Until things start to settle down a bit, I’ll be posting daily summaries of what is going on here in Cambridge. For the most part everything is new and different and these things get noticed a lot more when you are fresh to it.
Our plane landed in Heathrow just after midday, but it wasn’t until about 1pm that I exited the customs area of the airport. I was carrying three bags: my large suitcase on top of which sat my sportsbag, whilst I carried my backpack on my back. Having just finished some 26 hours of travelling, I needed to change out of my travel clothes. I found a changing room and donned some fresh clothes, and then headed down the elevator to the Underground station.
I had an Oyster card, the travel card for London Underground tickets, from my previous visit to London, but it needed to be topped up. I initially wanted to use cash in the machine, but the one I went to only accepted coins or card, so I begrudgingly used my card. Because I was at Terminal 4, I went through the gate barriers and there was a train waiting in the platform directly opposite. This disoriented me somewhat, usually on the Tube you have to navigate a warren of tunnels to get to the platform. Terminal 4 is a strange station in that it is on a one-way loop of track, so it is held in the station for some minutes before it heads onwards.
My three bags were awkward on the tube. I stacked them on top of each other, but the suitcase has four wheels and so would roll if I didn’t keep my foot next to it. But when I entered, there were already four people with suitcases in the vestibule, so I had to prop everything by the middle pole.
The train ride into central London took about an hour of rattling along the Piccadilly line. For much of the outer parts of the line, the railway is above the ground level, so I got a good view of outer-suburban London. It is here that I manage to convince myself that yes, I really am in England now and things really are happening. For the latter part of the journey, everything is underground, and people started to pile onto the train. Luckily, I hadn’t landed in rush hour so my luggage and I were not a huge imposition on the travelling public.
I alighted at King’s Cross St Pancras and followed the lifts up to the concourse of the main line station. I went inside, and looked up at the departure board. There are three trains per hour to Cambridge: an non-stop express train, a semi-stopping fast train and an all stops slow train. The slow train is so slow that the express train overtakes it en route. For me, the next train would be the semi-stopping train, leaving in 15 minutes. I had pre-booked a ticket online, but needed to withdraw it from the ticket machine. Unfortunately, this required me to have the booking number, which I hadn’t printed out. So whilst holding all of my belongings, I needed to prop open my laptop to look up the booking, trying not to make an utter fool of myself in the process.
With ten minutes to departure, I needed some sustenance. I picked up some new toothpaste from a convenience store on the concourse, and a sausage roll and juice from the next-door pastry shop. Armed with lunch, I made my way onto the platforms and boarded the train.
All up, the train journey took about an hour. For much of the journey, we were greeted with soft rolling East Anglian countryside, which was growing the early stages of a grain crop, so everything was a touch browner than I had expected. Also, as a general observation, there were a lot more golf courses abutting the railway than I had expected as well.
I arrived in Cambridge at around 4pm. It is a decent but not gruelling walk from the station to the city centre, so given that the day was waning and I was pulling a suitcase with tiny caster wheels along an uneven footpath, I opted to take a taxi to the College. As far as taxis go, it wasn’t that expensive for the short journey. I quickly found myself standing on the kerbside outside of the Darwin college entrance. This was it. I took a deep breath. Here goes, I thought to myself as I walked inside.
I was greeted at the Porter’s lodge by one of the porters. He introduced me to the college, and gave me the paperwork for my room. I signed my lease and received the keys. I would be staying in Gwen Raverat House for the next year. Gwen Raverat House isn’t adjoined the main college, but it is a minute’s walk down Newnham road. I took my bags and trodded down the road, through an archway between a hairdresser and a dentist to find myself in a small courtyard in front of the apartment block that is Gwen Raverat House. Bikes were strewn across the bike racks in front of the building, and the blue-edged glass entranceway lead into a series of corridors and rooms. This is where I made my mistake: At home, rooms which start with the number 1 are typically up one flight of stairs, with the ground floor marked G. But I only realised that after I had hauled my heavy bags up the stairs. And having hauled them down again was when I realised that there was in fact a lift.
I settled into my room, opened my suitcase and relaxed a little. I took a shower, the first since I had left Australia, though only after the first one that I tried did not have any hot water (my room does not have an en suite). I didn’t unpack; yet. I’m leaving for an orientation camp to the Lake District on Saturday and much of the stuff that is already in my suitcase I will take along.
Evening fell, and as half past six approached I left for the first unofficial event here in Cambridge. On the Gates Scholars facebook page, the idea was floated for a welcome dinner and drinks at a pub called The Mill. For me, this was a short walk directly across the river and voila, I was at the doors to The Mill. Others had to walk a little further. It is a strange experience to show up impromptu at a venue to meet with people who have never met each other in a country none of us were familiar with. I walked up to a pair of people who were looking as confused as I was and asked “are you with Gates?” to which they responded “yes” and the introductions started. Slowly, more people arrived asking the same question, and we gradually settled into introductory conversation. When we got to about 15 people standing around in a large circle, we moved inside to the pre-reserved tables in a small room at the rear of the venue.
Slowly more people started to filter in. Conversations typically went along the lines of “Hi, My name is Ben”, “Hi, my name is <insert name here>, Where are you from?”, “Australia, and you?” “<insert country or US state here>. What do you study?”, “Physics, you?” “<insert topic here>”. Of course, the conversation would further devolve from there, but every introduction went the same way. I met many interesting fellow scholars, ranging from New Zealanders and Australians to Asia and the Subcontinent, to Africa and most certainly North America. Though I could mention many names and conversations here, I’ll only mention one in particular, with an American from Arkansas named Ryan, which went something like: “Which college are you staying at?”, “Darwin”, “Me too!”, “Where are you staying in Darwin”, “Gwen Raverat House”, “Same, which number?”, to which we are both in adjacent rooms in an amusing coincidence. We moved to the nearby Anchor pub to mix things up a little and get to speak to more people. After an hour or so there, I was getting quite sleepy and needed to go back to my room to sleep, in preparation for the upcoming Gates orientation.