We had all returned from Orientation on Tuesday afternoon. Everyone was completely exhausted, nobody more so than Emma and myself, the co-directors. For five days straight, we had been getting up at or before 7 am and going to bed at or past 2 am, and had to be attentive and working for much of the intervening hours. It had taken a deep emotional, mental and physical toll. We both slept for hours and hours on Wednesday. For each of us, most of the day was spent in bed asleep.
That evening, however, a number of the new Gates scholars at Darwin were planning on heading to DarBar. I decided to go along and join them. When I walked in, I found Margaret sitting on her own, so I went and chatted with her for much of the night. Numerous other people came in and out, and it was a relatively stress-free social engagement, compared to other activities in the previous week
Even on Thursday, I struggled to find the energy to do anything at all through much of the morning. In the end, I managed to do some brief accounting of the monies that people had spent during Orientation and were looking to get reimbursed.
As the evening approached, it became time to suit up. There was one final Orientation activity to go. The Trust had organised a welcome dinner for all of the new students, the Orientation committee, the Gates Council, members from the Trust and several of the Trustees. I headed over to Trinity Hall, for what would be my first formal dinner in months. Walking into the MCR, I was greeted by Celine, the Alumni Officer at the Trust, who had put together the event. There were already several new scholars there, but Celine instead introduced me to Stephen Toope, the new, incoming Vice Chancellor. Previously the Vice Chancellor of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, he and his wife had just moved to Cambridge to take up the new post. The Gates Welcome dinner was to be one of his first engagements in the new post.
Celine and I chatted to Stephen for most of the pre-dinner drinks, joined briefly by Barry Everett, the Provost of the Gates Trust. The gong then rang, signifying for us all to move into the main hall. At regular formals, academics sit at the high table, and students sit among their friends in the main body of the hall. But this time, the seating arrangements were pre-assigned so that the Trustees, Trust staff and returning scholars could sit among and between the new students. As an Orientation co-director, I was sat at the very end of the high table. Barry and Stephen sat in the middle, and Emma was on the end. There were a few new scholars who had been randomly selected to join with us at the high table.
Before the dinner, Barry and Stephen gave speeches to the new scholars. Barry usually attends the Induction Day, but this year he was unavailable. Hence, the speech was his first opportunity to speak to the new scholars. Then it was time for the dinner, and with it the usual dinner chat. As I was on the end of the high table, next to the exit, people who were coming in and out of the bathroom would wave as they went by.
As the dinner came towards an end, my attention shifted towards the speech that I was due to give as a co-director. I jotted down a few notes on a piece of paper, including the names of everybody that needed to be thanked. When the time came, Rebecca stood up and gave a short speech of her own, and then passed over to Emma and I. Emma spoke first; her speech was a little more scripted than mine. I spoke after, touching on a few of the privileges of being in the Gates community, reflecting a little on the Orientation trip, and thanking a whole host of people. The last of my duties now complete, I went and sat down.
People slowly filed out of the hall. I left slowly, stopping for a number of chats with various people, and going around to people and thanking them each individually. It seemed that people were heading out to a club afterwards, so I followed along. People seemed to be enjoying themselves, some more than others. I hung around for a while, before heading home for more much-needed sleep.
Saturday morning began late, I slept in a little. When I realised what the time was, I rushed to get ready and raced out of the door, pedalling my bike towards the train station. I had signed up to play a Real Tennis match in Newmarket as part of one of several inter-club matches hosted by the Cambridge club. Trains to Newmarket only go once every hour, and I arrived at the station just as the train was departing. There wasn’t any opportunity to buy a ticket or make it onto the platform. So instead, I decided to ride out to Newmarket. I wagered that I had enough time to do so, as the Suffolk town was only an hour or so ride away.
Even though I was poorly dressed for the ride, I made it to Newmarket with time to spare. I arrived in Newmarket just as the local professional was arriving. I made my way inside to get changed. I would be playing in the first of several rubbers for Cambridge in the match. My opponent from Newmarket was an older guy named Jamie. It was a very close match. I pulled away for the first few games, but we were neck and neck for the rest of it. A few unlucky points, and I ended up losing 9-10. The match was marked by the Newmarket professional, who sat in the Dedans calling out the score with the drama normally associated with darts callers.
I would have stayed and watched the other games, but I had to race off to catch a train. The first train took me back to Cambridge, where I met Jacqueline on the platform. We caught a train down to London King’s Cross, both with our bikes. We rode from the train station to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. A while back, Jacqueline had booked us tickets to a performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a modern ballet based on the famous book by Lewis Carroll. We had standing tickets, which at the Royal Opera House meant we were at the very back of the stalls, underneath the circles.
As the plot to the Alice in Wonderland is rather chaotic and often nonsensical, it adapted well to the ballet form. The costuming and staging were both elaborate, and the plot stuck very closely to the original book, even if the visual aesthetic was inspired by the Disney films. It was performed in three acts. At the beginning of the third, Jacqueline’s friend Kevin arrived, having been auditioning violin in the morning. Overall, it was a fun and enlightening production, all of the elements seemed to come together really well.
We finished one of our briefest trips to London by heading out and getting some food in the West End, picking up some supplies for the following day from a shop near Leicester Square, then getting our bikes and heading to the train back to Cambridge.
Finally, the week ended on Sunday by cramming as many tables and chairs as we could into our living room. Joanna, Danny, Lewis, Emma, Jacqueline and I crammed in for a session of Dungeons and Dragons. Starting a game was something that had been talked about for quite some time, but had been put off owing to my first year report and Orientation. Now that both were clear, we had time to play. Josh, a friend from home, scanned and sent a whole load of maps I had printed and played the previous year. We spent the afternoon setting up our characters and playing through the first scene. It was now the third group I had played this particular map with, and each of them approached it in a different way. I had collected a selection of figures and paints, and a few of the group started painting them as we approached the end of the first session.