Thursday, February 4, 2010

Doin’ the town

It’s always good to return to Cambridge: the city and the people are special to me and it’s a feeling of coming home to wander familiar streets and shops.

There’s a bit of ritual to a visit.  English breakfasts in the dining hall at the College, seated at long tables and striking up a conversation with whoever happens to be sitting nearby.  This morning it was a materials scientist creating nanotubes for industrial coatings, yesterday a Polish businessman studying organizational theory.  And all before 9 am.

Last night I went to the Peterhouse Political Society for a lecture.  They hold it in the college parlor, all flowered wallpaper and wingtipped leather chairs, the inner circle reserved for the dons (who invariably fall asleep during the talk).  Sir Hilary Synnott, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan in the early 2000’s , was speaking on “How did it come to this?” to a roomful of Pakistani students wanting to debate his policies and perceptions.  Worth a walk in the rain just to watch the give and take.

I stopped through the University bookstore to browse the sections of Philosophy and Mathematics.  I was hoping to find an introduction to recent philosophical thought, but no luck; I did find a good book on Pattern Recognition and retreated to a pub across the Fens for a read over a beef casserole.

“How many Nobel Prize winners do they have over in Maastricht?”, a local friend asked with typical British irony when I told him where I was living.  I love the Dutch, and I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else in Britain,  But when I’m visiting Cambridge, it’s hard not to be seduced.

3 comments:

Nicole said...

Hi Dave,

I used to live in a college as an undergrad in Melbourne, and I hated it at the time. But I have to say it would be fantastic if that system existed in the Netherlands. Given there is a lack of interaction in my group and a lack of networking opportunities across the uni as a whole, I would love to have an opportunity to have discussions with other researchers in different fields at different career stages at breakfast *and* dinner. Oh, I'm so jealous ...

- Nicole

Textual Healer said...

The idea of trying to engage civilly - let alone intellectually - with relative strangers before having consumed at least two cups of tea (and a cigarette) is my idea of hell.
And are you going to rise to the challenge and find out how many Nobel Prize winners Maastricht has?

Dave Hampton said...

Sorry, Nick, I agree with Nicole on this one. Part of the fun of dining at long tables is the opportunity to meet new people.

I do try to be respectful: if they make eye contact I'll smile and say hi, if there's a positive response, I'll ask an open question and let them decide whether to start a conversation.

It does feel pretty genial in the morning, in each case someonedoing something interesting and excited about what they do. A bit of inspiration for the new day.