Cycling · Performing Arts · Travel

Week 29: East End Musicals and Medieval Jousting

The week began with what is now a familiar practice; riding my bikes to the mechanic to have a broken spoke replaced. This was one I had predicted; for various reasons I had locked by bike with a D-lock placing some strain on one of the spokes, and when I was approaching London the previous weekend, the same spoke had snapped. Now I know what not to do for sure.

It was a rather ordinary week study-wise; I basically spent the entire week going through the mathematics of supersymmetry, step by step, making sure I understand it all for the coming few months. Fortunately, I managed to find a really good text that helped a lot.

I left the department earlier than normal on Monday evening to head to the railway station to catch a train to London. Unlike every other trip to London thus far in the UK, I took the train to Liverpool Street Station rather than King’s Cross. It was there I met with Annalise, Paul and Krittika; four of the five of us who had all been to Bulgaria together (Jacqueline was stuck in her lab and couldn’t come out). We had arranged tickets for a musical called “How to Succeed in Business (without really trying),” which was being run for a series to the East of the City.

First, we went to dinner in a quiet but well-reviewed Arabic restaurant near the theatre. As we had all just been eating regularly together in Bulgaria rather recently, this very much felt like a continuation of our trip. Probably the highlight of the experience, however, was having our food arrive in what appeared to be a chimney converted into a dumbwaiter, which was sizzling hot when it opened.

The theatre was a short walk from the restaurant. As we were in the East End of London, we were away from the huge bustling thousand seat theatres in the more famous West End. Instead, it was modest sized; with the stage and the seating on the same level, and the band above the stage. It was a strange set-up, but it seemed to work. The production was a musical comedy centred around a lead character who was progressing up the corporate ladder more through happenstance and contrived luck (portrayed as good acumen) than hard work. It was a good mix of interesting characters, catchy music and visual comedy; each of the (small) cast got to stand out in some way or another. Yet it was easy to tell that it was early in the production cycle, as there were a few technical kinks that hadn’t been ironed out. For example, there were several points where a spotlight was meant to light up on the lead character’s face but it was off by a few feet. There was also a point where a minor cast member was wheeling a desk off stage, when one of the wheels failed, tipping the typewriter and telephone crashing to the ground. This was just as another character was starting and emotive musical soliloquy,  to which the entire audience was desperately trying to refrain from laughing. On the whole though, we left in good spirits.


Back in Cambridge, the house hunting continued through the week. I went with Jacqueline to three different house viewings. The first was on Tuesday, to a three bedroom house in a quiet backstreet in the south-east of the city. This house had a rather homely feel, featuring the open lounge-room/dining room/kitchen set-up common to many houses back home. It also had an expansive garden, with lawn at the back and front. However, what let it down was the distance from the centre of town, and in particular, the distance from the Cavendish, which was beyond the centre of town.

The second house was on Thursday, to the north of the city. While it was closer to town, it was harder to tell whether or not I liked this one because of the messy state the current tenants kept it in. While it was certainly feasible to make it nicer, I reasoned that we could do better. The final house for the week was in the near east of the city, just over the railway line. This was a much larger house, five bedrooms total, and felt very much like a reasonable deal for a student share house; closer to town and with plenty of space, a decent sized yard. I left my thoughts to mull over the long weekend.

The week wasn’t just house hunting. On Wednesday evening, I met up with Annalise at her place to cook some dinner for Jacqueline, whose birthday it was. After some thought and digging around, we decided that we would make sushi; there apparently being insufficient and inferior sushi stores in Cambridge (and England more generally) compared to Vancouver. This meant prepping all of the fillings and the seaweed strips, in preparation for Jacqueline’s arrival later in the evening. I did what I could and knew to do, both in helping with the sushi and the dessert, and eventually, we cobbled it all together. Once Jacqueline arrived, we ate our way through a large amount of the food, but inevitably ended up with left-overs. We stayed in much of the night, setting up a Skype session to Jacqueline’s friend Kevin back in Vancouver, who struggled greatly to think of embarrassing stories to tell.

Saturday was marked by my now-regular weekend cycle. The thought of the upcoming hilly sportive ride in Yorkshire was weighing on my mind, so I determined to get in as much climbing as I could. Unfortunately, Cambridgeshire is one of the flattest counties in England, meaning I had to cycle some distance to get any kind of elevation gain. In the end, I rode to Stevenage in Hertfordshire; an 85 km ride. It would have been shorter to go directly, but I ended up riding around the back to try out some hills at Hexton and Whitwell, which were better than nothing but not that difficult. On the ride into Stevenage, I had planned to take a back road into the town, but when I got there in real life, what on the map was a road was in fact a long gravel driveway followed by a paddock; not something one can ride on a road bike. So I ended up having to detour around to the town via Knebworth, where I passed a sign advertising Easter jousting at Knebworth House, a manor house south of Stevenage.

That evening, I was playing squash at Churchill with Jacqueline when I proposed checking out the jousting the next day. We laid plans, and met up at the railway station with out bikes for the hourly train to the small village of Knebworth. To get to the manor house, it was a short ride out of the town and through the old village square, before we ended up on a large hill with an old sandstone manor house on the top. On the green in front of the house, people were milling around; we arrived just as the first joust was starting.

Whilst the performance of the joust was scripted; the actual skills were not. They had four knights and a mistress of ceremonies, and it was excellent to see the lances clash with the shields. They went so far to have a staged sword fight and the so-called ‘dragon challenge’, where the knights attached plush-toy magnetic dragons to their helms and ride around with batons trying to hit each other’s off. It was all quite a pantomime.

We had lunch in the café on the grounds of the manor house, before going off to explore the gardens. There was an adventure playground also on the grounds, and there was a heritage shuttle bus ferrying the hoards of children to and fro, but we headed straight for the maze. Unlike the full height mazes at, say, Hampton Court; this maze was only four foot high, so one could easily cheat by looking over the hedges. However, one still had to negotiate the children and their parents also running the maze which isn’t all that easy to do. From there, we wandered into the manor house itself. Inside, it was beautiful, exactly as I imagined it to look. The library was wall to wall with books, and a ladder to climb to the higher shelves. Even the doors were covered over to look like more shelves. The rooms were all well furnished and period appropriate; it’s a house that is still lived in today. We went back outside to see the second display of jousting, in full this time, at it was just as impressive as the first time out. On the whole, it was an excellent way to spend an Easter Sunday.

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