Orientation · Research

Day 13: Safety and Soccer

I woke up earlier than usual, downed my breakfast and passed through the shower. There was a compulsory safety induction talk that morning. I rode into town, to the New Museum’s Site, where the famous Cavendish Laboratory once stood. I found a park for my bike and headed upstairs for the talk to begin at 9 am.

There were several ushers pointing us in the direction of the Babbage Lecture Theatre for the safety talk. The lecture theatre was a large space, with seating both above and below the entrance level. I took my seat, and waited until 9 o’clock came around for the lecture to start. The presentation was conducted by somebody from the University safety office for incoming graduate students in science and engineering. However, rather than the usual evacuation procedures or ergonomics of chairs, the presenter took the view that, as students, we would find more risk in tasks that would happen outside of the laboratory rather than inside, especially exacerbated by the fact that most of the audience were not domestic students. So the topics instead included cycle safety, differences in road laws between the UK and elsewhere (in particular, zebra crossings), theft of bikes or personal belongings from college grounds, safety of electricity plugs and a little on fire safety, which amounted to a bit of common sense. On the whole, it was a rather pragmatic viewpoint.

After the lecture, I rode home and logged on to my computer to watch the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2016. There was a live YouTube feed of the press conference, where the head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced David J Thouless, F Duncan Haldane and J Michael Kosterliz as the winners for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter. There was a short explanation by one of the physicists on the panel, who described the topological difference between a cinnamon bun, a bagel and a pretzel. The prize was awarded to a fascinating field of condensed matter physics that I previously did not know a lot about, but it was intriguing much the same.

Announcement over, I headed back into town again, to go to Sports Direct. The previous night, I had signed on to the Darwin College Football Club, and needed some astro-turf boots for the training that would be held later that evening. There was a wide variety of football boots available, much more so than at home, and at a much more competitive price. I bought a pair of Nike’s, strapped the box onto the rear pannier of my bicycle, and headed for the Cavendish.

I headed up to my office, to deal with another slight complication in the results that I had; there wasn’t quite good enough agreement with a previously published result. I tried a few things, with help, but found my way no closer to an explanation. Visiting that day, was a PhD candidate from the University of Glasgow, coincidentally the student of my former supervisor’s twin brother. As an office group, we went out to lunch in a cafe at the West Cambridge site, returning by the Maxwell centre to investigate the high-tech coffee machine installed there. After lunch, the visiting student gave a seminar on effective field theory in the top sector at the LHC, which I found very interesting. It was an interesting talk, because it managed to be quite pessimistic and rather optimistic about the future of particle physics at the same time. For much of the rest of the afternoon, I sat at my computer trying to figure out the problem.

I left in the late afternoon to return to the college for dinner, served once again in the dining hall. After, I set about preparing for football training. We would be meeting outside the college at quarter to eight, to ride to the pitch. However, at this point I realised that my front light for my bike still didn’t have any batteries. I ran down the street on the hunt for some AAAs. First, a quick browse of the Shell petrol station, but I couldn’t see any. So I went out to the Co-operative convenience store a little way down the road. I asked in there too, but they said they were out. Disheartened, I returned back past the Shell, and asked the proprietor. This was the trick I hadn’t realised, the batteries were stored behind the counter out of sight. I got a pack of AAAs, chucked them into my light and made the front of the College right before departure.

We rode in convoy out to the Geoffrey Cass Centre in the South of Cambridge. There was another group training who were finishing up when we got there. We warmed up, stretched out, and training began. First up, keeping possession, in teams in each of the 3 tennis courts that were painted on the astro-turf surface. After, we divided into three groups. Two would play 7-a-side on the astro-turf enclosure, and one would perform some shooting practice on the grassy field. At first, I was playing the game, holding my right back position. But one of the things about playing with a new group of people for the first time is that you intuitively don’t know how each of your team-mates moves with the flow of the game. For example, I have played on teams in the past, where if I, as a right-back, perform an overlapping manoeuvre and launch an attack down the right wing, I would know that the centre and left backs would move across and the left wing would hang back to cover the position. But with new players, it was easy to get caught out by not knowing how team-mates would move. It is one of those things that comes when you play together long-term.

We had a short stint in shooting practice, where after a fair number of shots, I donned my gloves and went in goal. I could easily identify some problems with my technique that had lapsed since I last kept full time, and tried hard to concentrate and improve. I was certainly given plenty of opportunity, and by the end of the night, my hips, shoulders and knees had taken quite a battering. I had final stint with the 7-a-side, this time in goal, before another stint in the large goal.

We finished up at 10, and rode back through the dark to the college. By the time I got to my room, I was cold and exhausted. I showered to get off all the mud and grass, and collapsed in my bed for the night.

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