(Sorry about stupid formatting. A demon is living in wordpress and I can’t sort it out… now on to the post!)
Today I started work for Epoch PR. They made me coffee and gently nudged me to the learning-curve lions. Here are some of the immediate lessons I picked up from day one:
- London is huge. Massive. And the tube map lies like a hungry teenage boy surrounded by a box of empty Oreos. It pretends to look like this:
It actually looks like this:
…suspicious. Cruel.Confusing. A trip I thought would take me 30 minutes, max, took a little under an hour. I feel betrayed.
- Newspapers are important. Epoch has a mass of newspapers delivered to the office daily.”So you keeping up-to-date with things?” Asked a colleague today.
I have spent the last two years reading dusty crumbling books in Cambridge libraries, emerging only occasionally to blink at the sun and the earth like a mole from its hole.
“…Aquinas was really timely and appropriate in the 16th century, so yes.”
Which is why I quietly pocketed all the newspapers as the day ended. They will make great bedtime reading.
- Matching the office colour scheme is cool.
Epoch’s colours are black accented by a bright pink.
I rather like bright pink.
“Why look at that,” said Sarah Mulder, Epoch co-founder and my boss. “You match the wall.”We were sitting on the couch having an introductory meeting.
I glanced at the wall, then at myself, then back to the wall.
“And the pillow!” Sarah held up a bright pink accent pillow, glossy and silky like my shirt.
Success. .. . ?
- Heels give blisters. Two. Big toes. Hurts now.
- Coffee addiction goes hand-in-hand with work. I had ended my addiction during the five day siege that was Flu’mageden, that horrendous stretch of recent time where I found myself confined to a friend’s bed, shrouded in blankets, draped over a bowl and generally dead to the world. The flu hit me hard.
“But it broke my caffeine addiction! I don’t need the stuff anymore!” I boasted to Z friend.
“…well that’s good,” she responded cautiously.
“It’s very zen. Healthy. I’ll drink green tea! Save coffee for when I need it!”
Which of course meant, ‘save coffee for that time at the office where it is just RIGHT THERE and I’d rather enjoy drinking some, please. Then some more. And weeeee, that’s fun.’
Caffeine victory. Mercer 0.
- Fruit vendors line tube stops. These vendors are cheap. They have fruit in bowls and signs that say “One pound for all this good delicious fruity joy!” …or something similar.
These things are lifesaves when you’re rushing into work after realizing you forgot to pack lunch, which you couldn’t really bring anyways since you don’t have any food in your kitchen, except several packets of quorn sausage and dubious looking left-over baguette.So yes. Fruit vendors are good.
- Working in PR is going to be amazing. I get to write. I get multiple clients. I get to play with new ideas, new developments, new thoughts. I get to learn about things I can hardly understand, and understand things I learn.
Today Epoch introduced me to some of the accounts I will be working with. They range from cloud computing to political ideas to health initiatives.I don’t think things will get dull anytime soon.
- Books are great for the tube. Except not Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I recently finished; and in which everyone, absolutely everyone, dies/is killed/kills by the end.
On the other hand, Bridgette Jones Diary (educational reading) often uses the word ‘Fuckwittage.’
I feel this is an important English term to understand. Thus the book is justified tube reading.
- Grocery shopping is impossible with a London Job. I don’t know how people find time. Between getting to work, working, getting home from work, showering, there’s hardly enough minutes in the day to eat… let alone search out a proper, decent, good-sized, not small grocery store that sells something beyond pasta sauce and cheap wine.Fortunately, there’s a shop right next to the tube that sells pasta sauce and cheap wine.Call me Parisian.
- I’ve got a lot to learn. Nothing quite like a day of meetings to make you aware of just how ignorant you really are. Clients, issues, topics, so many things I need to know.
“It’s a steep learning curve, isn’t it?” I asked earlier.”…you match the wall.”"Success!”
How to explain the splendor of a ball? The lights, the fireworks, the delicate press of feet against grass and under silk gowns, the swirling chaos of many stages, multiple stages, the temptation towards gluttony, the piles of food glistening under the stars, the way the college itself with all its old stone buildings sits lit up like a fatted calf, gleaming in reds and purples from the lights projected throughout it… how do you explain that?
What about the way students gather on the bridge, pressing together to look out over the river that is suddenly no longer filled with water, but punts? “You could walk across it,” said a friend of mine as we crushed together for a moment, staring out at the hundreds and hundreds of people below. They had come to watch the fireworks; they had come to watch the ball.
“I feel strange being here in my suit, like this, with everyone down there,” said N, holding his glass of wine and looking at me.
“Don’t. Just wave.”
How do you explain the nine stages, the 82 acts, the 300-something performers, scattered throughout St. John’s College like little forgotten gems? Comedy shows, silent discos, magic, a rave with neon colours and smoke machines casting the entire tent into the madness of a clown’s dream. How do you detail that?
“They want to make you feel almost frustrated,” a friend told me at one point. “There is so much to do. So many things. Performers. Acts. Games. Things to watch. But you can’t do it all. And that is the point of the ball…”
We tried though, rushing from the ponies that pranced delicately on their hind legs (“You don’t realize how -rare- it is to see this!” exclaimed Z as she remained stubbornly beside the horses) to the low-slung bean bag seats surrounding shisha pipes. We visited the silent disco. We considered the bumper cars. We wandered through the court that was covered in fake snow and smiling penguins, past the one draped in rich fabric to look like the Taj Mahal, around the one representing the Victorian Era (“Look! You can get your hair done!” “…my hair is already done.”) and on and on. But we didn’t see nearly half of it.
And the food… how in the world do you explain the food and drink, the decadence so strong it makes heads reel and stomachs stretch? So many courses, so many niblets, from crepes and waffles as the sun rose to curries, pies, cupcakes, meats, cheeses, plates and plates of cheeses (“But where is the bread?” “Shhh. Just eat the cheese.”), fruits piled onto tabletops, mangos and apples and berries (“I found passion fruit!” “That is NOT meant to be a drinks mixer”), and all of it just waiting to be consumed? We wandered the entire night never really ceasing to eat. It was more of a challenge than the bumper cars, more tempting than lazer quest, to taste and sample what every tent had to offer.
The drinks were just as varied and just as available: mixed cocktails of vodka, wines, mead, beer, juice, freshly pressed berry drinks in bright pinks that tasted like melted popsicles but carried the punch of something potent, champagne, gin and tonics, whiskey, rum, tequila.
Z and I marked each other’s arms every time we had a drink. “It’s a challenge,” I stated. “To see who can last the longest.”
We both lasted the longest.
How can you capture the fireworks, the powerful explosions lurching into the sky, casting light over so many young faces and so many black-tied students? Together they stood like little soldiers, arms and elbows draped together, swaying with the music even as one firework after another exploded upwards. I caught Z’s elbow. “Wow.” I could only gasp over and over, at loss for words. “Wow.” The rolling green that is St. John’s Backs was full of viewers, all of them likewise gasping, likewise holding their breath to the timing of the music and the pulse.
“It is so much better than Trinity’s fireworks,” said M. “So much.”
These things perhaps can’t be explained, not in a way that fully captures the splendor and champagne-haze hours of ball. For even my best descriptions won’t quite capture the poignant beauty of the scene, the delicate realization that it was all amazing and simultaneously all timed, a ticking clock of splendor. The ball lasts for fourteen hours. I saw the sun go down and rise again over black-tied students. Yet as it starts, so it must end – and this is what makes it bitterly sweet, one of those things that even as you grasp at it, trying to claim each minute back, each second back, it is escaping away.
“It’s light out again,” said Z as we sat sipping tea and wine. “It’s daylight.”
“Don’t let it be daylight. That means the ball is almost over.”
“Not yet. It’s the summer solstice. We still have time.”
She was right and wrong; for we had time, time enough to eat and drink, seeing friends and playing games – but not enough. The ball ended with the St. John’s Gents standing in blazing red serenading in the morning. Breakfast was served.
“Not yet…” I wanted to say. Don’t let it be over yet, for this was my last St. John’s May Ball. It was also the marking of what ended my time as a student, as a Johnian and a Creighton-kid, as someone tied to school books and school norms.
The ball has ended. I have finished.
And while I’m not quite sure I can explain it all, the hazes and colors and love, the way the fireworks caught the silk of dresses and the students gasped together in delight, I can say one thing for sure: the journey was amazing.The ball was amazing.
…and the ponies didn’t hurt.
They call the Sunday after exams have finished ‘Suicide Sunday.’ It’s an ill-fitting name.
A better one might be: ‘The Sunday, Saturday and Friday in which all students go out in pretty dresses and silly shoes, top hats, sports jackets, body paint and joy. Where they celebrate together and drink quite a lot, prancing around on grassy bits. Where there are boat races. Where livers die.’ …but I suppose this doesn’t have the same ring.
Suicide Sunday/Weekend is full of all sorts of weird traditions, most of which I’m only beginning to understand after two years of being here.
Case in point: The weird boaty fight.
Boaties are rowers in Cambridge speak. They wear hideous jackets and wake up around 6am most days to get out on the Cam. I admire them for their discipline while being very thankful I am not one.
My friend B, however, is one.
“What did you do this morning?” I asked him yesterday as we rode together to another garden party. The sun was briefly out and B was taking advantage of it, wearing one of those half-blue blazers (a mark of reaching a high level of sport) and sunglasses.
“We fought Trinity.”
Trinity is the enemy college of St. John’s, our neighbour, our quiet enemy.
“Well, not fought. But we fought. We walked through their college bumping shoulders. Then they walked through ours bumping shoulders. Then we stood in a line and tried to catch each other. If we caught someone from the opposite team, we had to take them to breakfast.”
Welcome to Cambridge fighting: Ritualistic, traditional, and pretty darn weird.
I couldn’t ask more though, because we had arrived at Newnham College for the CUMPC Annual Garden Party. Bread, cheese, grapes and biscuits were soon layed out among balloons across tables. Flowers stuck in wine bottles added color.
“Want some Pimms?” Asked my friend, mixing together strawberries with the syrupy brown liquid that makes this weird fruity alcoholic English drink.
I had sparkling wine instead. Several glasses. It was only 11am.
After hours of mingling, I made it down to Bumps, a Cambridge boat race where all those boaties in all their blazers get out on the water and try to ram into each other.
It’s like bumper cars, on boats, with boaties, in blazers.
As I joined friends at the Magdelen College tent, I was surrounded by dark blue and purple – certainly not St. John’s bright red.
“Drink Pimms,” advised an ami, a previous Magdelen rower. “It’ll make you feel better. And it’s free.”
So we sat in the sunshine, watching rowers go past with leaves in their hair (which they grab from the riverbank and stick there if they end up hitting another boat, or ‘bumping’), drinking Pimms and eating pickle-cheese sandwiches.
“Do you see how they’re balancing their blades like that? It’s so hard to do. It takes so much practice,” commented my friend as boat after boat went past.
“They train so much.”
One boat, Downing College, went by with a burgundy flag waving. It was the women, all smiles and sweaty arm muscles and lyrca. They looked exhausted but delighted; as they should be, my friend explained. They had managed to stay on top the entire competition, for all four days.
“Right. Now I need to sleep,” I explained as the race finished. The sun, the rain and the early start had gotten to me. It was only 6pm.
Instead I bumped into more old friends who insisted I go to a pub in town, a quaint little place called The Plough located right on the river. “I think my head is falling off,” I tried to explain.
“Have some Pimms. It’ll make it feel better.”
After the pub, there was coffee back at St. John’s College, at which point I sunk into a couch and resigned myself to not moving.
Until I got a call, and a text, and a chastisement: “Man up! Come out! Another drink will make your head fill better.”
Resulting in another pub, another several hours of friendship time, and multiple large glasses of water consumed. The bartender seemed unimpressed. Perhaps because I didn’t have a striped blazer of red, green, blue, orange.
I briefly considered sticking some of the nearby potted foliage in my hair. Instead I polished off my water and bid my friends goodnight.
Finally, at long last, I sunk into my bed; the sound of May Ball preperations filtered into my window, as the staff was still outside at midnight tacking carpet over the John’s grass and arranging equipment.
It will be a good party. Today is round two, the actual Suicide Sunday.
I think I’m going to go get some Pimms.
**Photos from Col. Seb Pollington, Laura D, or google.
***Pimms from that strange world of English cuisine/drinks.
Today, while doing a photo shoot for St. John’s College’s new website, I saw some students walking around with fake penises.
They were practicing a pantomime, something classical and Greek and pointing back to those days when comedy went hand-in-hand with genitals. The students had chosen a secluded rose garden. The photographer, unfortunately, had done the same.
“…So I’m going to try to snap these pictures -without- getting man bits in the background,” the photographer murmured.
While he snapped photos, we could hear the students practicing the same line: “We already have hard-ons!”
…It was interesting.
The scene pretty much summarizes my life as of late: unexpected, amusing, fascinating, sunny. And very, very Cambridge.
Cambridge is a funny place to be in May and June.
In May, the entire university shuts down. Students tuck into dark corners. They tuck into libraries. They tuck into old books with greek handwritten footnotes (true story) and dribbles of greek food (also, unfortunately, a true story).
In June, everyone reemerges. The weather is suddenly better. Exams are finished. Students remember to smile. There are garden parties, evening parties, parties held on grassy stretches of Cambridge land while girls frolic in pretty dresses and delicate heels, and men lounge in ruffled shirts and black jackets.
People go up and down the river with picnics in punts, drinking this weird mixture called Pimms and nibbling strawberries.
June is a lovely time.
So it is that I’ve been tucked away, hidden behind books and in a dusty library corner. I would surround myself with text after text. I had fourteen binders full of paper. I think they are still there, those binders, still piled into the corner of the library; after my last exam, I couldn’t bring myself to go and collect them.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have a bonfire out at the farm,” my friend Z promised me.
So now I’ve finished, written my last Cambridge exam, those long three-hour horrors that have questions like: “Can politicians be honest?” or “How do we answer the question, ‘what is equality?’”
It’s all over.
I’ve accepted a job working for Epoch PR, a London-based PR firm that does a lot of corporate/business/think tank/policy stuff. I’ll be a Junior Account Executive starting July 11.
July 11th is soon.
I only graduate June 30th.
I’ve also been busy with small tidbits of random life. I wrote another post for USA Today’s College blog, a post which became the most popular and has remained that way now for two days. The title? “Ten Things US Students Could Learn from Cambridge Students.” I wrote it on the day of my last exam, post-essay, pre-celebration, when my eyes felt like they were going to crawl from my head and dance on the keyboard.
It made me remember how much I love writing.
Now I get to enjoy Cambridge. I am sighing into the last savory days of student freedom, enjoying the events, the mixers and minglers and socials. I am reacquainting myself with all the friends I forgot when I was hidden beneath mounds of knowledge.
I am getting ready for the St. John’s College May Ball, the ball that was listed as the Seventh Best Party in the World by TIME Magazine. I am cooking cupcakes for the Pentathlon garden party. I am laying in the sun and reading Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Life is good.
Especially when it’s unexpected.
Students – even Cambridge students – drink. A new program implemented by St. John’s College to address the issue of drinking has created an immense amount of negative backlash.
The public is angry. The media seems angry. Even the folks in India are angry. The Daily Mail, Cambridge-news, The Telegraph, all have written articles (all using the same single Johnian student quote)… and that’s just to name a few.
So what’s the big deal, this scandalous program that has created such a furor? The program is simple: St. John’s College will, when Student Bob arrives home terribly drunk, arrange to have Student Sally sit with Bob. Sally, having been specially trained to take care of drunken occasions like Bob, will be able to handle the situation responsibly. She’ll stay with Bob all night. In the morning, Bob pays the college 100 quid. The college pays Sally 100 quid. All is well.
Only it’s not.
The public’s angry.
Look at the terms used by the media: Babysit. Partygoers. Staggering home. Riotous party. Drunken. Stripping. Vomiting.
Look at the comments: “Now that’s intelligence.” “It’s things like this that should make you be proud to be at John’s.” “I thought you had to be intelligent to study at Cambridge!” “What a silly scheme!” “Perhaps the privileged young people who attend St. John’s College should be mature enough to take care of their own responsibility!”
Look at the backlash! Such backlash.
The source of anger seems to be rooted in three things: First, the fact that these are Cambridge students; second, that the University is paying Student Sally/Helper to watch over Drunken Tom; and third, that St. John’s College has implemented a formal program.
Let’s address each in turn.
That these are Cambridge students: Cambridge students should be smarter. They should be more intellectual. They are the next-generation leaders, the glorious up-and-comers, the politicians of tomorrow and today. They are discovering new genes and saving the world bit by bit by bit.
Such students shouldn’t drink.
If they drink, they shouldn’t do it in hall. If they drink, they shouldn’t get drunk.
While I agree that Cambridge students should be held to a higher standard, such extensive scrutiny and constant, seemingly prepackaged, readily angry judgement is a bit much. When one thinks of the amazing things Cambridge students have done, it’s easy to forget that they’re just… well… kids. They start young: 17, 18-years-old. They get a bit older, but the growing process requires mistakes and maturation, efforts and foolish nights. Many of these students are away from home for the first time. Some have never been drunk before.
Is it intelligent to get so drunk that one needs Student Sally to watch over? No. But is it human? Absolutely. And Cambridge students, at the end of the day, are still human – searching, learning, growing.
We can’t fault them for that.
That the University is paying for Student Helpers: This angry point shouldn’t even be a point at all. The University isn’t paying. Drunken Tom/Bob/Becca is paying… and paying quite a lot.
St. John’s College has implemented a formal program: The statement is correct, but the anger surrounding it doesn’t make sense. John’s HAS implemented a formal strategy for handling those incredibly drunk, exceptionally rare wandering home lost souls.
This doesn’t mean John’s condones drunken behavior.
By acknowledging there’s a problem, John’s is daring to face what truly is a genuine issue, both in the US and the UK: binge drinking. The College is recognizing that students, more often than not, drink far more than they should. Rather than turning a blind eye, John’s has decided to do what it can to help those who may need help. Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of student drinking, many universities seem to take this approach.
At the end of the day, St. John’s students are not any boozier than anyone else. As someone who has studied abroad and in England, as someone who has friends in sports teams and art societies, graduates and undergraduates, at John’s and at Oxford, I can say this with absolute certainty. Drinking is not a Johnian issue – nor is it a Cambridge issue. It’s something that happens far and wide.
The media and public should consider this if they want to take an active approach to solving the problem… rather than throwing stones at a darn good idea.
Because I can’t spend any more time with Aquinas, Augustine and/or Adorno, I’m going to tell you about some other man(ish)-research in my life: Wink’d.
I’ve been doing the marketing and PR for Wink’d Ltd, a London-based online/offline dating platform. As a result, I’ve learned all about dating.
Here are some of the more entertaining facts:
No one knows what to order on the first date: I blogged about this topic for Wink’d. Thanks to Google/Wordpress, I can see the search terms that send people to the blog. The most reoccurring ones? “What to drink on the first date,” “What to order on first date,” “First date drinks,” “berr (…yes.) on first date.” Slightly unrelated, but also amusing? “What does it mean when girls do that thing where they wink then walk away.” Hmm, yes. I’ve wondered that too.
The average UK male: has sex two times a week for 3.1 minutes each time. …Yes. I know.
More attractive woman + less attractive man = doomed relationship: Research has proven it. Who studies these things?!
The most popular (researched) date is: Cooking. Unfortunately, that’s something rather difficult for Cambridge students. We’ve got two hobs, a closet and a bucket for a kitchen. Try cooking in that. “Today, my darling, I have again made us TOAST. On a BUCKET.”
Facebook is changing the way we define relationships: Gershon, in “Breakup 2.0,” wrote about this. Apparently Facebook and the internet is changing how us sassy souls engage in romance. We define it in entirely new, extremely social ways. Everyone can see when we get together with someone. Folks can also see when we breakup. Drama, non?
People who use Twitter have shorter relationships: Not sure this is an accurate statistic (as in, I disagree), but interesting nonetheless:
There’s a chance at love for all of us: A 90-year-old and 100-year-old man and woman just married each other, making them the oldest couple to get married. Awww.
English folks don’t like to be touched: It’s scientifically proven. The French, apparently, are more comfortable with it. And the ‘mericans? We’re very, very focused on being politically correct.
So those are just some of the things I’ve learned as part of market research. Fun things. Fun facts. Now I’m back to my fun revision, where the most engaging of critical/cranky/caustic men wait for me…
The fear has settled across Cambridge.
It’s exam term, the time when students hide in libraries, when they bring potted plants (seriously) and pictures of Jesus (also seriously) to mark their territory, when social events die and silence descends.
…or so they tell me.
See, I’ve been spending my time doing other things. Like meeting the Queen (ish) and the Duke of Edinburgh.
In celebration of St. John’s College’s 500th year, the Queen came to Cambridge. As I’m on the graduate committee, I was positioned in a special little marquee for her arrival.
As the sun glinted overhead and the wind whipped skirts about, the Queen, HRM, emerged. She was petite, delicate, wearing a bright blue hat with a matching skirt suit. At her side was the Duke of Edinburgh, 90-years-old and grinning.
“Now he’ll offer his hand,” the Domestic Bursar said in way of briefing us. “Men, you do the courtly bow and take it. Women, you can curtsy.”
Over he came. The graduate committee, all ten or so of us, formed into a very precise U shape. The Duke went one after another, catching hands, making a moment or two of conversation. Then he got to me.
“What do you study?”
“That’s a degree?”
“Political philosophy,” I responded, intelligently. I was focused more on the curtsy-hand-wibble-wobble-don’t-fall process. Unimpressed, the Duke just stared.
“Right,” he said before turning off.
Then the Queen cut the cake and a military band played ‘happy birthday.’
Other things that have been occupying my Cambridge time?
Job Hunting. Oh yes, this is a fun one. While I’ve been accepted into Cambridge for the 1+3 MPhil, odds are I shan’t receive funding. So instead, I am a job hunting. It’s time to become a Real Girl. Unfortunately this process takes up a painful amount of time and sucks my soul.
Rutty Farming: One of my pentathlon friends, Z, kindly invited me to her home for Easter. Her house perches amongst 625 acres of farmland. A resevoir glistens in one corner, the waterline broken by a pier. “In the winter it froze over and we could skate,” said Z.
“Let’s swim?” I suggested once, twice, again and again.
“You are insane. It is freezing.”
“All the cool kids swim.” So I hitched up my skirt and tucked my feet into the cold water.
In the mornings we would go out as the sun was coming up and the mist was drying, hurrying to meet the horses. Z’s two dogs, already down at the stables, would see us coming up the path.
“Get down low! That’s the secret. Down low!” Suggested Z’s sister as the big furry creatures ran forward. So we crouched there on the gravel road, wearing jodphurs and riding hats, preparing for the lunging of excited muddy dogs.
“Here, Wesley!” I picked up a stick. “Go FETCH!”
…and threw it right in Z’s face. I am no good at projectile sports.
We read in the afternoons, flopped about on the grass, tinkered with instruments, tinkered with nature, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Z’s mom cooked delightful meals on the Aga, a massive oven-meets-house-warming-utensile thing.
My holiday was amazing.
USA Today College Blogging: Weee, this is a fun one. I wrote a blog post for USA Today. I’ll let you guys know when it comes out. Part of becoming a Real Girl?
Celebrating Graduation: Some of my good friends graduated this weekend. This means, in Cambridge terms, that they donned furry/colored hoods, grabbed an elderly man’s fingers, bowed while someone said Latin, and skipped through a general deluge of tradition. It sounds delightful and insane.
So there you have it. That’s what I’ve been up to these last few weeks. Ponies and Queens and Royal Weddings and furry things. Clearly, I am feeling The Fear.
This last month has been a bit like an Edith Wharton novel meets Pride and Prejudice done a la Rocky. Location? Cambridge and England. Cast? Pentathletes, horses, jodphurs, pentathletes, Wink’d Ltd, and old dead men. Result? Fantastic, wild, sweeping chaos.
Think Queens. Think ponies. Think good friends and great times. Think movie deal?
(Also think borrowed photos. Most of these are by Vin Shen Ban or Sam Gage. Not me.)
Right. Enough of that.
The Cambridge University Modern Pentathlon Team had its annual Varsity Match against ye age olde rivals, Oxford, in early April.
We fenced. Shot. Swam. Rode horses. Ran. Unlike ancient pentathlon, we did it all with our clothing on.
Sometimes change is good…
Our team broke (fifteen years of!) records. Tom Barber took first in the men’s competition with an unprecedented score. Henny Dillon set a new swim record, roping in one for the ladies team (just like Laura Plant before her, who last year broke the fencing record. SNAP!).
We pranked, pranced, played, cheered, ate, rushed and wondered.
The Old Blues from Cambridge came back to help host the match. That meant I saw some of my friends from last year, friends who have now gone on to proper working jobs in the city.
Sometimes change is good. I wouldn’t mind a proper working job in the city.
After showers and presentation, CUMPC trucked on out in black tie and pretty dresses for dinner. We’re always much better than Oxford at dinner.
Except for when we forget our loyalties. Proof:
“Ooooh I’d rather be at Oxford than St. John’s! I’d rather be at OXFORD than St. John’s! I’d-”
“…that isn’t funny, guys.”
“FUNNY TO US!”
That song breaks my heart.
But now Pentathlon is done (ish.) I have put away my glitter and banners in favour of exam books, dusty libraries and revision notes.
To help channel my studying desires, I spent the Easter Holiday on the Rutting farm with the RutterMcRutRut family. We rode horses in the morning and played in the grass. Before that, I stayed at the real Mrs. Darcy house. It was like living in sunshine.
But these stories are going to have to wait until tomorrow.
I’ve got books to read about philosophical politics and media convergence.
By the way, I get to meet the Queen on Wednesday. Shake her hand and such. My life has changed so much these past two years.
Sometimes that’s a-ok.
What do body paint, glitter, tree climbing, five sports, 200 baked goods, 19 athletes and Cambridge minty blue have in common?
They all have to do with a weekend away at Millfield for CUMPC’s annual training camp! (Bet you were TOTALLY going to guess that…)
Training camp commenced officially on Friday night. Since I had John’s Cripps Feast (celebrating the 500th anniversary with an equal number of courses, wine and candles), I piled into the LateGoersCar at 4:40am.
4.40am is not a pretty time to be awake. Ever. Even when you’re driving in a pale blue car named Baby with three other groggy grinning athletes.
By 9am, we were in Millfield and in the pool.
“Just a cheeky swim!” Said Drew, the ex-army Millfield coach who takes pleasure in our pain. Cheeky swim meant an hour and a half in the pool. Then we did some cheeky fencing, followed by a cheeky 8k.
Because 8ks are fun.
Day two was just as physical and a whole lot more festive. Keeping with tradition, the CUMPC teams coated themselves in costumes and bodypaint for the annual team photo.
The girls went with “Little Miss,” the boys with something big, macho and film related.
I was “Little Miss Summersault.”
We went to lunch with facepaint on. The extremely athletic, talented students at Millfield, wearing their sharp little blazers and uniforms, just stared at us.
“This is what people do at Cambridge!” I’d make the best advisor.
Fortunately the weather was amazing. The food was amazing. And our hosts, the families of two CUMPC members (one past, one present) were absolutely insanely amazing.
They cooked us lots of delightful goodies and tried to feed us wine*.
“We need to wake up and train!” Was my cautious response.
“Training is only made more fun with festive drink!” They responded.
I got to pet a horse. And run a lot. Swim a lot. Spend a weekend with some of my favourite people, absolutely, ever. I want to go back.
Just please, not at 4:40 in the morning.
*CUMPC is now being sponsored by Bancroft Wines. A wine merchant. We like wine. A lot. Even more than before. Water with training? Nonsense! Wine!
In the thick of the summertime, when bugs would hang fat and lazy in the air and the smog settled like a coat over Fresno, my family would escape into the mountains. Dad would pack us up in his big van with its rolling doors and curtains on the windows. “It’s a van from another era!” We would always tease him, clambering in to the big beast of a vehicle, us four kids and the sun.
And away we’d go. Off to the mountains. Off to the Music Farm.
The Music Farm was located in the crook of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, perched amongst trees wider than three men, tucked in the spot where hills and valleys join together with the glue of creeks, the whisper of nature. To get there, you had to drive. And drive. And drive.
They say the Music Farm was built by hand, log by log, stone by stone. I imagine the road leading to it was created in much the same way; it was a one-ish lane road, a winding number dragging alongside steep mountains, so that when you glanced out a window you also glanced down at death. Cars would have to pass painstakingly slowly. Sometimes you’d have to drive in reverse for a good half mile until you could pull in on a grassy nook and the other car could pull out.
Terror on wheels. Particularly with my dad, his van and his absent mind.
“What, you think this is dangerous? Try fighting sharks with your bare hands! THAT’S dangerous!”
Yet somehow we would make it up into the mountains and to the Music Farm, alive. Terrified, but alive. The Music Farm was always worth the drive.
It was a massive log cabin of sorts, a sprawling building of brown logs and green windows, three levels tall, full of large airy kitchens and worn down couches. A bearded man, a hippy, built it himself.
“It’s for people to come, you know? Wanderers. They can just come here, relax, stay as long as they want. It’s a Music Farm.”
So we would unfurl into the different rooms, clambering over bunk-beds, choosing our own quilts and halls and sometimes floors. Upstairs was a pool table and a chalkboard, a large open wooden room with great glistening, glossed floors. We would play tag through the massive house which resembled, to some extent, a hotel.
That was just inside. Outside was nature; the pressing Sierra Nevadas, mountains so big and so great that to see them it to be awed. Teepees, built by my dad and others in his earlier years, towered thirty feet tall throughout the forest. They had chopped the logs and covered them with canvas painted to look like skin. You could fit ten people inside.
“Why did you do this?” I asked him once, staring up into the ceiling of the teepee. My voice echoed quietly in the large space.
“Why not?” And he grinned, white teeth against the tan of his skin, his hair made pale blonde by the sun. He winked, bleached blue eye flashing.
There were always other people at the Music Farm – wanderers, travellers, hippies. I don’t remember who they were or what they did. I just know that they often had instruments, guitars and drums, a flute, a violin. At night we would sit around a campfire roasting marshmallows and dipping sticks in cans of melted chocolate, while these strangers would strum, pluck, play.
The music and the sparks from the fire would rise up into the massive inky blankness of the empty Californian sky.
In the morning, when everyone else was still sleeping, I would sneak out and creep to the embers of the campfire. If you put paper in it just so, and leaned forward to quietly, very quietly puff, and breathe and puff, then sometimes you could start the fire back up. I loved to start the fire back up.
We ate pancakes with corn in them and vegetables roasted over open flame.
“It’s a Music Farm, after all. Things shouldn’t be complicated,” the bearded man once said. He carried with him a harmonica.
So that was the Music Farm – simple, warm, cool in the harsh heat of Californian summers and scented with evergreens.
We spent weeks there at a time, my dad and us four kids. The story of my summer is mapped out in the Music Farm, traced into its winding paths, shaped by the sweet scent of rotting leaves and melted chocolate, surrounded by the chirp of birds… but most of all by the whisper of music in the mountains. Violins, guitars, a woman’s voice echoing softly through the hall, a drum thump thump made of sticks and a can. It was beautiful music.
My sister went back once a couple years ago. I haven’t been in ages. But Sister went, and she said the Farm was still there.
“Only it’s changed,” she said quietly, her brows drawing together. “It’s… older somehow. Run down. Worn. And no one was there, except the owner and us. I remember people playing music all the time when we were younger. Not now…”
It makes me sad to think of this hippy living in the mountains, continuing a farm that whispers the echoes of a generation past.
“But what about the teepees?” I asked her.
“Those are still there.”
“Yes… still huge. And in the morning, the Man played his guitar. He’s still there too.”