through the seasons, and the occasional sight of the top of a punting pole just visible on the river has also caused her mind to wander. “That was a distraction,” says Mike. “You’d think: I should be out there…”
Although the room has seen obvious changes – the laptop on the desk has long since superseded the wooden message box that still adorns the door – the attitude that Mike brought with him more than half a century ago is still very much alive today.
“I think Elaina is well-equipped to look after her future,” he says. “She is very much in line with my own life here. There’s a discipline in her life. She can isolate herself when necessary, when work is required, but at the same time achieving a balance. She is very well placed to deal with whatever is ahead.”
This article first appeared in CAM - the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, edition 73. Find out how to receive CAM.