Music · Travel · Weekends

Week 44: Shepreth Wildlife Park, and July Reprise

It was a slow week following the hectic cycling holiday in France. I needed a bit of time to catch a breather. I ventured out to the department for a little bit of work, but it was a lonely place as most of the academics were away and my officemates were in the US. I managed to get a game of Real Tennis in against a guy called Marcus, which I managed to win 8-2. As this was my tenth game against established opposition, I now no longer qualified as a provisional handicap, which means my handicap is a lot less bouncy and qualifies me for certain low-ranked tournaments.

An unwelcome development was the closure of the Darwin kitchens for the summer holidays. This meant that there was no more evening meals at college until mid September, though lunchtime meals were to go on unabated. At the same time, my kitchen was being renovated for the next year’s freshers to use, so I had no proper space to prepare food. Fortunately, Jacqueline was kind enough to let me come over to Churchill most nights of the week to prepare a meal together using whatever we had to hand. We ended up with a pizza that lasted several days, one side stuffed with mushrooms.

On Friday, it was time for me and my future housemates Emma, Annika and Jacqueline to meet our future landlord at our future house. The final hurdle to securing our tenancy was the right to rent checks. The landlord had to sight our documents showing that we were legal immigrants to the country and therefore allowed to rent the premises. We also got to take another look around the rooms before heading out to lunch to decide who gets what room. After some negotiation, Jacqueline took the downstairs front room, I took the upstairs front room, Annika took the upstairs middle room and Emma took the upstairs back room. Details decided, we had our moving in date set for mid-August.

During the week, my day-to-day black bike broke yet another spoke, to go with the buckled wheel in my longer-distance white bike from my crash on the Col d’Izoard. Frustrated with the lack of bike, I took both in to the bike shop to get repaired, which turned out to be ridiculously expensive. Fed up with paying crazy amounts to have spokes and wheels trued, I went online and bought myself everything I need to be able to do it myself in the future, hoping my gamble would pay off in the long run.

The highlight of the week was Sunday. The Gates social officers had organised a trip to the Shepreth Wildlife Park and their hedgehog hospital. Twenty gates scholars and plus-ones went along. While most went by train, Jacqueline and I opted to ride our bikes to Shepreth, a 14 km ride south of Cambridge. We arrived early and met everybody else coming off the train. The wildlife park was next to the station, so we pretty much walked straight in.

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In the centre of the park was a hill with a few ponies and prairie dogs on it and a small train track running around it. Although tempting, it was clearly intended for kids. We all dispersed throughout the park, aiming to meet up for the hedgehog showing in the afternoon. Annalise, Jacqueline, Matt and I went off together. The first stop, right next to the entrance, was the Australian section. They had a few wallabies and a few emus, but even though it had been nearly a year since I had seen such animals, it still felt so unremarkable because even now I’m so used to them being around.

We meandered around through the park, looking out for the various animals here and there. Particular highlights include the meerkats, red pandas, otters and wild cats. Perhaps the best exhibit was the bat cave, which was a walk through enclosure where the bats flew past our ears.

We all met up on schedule for the hedgehog session. The keepers brought out a hedgehog from their hospital, which cares for injured hedgehogs phoned in by the general public. The hedgehog was young, shy and wrapped in blankets, but that didn’t stop everyone crowding around to try and take their photos or engorge themselves in its cuteness.

Once we had seen all we wanted to see, Matt, Annalise, Jacqueline and I decided it was time for some food. Not wanting to eat in the park cafe, we walked out to the only pub in town, a large, rustic venue with food that would be considered gourmet for a pub. The food took ages to arrive, and we missed our first trains because of it. I had a Sunday roast, which was meatier than that which I am used to in college, but the Yorkshire pudding wasn’t quite as good. Annalise had a vegetarian version of the dish, while the other two had a baked eggplant. We finished off with a bit of pie or chocolate brownie.

Jacqueline and I took the train in the opposite direction to the other two. They headed back to Cambridge, while we headed on towards London. The problem was that the ticket machine at Shepreth was not working, and so we couldn’t buy our tickets. We made every possible attempt to find a conductor but we couldn’t. I nervously checked the National Rail rules, and so long as we had made every reasonable attempt to pay, we were okay, but we still got off the train at Finsbury Park (where there are no ticket barriers) to avoid the hassle of dealing with the lack of a ticket at King’s Cross.

As we had got off a station early, we had to ride a longer distance into central London. Our first destination was the Mall; the road that runs between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. Today was the London-Surrey Classic cycle race, a kind of epilogue race to the Tour de France that runs from London, out to the hills around Surrey and back into town. There was also a mass participation ride over a similar course that was finishing on the same day in the same place. I had tried to enter, but had been unsuccessful in the ballot.

We arrived to find a mess of road closures around the Mall. The cyclists were finishing in Green Park, so that complex had been closed off. The sidewalk at the finish line was closed off back to Pall Mall, so we had to retrace our steps and loop around. When we managed to find the road again, we were 400m from the finish line, but I insisted we could get a better place on the other side. We walked up the road looking for a crossing point, but had to go under Admiralty Arch, around Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall to Horse Guard’s Parade, nearly a mile from the actual finish. The cross-over was managed by some marshalls, who took seemingly an age to get us all across, as they were waiting for marshalls up the road to change the sportive cyclists from one side of the road to the other, but it never seemed to happen.

When we eventually did cross, we walked through Horse Guard’s Parade and back up to the Mall through St James’s Park, but not after navigating the team bus park and walking back across half of the park. Finally, we found a spot on the barriers about 100m from the finish line. I had my phone out for most of the ordeal streaming the race live on Eurosport, so I could see exactly where the race was. The last few of the sportive riders were still coming though as the race itself had 10 km to go, eagerly encouraged on by teh MC. Having just been at the Tour de France, I had grown accustomed to an elaborate race caravan but it never materialised. The race itself all came together for a sprint on the Mall, which was won by Norwegian Alexander Kristoff. They came through at a breakneck speed, finishing just in front of Buckingham Palace.

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We didn’t stay around for the presentation ceremony, but instead rode on towards South Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall. It was time for another BBC Prom. Unlike our previous trip to the Proms, we didn’t have weekend passes, but I did discover with exactly a minute to spare, that a limited number of day promming tickets were released online at 9 am, and we had promptly booked a ticket each.

Like the proms on the opening weekend, this one too was deeply political. There were even people handing out EU flags to people in the queue in a manner befitting the Last Night. That was because the main piece of the concert was to be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The final movement, the Ode to Joy has been adopted as the European Union’s anthem, and so it was clear what the organisers were thinking for their first Proms post-Brexit.

The first work was a commissioned piece called “A European Requiem”, just in case the subtlety was lost on anyone. But the main focus was on the symphony after the interval. They were both expertly conducted by Xian Zhang, a Chinese female conductor making an impression in the UK and US. The pieces were performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. There was a rapturous applause to the end of the Ode, which echoed so beautifully throughout the hall.

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Finally, we went out to a late dinner post-concert, heading out to a Turkish restaurant in Bayswater, north of Hyde Park, for a bit of spicy barbecue grill. Following dinner, we rode out to King’s Cross for another late train back to Cambridge.

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