Thursday, October 30, 2003
Is late this week, but has arrived over here.
Jason, your comments last week about Elliot and night-driving were spot on, unfortunately I've not had time to incorporate them properly into this week's instalment where Elliot - all to briefly - reflects on that issue.
I'd be interested in your reaction.
Otherwise, so much to blog, so little time. Stay tuned for more Cambridge adventures under the title "Talking with the Porters about jazz after midnight" (with vague apologies to Billy Bragg).
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
(another study blog)
It’s wonderful to be excited and challenged by ideas again. To have my brain stretched in what occasionally feels like intellectual sumo wrestling – where I, unfortunately, still weigh in with my scant 55 bantam-weight kilos.
Anyway, while kind of scary-daunting, its good scary-daunting.
One of the classes I’m getting the most out of is History and Theory of International Law. It’s basically jurisprudence (jurisprudence being the philosophy of law) and so asks the big questions I mostly ignored in undergraduate legal theory: and not just “why do we obey rules?”, and “where does law come from?”; but, “what is the nature of law?”, “what is a civil society?” and “how do ideas transform social systems?” – and “do ideas (including law) create reality?”
It’s being taught by a Big Name (to vaguely google-proof this course review, I mention the lecturer and his book over here), one of the few philosophers of international law currently working in English.
He’s a genuine English old-school eccentric: a musing and reflective radical in suit, tie and cardigan; an international lawyer who has suggested (in so many words) that international law and international legal relations as presently structured are wrong and, indeed, immoral. He refers with genuine sincerity to the idea that “the purpose of education is not that we know more, but that we become different”.
The readings he sets for class include a lot of dead guys with big ideas: Kant, Plato, Locke, Mill, Hayek, Marx, Popper and Hobbes, to grab a random fistful. I feel like I’m getting a crash course in classical western social theory and philosophy, albeit with a definite natural law slant.
To grossly oversimplify, I think what we’re being asked to wrestle with includes:
(1) Ideas do not only exist merely in human consciousness, they are powerful things abroad in the world - which while enduring, constantly change through interpretation.
(2) Any society, including international society, is composed of dynamic, interacting elements that work upon each other to produce change. These elements include: a society’s ideal of itself (its “ideal constitution”, what it believes it could become), its legal structure (which directs social power) and its “real constitution” (how power is actually exercised). Each element influences and is changed by the others.
(3) Related to, but different from, a society’s ideal constitution is the good old-fashioned notion of a social contract (or sovereignty of the people) – however this can also be seen as embodying a societal will, a will finding its expression in legal structures and acts of power within a society: not just legitimating the actions of the powerful, but – in a functioning, healthy society – guiding and limiting them (the ideology of the “rule of law”?).
(4) We obey law not to avoid punishment, or just because by being socialised we have internalised society’s restraints, but because by doing so we become part of that social will: we participate in its making and expression. Acting lawfully makes us part of our society’s will and “higher ideal”, we become not merely ourselves – but expressions of the greater Law.
Maybe only a lawyer would be exicited by this, but it’s vastly more stimulating than black letter law (find the rule, interpret the rule, apply the rule, analyse the result). Lawyers are too seldom encouraged to think normatively about what law should be, or to engage in the historic philosophical debate that surrounds our own discipline.
It’s wonderful to weigh into class discussions with the words: “But surely that’s the beauty of the idea …”
Still, the prospect of an exam at this abstract level is spooky.
I need to be taking better notes.
Monday, October 27, 2003
Genuine unsolicited views:
“Still wiping away tears of laughter …”
“Best set of minutes I’ve ever read.”
Okay, so it wasn’t comic genius, but my first effort at minute taking over here seems to have gone down fairly well.
From the minutes, I give you …
1. Sherry and port at Grad Halls
Henry will put up a sign-up sheet, so people can take turns helping out dispensing drinks before and after Grad Halls.
Adam stressed that we should all do our bit to help out, that as sherry is something we all enjoy we should see it as our duty to sign up at least once - or Henry will be stuck doing it.
David pointed out that sherry is not necessarily something we “enjoy” but that it is all that is available. The minute-taker took him otherwise to concur with the proposition that we should “all do our bit to help out”.
2. The new accommodation building
Apparently, there will be one.
This will meet the need for more student rooms: demonstrated by the growing number of satellite properties, and inevitable as some existing historic-site rooms are refurbished and turned into additional bathrooms, etc.
Plans were passed around, which looked pretty. The new building will spring from the soil of the “cabbage patch” (don’t ask me I just minute this stuff) which is apparently near the football pitch. It will house 100+ students. Construction noise begins September 2003.
(Which is fine if you’re here for an M Phil concluding in May.)
The first phase will cost £13 million, of which £12.85 million is approved. Apparently this is not an arithmetical error, as our “very sensible bursar” has ensured that “Phase A” can be built from existing funds. At the end of “Phase A” construction the “Phase A” buildings will be fit to inhabit (which sounds eerily logical).
All rooms will be ensuite and mixed undergrads and grads (well, the buildings will be mixed undergrads and grads – not individual rooms. That would be rather crowded, and maybe even unsanitary.)
“Phase B” will be built with anticipated funds if/when they materialise. If even more funds turn up than are presently projected there will be a “Phase C”.
Adam on the project: “It’s gonna be nice.”
Okay, I admit it, I’m scrounging for material today.
But I did spend an hour coming up with a two page outline of the remaining plot for Naylor’s Canberra – which should be a great relief to the people actually reading it.
Saturday, October 25, 2003
(return of the law blog)
This is an extract from my dissertation proposal:
On 11 December 2003 the Spanish navy, acting on information supplied by the United States of America, stopped and boarded the North Korean flag vessel the So San to seize a cargo of 15 Scud missiles in transit to Yemen. The vessel and its cargo were later released, the US making a statement that there were no legal grounds to hold them. On 25 December 2003, the North Korean government denounced the incident as piracy.
Seemingly in response to this episode and concerns regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”) a coalition of states formed the Proliferation Security Initiative (“PSI”). On 4 September 2003 the PSI released a “Statement of Interdiction Principles”.
This statement refers to the “UN Security Council Presidential statement of January 1992, which states that the proliferation of all WMD constitutes a threat to international peace and security” and outlines a number of domestic law methods by which member states could intercept, stop and search (“interdict”) vessels suspected of carrying WMD by land, sea or air which are either present within its territorial jurisdiction or are its flag vessels.
The preamble to these specified measures states:
( “PSI participants are committed to the following [enumerated] interdiction principles … to impede and stop shipments of WMD, delivery systems, and related materials flowing to and from states and non-state actors [i.e. terrorists] of proliferation concern, consistent with national legal authorities and relevant international law and frameworks, including the UN Security Council.”
The PSI consists, at present, of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States and has already held two joint military exercises and four formal meetings between 12 June and 10 October 2003.
So, this is where my thinking is up to:
In essence, the PSI is not controversial. It envisages co-operation between states and new domestic laws so that “suspicious” shipments can be stopped, searched and if need be seized, when they pass through a member-state’s territory. This gets around the argument that “interdicting” on the high seas is piracy.
However, I am interested in what will happen if the So Sun incident recurs (for example, you have a ship that’s rated as being of “grave concern” but will not pass through a friendly state’s territory). In this context, the questions I see arising out of the PSI are, broadly:
(1) Has the threat of WMD somehow changed the rules of international law relating to armed force? Is the proliferation of WMD now a causus belli (justification for war) or international crime, separate from the non-proliferation treaties from which North Korea has now withdrawn? (Must check on which states are signed up.)
(2) If the rules have not changed, are they adequate to face the military and terrorist threats of WMD? That is, are the rules on inter-state conflict drawn up in 1945 and predicated on “international force” only being deployed in the form of conventional armed forces appropriate or adapted to the modern situation?
(3) Is there state practice, or good theory, to support a modification or extension of the doctrines of self-defence and regional security arrangements (basically, organisations like NATO) under existing UN Charter law to cover these new threats to international peace and security?
(4) What, if anything, are the lessons for the theory of international law to be learned from recent intervention in Iraq, and the supposed doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence expounded by elements of the US government?
Many questions, at present, few answers.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
I keep having the most amazing, stop-in-your-tracks-and-lose-the-ability-to-move, encounters with animals when I do not have my digital camera at the ready.
The other day, walking down the lane that takes you through King’s College’s “backs”, I was passing the cows (yes, there are cows grazing behind King’s – and on other Cambridge greens) when I saw a squirrel leap up onto the barbed wire strand running between the old black iron fence-posts.
It coyly curled its tail round the wire and cocked its head at me, maybe three feet away.
Squirrels may not be amazing for you Brits and North Americans, but they’re gob-smackingly weird for Australians.
Before I could very, very slowly reach for my backpack, undo it and rustle like crazy for my camera – it bounded up the nearby tree (maple, oak, who knows? – something terribly old and English) in a series of wind-up toy jerks. It hung from its fairly vicious looking little talons and again gave me a jaunty, appraising look. Something like:
“Food? Has he got food?
Not dumb enough to hold it out. Damn. Not a local, not a tourist.”
“Ah, new student. Time to go, then. No food for me.”
And off it bounded into the canopy, while I stood about slack-jawed and dopey-looking.
Some people just do not have this trouble with photographing squirrels, durn them and their quick-wittedness.
I had another encounter with Cambridge’s not-very-wildlife on Monday morning, walking over the Garret Hostel Lane bridge (now one of my favourite cycle paths, not that I’ve yet got up the speed to get over the bridge without dismounting), where I stopped to look at some swans.
It seemed to be a Mum and her full-grown adolescents: too big for cygnets, but still to grey-feathered and grey-footed to be adult swans. Like all adolescent males, they were looking for food and their feet seemed clownishly huge.
They looked much bigger than Australian swans, but maybe they’d just put on their down bulk for the winter. They seemed very solid and ponderous on land, plodding about behind their mother while some sort of red-beaked moor-hen scurried about the edges of the scene.
One of them eventually wandered down to the water’s edge, a thick patchwork of autumn leaves, and lumbered in – the leaves brushing and spinning about his grey-white feathers, his gait in the water still somehow slightly waddling.
At that point I left. I was on the wrong side of the bridge and it was only a question of time before I collected a speeding cyclist by stepping back, awe-struck into the hurtling traffic.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
David Blaine is now in hospital, having spent 44 days in a Perspex box over central London, subsisting on nothing but water. His “stunt” has provoked a great deal of anger, including claims that it was a tasteless exercise (with a prize pool of £5 million) that demeaned hunger-striking as a tool of protest.
I’ll loop back to public anger, but let me diverge on the theme of escape artists and escapism for a moment.
Before leaving Australia I read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”: a fabulous novel I never got around to reviewing. It is, simply, a magical novel – and in the great spirit of American art turns a popular form into art. It is the story of two young Jewish men re-inventing themselves in New York during the opening days of World War II, a period that also saw the birth of the comic book.
It relates complex themes of ethnic identity, the American spirit of self re-invention, comic books and their role as anti-Nazi propaganda, comics and the surrealist artists all through a single interesting metaphor: the escape artist. It is a fantastic novel (the first chapter can be read here), and its well-drawn (no pun intended), fully realised characters suffer more, and I more complex ways, than some reviews suggest.
What intrigued me most though, was the unifying theme: the art of escape. This was explored in any number of ways – one of the central characters trained as an escape artistry before turning to the escapist artistry of comics, having himself escaped Nazi Germany’s occupation of Prague. When we watch an escape artist liberate himself or herself from chains and a safe, we witness a metaphor – the human ability to escape what constrains us.
On a recent TV show American escape artist Thomas Solomon was entirely frank about this, people watching an escape artist see in his act the potential to escape what constrains them: a job, a relationship, their lives.
Perhaps what angered the British public most about Blaine was not that this was a rich man getting richer in a “parody” of famine, but his resolute refusal to escape his self-imposed trap. Here was an escape artist who did nothing but wait: he stayed in the box. No writhing, no contortions, no cries of “ohmigod, the bubbles in the water have stopped – did he get out alive?” as the wake of a dropped sack or safe in the river Thames subsides into ripples.
What Blaine’s act suggested to some, perhaps, was that there is no escape. That all you can do is wait.
Perhaps that was what made so many so inexplicably, inexpressibly angry.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
I knew pure mathematicians were weird. I’ve known a couple. I am now sharing a house with two.
What follows may be a vague breach of trust, as none of my new flatmates know that I blog – but what the hell, it’s a good story.
One of my mathematician flatmates needs alarmingly little sleep. (I won’t bore the world whining about what sharing with five people is doing to my stupid sleep patterns that always demand that though I am the last to get to sleep I should also wake up the moment anyone anywhere in the house leaves their bed ... Oh, wait, I just did.) He can get by on apparently four hours a night – and is always cheerful.
And he’s always working. He’s probably doing as much work as the next three of us put together at present (we’re all in a prolonged “warm up” phase, always best to limber the brain up for a few weeks before straining it, I think), but he always seems relaxed.
I left him last night doing equations on the kitchen table.
Not literally - there was, when I left, an ample supply of paper between his blue fine-felt tipped pen and the tabletop.
This situation did not apparently last out the night.
When I got up to make coffee this morning, on emptying grinds from the stove-top percolator into the bin, I discovered a few cigarette ends and a big wodge of paper covered in finely written equations sitting atop the garbage.
It seems that must have been the last of the paper, because on looking up to the back door I noticed something a little odd.
Two glass panes were full of equations, neatly laid out in non-permanent blue felt-tip marker. On close examination, some of the numbers or symbols (it’s all Greek to me) had been rubbed out with a finger and replaced.
Jonathon Nash, eat your heart out.
It’s all fine by me, so long as I don’t come home to find the lounge-room walls covered in newspaper clippings with red-circled letters spelling out coded conspiratorial plans.
That’d be awful.
Putting anything on the walls is a breach of our lease.
Me and the other lawyer decided we liked the equations and that they can stay.
So far our cleaner hasn’t said anything.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Saturday, October 18, 2003
So I’m meant to be busy with this Masters study thing and all.
(I do indeed have a dissertation proposal that I’ve whipped up on a Saturday night before going down the pub, which may get posted later this week as a blog on efforts to contain North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction with a naval blockade.)
But I wanted to throw myself into student life while I was here.
One of my achievements to this end has been becoming temporarily, until election time, Secretary of the Middle Combination Room. Not sure what possessed me to get involved with a committee again, but as the streaker said to the judge, "It seemed a good idea at the time, your honour."
I also went and auditioned for a few plays, not expecting to get any roles.
I even went and joined the Cambridge Union and decided to give debating a go again after only 6 years out of the field.
Surprise the first: I have now been offered a part in a production of Albert’s Bridge by Tom Stoppard, running from 19-22 November as part of the ADC Freshers’ Plays.
Surprise the second: Today, after a gruelling amount of waiting, interspersed with some debating that I genuinely enjoyed, I was offered a part-funded place (ie airfare) to attend the Worlds Debating tournament in Singapore on a Cambridge representative team. It looks like I will be in Singapore from 27 December 2003 – 3 January 2004, debating, socialising and sight-seeing.
I would have trouble emphasising just how much I am loving this experience, how wonderful it is to be excited by ideas again, how interesting it is to be surrounded by graduate students from all over the world who are just passionate about their field, and how refreshing it is to throw myself at activities with a “frankly, I have nothing to prove but just want to have fun” attitude - and then to succeed beyond all my expectations.
Anyone might think I had a talent for communication … But sweet Santa, if I thought I was behind on my reading before all this ...
Thursday, October 16, 2003
There are perhaps only a handful of places in the world where walking about in a dinner suit, Chinese silk waistcoat, a flapping academic gown and haplessly begging your downstairs flatmate to tie your goddamn bow tie for you will cause not one ripple of attention, or even alarm.
Cambridge is clearly one of those few places where you can be inconspicuous while looking like Bruce Wayne simultaneously trying to wrestle his way into his cape and out of his dinner suit, as nary a second glance passed over us as we scampered late towards the “Trinity Hall Middle Combination Room, 2003” photo shoot.
I was seriously struggling on the bow tie front, having got in late from lectures and set a land speed record for showering and getting into black tie and an academic robe (ten minutes flat).
Fortunately, the one flatmate who’s both British and a veteran of three undergraduate years at Cambridge is a master in such matters and fixed me up during a sartorial pit stop in the Porter’s lodge.
We drifted inconspicuously into the tail of the photo queue, while at the head women in long dresses and long robes and men just in long robes (well, and dinner suits, obviously) ascended a perilously high set of photographers’ scaffolding under a lowering and spitting sky. I was directed to the penultimate level.
A steeply stacked cliff of dark formalwear spread below.
“Doesn’t exactly feel secure does it?” I muttered.
“Try doing it in heels,” retorted the girl next to me.
Afterwards came a lecture on college history, too long to relate, that focussed far too much on the college’s legal tradition. In sum: (1) the Black Plague was generally a Bad Thing, especially as it wiped out the administrative caste in the local clergy, our college was thus founded as the first specific (cannon) law training school in England, possibly Europe; and (2) most of England’s most distinguished nineteenth century judges studied here, as did many signatories to the American Declaration of Independence, including one John Hancock.
Drinks at the Master’s Lodge followed. Occupying a goodly portion of the Colleges’ fairly small grounds the Lodge is a pretty decent spread. The Queen slept in one of the guest bedrooms recently, so it can’t be too shabby. She was following in the footsteps of the earlier Queen Elizabeth who signed the guest book some little time previously.
Fortified with champagne, we swooped on the college hall, robes-a-flapping, in our best Harry Potter style for the dinner to celebrate our “matriculation”. There was a Latin grace (which I couldn’t honestly follow), a toast to the Queen, mercifully brief after-dinner speeches of welcome and thanks and a terribly short little Latin blessing from the Chaplain at the end. I thought Henry VIII or Edward the child-king had done away with Latin in the English church, but anyway.
There wasn’t a Sorting Hat, that function having been previously performed by the far less transparent process of the Board of Graduate Studies (BOGS).
The question that then emerged was, “How does one groove to a daggy disco mix in formal wear and long academic gown?”
The obvious answer being: “Badly.” At that point I ducked out to compose this entry, before returning to the fray sans tie, sans jacket, sans robe and sans common sense and all coordination.
I am not entirely certain how I got home, or whether we went on anywhere after the dancing. That was last Wednesday.
This Wednesday was the first “casual” graduate hall – which means dinner in a robe and a suit. My “casual” suit is still somewhere in the international mail, so I banked on no-one noticing its absence after the pre-dinner seminar and sherry at the Master’s Lodge. (A selection of housemates and I arrived too late for the seminar, but in time for sherry – bat-robes snapping at our ankles in a nipping and an eager air.) The principle difference at dinner last night was that the regular Grad Hall is a strictly BYO affair.
There were Latin graces again, no toast to the Queen, and the main course was a pretty good salmon steak.
Plates are first distributed empty, deposited in between a bewildering array of cutlery, and food is then served by a waiter from your left, doled out silver-service from a large tray. This is classy, but can result in inequities of portion allocation. I won on salmon, but lost on the pavlova, compared to those around me. (Note: dinner every night is not this cool, it’s a once weekly event for which you have to a buy a ticket. Most nights the dining at college is cafeteria-style and commensurate in quality.)
We were all expected to rise when the High Table left the room, which felt rather like a school assembly, but a combination of tradition without being too stuffy is worth going through the odd anti-egalitarian ritual.
Afterwards there was a general shedding of gowns in the Middle Combination Room and the imbibing of port and coffee. Then I somehow wound up going to the Italian Society “squash” with one Italian and a small horde of Greeks at the rather lovely Clare College.
The event, which was largely about free wine, proved why a Cambridge “squash” (social club sign-up event) is so called: it involves packing a huge number of people into a small space. We stayed there some time. I had occasion to say, several times, “Non parlo bene l’Italiano” – which seemed to impress native speakers considerably. (Given how good their English was, I can’t imagine why … )
I have distinct recollections of a cab home.
This morning I took my time over a bit of a recovery breakfast: nectarine, two fried eggs on toast, black coffee and honey-sweetened porridge with thickened cream.
My act of virtue and daring was cycling in along the (usually fiendishly congested) Mill Road. It easily cut 10 minutes of my usual trip in.
Work is going to have to take a much larger role soon, though I have a “see you in the Squire library” pact for tomorrow – and I may have discovered my dissertation topic. I now have two weeks to get the paperwork in and get it formally approved.
Still, need to go home and tackle tomorrow’s reading. And cook dinner, as it’s only 9.00 pm. But that’ll be an early evening in the life of a graduate student at Cambridge thus far.
How’s your week been?
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Alright, it has been some time. The new instalment is now up.
Many may even ask, “Naylor, what the hell is Naylor?”
“Naylor’s Canberra” is the tentative title of a crime-novel-in-progress which has its beginnings over here. My objective is to publish 1,000 words a week until I have a finished draft. Some bits were worked over with the help of a writer’s group in Sydney last year and so are more polished than others.
I am a little scared about the project’s fate in light of the reading and writing burden I’ve assumed with the return to study, but finishing this draft is now in the “if it kills me” category of things to achieve.
The story so far? Elliot Naylor, a law graduate who has been refused admission to practice for reasons to do with a fatal car accident, is an under-employed part-time law librarian. A former girlfriend of his is missing, Marina – a highflying political staffer to Milton Dawes, Minister for Justice and Customs. Her father, David Carmichael, a prominent local barrister, hires Elliot to find her before he has to report it to the police: an attempt to keep it quiet and close to the family and avoid scandal.
There should only be about another 19 instalments after this. Although, if you want to skip straight to an ending, one version appears over here, courtesy of Lyn.
Elliot proceeds by interviewing a lot of people, debating possibilities with his flatmate Eva and embarking on a new relationship with Danielle, a friend of Marina’s.
Easy money? It seems so, until Elliot begins to dig into David’s shady business dealings and close ties to the Minister. Further, Elliot is the first to discover that one of Marina’s co-workers, Jenny, has been murdered and is (so far) the only person questioned by the police.
Understandably, he’s nervous. Worse, he’s no closer to finding Marina.
He's exhausted, it's been a very bad, very long day - so of course, there's a plot twist in the offing ...
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Punting. A great cliché of the great historic universities, but well worth experiencing. In any normal city, the historic buildings and gardens lining a river would be called “the Riverfront”. Naturally, with Cambridge’s usual flair for logic – a city where porters do not carry your luggage, and “bedmakers” do not necessarily make your bed - these are “the Backs”. The best way to see them is from a punt, which I managed on a free college punting tour last week.
Despite a spattering of rain, a cold wind and an iron-clad certainty that even as a seated passenger I would surely end up in the water, it was amazing: simply the only way to appreciate some of the prettiest views of Cambridge, and the sheer grandeur of some of the larger colleges.
And the ducks. (Note: no hands overboard, please, they will expect them to be full of food and bite.) The guy from college actually doing the punting had rescued some abandoned ducklings the previous year. Most grew up and flew off, but one has chosen to stay. He was speculating about luring a drake home to be its mate. Ah, the wisdom of theology students.
Colleges. King’s is vast, imposing, a little more Gothic than it should be and right next door to Trinity Hall. Encroaching, even. Erected to salve Henry VIII’s conscience about being pretty damn rude to the Pope in the sixteenth century, it’s exterior was last cleaned sometime in the early nineteenth, evidently well-before the end of wood-fired heating in Cambridge. King’s was also erected as part of Hank 8’s campaign to found numerous colleges and grab land from poor little Trinity Hall, which lost land to both Kings on one side and Trinity College on the other.
King’s forecourt looks like the vast outline of a half-finished cathedral, complete with exterior walls filled with “cut out” stained glass windows, with all the bars and none of the glass. This is apparently much what it is: the vast “chapel” was meant to be even vaster, but someone ran out of money. One occasionally sees Kings’ students, breaking into the sunlight with something of the mystified air of Titus Groan on realising a world existed beyond Gormenghast.
Down and out in Cambridge. I live out on Mill Road, one of the busy thoroughfares (ie it runs in a straight line and is wide enough for tow lanes of traffic and parking on both sides, so it is perpetually choked with people attempting to avoid the narrow side-streets) and local traders seem very concerned with drunks loitering around making people feel threatened.
It’s sure as Hell not Newtown, but it is a bit weird to see people by noon with larger cans sitting in front of the old Bath House getting slowly wasted. The big plus is that they’ve well and truly cleared out by the late evening, so walking home alone after 10 feels safer than just after dusk.
Still, the worst I’ve gotten is hassled for change. (“No look, we’re not winding you up we just need a pound to get into this club, right?” Uh, wrong. I may be new, but I’m pretty confident there’s no clubbing just off Mill Road, only terrace housing.)
There’s also a lot of the homeless - and begging, some of it relatively aggressive, some of it mopingly forlorn – in the city centre. The tourist population acts as something of a magnet, and the area is pretty well divided among various big issue vendors.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
I should blog about Fresher’s week, formal wear and my growing fear of my reading lists.
But I’m not, well, not yet.
I went to London yesterday to see one of the last productions for the season at the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe a few hundred metres from the historical site.
I had a £5 groundling ticket and scurried in fairly late, having got completely disoriented when coming out of a different tube entrance to the last time I went to the Bankside area, and then by not cutting through Southwark Cathedral gardens but blundering on through, and eventually around, the Borough Markets (which look really cool and worth a later visit).
Scraped in just before the play commenced (with a semi-Elizabethan warning about pagers and mobile phones), and could only wedge in near stage left, about a third of my view blocked by a pillar supporting the tiring house. Got centre stage after the interval, though, which was much better.
It was a period costume production of “Twelfth Night” complete with male actors playing the female roles, often with startling success – as in the vaporous, timid Olivia given to really funny bursts of enthusiasm tempered with self-doubt.
The best part of the experience though was its immediacy: in open air, daylight and with the “front row” of groundlings leaning on the stage, there was an easy exchange between actors and audience. Once, to great effect, a ring flung at the ground bounced into the audience, and had to be thrown back on stage.
I popped into the nearby Clink Prison Museum afterwards, which had some interesting taped narrations, but a slightly amateurish feel.
At the other end of the acting process, it was absolute auditioning madness in Cambridge today, with at least two dozen student productions casting over this weekend for the coming term.
So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and went auditioning. My first was a combined audition for two "fresher plays" (one a Stoppard, the other set in 1930s America). At the same theatre I also tried out for "Much Ado About Nothing" – discovering a bit too late that young hopefuls would have to sing something to the directors also. All I could come up with was an old school hymn “Guide me, Oh thou great Jehovah”, which given my lack of any church attendance and wavering agnosticism was rather funny.
I also did not realise until too late that the tour goes on tour to the continent for two weeks before Christmas at a cost of £100 - £300 to the participants. Would still jump at it if the opportunity arose.
My final audition was for “Under Milkwood” – which did not require accents, but I had one of those fierce instincts that the director really did not like me, but it was the first audition without an ample queue in which to prepare your readings. Indeed, I had no sooner picked up the compulsory readings than I discovered there was no line before me, and the last auditioner was just walking out of the room.
One of those situations where “no rush, in your own time” are simply not reassuring words. So, I just read everything through once, went in and got on with it. Not sure I varied my delivery enough, though.
I’m getting plenty of practice at the moment of dealing with small stuff that I’ve been a bit nervous to try again: cycling, auditioning for a play, returning to study.
What have you tried recently for the first time, or the first time in ages?
Friday, October 10, 2003
(1) No-one wears a helmet. Don't let this discourage you. You need it (see (2)).
(2) There is possibly nothing more dangerous on the road than a timid, inexperienced cyclist. Pulling over when you hear cars behind you may slow your journey, but probably prolongs your life.
(3) The cars are more experienced at aiming to miss cyclists than you are at aiming to miss cars, trust the local drivers - up to a point. Even the homicidal taxi drivers don't want to damage their paintwork.
(4) This is, in many ways, a sleepy academic town: it therefore does not have a sufficiently developed system of roads to handle the traffic. It is, at times, busy and chaotic.
(5) Get a cycle route map. Do not be surprised that the routes don't always link up.
(6) It is not at all signposted, but between 10 and 4 riding a bicycle in the pedestrian area around the market square will get you a £30 fine. Avoid this.
(7) Remember to get a bicycle number from your porters.
(8) Always chain your bike to something other than itself. It is surprisingly easy for theives with vans to make off with large numbers of unattended bikes at night. Rumour has it they are sold in Oxford (while our black market trades in Oxford cycles).
(9) Buy some damn bicycle clips. You look like Tintin tucking fawn pants into long socks all the time. Cycling in in an old tee-shirt (even on a cold day) and then changing into law-student-wear is not a bad idea.
(10) Relax, breath out, learn to enjoy it. Eventually you too will be bale to cover the distance from law school to home in 15 minutes, not the present 35.
Thursday, October 9, 2003
If the picture above of me at the Musee d'Orsay is visible, I should be able to post pictures fairly frequently.
My Cambridge adventures are still pretty under-documented, as I have yet to get into the habit of carrying the camera everywhere.
Am sorry Naylor is not up for the week, will attempt to relaunch it next week - and to resume more regular posting.
Wednesday, October 8, 2003
I've presently ducked out of a pretty inebriated Cambridge formal dinner after-party to clear my e-mail, the dinner to celebrate our "matriculation" (ie admission as members of the university).
Which I guess confirms my geek status. Hmmmm ....
Yes, I did wear black tie and a fairly expensive (poly-cotton) gown. Drinks were served beforehand in the masters' lodge. There was a photo where, due to the English lack of sunlight, the uni photographer had to use 0.5 and 1.0 second exposures.
There was a lecture on college history, bordering on the over-researched and interminably long, dwelling on the role of Trinity Hall in the British legal system, having been founded in 1350 to supply a chronic shortage of ecclesiastical lawyers after the Black Plague ravaged Europe.
The dinner was three courses, the fish was rather edible, and the port was tasty and passed to the left. There was a grace in Latin and a toast to the Queen.
My fellow 90 new graduates are presently dancing daggily to a mix of ceontemporary pop and 80s hits.
And continuing to drink.
As perhaps I should be.
I have had some new thoughts about what subjects I will be taking, and some adventures since I started trying to ride my bike to law school, but should - for the moment - get back to the party.
Man, these late nights in " freshers' week" are making me tired.
Monday, October 6, 2003
So, I now own a bicycle.
Sure, it’s a girl’s bike, and certainly nothing terribly new or fashionable, but:
(a) if you buy a new bike in this town you may as well pin a note to it saying “please steal at your earliest convenience”; and
(b) there are lots of men about on women’s bikes, so the lack of a manly cross-bar (or whatever it’s called) is no real issue.
Further, it only cost me £50 plus a bike lock, and you can’t get anything with two wheels for less that £45 in this town (there are even rumours abroad of a shortage of second hand bikes, but I think that’s just alarmist).
I have not yet, however, had either the courage or a helmet to ride it in traffic. In the seven odd hours I’ve had it, I did no more than take it for a “test spin” to see that I could still mount a bike, stay seated, push pedals and move in a straight line. That accomplished, I wheeled it home and chained it up behind our kitchen.
The local second hand bicycle shop was interesting: one guy, sole trader, with a yard full of second hand bikes out back. In his shop he does up about four a day, sells them on and deals with customers wanting minor repairs and accessories as he goes.
I walked in in the morning, looked about, and came back after an hour or two to claim “my” bike, at that time the last left on his “showroom floor”. In the course of making a few small adjustments and dealing with other customers, he had to turn bicycle-seekers away, saying he would have more tomorrow.
“Bit embarrassing,” he said sheepishly as I wheeled my red girly-girl bike out, “bike shop with no bikes to sell for the rest of the day. Only have one pair of hands though.”
I should also be able to pick up a second-hand computer tomorrow for under £500. I’d prefer a laptop, but need something that will be able to run the iPod. Still shouldn’t be too hard.
A lager problem looms on the horizon. I’ve a formal dinner on Wednesday requiring black tie and academic gown. Being an old wrinkly, ie over 24, I need to wear an MA gown, which has longer sleeves. The “Middle Combination Room”, however, ran out of MA gowns for hire (a mere £20 for the year, plus £40 refundable deposit) just as I arrived. They’re “looking into it” and may be able to scrounge up more.
The problem is size: length from shoulder to mid-calve, almost heel. I apparently thus need a 52” gown. They had nothing left in anything close to my length.
I may have to buy one second-hand, for a slightly galling £50. Harrumph. That or pretend to be a young, dynamic 24 year old and content myself with shorter sleeves.
However, there is a “gown proctor” who may bar you from your graduation ceremony if you’re improperly attired.
Also, on a previous post, it turns out that the University Motor Proctor, from whom one must seek permission to “keep” a car, was until three or four years ago still formally called the Horse Proctor.
And on yesterday’s post, with picture of King’s College: King’s chapel is apparently built on “our” land. It seems Henry VIII expropriated a chunk of Trinity Hall’s land to build it. The Hall has also had a poor history of real estate dealings and late-night poker with other colleges over the centuries and thus, instead of winding up spectacularly endowed, and owning nearly as much land as the Queen, is left with a cosy little sandwich of land between Kings, Clare and Trinity.
Still, it adds to the friendly, less institutional feel of the place that everyone has to kind of jumble in together and meet each other.
Right, off to a pub crawl. News of that later.
PS I am now posting my entries on “Cambridge time”, Lyn’s should still be “locally” dated.
Saturday, October 4, 2003
The quality of Cambridge accommodation is often strained …
No, it's not where I live. It is not in fact, even my college.
It is though, a view of St John's chapel and Trinity College (kindly provided from the Burnt Toast photo log permission of Lisa), which is pretty close to the view I walk past most days on my way to check my e-mail at Trinity Hall. Especially the grey sky, after a few days of unseasonal sunshine.
Anyway, I am beginning to settle into the house, now that I can enter and leave at will. We lucky few, we band of brothers off Mill Road are, apparently, in the lap of comparative luxury in our pad.
Few students it seems, even lofty graduates, get brand new accommodation and a comfortable ratio of six students to two bathrooms, let alone a new kitchen with washer and dryer - and the college has given us an extra (albeit small-ish) fridge as the one we have is not really big enough for six men, though it has freezer space for an army.
There are contradictory rumours about whether we will get access to the College's broadband, or whether we will have dial-up only access from home. Still, we have the Middle Combination Room (ie Grad Student Society) computing officer in our house, so that should be good. Mind you, I've not yet seen him - he seems to keep late hours, but has apparently been preparing for a conference in Cyprus that he is now away upon.
Upsides of our unusual situation are that we have unusual freedom in running our own affairs and will not, after a slight panic attack on my part, be subject to £100 a year in laundry fees. We have to buy the supplied bedding, but can wash it ourselves without paying.
We have a college-provided cleaning lady who lives nearby, called the "bedmaker", despite the fact that she does not, in fact, make the beds.
On the downside, we apparently cannot put anything on the walls - the college is actually leasing this house from a private landlord for 3 years while they construct new buildings at Wychfield (where I had, at one stage, hoped to be). We also cannot smoke indoors, not a problem for me, but an issue for some of my continental compatriots who, in innocent ignorance, have been smoking in the kitchen with the windows open.
I wasn't super-happy about the cigarette smoke, but so long as they kept it to one well-ventilated room I was happy. Now seems they'll have to smoke outside.
Getting along very well with S. the Italian Sociologist, who I will call the Italian Sociologist as he shares the same first names as our Greek Mathematician. The Italian Sociologist and the Australian lawyer have already had some interesting cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary conversations and bonded over our mutual love of his two man coffee percolator.
We sound like a bar joke: two Italians, and Australian, two Greeks and an Englishman walked into a house off Mill Road and …
My room is small-ish, but not too bad.
It has more storage space than I know what to do with. My desk has three tiny old-fashioned letter drawers at desk level - despite the pull-out keyboard shelf making it's ikea catalogue origins abundantly clear. It also has a small cupboard with two shelves.
I have a plain pine chest at the foot of my bed, and two drawers pull out of the bed base. One of these is blocked by my three-drawer side table, which is just far enough from the wall opposite my bed to open the mid-sized wardrobe. To the left of the wardrobe is a six-shelf pine bookcase, which protrudes slightly into the desk nook.
My window is over the desk, and provides plenty of light and an ample, nay unparalleled, view of the neighbour's shambolic back yard and the train tracks in the mid-distance. Still, the place is warm, comfortable, clean and new - though not very central. Apparently one is often lucky in college housing to get one of these, let alone four.
I have spoken to a friend at a BIG college who has described her accommodation as including a shower (no bath) where she is “afraid to touch the walls”. Ick.
Still, it is amusing that our house actually falls about two centimetres off the official (larger) map of Cambridge University mailed out to me. (I guess we are in “here be dragons” territory.)
The College itself is lovely, but more words and photos (once I have the technology) on that soon.
Thursday, October 2, 2003
(travel blog from Doug)
So, I’m finally here. *gasp, pant* Arrived Monday, spent two days commuting to London to sight-see, and went to the first law orientation lecture this morning (though classes don’t start properly until the 9th).
There’s a goodly number of new graduate students wandering around with a “oh, wow” and “if I weren’t so overwhelmed right now, I’d probably be freaking out” sort of expression. Including me.
There’s a lot of administrative stuff to sort out before classes start. Not to mention sorting out the dynamics of living in a house with five other men (yes, a six boy, all-male house), with two bathrooms and three toilets.
But no-one wants that guff, they want narrative.
The baggage haul: escape from Paris
(or, “you’ll miss nothing if you skip this bit”)
So, my last day in Paris I’d built over an hour’s safety margin into my plan to get to out to Charles De Gaulle - and needed every minute of it. I just missed the 10.00 am transfer bus advertised by my hotel, and the next bus was at 10.30. (Proof you should make those connections by taxi, not metro.)
Still, my flight wasn’t until 12.25, plenty of time.
Wrong. I was on an Air France transfer bus, and British Airways (my Qantas partner) was their LAST drop-off. When I just made check-in, I simply couldn’t be bothered attempting to conceal the vast 38 kg extent of my luggage. I received a very sweet warning about “next time” from the charming French check-in attendant, who checked my bag and back-pack without blinking.
So much for all my scheming over hand luggage.
On arrival at Gatwick I whipped through immigration (after a slightly nerve-wracking three minute quiz) grabbed my bags and was told at the bus counter I could transfer to the 1 pm bus, leaving in 5 minutes. As this would get me into Cambridge at 5-ish not 6-ish, I seized the moment (and my bags) and ran for the bus.
Well, more scooted towards the bus with a fractious luggage trolley that constantly veered left, but whatever.
Cambridge, the Santa Porter and a towel
Four long hours later, I hit Cambridge, and managed to muddle my way down from the bus station, through the cobbled market square, to the Trinity Hall Porters lodge (at the end of a long alley beside the Senate House) and got some keys from a veritable English Santa Claus of a Porter.
My house, it turned out, was a fair bit out of the centre of town. I was solemnly advised by Mr Porter, on viewing my luggage, to catch a taxi.
A Cambridge black cab, with “hackney carriage” emblazoned on its side, got out to my house for £5 and – after struggling with a slightly stiff door key, I dumped my bags in my room and headed out to buy the vital thing I was missing – a towel.
Douglas Adams was right, a dude should know where his towel is. Had I had one with me, I would have been spared a good deal of drama.
Of towels, and keys
It was a half-hour walk into town and by 6 pm the only thing seemingly open was Marks and Spencers, which had a discount fluffy bath towel for £10. I grabbed it and some food, not realising the cheaper Sainsbury’s was open up the road.
After a 30 minute walk home, I could not get the front door key to work.
I was stupefied, towel-bearing and darkness was closing in. All hopes of hot bath or a soothing gin lay beyond the stubborn green door with its pretty stained glass panels. My previous experience of being locked out did not reassure me.
I went down to my major thoroughfare, Mill Road (a good place for cheap eats, pubs, bikes, wine, computers, pubs, and books – there may also be a pub or two) bought a chicken burger and the walked back to contemplate the door again.
It was still – despite both my efforts *and* the purchase of a chicken burger - locked.
No-one else was home. I did not have a number for the Porter’s lodge. I was facing another 30 minute walk into town.
My will snapped and I caught another cab.
“Can you drop me at the Senate House?” I asked.
“Where are you going, then?” asked the cabbie.
I explained my situation and said my landlord was Trinity Hall.
“I can drop you at Trinity Hall if you like,” replied the cabbie.
“Fine,” I said with faintly dubious gratitude. “If it’s possible.”
It is indeed, it seems, possible to hurtle a cab through a series of narrow cobbled alleys not seemingly wide enough to both park and open a door.
It can even be done without removing side-mirrors.
I was amazed, and happily parted with another £5 at the former coach-entrance to Trinity. (I later learned that busses are equally cavalier - or skilled – when I had to slowly back up against a wall to allow a bus to wiggle round a corner in the manner a large, blue, brick shaped cat might.)
The benevolent Santa Clause-like Porter swapped my door key, gave me the Lodge number and said to call if the changed key didn’t work on my return.
I caught another cab home (my legs still weak and aching from two weeks’ sight-seeing), and duly failed to open the door. After calls to the Porters from a phone booth, the college Director of Works was summoned. The sight of a large man struggling with my small key ensued.
He eventually won the battle and got me in
“It’s new, that’s what it is. Not your fault,” he grumbled.
Only in Cambridge could something’s failure to work be blamed on its being new (ie installed after Gladstone was Prime Minister).
I was then armed with a back-door key as an alternative, and promised that the front door lock would be changed in the morning.
I had a bath, a gin and tonic, and stepped out through the back door to walk down to the phone booth and call my parents. I put the key in the backdoor to lock it.
And there it jammed, in the lock.
I had gone from a house I could not open, to one I could not secure.
I trudged the block and a half to call the Porters, and assure them that tomorrow would be soon enough to call out the Director again to free the key I had wedged irretrievably into the lock.
But I called my parents first.
And sheepishly succeeded in un-jamming the lock again on my own on my return, though not without the sort of stupefied pride normally reserved for apprentices drawing swords from stones.
Not really such a bad moving to a new town story, what’s your worst?
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Guest blog by Lyn
Some of you may be aware that Doug has been posting a crime serial online – you can find it here. I received a draft of final chapter yesterday with instructions to post it here, as it is a work in progress. To aid new readers, I’ve included the last two sentences from the previous chapter, just to get you all in the mood. I think Doug will appreciate your feedback.
The conclusion of Naylor: pages 102 – 103.
I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as that of course. What I didn’t suspect was how much less simple, and how very much more painful things were going to get.
* * * *
“I wish I had a hacksaw”, said Marina pensively.
I’d found Marina. Or rather, she’d found me. I’d been whacked on the head with a shovel, and chained to a bathtub. Marina now hovered over me with a complete set of dental instruments, a blender, and what looked like a microwave wired into a lawnmower.
“Before you kill me Marina”, I said, trying to maintain an air of nonchalance, “I’d just like to know why.”
“Why?” she asked, grinning horribly. “Well, I’m glad you ask, Elliot. I’m starting my army of zombies, and you were getting too close to the truth.”
Ah yes. My zombie theory. She knew me well.
“So will I become one of your mindless minions of darkness?”
“Hardly”, she responded. “You were annoying enough when we were dating. Besides, I’ve got enough help for the present.” A shadow fell across the shower curtain, as Jenny walked into the room, a horrible blueish tinge to her skin.
“Hello, Elliot” she said. “I’ve come to watch.”
Jenny and Marina smiled at each other. “Jenny”, Marina said. “I just can’t find that hacksaw. You know, the blue handled one. It’s my favourite.”
“I think you left it out in the kitchen, after using it on that pizza guy”, Jenny said “I’ll go get it.”
She turned, and winked at me. “Don’t worry Elliot. We won’t be keeping you too much longer.”