Week 40: O Canada

The week began with a match of tennis against Krittika, played off level which I won 6-3, 6-5. Straight after, I went in to the Apple store to see about my saturated iphone. They told me to come back in twenty minutes for a service appointment, so I wen out to buy some summer clothing. But when I got back, the attendant suggested that I should just get a new phone. It was a disappointing conclusion, and so I left contemplating which new phone I should get.

After a bit of work through the day, I met up with Paul and his family on King’s Parade. His family was visiting the UK for a few weeks at the end of his MPhil; they would be heading up to Scotland. They had just arrived on the plane from New York, and so were tired and jet-lagged, but eager to see what they could of Cambridge. Krittika and I were on hand to show them through whichever college we could, but most of the inner-city colleges were closed to non-University members. We instead made our way out to Jesus College, which is always typically open to visitors, to show them around the courts, dining halls and chapel, in which there was somebody playing on a grand piano. I had to leave them early, as I had to rush to an Orientation meeting at the GSCR.

Apart from talking about logistics of Orientation, the meeting was mostly spent discussing the feeling and environment we want to establish for the new scholars. As such, it went through dinner. We did get some important things ironed out, and it appears that we are all mostly on the same page. On leaving the meeting, I passed Paul, who had taken his family punting in the meantime, and was showing his family the GSCR. I wished him a fond goodbye, knowing it would likely be the last I saw of him for some time.

That evening, I got a message from Krittika inviting Annalise, Jacqueline and myself to see the once-in-a-decade flowering of the titan arum plant at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. I raced my bike over to the gardens, and we stood in line for the flower for a good hour and a half, bantering as we always do. The titan arum is supposed to be a rather smelly flower, but it wasn’t all that overwhelming by the time we got there; apparently the flowering had peaked whilst we were in the line. It was hardly a regrettable experience; it is not expected to flower again for a long time.

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On Tuesday morning, I had breakfast at Newnham College with Callie and Jacqueline. Newnham serve nice omelettes, which was the impetus for the meal. Unfortunately, the buttery had run out of mushrooms, which was what the two girls wanted for their meal. Nonetheless, the omelettes were quite nice, and it was nice to catch up with Callie, who is entering the final year of her PhD.

The rest of the day seemed to mark the end of summer; the temperature dropped and the rain came in force; making everybody rather wet. That evening, I escaped the rain to sit in the GSCR with Callie, Max and Brandon to sort out the day-time activities for Orientation. We were trying to manage the logistics of cost, timing and coach availability for all of the activities we wanted to do in the Lake District in September. We developed a schedule which seems to work, which involves kayaking, gorge scrambling, rock climbing, mountain biking, a hike, a castle visit, a visit to Wordsworth’s cottage, a visit to an old stone circle and a brewery tour (subject to approval). In addition, we added some relaxed activities back at the hostel. Once it was all sorted, I headed out to visit Jacqueline as we attempted to make ANZAC biscuits, but I didn’t space them apart on the tray enough and it turned into a giant ANZAC pancake.

Wednesday and Thursday seemed to merge together; both had a session of tennis (one a match, one an informal training), and both had some degree of writing of my first year report. By the end of the week, the report was about three quarters of the way through the first draft.

On Friday afternoon, Harum and I had another orientation meeting, this time with Council president Rebecca, and the Alumni officer Arif. We discussed how to get the new-scholar elects engaged with alumni around the world; a task made more difficult by the fact that we don’t exactly know where any of them are. Nonetheless, we formulated a plan going forward that may be able to foster some degree of integration.

Being friends with people from so many different countries means that you get to learn about their countries. This was no less true on Saturday, 1st July, which commemorated the 150th Canada Day. Jacqueline and Krittika, both Canadians, invited me to join them in the Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London. We caught the train with Yani, another Canadian from Jesus College, who knew Krittika. Upon arrival in King’s Cross, we caught the tube into the centre of the city, getting occasional cheers from other Canadians noticing the Canadian merchandise that our group was wearing. As we rounded the corner past Canada House into Trafalgar Square, we were overwhelmed by a sea of red and white. We passed through security, stopping first at a stall to pick up some more Canadian flags. We looked over the square; in the centre was a street hockey rink, there was a stage with bands performing Canadian music; along the edges were stalls selling Canadian food. But the Canadians in our group had their eyes drawn to one thing: the Tim Horton’s van in the south-west corner. Apparently, Timmy’s is very popular in Canada, and so they insisted that we join the line. But all of the other Canadians in London seemed to have the same idea, the queue traced over half of the perimeter of the square. I had no idea a country such as Canada could get so obsessive over a coffee and doughnut stand.

We eventually found the end of the Timmy’s queue, politely apologising like true Canadians as we pushed through the crowd. As we were a large group, some of us left the queue from time to time to see all of the other Canadian stuff going on; everyone in the queue was doing this as it was so long. Krittika left for a bit and returned with giant Canada foam fingers, as one would normally see at a hockey game. A little later, Jacqueline left and returned with nanaimo bars, a Canadian snack food with custard, chocolate and wafer pieces that turned out to be rather delicious. Yani went away and came back with some Canadian beers, which he ended up drinking most of anyway.

When were in the queue between the stage and the rink, the Royal Canadian Artillery Band came on to play the Canadian national anthem. They were in town this week guarding the Canadian monarch at Buckingham Palace. At the same time, the Canadian ambassador to London was involved in a tight game of street-hockey. This was followed by more Canadian folk songs, that left the Canadians in our group humming for ages.

We eventually reached the front of the queue; having been in the queue for three hours and the Canadians were salivating over the idea of Timbits, a hole-less doughnut that could be considered a Canadian national delicacy. We ended up getting boxes of 10-20 each, though the sheer number of Canadians ordering them meant that they were shipping them in by the carton load and distributing them out just as fast. They weren’t as fresh as the ones one would expect to get in Canada itslef. Nor did they have all of the true Canadian flavours, Krittika especially felt jilted by the lack of honey-glazed Timbits. But it seems the Canadians were happy to get their fix, sorely missed for the last 10 months. We sat on the edge of the square, overlooking the Canada Day celebrations. Once we had finished the Timbits, it was time to head on, leaving all of the Canada mania behind.

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After grabbing Mexican burritos for dinner at a Chipotle, I went with Krittika and Jacqueline to a gaming shop north of Leicester Square to get some gaming miniatures for a game I was planning on running once my first year report was finished. Krittika returned to the other Canadians, whilst Jacqueline and I split from the rest to head to the LEGO store in Leicester Square. Jacqueline wanted to fill a pick-a-brick container so as to construct a phone holder for her room. This meant spending a good half-hour stuffing bricks into every crevice of the cylindrical container. Value added, we hired bikes and headed out to ride through London for a bit.

We headed south-west on the cycle superhighway, past Parliament and down towards Battersea. We stopped in Battersea Park when our bike timing ran out, and sat and watched the planes coming in to land at Heathrow, of which there are many. After a while, we went on further towards Wandsworth Town, where we walked around the high street and out to the Thames. As the sun was setting, we headed for the railway station, to get a train and then a tube back to King’s Cross. A little while later, and we were back in Cambridge after our long day out.

The next morning, the four usual suspects found ourselves at tennis again, this time for a friendly doubles round against others of similar ability. We played through the whole morning, in various combinations against the two others who were also there. Krittika left early, but Annalise, Jacqueline and I went to brunch at Darwin. The rest of the afternoon was a gentle, Sunday afternoon, finishing the week watching the sun set over the western hills from the lawns of Churchill College.

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