The first non-work event of the week was the Orientation Committee hand-over. This had been arranged the week before and was an opportunity for some of our committee to meet with the previous year’s to discuss how the whole operation fell into place. It was also a good time for us to ask questions on some of the finer details of the plan; things which happen behind the scenes that one doesn’t always appreciate when simply attending a given event.
On Tuesday evening, Annalise, Krittika and I made the much anticipated trip down to Homerton for a formal with Paul. We had been pestering him to invite us down for some months now and finally he relented. Homerton is one of the furthest colleges from the centre of town, and the only one on the far side of the railway, and technically only became a college of the University in 2010, but has been in existence for almost 250 years. As such, the college is very large and spacious, relatively speaking, and still carries some of it’s old flair.
We rendezvoused at the edge of the college and nervously walked our way in, trying to find the Porter’s Lodge and then Paul. He happily showed us first into the parlour to grab some pre-drinks and then into the main hall, where we had seats assigned at the end of one of the long tables. The Homerton hall was large and airy, with high, large windows that had had their curtains closed to prevent the summer sun from glaring in. Unlike any of the college formals I had yet been to, the Homerton formal started with a short song sung by the choir (of which Paul was a member). Their voices echoed through the hall in a much more satisfying way than the usual college graces. This was followed by one of the fellows announcing that their college had just broken a rowing world record (continuous team rowing). The food through the evening was some of the better that I’d had in Cambridge, and it was nice to share it with Paul, who unfortunately would be heading back to the US in the not-too-distant future.
After dinner, Paul showed us around his college, extending through the orchards to the rather impressive college library, which extended up three floors with books all around the high but narrow room. The second and third floors were balconies, so the whole room felt spacious yet there were places hidden enough that it was still quiet and cosy. We waved farewells, but then got lost trying to exit as the gate we had entered had now been closed.
On Thursday evening, I had agreed to help Jacqueline out at one of her orchestra’s concerts by acting as a steward. She came over to dinner that evening before the concert, and an hour before, we made our way to the nearby concert hall on West Road. There, I was introduced to the lady selling the tickets and the gentleman who was in charge of the hall. There were a couple of other friends of performers who were also stewarding. The guy in charge gave us green sashes and instructions on what to do in case of emergency (however unlikely). All of a sudden we were now bona fide stewards, charged with distributing pre-sold tickets, selling programs, checking tickets at the door and directing patrons to the appropriate facilities. At the start of the performance, I took up my seat at the back and had to dim the lights as the concert began. I tried to do it slowly and subtly, yet as smoothly as possible. It was a concert in two parts; the first half was some rather jazzy music from the Cambridge University Wind Orchestra, the second (in which Jacqueline played) was a sombre selection with the Cambridge University Music Society Concert Orchestra. At the end of each section, I had to turn the lights back up; which required paying attention as it wasn’t immediately obvious if the conductor had left the stage to return for more applause, return for another piece or had left for good. I did get it right though.
My stewarding experience was followed the next morning with another Real Tennis coaching session with Krittika. Each time, the coaching sessions were getting more involved; we were now readily required to play off the side wall or with backhands. The coach, Kees, was helpful and eager to get us to learn. At the end of the session, Kees asked me if I wanted to play a match that evening. Unsure, I agreed, and so I was booked in to a session at 7 pm that night.
Following a productive day’s work, I rushed out to the GSCR for a meeting with the Orientation Committee. Since we had last met, we had made decent progress on getting quotes on merchandise to be given to new scholars and wrapping our heads around the budget and preparing to send out the first public email. I had to wrap the meeting up slightly early though, to make it to my first Real Tennis match that night.
I met my opponent, Charles, in the hallway between the two courts. He was a senior gentleman with a bit of a stoop and who couldn’t run very far nor fast. Real Tennis games are played off handicaps, but follow the same scoring system as lawn tennis. So for this game, the handicap difference meant that he started every game owing 15 points. That said, having only just started playing I struggled to return his serves, most of them dropping very close to the back wall. As such, I proceeded to lose the first three sets 1-6, 0-6, 1-6. Nobody else appeared to claim the court, so we agreed to play another set. By this point, I figured out the best way to serve to him, and a better way to receive the serves, plus he started to grow a little tired, and hence I was able to win the final set 6-5, even though the final point was won from a somewhat lucky bounce.
Unperturbed, I met Krittika again the next morning for another game, which went more in my favour. Exhausted from the workout, we trekked out to Jesus College for brunch, only to find that the dining hall was closed. We tried the café, but it too had not yet opened. We waited a little while for the barista to show up, and get everything set up, before we could finally sit down and enjoy some breakfast scones and cake.
That afternoon, I met with Annalise and Jacqueline for dinner at Trinity College. Jacqueline had only just got out of bed, having spend much of the day recovering from a late night out with her lab, so we took it relatively easy, opting for gammon steaks and soup from the Trinity College servery. Getting through exam term meant that fewer and fewer people were dining in the old hall, making it more relaxing to eat in. Annalise had to leave to another event, but Jacqueline and I rode around town for a while, enjoying the late evening sun.
On Sunday, a host of friends came around for Sunday Roast at Darwin: Annalise, Jacquline, Krittika, Joanna and Danny. As is more often the case these days, the weather was nice, and so we were to be going punting. Seeing as we had been down-river the previous weekend, we decided to go up-river, which meant hauling the punt up the slipway to get past the weir. Instead of seeing the back of all of the colleges, going up-river means that one looks out over the Peterhouse paddocks and the Grantchester Meadows. We didn’t have enough time to make it all the way to Granchester, but we got at least over halfway. Lots of people were out on the riverbanks enjoying the sun, including a couple of brave swimmers bearing it all in one particular part of the river. The time soon came to turn around and head down stream again, eager to return the punt on time. The day was going beautifully until we almost back at the college. When it came time to haul the boat back down the slipway, we reached a problem. We hauled the boat up onto the path when we realised that there were a bevy of cygnets (baby swans) sleeping with their parents on the bottom of the slipway. We stopped there, unsure of what to do, but a large number of people were crowding around trying to watch the cygnets. Some were concerned that we would push the boat down onto the birds; which we would never dream of doing, but it left us stuck on the top side of the river. Unsure of what to do, we asked advice from the punt companies and the porters, but it seemed the best thing to do was to sit and wait. We slid the boat off the path back into the water on the top side and waited. Fortunately, some tens of minutes later, the mother swan left, and slowly the cygnets followed. Once the crowd had cleared, we pushed the boat down the slipway and returned it to the college.
It was a short walk back from the college to the Gates Council meeting, to which we were slightly late but it was perfectly excusable. This was followed by the hustings for the Easter term council elections. As her term as technology officer was not up for election, Krittika was tasked with running the elections for the other technology officer, social officer, treasurer, community officer and the two types of communications officers. Each of the candidates in turn could make an opening statement which would be followed by questions from the floor. It all ran relatively smoothly, excepting the breakdown in communication which resulted in Annalise running directly against Jacqueline.
Finally, that evening, Krittika had arranged for the two of us to meet with some of her friends from Jesus College for a pub quiz at the Sir Isaac Newton on Castle Hill. Unlike many other pubs in Cambridge, this one was relatively large and spacious, much more like the venues I’m used to back in Adelaide. There were a total of five teams competing. The table round for the week was to identify each country’s €1 coins, where we somehow were able to logic and reason out a respectable 16/20. We also did well on the geography round, which brought in lots of points, and were steady through the other rounds. By the end of the night, we somehow came on top, winning by five points and taking home a bottle of wine.