Saturday, 19 February 2011

Favourite Things

One of my favourite things in life, nevermind life in England, is getting things in the mail/post. Over here, it's a much more exciting prospect, as my friends and I tend to check our pigeon holes in the mail room as a ritual after most meals. As I'm sure you can guess, most of the time they are empty. Or full of some flyer/ad/uninteresting spam.

However! On Thursday after lunch I went to the mail room with Julia, as usual, and lo and behold, I had a slip in my pigeon hole, which meant I had something too big to fit in my pigeon hole. I dutifully went into the Porter's Lodge to collect whatever it was, in some confusion and anticipation, as I wasn't expecting anything from home. So imagine my surprise and delight when I found this box:

A package from Greece! Aunt Laurie and Uncle Chris had sent me a birthday present! I was on my way to Sainsbury's with Julia for some quick shopping, and actually managed to restrain myself until I got back to my room so I could get a picture of how nicely it was wrapped. It looks so pretty and vintage :)

Anyway, once it was safely photographed, I discovered the contents. Some lovely purple shoes and CHOCOLATE. (As an aside, I usually hate capital letters. It looks like yelling to me. But, I can't express my excitement any other way through this medium. Thus..)

Look how gorgeous those are... I am embarrassed to admit there are zero left. Yes, it took me less than two days. But look at them, they're beautiful! And were obviously delicious.

Thanks Aunt Laurie and Uncle Chris!

In other news, today is going to be an exciting day of rowing. We're racing Pembroke Regatta, which is a side-by-side knockout race over 1.1k down the straight (ish) part of the river. Last year, my crew won this event, and we're hoping to put in a solid performance again this year.

I suppose now is as good a time as any for a rowing ramble. Cambridge rowing is kind of a different animal from how I assume things happen in the states/elsewhere. Basically, the university has both men's and women's crews (CUBC - Cambridge University Boat Club, they produce 'the blue boat' who race against Oxford, as well as 'Goldie,' the reserve crew, CUWBC - Cambridge University Women's Boat Club - they also race Oxford, and produce a blue boat, a reserve crew, and a lightweight crew, and CULRC - Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club - men's lightweights, also race Oxford). In order to 'trial' for the university, one is required to train in Ely, where the river is bigger and not full of the rest of Cambridge rowers. In order to do this, one has to catch a train to Ely at 5.15am every morning for... many months. This is why I have not trialled. I like sleeping.

Anyway, that's university rowing. Obviously, it's intense, as these rowers go on to represent the University against Oxford. What I do is commonly known as college rowing, in other words, I row for my college and not the university. There are 31 colleges in Cambridge, and each one has a boat club. These boat clubs are of vastly differing standards, and there is high turnover year-to-year, with people graduating and new people learning.

Trinity's boat club is called First and Third, so named because there used to be three separate boat clubs, First Trinity, Second Trinity, and Third Trinity. Second Trinity was for students reading Theology, and was unsurprisingly dissolved due to lack of membership. Third Trinity was for students from Eton or Westminster (probably the two poshest and best rowing schools in England), and First Trinity was for everyone else. In 1947, First and Third merged, and here we are.

The main competitions for the Cambridge colleges are: in Michaelmas Term, the Fairbairn Cup, a 5ishK headrace; in Lent Term, the Lent Bumps, and in Easter Term, the May Bumps. Now.. bumps is a very strange concept to the outsider. There is a very comprehensive guide here, on the First and Third website. Essentially, the river is too narrow to allow for side-by-side racing over any significant distance, so someone thought it would be a good idea to line up a bunch of boats with 1.5 boat lengths in between, set them off at the same time, and let them try and catch each other ('bump'). Bumps happens over four days, so if you manage to 'bump' the crew in front of you on the first day, you then start from their starting position on the second day, and so on.. The finishing order from one year is carried on to the next year, so every boat's position is the product of rather a lot of rowing over the years.

The excitement for me, as a member of the First and Third 1st Ladies VIII is that we are starting Head of the River in the Lent Bumps. In other words, we're at the very top. Last year, we started second on the river, and bumped up one to take 'the Headship.'

Here is the dramatic moment from last year! (Click for a more exciting view).

Anyway, this year we will need to row fast enough over each of the four days to prevent the crew behind us from catching us! And today's race is the last before bumps, which start in a week and a half..

So, wish us luck! Now I'm off to the boathouse :)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

It's Good to be a Historian

Something I love about England: free dinners. The Trinity College History Society (that is, everyone who's studying history, undergrad and grad) hosts a dinner every year, paid for by the History Fellows' entertainment allowances.

Strictly speaking I'm no longer a Trinity historian, but, my director of studies (abbreviated to DoS) from when I was a historian is lovely and invited me along anyway. It was especially fun because four of the original eight historians in my year are still in Cambridge, and were all able to come, so I got to catch up with all of them.

The dinner itself was amazing. We all met in my DoS's room for pre-drinks (another amazing Cambridge phenomenon - your academic advisors give you free alcohol. quite often. I don't complain). From there we moved to the Old Kitchens, and annoyingly I didn't take a photo of those august surroundings. However, I'll be there in another two weeks for another dinner so will get a snap then. The food was great (Trinity/England in general are sometimes capable of producing something edible. But they have to try quite hard).

Dessert was the famous Trinity Burnt Cream, and then (the most exciting part) a cheese course!! I love cheese.. And at these dinners they go round with the cheese plate, but then once everyone has been served they leave them on the table.. Mmm..

The problem with the good company was we sat there long after dinner was finished. And as long as there were cheese and biscuits on the table... I was eating them..

The party went on until 3.30am (apparently). Cambridge academics really know how to live it up. Three different wines at dinner, plus port, plus cheese, plus chocolate mints. It's a good life.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


So keeping this up has been harder than I anticipated, possibly because the last few weeks have been harder than I anticipated. Academically, not much has changed in my life, and the relative rhythm I had going on is still in tact.

The difference is.. rowing. For the last week or two, we have upped our training intensity significantly. We're doing some kind of training (either going out on the water for an outing, or rowing on the machines (erging), or weights) every day, and often doing two sessions a day.

Thus, I am exhausted. It is actually really fun. I would never have considered myself to be really an athlete, not even in Middle School when I played a sport every season. We had practices every day after school, but it really can't quite compare to this. I've been rowing in our boat club's 1st VIII for almost a year and a half now, but this term we have really stepped it up. Our position in Lent Bumps (this will require rather a long explanation, which will be forthcoming) is such that we really need to work hard. And so we are! Fortunately this week we're doing less early morning stuff, but I find that rowing 16k still makes me tired whether it's at 7am, 3pm, or 7pm.

I am now off to a supervision, and will be heading straight to the boathouse from there. I wish I could say at least it's sunny, but I can say 'at least it's not raining!'

Friday, 11 February 2011

Watching History

I was planning on rambling about rowing today, but I have to say something about Egypt. I don't have anything really insightful to add, but this is such an exciting thing to witness.

This afternoon I spent two hours in a class on Nationalism in North Africa. We took a break part way through, and, since we are in the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, obviously started talking about Egypt. We watched videos on youtube, speculated, and chatted.

After class I went to get a book from the library, came back to my room, tried to watch yesterday's Grey's Anatomy, and then started procrastinating on the internet.

After a little while, I checked my facebook. And saw all these statuses about Egypt? So obviously I checked Al Jazeera (English) and caught myself up on the happenings.

Not only is this an incredible moment to witness, but that it coincides with the year in which I will get a degree in Middle Eastern Studies & Arabic just blows my mind.

I don't want to get ahead of things, however, since I really don't know anything about this. All I'm saying is, I feel so lucky to be able to witness this. I have a strange sense of the significance of this moment. I'm laying on my couch watching the BBC live coverage, and I know that I will remember this for the rest of my life. It's not everyday you experience something, a moment's significance that you already know is significant.

I'm not going to spout something about idealism and the promise of the future, because I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm excited to watch. Even more excited to listen to the news in Arabic, because I can understand it!

مبروك إلى الشعب المصري

Cambridge Eats

(oops, I meant to post this yesterday and just..didn't, it would seem)

The last few days have been exhausting. Yesterday, my alarm started with a 5. And the day before that with a 6. Today is started with an 8, so I am a lot happier and much more alive!

Anyway, nothing much has been happening other than rowing (a lot), working, eating, sleeping (not a lot), and more rowing. But! I did manage to meet up with one of my friends last night for some of Cambridge's finest dinner offerings, Dojo's, an Asian-fusion kind of noodle bar that is delicious, and cheap! The only reason I feel compelled to write about it is because I've now eaten there twice in the space of a week, and I brought my camera with me.

Last Friday, my crew (as in the, the other 7 girls who are in my boat + our cox) went there for 'crew pasta' before racing on Saturday. We were entered into Head of the Nene, in Peterborough (about 90mins from Cambridge), a 5k race down an essentially straight and very boring course, so decided to go out together to carb load. We found out that afternoon that the race was cancelled because of high winds, which was a shame, but racing in those conditions would have been very miserable.

In any case, we went to Dojo's anyway, and I brought the camera!

As usual, this looks a lot less appetising than it actually was. Pad thai, always delicious. And I got the same thing with Naomi last night, but we brought it back to my room and chatted for a while. Seeing old friends is really nice, especially after a long day.

Also on Friday, I had a culinary success. I made scrambled eggs. In the microwave.

Look how yellow and fluffy!! I was very proud.

Now settled down with some dark chocolate and green tea. Yum.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Doctor Who

(edit) Apparently not everyone has heard of Doctor Who. I found this out when I tried explaining this to my mother. Whoops. Anyway, it's a British SciFi TV show that's been running since 1963 and is hugely popular with a massive cult following. That is all.

Doctor Who is one of several English things I still really don't understand, even after three and a half years over here. I watched it for the first time in my first term with some British friends, and was just very confused. Too many weird creatures and things, and I had no understanding of the background.

Anyway, last night college had a bop (just a party..) with the theme 'Time Machine,' and a bunch of my friends decided the go for a Doctor Who theme, since the Doctor has a time travelling police box, know as a TARDIS. This also means that it gave them something to build for the party.

So, for the past week, this has taken over our staircase:

On the move..

And fully assembled!

Following this thing around Trinity was very surreal.. To get it to the party we had to cross a road - I can only imagine what the drivers were thinking..

Another reason for the Doctor Who theme was that the Doctor can't actually die, he just 'regenerates,' which is why the show has been going on for so long and there have been so many different doctors. Thus, the boys all dressed up as different incarnations. Additionally, the doctor goes through a number of 'companions,' usually women, unsurprisingly, and so I dressed up as one of these. I was actually very excited about my costume, I went round to a charity shop to pick up necessary pieces, and even attempted to (temporarily) dye my hair red. Didn't work, but it was fun to try! Somehow I failed to get any photos of me, but will attempt to find some from my friends. On the upside, people did recognise who I was trying to be, so it was a successful attempt!

Off to the boathouse now..

Friday, 4 February 2011

Retrospective: Burns Night

Since my blog is still less than a week old, it goes without saying that I really have no idea what I'm doing. I was sorting through pictures on my computer, and realised (unsurprisingly) that I have had rather a lot of blog-worthy experiences. If we define 'blog-worthy' as I had fun and took some pictures. Of course, 'blog-worthy' could also be defined in terms of my audience. What's interesting to read about? I really have no idea. In high school, I remember being taught that memoir writing is really less about self reflection, and more about writing something interesting. I'm not sure how this relates to blogging. Hopefully the more I write the more clearly defined my 'purpose' will be.

Anyway, I've decided to post about something that happened two weeks ago. If I'm violating some kind of blog-world maxim, well... whoops.

So, the 25th of January is Burns Night, a celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. I'm not sure how I've managed not to notice this yet, but this year my attention was drawn by the Haggis on offer in Sainsbury's, displayed underneath a giant Scottish flag.

Trinity has formal hall for BAs (grads/4th years, i.e. Me) every Friday, which is a nicer formal dinner, served after regular hall. Gowns, wait staff, wine, port etc. And chocolate mints! (An essential) Two weeks ago BA Formal was a special 'Burns Night' formal (despite not being on the actual day). I didn't manage to get a ticket, but at the last minute one of my friends couldn't make it, so I got to go after all.

I met my friends in the bar, including my friend Aaron, who is very Scottish. The bar was crammed, so we lurked on the fringe, but soon realised that the guy standing near us wearing a kilt was not just another random Scot, but was carrying bagpipes.. I nearly collapsed (I love bagpipes!) and it soon transpired that we were meant to follow him around Great Court in procession while he played. Surreal.

Aaron and his kilt swishing through Great Court. Bagpiper can be seen in the distance.

Bagpiper approaching hall

And a slightly better view

We went into hall and sat down, and I started looking forward to the food. First up... haggis! I had mixed feelings about this, knowing what was in it (I've watched too much travel channel) but Aaron had spent the last three days talking about how good it was, so I was actually kind of excited to get the chance to try it. The catering department decided it was rather too risky to serve haggis as the main course, so we got it for the starter. Still, a hearty portion..

Rather a miserable photo..

The main course was a little more standard, medallions of beef or something, and dessert was also something vaguely Scottish, but I have no idea what it was. I think it was meant to have whiskey.. Anyway, it was tasty!

After the meal the BA Society (like the student union, just for grads) began the Burns Night program, starting with Address to a Haggis. This is definitely not in English, and we spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out why we couldn't understand what was being said. I attributed it to the thick Scottish accent the girl reading it put on.. Following the address was a 'toast to the lassies,' and then the response 'a toast to the laddies.'

Thus, at the end of the night, I can now said I have toasted to haggis, lassies, and laddies.. All in all, a rather awesome evening.

Standard shot of hall, and good old Henry VIII

Thursday, 3 February 2011


While the US is getting hammered with snow, the flowers and sun are out in Cambridge! This really is just a fluke; I'm sure we'll get our share of cold and nasty any day now. But, for the time being, it's beautiful!

Took this on my way to class this afternoon

And on the way home


I realise that, conventionally, this is very bad photo. For some reason though, I kind of like it.

To sum it up, it is gorgeous!! No complaints here about British weather! I suppose these photos provide an interesting contrast with the picture I've used as header for the blog. I have spent rather a lot of time today fiddling with the settings and things I was trying to be seasonal, but just goes to show how variable England can be I guess..

Nothing else much exciting to report. Lots of rowing, pretty standard. I will probably end up writing a lot about rowing actually - I'm honestly surprised I've lasted this long without doing so. We did our first weights session today - true dedication!

Tomorrow morning I'm coaching one of the lower women's crews. And when I say 'coaching' I actually mean coxing, because we don't have enough coxes. Now, coxes are supposed to be little. I am very much not. It should be an interesting adventure, beginning with the non-trivial issue of fitting myself into the seat. I will bring along a camera, as this will be ridiculous and probably something that should never be repeated!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Yes, that's right. Today for lunch in hall, we had Swordfish.

It seemed rather strange to me as well when I checked the menu and found 'Swordfish Steak with Chilli and Ginger,' and yet when I stumbled into breakfast this morning all my friends were talking about it. (Give us a break, we're students! We like food..) Perhaps a new age has dawned for the Trinity kitchens?
...let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I did take a photo of this feast (which, to be honest, wasn't actually that great. This is England after all), but the photo is decidedly unappetising. So, here's the trifle that was for dessert instead!


Speaking of food.. my food photography needs rather a lot of work. Last night as I attempted to make sense out of the idea of 'nationalist violence and engendered politics of masculinity in the Middle East' (I still don't know what that means) I kept myself going by a wide variety of snacks, most of which took photos of. None are really noteworthy.

I did, however, attempt something which, I'm proud to say I tried. I failed, but did try. This was attempting to make myself a single cookie in the microwave. Something I don't like about England, is I don't have an oven. Finding one requires trekking. Which I can't do when it's late and I'm essaying. Hence, desperate times.

I googled the recipe, and assembled ingredients. Except I replaced egg whites with vegetable oil. Didn't work. Lesson learned. Tasted good though!

I think that rambling about my food mis-adventures is probably not very interesting. I will try and vary my scope!

Ha, I spoke too soon. I was just attempting to make Mac & Cheese in the microwave. (again, grr microwave) and after lots of waiting and patient stirring (and only one overflow) I took my pasta out of the microwave and dropped the bowl. Yes, hot water on me, pasta on floor, bowl in pieces. Sad times.

But! I will not end on such a downer. Round 2 of Mac & Cheese: Success!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Excitement of my Life

Well, very early on in my blogging life, I find myself with nothing really interesting to report. At least, nothing quite to the same degree as an Ian McKellen spotting.

Tonight the menu is (most likely) staying up rather late to write an essay.

I feel like this may not have been the most opportune point in term to develop such an excellent procrastination tool. I'm also afraid I'm putting forth rather a bad impression of myself. I do actually manage to get things done most of the time, without resorting to drinking caffeinated tea and coke zero to get me through an essay.

The fact of the matter is, I'm sleepy. I've been up early yesterday and today for rowing, and have just done a 2x5k erg.

To top it all off, my essay is supposed to be something about nationalist violence, engendered conflict, gender embodiment, and various other concepts that I don't actually understand. Anthropology really isn't for me.

The articles I'm reading are actually rather interesting, but I don't understand!! Woe is me.

I suppose this is probably more like the typical college student rant. I will attempt to bring this back to something a little more sophisticated and along the lines of what I outlined in my first post.

So, post-erg this evening Great Court was misty. This is one of the things I love about Cambridge. The weather is normal the whole day, and then suddenly, there is mist shrouding everything. It's an amazing surprise. Unfortunately, it was dark, and I did try and take a photo, but it didn't quite work.

Not to worry, however, because this has happened before! In fact, I think I took this picture on the way to the boathouse one early morning last term. Getting up early for rowing is good for pictures, I must say. (Of shoddy quality I'm afraid. Nice camera doesn't go in bag with rowing kit).

And I will leave you with a study in contrast.

What I would like to be doing right now:

What I'm actually doing (or attempting):