Posted on October 5, 2005.
Wow. Cambridge is, without a doubt, brilliant. I was phenomenally nervous coming up - for several reasons. Firstly, I haven't really, properly, had to make new friends for seven years; people I haven't known for that long have been friends of friends that I have known that long and were subsequently introduced to me - they were forced to give me the benefit of the doubt until they actually knew me. Here, I knew there was going to be no such thing. Secondly, I was going to be looking after myself and be away from home for the first time, which was going to be a first - I'm cooking at Cambridge too, so that was an extra layer of complexity.
And yet, as soon as I walked in the door, almost, it all went away. I ran into ‘mum' almost immediately, who was extremely welcoming and made time to talk to me despite the fact that she was heavily preoccupied as the Women's Welfare Officer and thus could be considered as ‘mum' for everyone in college. After collecting lots of (allegedly) important envelopes and getting Dad to write a shockingly large cheque or two, I received my room key and was shown to my room. It's a fairly large room, made smaller by the presence of, for reasons that escaped me, two desks. I did later find out why from someone else on my staircase, but it's a dull story and doesn't bear repeating. It involves lots of work.
Then the moving in began. We had a small trolley with us, and it was just as well; the trolleys that we were supposed to be using had been stolen earlier that morning by another college to help people move it. Not being involved in the sharing of six trolleys between around 120 families was a blessing and eased the strain. Dad diligently took all the electrical products to the maintenance department so that they could get the all-clear and reassure both them and me that I wasn't going to burn the staircase down (and with the fire alarm in the staircase flashing ‘Serious error', it was definitely required). It took us a few hours to move in, but when we finished I was shocked at how easily everything tidied away. Mum almost had a coronary when she saw the state of the hire fridge, but she cleaned it to her satisfaction and is now happy with it.
Mum and dad left shortly after that, leaving me to kill time by filling in forms; I got a couple delivered to the correct places, but one woman who appears to want more forms than she can know what to do with proved elusive and so they remained in my possession. I then proceeded down to the “JCR Welcome” which consisted of 120 students milling around in a small space, introducing themselves and having the same conversation again and again - What subject they were doing, where they were from, and how their unpacking was going - and then forgetting the name of whoever they just talked to. I certainly was guilty of the latter and while I probably talked to about eighty people or so in the two and a half hours, I could maybe remember five names. Still, everyone else was the same. I even met a second year who is allergic to pepper who cooks for herself all the time, and it was reassuring to see that there are people who cook their way through Cambridge and seem very happy with it. She revealed all the benefits - most notably, it's cheaper and healthier, given that you know exactly what you are cooking. Still, it was hard not to feel disappointed when everyone else went to hall to eat and I went back to my room to cook. But I had no choice - I had to be ready for the “Family Tour of Town”. This was as much a tour of town as the Chemistry Dinner was a meal, but was great fun. We went to three or four pubs down the hill and got told that we couldn't go into Wetherspoons by the bouncers there. Tom (a CompSci student that I've talked to on MSN) and I somehow managed to get whisked up into a group of hard drinking second years, which wasn't quite to our taste so we wandered forlornly until we spotted a group of Churchillian Freshers (who's names I amazingly remembered from the crush that was the JCR welcome) led by two lovely third year linguists and so we latched onto them for the majority of the night and were glad for it.
We ran into TPJ in one of the Pubs who's college was doing a similar thing, and TPJ briefly introduced Tom, Lauren (a linguist fresher) and Gen (a NatSci fresher) to the concept of Einstein and left me to explain it. They certainly seemed to appreciate it but it certainly wasn't something that I was necessarily expecting to do once I had moved Einstein from the car to my room with no questions about him.
Walking - staggering in at least once case - back to college was great fun and we walked past the mathematics department which was stunning. Claire then told us the ‘in-jokes' that the mathematics department has in its building - just one example is that the curve of one roof is the profile standard distribution curve. Another is that the lifts panels are laid out like a calculator and to get to the basement you have to push ‘-‘ and then ‘1'. I'm unsure if the plus button works in the same way, but where else other than Cambridge would you get both that, and a group of people that appreciate it?
After a quick game of table football (7-6 in my favour against Tom) and a sit in the bar, I went to bed. I got up a touch late for me the next day and collected extra food that was ferried up by mum and dad. They had also brought with them trays at the request of the head maintenance manager, who doesn't want fridges and freezers leaking all over his maple floor (donated by Canada in memory of Churchill) in the event of a power cut. However, there was an unforeseen problem - when placed in the trays, the door to either wouldn't open. By chance, I was looking in the overhead locker-cupboard in my room and found four inch-thick pieces of wood. Unfortunately, the fridge and freezer have four legs each. As a result, I needed a saw. I went to the porter's lodge and asked for one, and their immediate response was “don't do it, son!” before directing me to the maintenance room to get one. I went in and the head of maintenance wasn't there but a supremely helpful older man was. He informed me that while he didn't have any wood saws, he had an old hacksaw that I could borrow - if I promised not to tell his boss and to bring it straight back. Of course, I agreed, and I did. I was, however, supremely impressed with the ability to go out at 9AM on a Sunday morning and come back in ten minutes with a saw. Four cuts later, we were sorted - we thought. The legs on the freezer weren't quite as long as the legs on the fridge, so while these blocks of wood solved the problem we had with the fridge, the freezer still wouldn't quite open. Back to the helpful old maintenance guy, who offered me four half-inch pieces of wood - exactly what I was looking for. I thanked him profusely and went on my way; I hope that helpful members of staff solve all of the issues that I encounter so easily!
I then went to the JCR introduction where the Junior Common Room Committee introduced themselves to us and told us what they all did and how, essentially, we could talk to them at any time and that no matter what our problem was, there was someone who had been elected to help us. On exiting, we got handed another packet of stuff (which I still haven't opened) which isn't as important as what we got on the first day; it describes itself as a Cambridge Survival Pack with guides and things in it.
After lunch, it was then time for the icebreaker; we were divided into groups of ten or so and then we all had to play teambuilding games - throwing a ball to each other, at first saying our name, and then changed to saying the name of the person that we're throwing it to. We got to know each other's names pretty well, but then we were split up into pairs and allowed to talk for five minutes, at which point we had to introduce our partner to the rest of the group; while mildly entertaining, no-one was particularly good at it! We then got introduced to the main task of the icebreaker; we were handed a bag of material - balloons, pens, paper, sellotape, elastic bands and so on and were told to make a boat out of it. We quickly decided to go with a very traditional looking boat made out of the materials supplied - including the plastic, airtight and waterproof bag. We filled the bottom of the bag with balloons filled to different sizes to get the elongated almond shape that most boats are and then decorated like we had never decorated before. It was a sensational creation - it had two masts, a wheel that really turned, a pirate and a crow's nest. It even had a quarterdeck and a barrier around the edge to stop our pirate falling overboard. Early on, however, we realised that with such a tall creation, it would fall over sideways quite easily if there was a gust of wind; inspiration struck and a Yorkie was purchased from a vending machine. This was attached to the underside of the boat to stop it tipping over and was, stunningly, eaten by Carl and then Katherine even though it didn't appear to have remained airtight. Nonetheless, it was a thoroughly entertaining session.
The evening was devoted to our entertainment - firstly a pub quiz and then a Casino night. The latter was particularly entertaining; the poker table was not kind to me at the start, losing £370, but I worked my fortune back from £130 to £1300 and lost it all on three spins of the roulette wheel. Only in Cambridge though would you hear the Croupier say “Fibonacci numbers give triple payout this round only!” or “If it's a prime number, everyone wins!” - and everyone appreciating it.
The Monday was our Matriculation Dinner, after meeting the Master who, despite any sci-fi related connotations given to the name seemed like a really nice chap. Of course, this was the first time that I had eaten in hall, and they didn't kill me! I had a savoury salad to begin, then chicken, courgettes and carrots and then a fruit salad for desert. I was even opposite to a fresher called Ginnie who it turns out is intolerant to milk, and so she had the same as me which was nice - I wasn't the only one different compared to everyone else! I was sat next to my DoS for the dinner, and he is a sensationally nice guy (at least in a social setting - for all we know, he could be a total slave-driver when it comes to work). The speech given by the Master was thoroughly entertaining, and the toast was appreciated by everyone who hadn't heard it before (myself included): “To the Queen” “The Queen!” “To Winston!” “Winston!”
It was then time for our first taste of Pav - our free entertainment on every Friday night. It was great fun - there are two rooms, one for cheese and one smaller one for ‘better' music. Cheese was thoroughly appreciated by me, but after a while I ended up in the second room where I ended up doing my (much appreciated) Russian Squat Dancing. Finishing at midnight, I went to bed, though in the morning it transpired that I had missed a staircase party, annoyingly. Tuesday was a day full of administration on my part, at least. The Freshers' Fair was on, and all Chemists had to go to the Chemistry department to purchase a calculator, a lab coat and collect some information that we'll need before our first practical. Greggor, Felix (both physical NatScis) and myself headed down to the Chemistry department before moving onto the Freshers' fair; the queue was an hour and a half long, but just by chance Sophie (who's surname I can't remember but has a twin) turned up directly behind us in the queue, so we were able to kill time without too much effort, especially with the inflatable bouncers outside who's job it was to entertain us (which they did). Inside was as packed as the queue but I signed up for a few things - notably the assassin's guild, the dentist, and a psychology experiment that will pay the princely sum of six pounds if I decide to go through with it. That night was a big event at Fitz - Schnipple's college. It wasn't that great, to be honest, and I was tired, so I came back to college early and played some pool.
The next day - the Wednesday for those keeping track - was hectic. I had to go up to the Cavendish labs for information about the physics practicals that we're going to be doing and then trek over to the other side of town to listen to an introductory lecture on Natural Sciences. I did do one useful thing though - I purchased a bike. £100 from Halfords for the bike, lights, and a D-Lock, which isn't too bad, I didn't think. Coming back to college, I cooked and then went to the bar area. I impressed people by unlocking hidden teams in Virtua Striker, and then just sat around chatting to people - which was sensationally enjoyable. Myself, another brit (an engineer), an American (linguist), a Lithuanian (linguist), an Arab (engineer) and a German (physical NatSci) sat around dicussing topics from politics to space travel to religion to Sesame Street and I loved it. I can't quite put my finger on what was so great about it but something struck me that that, somehow, is what university should be about. I hope I have many more moments like that, but the fact that I've only been here a short time and have already had one suggests that that could be quite likely.
The Thursday lectures began. ‘Fortunately' I am an even week guy for chemistry practicals, so week one means that I don't have one, meaning I call it a day at 12, which was nice. The lectures were interesting. Both were fairly administrative, but regarding maths I think that those of us that had Mrs. Fish at CRGS were spoilt; admittedly, it was the first time that she had lectured the course, but it wasn't particularly engaging. I may well switch to the B course (harder, only recommended if you have taken further maths) if it continues in the same vein for much longer. The fact that the lecture consisted of basic vectors didn't help her much, I feel. Chemistry was more interesting and benefited greatly from a good lecturer (who, interestingly, wrote one of the books on the reading list - which I have actually read). That evening was the games evening in bar. First off, we played a giant version of twister that wasn't that good until we invented the rule that when a column or row became completely free, it was removed from the game. Then it became a fantastic game. We then made the unwise decision, encouraged by Georgina, to play Dingbats. Essentially, it's snakes and ladders, but every so often, you have to answer a Rebus question. For example:
The emails that I have received from people seem to be encouraging, and everyone is enjoying whatever university that they're at. I hope that I can catch up with you all soon (at the very least, see you at Ali's at New Year), but for those in Cambridge, I'm very much up for a CRGS punt. See you all soon!