Cycling · Orientation · Socialising · Travel

Week 25: Games at Trinity and Hiking in Thetford

My week began with the news that my long-awaited article had finally been published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. This is a huge relief to me and a big cause of stress removed. It means that, finally, I can fully concentrate on work here in Cambridge, rather than be constrained by outstanding work from past years. To anyone who wants to read (and cite) it, you can do so here: (journal subscription required) or the preprint at arXiv:1610.06737.

Also on Monday morning, I discovered that my bike had broken yet another spoke, the fourth such incident since I’ve been in Cambridge, but the first time it has occurred twice on the same wheel. Not wanting to go back to the previous repairer, I took it out to a shop near the Grafton Centre, also motivated by the fact that I knew they had decent handlebar caps (of which I had two in need of replacement). This meant riding through the streets of Cambridge on two bikes at once, a surprisingly easier feat than it looks so long as both bikes are the same size.

Weeks ago, I had agreed with Alex, the Gates Community officer, to help out with a science demo at a local primary school. Unsure of what to do, I consulted an incredibly helpful document kindly provided by Jacqueline, and so I determined to construct marshmallow shooters. This required a substantial number of every-day items, so it took a trip to Tesco to collect everything. As such, I now have more pairs of scissors than can possibly be useful, and multiple rulers which I found for just 12p.

After a surprisingly fun play-test, I took the supplies to Queen Emma’s School in the south of Cambridge on Tuesday morning, where they were hosting their annual science day. I met up with Alex, and we were shown into their hall, where a number of other ‘serious’ scientists had also set up equipment. Class by class, students aged 6-10 would flood through, and so we had to entertain them 6 at a time. We cut out the bottoms of paper cups, and attached a balloon to the bottom instead. By pulling on the knot of the balloon, the recoil would collide with whatever was in the cup, applying a force and sending the projectile out (physics!). I had two kinds of marshmallows; normal sized and mini sized. The normal sized ones fired about a metre or so, but the mini ones would easily fly up to the high ceiling of the gym. It was therefore a huge mess (which we intermittently cleaned up) but the children all seemed to have fun. At times though, our attention was spoilt by the existence of a large animatronic robot which someone had brought along, to which a flamethrower was attached.

Having cleaned everything up before the children’s recess break, I returned back to work. That afternoon, I met with Rebecca and Alex, the previous years Gates Orientation camp co-directors to interview for next years position. It was a relatively short and relatively informal chat outside the GCSR about what I would bring to the position. Getting the experience right is an important part of integrating the next class of scholars into the community.

My rather busy Tuesday finished by heading to Jesus college for formal dinner with many other Gates scholars. There was mingling in the MCR, during which I was able to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for some time, followed by dinner in the rather cramped space of the Jesus dining hall. I was sat along a bench on the far side of the hall, and spent the evening socialising over the fine food provided by the Jesus cooks. After dinner, instead of heading to the bar I went with Jacqueline and Annalise to the Trinity MCR to play the board game Risk. Thus, we had a relaxing and laid-back evening until late.

For various reasons, the three of us returned to the Trinity MCR the following night for another stress-relieving board game, this time Settlers of Catan. This was followed by a third night at the Trinity MCR. Annalise had prepared a vegan chocolate tart for her MCR’s bake-off and wanted help eating it, so we happily obliged. Apparently, the winning desert would be cooked for formal hall at Trinity at some point in the next term, and there were many fabulous entries, most of which involved chocolate.

Also on Thursday, I received back word that I had been appointed, with Harum, to run the Gates orientation in 2017. This is going to require a lot of effort and time to set up, so I hope we will do a good job. Around the same time, I got word from home that my parent’s have been accepted in their application to work as lighthouse keepers on the remote Maatsuyker Island off the coast of Tasmania. They’ll be there for 6 months or so next year, and are very excited about it.

Friday was St Patrick’s Day, and the Gates social officers had arranged a pub night at the Red Bull, a venue near my place. They had booked a ceilidh band, but a mix-up meant that there wasn’t much space for dancing, so it ended up being a time to socialise with other Gates scholars for an evening whilst wearing green. For me, this meant listening to some of Margaret’s many amusing stories.

Once the weekend came around, I went cycling again. This time, I rode to the small village of Foxton, via the village of Gamlingay. Unfortunately, there was a 30 kph headwind for the first 30 km of the ride, which meant the first half of the ride was hard and slow. But after reaching Gamlingay, I turned around to receive a tailwind for the 20 km, making me very fast. Combined with the surprising discovery of a steep hill in Cambridgeshire, I went the fastest I have been in just shy of a year. I caught the train home from Foxton in time to watch the Milan-San Remo bike race in Italy.

That night, I headed out to Churchill College to their Lent term MCR guest night. This is a formal hall of sorts, but it was centred around the theme of “formal from the waist up”. This meant wearing a jacket, shirt and tie with anything from the more sedate jeans or shorts to the more outlandish, which included bright-green tights, a dinosaur onesie, or just underwear. The food at Churchill was less exquisite than the likes of Jesus or Darwin, but it is the company that matters. Following dinner, there were many activities around the college, including a rather drunk karaoke, a band, a faux casino, and a silent disco. Mingling with many people, largely Gates Scholars (there a lot at Churchill), I spent most of the time in the silent disco, wrapping up around midnight to head home to bed.

The final activity of the week was to go hiking on Sunday. The idea had come up at some point, and I had done a bit of research to discover that there were some walking trails in Thetford forest, about a half-hour train ride from Cambridge. I met with Jacqueline at the railway station, and after some issues with the ticket machine, we took the train to the Norfolk town of Brandon. We had a 14 km walk planned through the forest to the town of Thetford.

Initially, the trial led out of town along a back road which contrasted rural farms and horses on one side with detached suburban housing on the other. We eventually found ourselves in a forest where all we could hear were the birds and the river. It was so relaxing to be away from civilisation, as much as one can do so in the South East of England anyway. A few kilometers in, and we found the tiny village of Santon Downham, bringing us back into civilisation for a bit. Our path took us across the river and to a picnic area, where we found a church that has been around since at least 1311. The age was mind-blowing for an Australian and a Canadian, such dates don’t really exist in our minds.

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We crossed the railway and followed a long, straight and boring forest track to Two Mile Bottom. A short stretch on the main road took us to a scout camp, where we discovered a model aeroplane landing site beneath a rather large and imposing nondescript factory. From there, we followed along the river, and some rather undulating mountain bike tracks, until we reached Thetford. The most interesting part of this section is when we encountered a pair of ducks attacking a third duck, which resulted in one duck grasping onto the neck of the other and trying to drown it. All survived in the end, after another pair came over to mediate.

Once in Thetford, we had some time to kill before the train home, and so had a sausage roll at a nearby pub before returning to Cambridge as the sun was setting. We met up for dinner with Annalise at a local Thai restaurant before a much-needed early night.

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