After a couple of weeks at a bit of a lull, everything seemed to be happening at once, at the expense of spending a decent amount of time on uni work.
To start, on Monday, I discovered that the rear wheel of my bike had a broken spoke. I suspected as much during my ride on Saturday, where I had heard a twang near the end, but only on Monday did I truly inspect the damage. I’ve only ever broken a spoke once before, at the summit of the Col de la Madeline in the French Alps. Spokes should be replaced as soon as possible. Last time, I had a 20 km decent and another 10 km climb, but I wanted to get it to a bike shop as soon as possible. I wheeled my bike to Rutland cycles, a small bike shop underneath the Grand Arcade, (I daren’t ride it in case I buckled the wheel any further). They took it in, but told me that they wouldn’t be able to fix it until the next day. Resigned to a day without a bike, I decided it was high time to do some Christmas shopping.
Christmas shopping is a very arduous process, especially if one is trying to manage weight/size (for posting), cost, equity and most importantly, relevance. I ended the day having only purchased two gifts (saying where from would defeat the purpose), but I ordered another online and had ideas for two more, but I would have to make a trip to London to do so.
That evening, I had arranged to meet with Gabi (a fellow Gates scholar) and a group of her college friends to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Not having a bike, I walked the half hour out to The Light Cinema in southern Cambridge. My thoughts on the film were strange. It sits a strange position as being a spin-off of both the films and the books. There are cinematic themes that are out of place with the books, and plot themes which don’t make sense in the (original) films without the books. That said, the reason I think I liked the film was the world immersion, more than the climax of the film itself, which felt a little rushed. That said, it’s still a fun film, and Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander fits a similar mould to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors.
On Tuesday, I was finally able to pick up my bike. I did a bit of work, but the highlight of the day was the Gates internal symposium that evening in the Scholar’s Room. The format was the same as before: four scholars presented 10-15 minute presentations about their work or field, followed by a discussion afterwards, with a break for food in the middle. Each of the talks was based around the theme of global politics in 2016. While each of the speakers brought a new perspective to the debate, it is a topic that so much has been written about, I won’t go into it any further here.
A similar theme was present on Wednesday evening. I went to a seminar hosted by the Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange entitled “Has the UK had enough of experts?” They had invited 3 speakers from institutions like the Royal Statistical Society who each presented ideas on how to reframe the discussion about scientific facts in health, environmental and economic policy and public debate. Yet more food-for-thought about the current political environment, but I would have liked to hear from somebody arguing for the affirmative. Cambridge is a very liberal place, and in my time here I have not yet met somebody who has openly declared themselves pro-Brexit or pro-Trump, so I have no real perspective into that mindset.
After the seminar, I went to a house-party. Miriam, one of the Gates Scholars, was hosting a going-away party after just two months. She has some upcoming field work in the Bahamas, so is going to spend Christmas in the sunny warmth, compared to the miserable wet. She hosted it in her kitchen at Robinson College, the first time I had been there, and I continued my trend of turning up on time not realising that one is meant to be fashionably late. In the end, several other scholars attended, so I had lots of people to mingle with.
On Thursday, I made my aforementioned trip to London. After Tuesday night’s Gates Internal Symposium, I had a discussion with Annalise who was also planning to go to London on Thursday, but to go with others to the Cambridge vs Oxford Varsity Rugby game at Twickenham. Having never been to a ruby game before, I wanted to come along. So on Thursday, I rode my (now repaired) bike to the train station, parked it in the multi-level bike park, and met Annalise on the platform as a packed London-bound train was ready to leave. We arrived a little late, having made an impromptu stop for the driver to investigate a smoking wheel. Annalise said she wanted to see an exhibit at the British Library about mapping in the 20th century. Intrigued (I love maps), I asked if I could come along, and soon enough, we made the short walk there from King’s Cross. There were all kinds of maps inside: maps of the world, countries, cities or localities depicting economic, navigational, military or propaganda uses. Each one told their own story, not just of the map itself, but the society and the people who created it. My personal favourite was a world map from 1942 proposing how the world should be controlled at the end of the War. Some elements were all right, predicting a Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, a coalition of Western European States (called the United States of Europe), and the creation of a Jewish state (called Hebrewland). Others less so: the USA controlled from Mexico though to Panama, all of the Carribean islands (sorry France, UK and the Netherlands), Greenland (sorry Denmark), much of Oceania plus the Philippines. South America organised into the United States of South America, including the Fauklands (sorry UK), as did Africa into the United States of Africa, except for Madagascar which joined the UK, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand into the Commonwealth. Only Japan and Turkey retained small-scale sovereignty. It was a bit of lesson in how chaotic geo-political systems can be, and how dangerous it is to make predictions about the political future.
After the exhibit, we took the Tube to Leicester Square. There, we went to the LEGO store. It was billed as the largest such store in the world, and having grown up a fan of the plastic bricks, it was something I quite wanted to see. It covered two whole floors, and was filled with parents and children running around, constructing custom minifigures, or building in the LEGO sandbox. They also had some large constructions too: a (relatively) life-size tube train and a version of the Elizabeth Tower.
From there, I temporarily parted ways with Annalise; we each would make our way to Twickenham separately. I went to two shops around Leicester Square to get the two gifts that I had intended to get, and thence took the tube to Waterloo, and transferred onto a train to Twickenham, in south-west London.
Getting off the train at Twickenham, it was pretty easy to follow the crowds from the station to the stadium. Vans had been set up in carparks and front gardens along the way selling food and memorabilia. Once at the stadium, I missed the sign to the ticket office to collect my tickets, and ended up nearly walking around the entire stadium. Eventually, I made my way inside, and went to the bays at the southern end of the ground, where I met Annalise and, later, Olly.
The game was exciting. Oxford scored first from a penalty, but the first try was only scored just before half time. Cambridge intercepted the ball and ran halfway down the pitch, while we were cheering all the way. Half time came and went; the score narrowed after another few penalties each way. Oxford responded with a try of their own, but Cambridge pulled ahead again near the end: after a tackle near the goal line, the player essentially rolled over the top of the tackler, just managing to ground the ball (though it needed confirmation from the video referee). From there, it was some tense defending, but Cambridge just managed to hold on to win for the first time since 2009.
In case anybody not familiar with Varsity Rugby is wondering, the Varsity Match is a Rugby Union game. It is broadcast on the BBC and had an attendance of around 23,000 fans; not as many as College football in the US, but much higher than any equivalent game back home.
After the game had finished, it was a race back to Cambridge. The train from Twickenham was relatively quiet; one had just left before the one we were on arrived. I changed at Vauxhall, farewelled Annalise at Oxford Circus, and made it to King’s Cross for a train home. I raced home, and put on my formal clothes: it was time for the Darwin College Christmas Formal!
In the parlour, I met with Ryan, Maddy, Pedro and Eric, all Gates Scholars, and then headed upstairs to the dining room, where the formal hall had been laid out with decorations, candles and Christmas crackers. To my great amazement, I discovered that, for whatever reason, Christmas crackers are not part of American Christmas culture. However, these particular crackers must have been top-of-the-range: the regular junk you get in them was actually useful. Among other things, we got a set of screwdrivers, a pack of playing cards, and a much-needed shoehorn. Of course they still had corny jokes and crowns. The food was delicious. In particular the main course, stuffed turkey wrapped in pancetta, with cranberry sauce, was amazing. We finished with Christmas pudding too, and it ended as a great night out.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday were easy days. There was no football due to a wet pitch, and I did some more Christmas shopping. I now only have two gifts to go!