Day 11: Barbecues and Cricket

With a title like “Barbecues and Cricket”, one might easily be mistaken that I have spent my Sunday in a sleepy Australian summer’s afternoon. Yet these topics describe a day in still-slightly warm Cambridge, in autumn. In the late morning, I wandered a short distance down the street to Lammas Land, also known as Sheep’s Green. As part of Fresher’s Fortnight, various sports-club groupings were holding outdoor games on the grassy park. I arrived at the start, not many others had yet shown up, and so joined with the cricketers, it being the time of year when cricket starts to have relevance again. Two players from the Darwin Club had organised a come-and-try session for various new students, and as expected not a lot of new students knew how to play. Many of those who participated hail from North America, continental Europe or parts of the British Isles where cricket isn’t popular, so we needed to step through rules, technique and skill for people who had never played, let alone watched, a game in their lifetime. It was a form of backyard cricket, with an old bat and a tennis ball, and modified rules to suit. We played for about an hour, evenly sharing around batting, bowling, keeping and fielding.

Once everybody who wanted to participate had had their fill, we deserted the cricket gear and joined in on a game of rounders; a sport played in the British Isles, often in high schools with various house-rules. Essentially, it is like baseball/softball, with a shorter bat and lighter ball, shorter bases, and more stringent conditions on when you must run. At least in the house-rules that we ended up with, every batter must be out, or stranded on bases with no batters remaining, for the innings to end.

A couple of innings in, it seemed that people had had enough, and wanted to move onto the next sport: Ultimate Frisbee. We set up a rough field, divided into teams (one with bibs or red shirts) and played loose with the rules. I don’t think we ever followed the exact rules, especially as far as the boundaries were concerned, but both sides managed to through together some series of passes and score roughly seven or eight times each.

Worn out from activity, we all returned to our respective rooms for a short period in the afternoon. A little later, we emerged again, and headed for the Darwin garden, where the DCSU had put on a barbecue. I met up with some people I had met during the morning of sport, and joined the long queue for food. A key difference between an Australian barbecue and this one, is that in Australia we typically cook very thin, beef sausages, that can be aligned side-by-side and completely cooked in less than 8 minutes. Thus, the food-per-unit-area-per-unit-time of the barbecue plate is of relatively high density. Here, we were being served pork sausages, which are a lot fatter, hence take up more room on the plate and also take longer to cook. In addition, the most popular item was beef patties, which were being served into hamburgers . Patties also take a while to cook, especially if they are thicker. Again, the food-per-unit-area-per-unit-time is quite low, which is fine for a small group gathering, but made the line move quite slowly for the large number of hungry people. The vegetarian skewers moved a lot more quickly, however.

Finally, once fed with hamburger, I returned to my room for the evening. The next week brings the final stages of settling in, with my PhD starting in earnest the following week.

A final footnote: The usual interpretation of the units “food-per-unit-area-per-unit-time” would be a food flux, that is, the amount of food passing through the barbecue in a given period. To make it more reasonable, one must consider “discrete food flux”, as you typically do not have a continuous flow of food being cooked, at least in a domestic or semi-domestic setting. In part, I mention it to point out how in Australia, we have perfected the art of optimising food flux, but also because of the obscure image of continuous food flux being cooked on a barbecue, and the many strange settings that you could make that work with a conventional set-up.

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