On Cambridge #2: My Top 10 moments, Part 1/3
This post is unlikely to be gut-bustingly funny or deeply thoughtful - It’s an indulgent collection of some of my most precious memories from my university experience over the past 3 years. Much like stumbling upon someone’s collection of mementos, you might find some of them amusing, intriguing or perhaps odd.
10. Surprise brownie from TUF
It had been a long day, a draining week and an endless month. I once again found myself sat in my favourite cafe at 4pm on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in my third year. The cafe is called Trockel, Ulmann and Freude (or, as I call it, the TUF cafe). It’s a small, cosy place on Pembroke Street in Cambridge.
I was utterly, utterly exhausted. Between doing improv shows, dancing, martial arts and regular work my regime was probably a bit too ambitious.. Alas, life being as it is, personal events had arisen to deepen my weariness.
So there I sat, facing one of the two main windows in the cafe, trying to read up on the history lecture I had in an hour. The lecturer I was due to listen to was brilliant, and usually I made the effort to capture pretty much everything they said (this had something to do with me knowing little about history anyway). In all previous lectures, this had me typing non-stop for an hour. I was psyching myself up – willing my brain to gather the focus necessary for the hour ahead. Thoughts of the work that I would have to do in the evening anyway after the lecture were weighing down on me, and as a result I was just a bit god-damn melancholy.
Hunched over my laptop, I was tapped on the shoulder by one of the owners. He gave me a piece of chocolate cake, with the words “Here ya go Jack, a little present” .
I struggle with receiving gifts and unexpected kind gestures. . Often I am struck by the inadequacy of the phrase “thank-you” – I feel like there should be a much longer incantation for that, to somehow more fully demonstrate the depth of gratitude. This was one of those moments.
I had been coming to this cafe for two years now and was a serious regular. I knew the owners’ names and they knew mine, often we would talk and catch up. In a silly sort of way, it kind of felt like a bit of a sanctuary for me in town – going to Homerton college was a wonderful experience, but in my first year I often felt like I was just passing through the heart of Cambridge and was a bit of an outsider. I rarely walked anywhere, seeing as I always had to cycle, and was almost certainly carrying a backpack with me. I was just ‘passing through’. The TUF cafe broke this rhythm for me, as it was a place I felt genuinely welcome.
I tried in vain to fully express my gratitude for the next few minutes, and then proceeded to eat the piece of cake they had given me. Naturally, it was delicious, and the combination of warmth, kindness and sugar seriously perked me up.
A few minutes later it was 4:30pm, and they started closing up shop (I was the last customer remaining). I noticed this and started to pack up my things, when one of them stopped me and told me that I was welcome to stay until 5pm, which was the amount of time it would take for them to sort out the various things they had to pack away.
It would have been a wonderful thing to happen to me on any afternoon,but this simple act of kindness totally elevated my mood at a time when I needed it. It was truly one of the nicest and unexpectedly needed moments I had in Cambridge.
To my friends at the TUF – Thank you. Sincerely.
9. Peterhouse May Ball 2015
As a result of entering the 2015 cardboard boat race, myself and my crew mates were entered into a raffle for May ball tickets. We didn’t discover this until we got a message telling us that we had in fact won tickets to the Peterhouse College May ball – one that happens just once every three years. I found out after one of my best friends and crew-mates left the gym before me, and came quickly running back yelling “DUUDE WE WON”.
So we end up going to the white-tie Peterhouse May Ball. It shaped up to be a great night - I have some of my best friends with me, so the company will be excellent. The food and drink should be lavish, and everyone’s looking great and in high spirits. However, the night exceeded my expectations.
About an hour in we wander to a dance area where a pop-rock band is playing some dance numbers (think Johnny B Goode feel of music). In between songs the singer commands the men in the audience to partner up with a lady. Seeing no reasons not to, I walk a few feet over to a woman with her back turned towards me, tap her on the shoulder, and ask if she would like to dance. She turns around, grins, and says yes. And we dance. And it’s great – not to say we were both great dancers, but it was the first time ever I felt like dancing with someone was natural. We just clicked, so much so that after the first few songs of just dancing and exchanging next to no words, we briefly kissed before walking off the dance floor.
The next two hours were wonderful. We walked around the may ball, chatted, kissed, got to know each other. Amazing chemistry – I felt so goddamned cool (this is exceptionally rare) but mostly quite lucky to be having the the experience. Everything was going well and it looked like it was going to successfully be a lovely ball.
Then, naturally, I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
After having a somewhat distracted ferris wheel ride, we got off to find my group of friends waiting for me. Now, my friends and I had promised each other that since it was a white tie event, we should go full-elitist mode and smoke cigars at some point in the evening (most of us hadn’t ever smoked anything before in our lives). So I turn to my dance partner and, well, from what I recall, said was something to the effect: “I need to go be ironically classy right now, can we meet up again in twenty minutes or so”. She nodded, we kissed and parted ways.
So after trying desperately to smoke a cigar – which I failed to do with any measure of success (anyone have a flamethrower? How the hell do you light this thing?) -- I looked for this woman for the next hour or so but couldn’t find her. I kept drinking during this time and eventually, to my great dismay, gave up hope. Later, and after passing through a tent talking animatedly with some friends, I faintly noticed someone walk past. After three seconds my brain told me that I had probably just passed her – and had totally blanked on it. As I turned around, I stood like an idiot and watched her leave.
The rest of the night was a great laugh despite/because of this. A really wonderful evening with friends. Oh and, if the lady in question should ever read this - if you're up for it, I'd love another dance.
8. Punting, Aromi and Tourists.
A gorgeous sunny day in may week. Punting down to find a nice spot nestled next to Darwin College. Underneath some trees, seeing the light dance through the leaves. Champagne, plastic glasses, Aromi sandwiches. A cool breeze, a peaceful stillness.
We lay in the punt laughing, giggling, discussing the ridiculous and the serious with the same glee.
Some tourists passed us by as we lay in the punt, being pushed along by a local punter. They all had their cameras out photographing the scenery. You sat up slightly, looked at them coming to pass us soon, mischievously looked at me and said.
“Shall we give them a show?”
Even now, I’m struggling to wipe the grin off my face.
READERS NOTE: I have left much to the imagination in the above anecdote. Shame on you if your thoughts have taken you down an “R” rated path. While the show wasn’t a song and dance, it was chaste enough not to have broken any laws or offended any sensitive souls.
But it was fun.
7. Cardboard boat race 2016
In 2014, I entered the cardboard boat race with my friends from my corridor, and promptly sank.
Not to be deterred, in 2015, I entered the race with my fellow Natscis from Homerton (perhaps the more science minded would produce a better boat?). We built a two-section catamaran. We were more successful, but only partially so. One section of the boat sank. I was in that section.*
2016 was my last chance, my last chance to COMPLETE THE RACE WITHOUT SINKING.
1km of duct tape, 8 hours of building, a petrol incident, an incapacitated crew mate, a scramble for new crew mates, a 40 minute carry of our duct tape beast to the river, a makeshift duct tape gopro chest stand and a Nicolas cage mascot later I finally found myself in a boat that stayed afloat. I finallycompleted that most prestigious of sportingevents -- the Cambridge cardboard boat race.
I will probably make a video with all this footage soon. It was glorious.
*I still blame you, Oli
Next post: Almost certainly, part deux