Global Question: How's the weather?
And, Cambridge Answer: :)
Shall I say rain, rain, and more rain? :) Actually, the sun came out today and you know what, Cambridge looks mighty different in the sunshine. :) It has been cold. The winds are incredible. Sometimes when I cycle home, I battle the winds head on. It tests your strength and flexibility. I am wary of black ice, that is a none-too-friendly beast for a cyclist! It has been quite wet and rainy and then a few hours, some afternoon, it is a balmy 40-50F. I sit here in my lab looking out the window and see the clouds have once again crept up on me. I think we are in for another three weeks of rain. It keeps the place quite green.
Well, it's been a while since my last email. I have been busy (no big surprise). The designer for our spectrograph has arrived from Australia and we have begun to design it. I have been working on simulations of OH emission lines in the near infrared. And since, I am teaching myself C *AT THE SAME TIME* things have been coming along quite slowly. I am working round the clock, and progress is slow. But, I am told, that is how it is often. The next three months should be exciting. The optics lab should be built and I can have more desk space. The designs will be narrowed down and hopefully things will get rolling. I am scheduled to go on an observing trip to HAWAII, yep, you heard it, HAWAII in late June. I have never been there. I am certainly taking a holiday there to explore for a week or so before returning to Cambridge. So, if anyone out there is free for a week or so late June (we have time on UKIRT on 20-23 June, so around 24 June), interested in exploring Hawaii with me? I shall miss the May Balls here (large proms but quite an event from what I hear, called May Balls but held in June after the exams) but there is (as always) next year.
Otherwise, what have I been up to...well, I have had haggis and yes, I do like it! I went to a proper Scottish Ceilidh with a real live Ceilidh band at my college on 25 January. It was in celebration of Burns Night. Robert Burns was a famous Scottish poet who wrote in the vernacular. Well, we had some Scottish grads read some of his poetry throughout the night. The event started with a bagpiper who "piped" in the haggis. The haggis was carried on a platter behind the piper who proceeded to circle about the room. The piper and haggis were brought to the front and Burns' "Ode to Haggis" was recited. At a certain point, from what I gathered from the gesticulations of the reciter, the haggis was stabbed by a large knife. We then all lifted our glasses of whisky and toasted the haggis. Then the piper piped his way out.
We were given the haggis as a starter, the college most likely feeling that if haggis were to be given as the main meal, then most people would not eat it. There was vegetarian equivalent of haggis for the vegetarians of the college. It was quite filling, being all full of oats. I had imagined it would look like something other than it did. But, it looked like a hash of some sorts to me, and tasted the same. Could use some ketchup I suggested, and got a strange look from Amanda (my officemate who I invited to come along). "Haggis goes with whisky," she told me. I tried the whisky, Bells it was, I was told. I think I muddled down a few sips. It is an acquired taste. The meal was your standard British fare (i.e., meat, potatoes and veggies), but with a Scottish flare. We had neeps and tatties (i.e. neeps sort of in the turnip family, and tatties are potatoes). And we had a dessert made from cream, oats, honey, and more whisky. And Scottish cheddar. Some more Burns poetry was read and more whisky drunk. Then the place was cleared for the Ceilidh.
For the non-dancers among you (and really, people, dancing is the thing to do (in any form)!), a Ceilidh is basically a barn dance. Like a square dance. There is a Caller who shouts out the moves. Dances are in sets of couples, men line up on one side, women on the other. Some dances are for couples. All dances follow a set of patterns. There are not too many basic moves. The difficulties lie in the way the moves are attached. Sometimes it can get quite difficult to get to the next move if one is slow in running around the set, slow to stomp, etc. All done to 4-4 beat. And sometimes the band deliberately speeds up the rhythm to make the routine more difficult, but also lots of fun. The band was composed of two fiddlers, an accordian player and a percussionist. A variety of jigs and reels were played. I don't recall most of the names of the dances, being that it was hard to hear the Caller above the crowd. But "Strip the Willow" was the final one and it was a dear. All it involved was hooking ones arm with one's partner and swinging her/him about 360 degrees. But, you changed partners throughout the piece. It was quite elegant when you got it right. It was not a Scottish piece, but rather an English Country dance piece. Nonetheless it was delightful. Oh, and I tried a bit of Talisker as well that night. IMHO, it tasted the same as Bells, but stronger. I was later chastised for my naive comment. :) The dance was mighty fun! It lasted til about 1am.
I had been having a rough week at work and the Ceilidh put me in better spirits. Lots of men wore kilts to the event and some women adopted a tartan style outfit. Amanda made the comment that "all men should wear kilts." I must admit, it does add something to a man! :)
It was all good fun.
On 1 February, I was graced by the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales. Yep, the heir to the throne of England! It was quite an experience. The reception was held at St. James's Palace in London. There were about 100 of us there, 40 Marshall Scholars from my year, 36 from 1993 and 12 or so from 1992 along with members of the Marshall Commission. The Prince was alloted only 1 hour to talk with us, and IMHO, it was quite disorganized. We did get a group photo with the Prince and I am looking forward to seeing it (even though some guys refused to sit cross-legged on the floor and I had to kneel in my dress :( ).
I didn't get to see much of the palace, but we were escorted to the reception area which was beautiful. The walls and carpet were of this dark burgandy, laced with gold. Quite regale indeed. Upon the walls hung beautiful portraits of several monarchs--Henry VII, George I, George II (but not George III, probably because he lost the colonies :) ), Charles I, and Charles II (before his beheadment, of course), James I (who was James VI of Scotland, and hence from his chain came Queen Mary of Scots), Victoria (of course!), and a collection of Dukes and Earls. The outer hallways leading to the reception area had paintings depicting military victories in Africa and India. On the way to the ladies bathroom, I had to enter a beautifully ornately decorated sitting room with coats of armor on the walls and an impression collection of swords. I wanted to linger, but the prince's guards were making sure people didn't spend time in places other than the main reception area. But this room was lined with ornate tapestry, lots of gold in them, and plush seat cushions on the couches.
Well, the prince arrived and to be honest, I didn't recognize him. We all were in little circle groups. My circle was one of the first groups to meet him and he spent a good deal chatting about things. He asked me about how I liked Cambridge and Jesus and the chatting went on to touch upon English cuisine (and how they overcook their vegetables) and latest work in neuroscience. He was edged on to make sure most Scholars got a chance to speak with him.
I had been practising my curtseying, but didn't have a chance since the room was quite crowded and being in a circle didn't help much. He shook all of our hands and had a firm, but not too firm, handshake. He was much shorter than I expected, and very relaxed. I had expected much more of a military front. He was dressed in a suit, and just looked like an ordinary guy. And his voice was quite soft. Not booming and imposing like I thought it may be. He seemed generally interested in meeting us, although it could have been just the result of meeting thousands of people and doing these sort of things for years. I heard that he once suffered tendonitis from shaking too many hands and had to either shake with his left hand or refrain from shaking hands for about 3 months in order for the damage to be healed. And I can just very well see that happening. In a matter of an hour, he shook about 100 hands. I must comment that his tie did NOT go with his suit. It was a turquoise tie with light blue diamonds on it worn with a light blue-white shirt and a grey blue suit. His hair was much lighter than I expected and he was balding. It still strikes me that he really was not as tall as I expected, probably because in the media pictures there are rarely photographic angles that highlight his height. He does have very nice eyes, I may add.
It was a thrilling experience. I do hope he got a good idea of what a interesting mix all of us make. Within an hour he was whisked away as quickly as he came. I wanted to see more of the palace, but most of it was blocked off. What was interesting was the location. We had gotten off the Tube at the Green Park exit on the Piccadilly line and walked a tad past Buckingham Palace to these other smaller palaces, of which St. James's is one. It used to be the residence of the Prince, but now I believe it is more for diplomatic offices and receptions like last night. We found the main entrance which was blocked by large gates and were asked to enter through the side. The side was none too impressive. After the reception, a bunch of us went out to dinner and we exited through the side door as well. But we turned the opposite direction from which we entered (i.e. away from the main entrance) and walked out into a rather residential (for a city, that is) area. The only thing were two guards in fatigues carryin M-16s (some sort of semi-automatic rifle, no doubt). I looked back and couldn't really see the guards, and would swear it did not look like any sort of palace. It just blended in. I guess I was taken aback by the fact that people live right next door to these historic buildings. But then again, that's what is all over the place in Cambridge.
Hopefully it shan't be a once in a lifetime experience to meet the Prince of Wales. ;) It was certainly a night to remember. I have the invitation and shall treasure it always.
Well, that's it on my latest adventures. I bought a young person's railcard this week, so Europe beware. (It of course shall be a matter whether my simulations get the best of me or not!) I am looking forward to drier and warmer weather. It will come.
I do hope this short note finds all of you well. Happy February to you all. Stay in touch.
The notebooks seem to demanding my attention. They are jealous of the Prince. Someone commented to me that the Prince chatted with me for a few minutes because I am of fair head. :) Well, you know, it's not easy being blonde. :)(:
Miss you all!