My first task on Monday morning was to head to the GSCR to meet with Olly, the outgoing Gates Council treasurer. I had recently been elected as the new Gates Council treasurer for 2018, and he needed to give me a crash course in the processes behind making payments and managing the Gates Council budget. I was now armed and ready to manage the council’s finances going forward.
After the meeting, I went straight to Real Tennis training, and afterwards, rode to the train station. I had a conference to attend in Abingdon near Oxford, and I would be away for the next few days. However, on my way to and from Abingdon, I had arrange for a pair of Real Tennis matches in the Thames Valley. The first was on Monday afternoon at Holyport, just south of Maidenhead. I needed to make some relatively quick train connections to get there in time, and I also needed to bring my bike with me to commute to the conference. I took the train down from Cambridge to King’s Cross, and cycled quickly across London,. However, I needed to make some detours and navigate Oxford Street, now busy with Christmas shoppers. I ended up missing the fastest connection from Paddington, but made it on a train to Maidenhead.
From Maidenhead station, I needed to cycle a few miles south down a somewhat busy road. As it was now getting into the middle of the winter, the sun had set, and it was getting quite dark. I raced through to the tennis club, only arriving a few minutes late. I got changed and went out on court with Sue, a member at Holyport. The club used to be part of larger estate, and now sits somewhat isolated in a small English town. The exterior of the court is marvellous, and the interior coloured a deep blue. The surface of the court was harder than Cambridge, but the bounce of the balls was quite slow making it much easier to hit cleanly over the net. However, the court was in many different colours, making it somewhat harder to see the ball. I ended up winning my match in two sets. After the match, I stayed to watch a bit of “stické tennis”, regular tennis played on a real tennis court. I then rode back to Maidenhead, and caught a train on to Oxford. It was my second trip to Oxford in the month. I checked in to the hostel, and went out in search of food, eventually deciding on a gourmet burger and fries from a restaurant decorated as through it were a rich nerdy kid’s bedroom from the 1990s.
Tuesday was the first day of the two day conference. I awoke in Oxford, and went out in search of some breakfast from a supermarket. Given I had the time, I ate my food in the cold, in front of the Oxford Castle Mound. Eventually I went to the train station and caught a train one stop down the line to Radley. From Radley, I rode for a quarter of an hour to the conference venue in Abingdon, the next town over. It was at The Coesner’s House, an old manor house that was now part conference venue, part accommodation. The conference ran over two days, and had a single stream of talks about dark energy and dark matter. The first day was mostly dark energy talks, and the second was mostly dark matter talks. Both were tinged with the usual theme of “we haven’t found anything yet, so let’s look harder”. There were some interesting talks that seeked to reshape the perspective a little, and still a lot of buzz about the implications of the relatively recent neutron star merger discovery. Lunch and the conference dinner were at the venue in the dining hall, a selection of roasts in a buffet style. I sat next to some PhD students from London, who were very keen to complain about England’s performance in the Cricket.
After the end of the first day, I took the train back Oxford and the hostel, before heading back out again to do the same again on the Wednesday. It was only a half day, and contained mostly dark matter talks, so it was fairly engaging. After lunch, the conference was over, I headed into Abingdon to explore around the town a little while. Eventually, I had seen most of the shops, and rode back to Radley, but this time instead of going to the railway station, I instead went on to the college. Radley College is a prestigious boarding school, and has the world’s second newest Real Tennis court, staffed by the guy who was World Champion in 1981, 1983 and 1985. I was early, so he let me in to warm up. I went to get changed in the changing room, and walked past a number of the kids at the school who looked like they were preparing for a pyjama party.
The most significant characteristic of the Radley court was that it was bright pale blue. My opponent Julia arrived, and we got straight into our game. I won in two sets again, and for the last ten minutes, the pro came down to score the finish of our game, whilst sewing up a tennis ball. After the match, I rode over to the train station, but missed the last direct train, so had to go back up to Oxford and then down into London. I rode across the city to King’s Cross and caught another train up to Cambridge.
On Thursday, I did my Gates sign-in after a bit of tennis practice with Krittika, but otherwise spent the day working on getting my code to operate effectively with my model. It took a bit of work trying to work out how it was written, but it now outputs something decent, which is always nice. When I went home, I played some Dungeons and Dragons with Joanna, Jacqueline, Lewis and Danny, of which I got somewhat distracted after snow began to fall outside.
On Friday, after work, I went with Jacqueline for yet another train journey in to London. We were again going to a concert, but this time, we were headed for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Jacqueline had arranged tickets to the Royal Ballet Company’s performance of Sylvia. We made it with enough time to get to our standing positions at the back of the stalls. Like many ballets, there wasn’t much in the way of a substantive story, but the music and the dancing did keep my attention throughout. After, we headed out to King’s Cross, where we met Kevin and went out for some fried chicken. Jacqueline stayed down in London, whereas I headed back up to Cambridge for the night.
On Saturday, I competed in the 70+ handicap Real Tennis tournament. There were 11 entrants, though one dropped out before the start. The preliminary round was played the night before while I was at the ballet. Krittika played in that round and won, meaning she progressed to the main group stage. This is where I started in the tournament, and was drawn against Krittika, Gillian and Charles. Over the course of the morning, we played in a round-robin competition. I won all three matches, including a very tight match against Gillian, meaning I progressed on to the semi finals. There, I would be playing against Matthew, but a combination of hunger and poor play meant that I lost and didn’t progress on to the final.
After the tournament, I went to get change, and headed down to London yet again, where I met up with Jacqueline and Kevin, who were out Christmas shopping. I had a few bits and pieces to get myself, so we walked around through a number of stores in the west end.
Finally, we ended up at the Royal Opera House again, this time for an Opera. tonight, it was the double billing of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. We were seated high in the side gallery, were we had a somewhat obstructed view of the stage. The first opera was a tragedy, with the common tropes and tribulations of an operatic love story. The second was also somewhat tragic, set around a theatre troupe putting on a performance. Once it was over, we headed for home, though a cancelled train meant we were crammed onto a very busy last train of the night to Cambridge.
My final Sunday in Cambridge for the year was a relatively quiet one, packing up my bags ready for my trip back to Australia. It was accented with a Sunday Roast at college, and an evening Council meeting to finish off the week. I went to bed in the UK for the last time that evening, awaiting a long travel day ahead.