More about Churchill

From the title, you might guess that I’m going to talk a lot about my college here at Cambridge, but my week was surprisingly “Sir Winston” – themed…at least, the beginning and end bits were. On Monday evening, I left the Cavendish a little early (after having read a bunch of papers and received the final all-clear to be a “demonstrator” for first-year physics labs–yay!) to catch a short tour of the Churchill Archives Centre. Not only are pretty much all of Sir Winston’s papers there (along with many artifacts, like a dispatch box we were shown that was used during his time as Secretary of War), but the collections of many of his contemporaries and successors as well. We saw one of Margaret Thatcher’s handbags from when she was prime minister, Sir John Cockcroft’s Nobel Prize medal for Physics, pieces of the Mitrokhin Archive, a draft of a famous statement describing an atomic bomb test, and a lot of other interesting bits and pieces of history. Churchill, of course, was the star of the show. I’ve taken photos of some of the documents I found most interesting.

A real Nobel Prize medal!
A real Nobel Prize medal!
A cast of Churchill's hand, taken when he was 85 years old (I think).
A cast of Churchill’s hand, taken when he was 85 years old (I think).
Papers relating to Lise Meitner, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
Papers relating to Rosalind Franklin, who did a lot of the work leading to the discovery of the structure of DNA (and received very little credit until after her death).
Papers relating to Lise Meitner, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
Papers relating to Lise Meitner, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
The famous "Iron Curtain" speech.
Part of the “Iron Curtain” speech.

I thought the card above that Churchill made to help him give the famous “Iron Curtain” speech was very interesting because it shows the lines of the speech laid out like poetry. Apparently he did this quite often with his speeches, in order to give the right effect (emphasizing the right words, taking pauses in the right places, and so on). I can definitely see this working; maybe it’s just because I’ve heard the audio of the speech, but when I read the card, I can hear the cadences in my head as well.

One of Churchill's report cards: a pretty amusing read.
One of Churchill’s report cards: a pretty amusing read.

I thought this was pretty funny: a report card from when Churchill was maybe 8 years old. It includes such phrases as “French: Knows a few sentences, but knowledge of grammar is very slight” and tells us that young Winston was “a regular ‘pickle’ in many ways.”

After that, I went back to the house and helped my lovely new housemates cook a chickpea, sweet potato, and split pea curry!

Pretty much everyone is in there somewhere (except me, of course).
Pretty much everyone is in there somewhere (except me, of course).

Terence and Meng also shared some cucumber-based Chinese cuisine with us. A few days later, Meng brought back some black bean sauce that I missed getting from the Chinese grocery store in Salt Lake City, as I saw that there was some in the cupboard and mentioned that it was one of my favorites to have at home.

The main event for the rest of the work week was Graduate Safety Training, which was not quite as ghastly as I had expected, and even funny at times. (Less so at other times, but I’m trying to be charitable.) The death of Karen Wetterhahn due to accidental dimethyl mercury exposure was given the apparently obligatory mention, but the guy giving the talk said she was at Plymouth College instead of Dartmouth College! Tsk, tsk. At least I had something to write on my comment form.

Completely in line with my expectations for this time of year/moving to a new place, I got a bit sick on Wednesday, woke up on Thursday with painfully swollen tonsils, felt it spread to my nose and throat on Friday…t’is the season for fresher’s flu, as they call it here. (Slightly catchier than my previous term, “the freshman diseases.”) In spite of that, I managed to get a bit of work done on my NSF GRFP application, make some serious headway in understanding and planning the experiments I’ll be doing this year, and forced myself to go out to some events on Friday night.

Technical failure during the lecture by Prof. Gerard't Hooft. The place was packed.
Technical failure during the lecture by Prof. Gerard’t Hooft. The place was packed.

One of those events was a lecture by Nobel laureate (Physics) Gerard’t Hooft at the University of Utrecht, titled, “How Impossible is it to Reconcile Quantum Logic with Classical Logic?” I can’t say I really agreed with his ideas (he basically seemed to really dislike the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and came up with a different mathematical framework with which to do quantum calculations. While I can’t say he was wrong, I don’t think he really said anything falsifiable…), but you get what you pay for, I guess, and it was free.

The Churchill crest on the boathouse. I guess we have boats named "Sir Winston Churchill" and "Jim?"
Our crest on the boathouse. I guess we have boats named “Sir Winston Churchill” and “Jim?”

The highlight of Saturday was the “Try Rowing” event, which consisted of getting shown how to erg, doing a 250 m timed “sprint” on the erg (to pick out the really fast people), and doing a short session in a boat with some experienced rowers, a cox, and a coach biking alongside yelling at us. I thought I was doing okay learning how to erg, but I practically fell off the seat at the start of my 250 m test, and spent half the time trying to scootch my way back on while still erging. Apparently this is not uncommon. The actual stint on the boat was quite fun. I can see the appeal of rowing (and coxing – so much power!) once you’re actually good at it, and for now I’m hoping to go to a few more practice sessions, at least. I can definitely see how being tall is an advantage, but if one of the women’s novice boats has some other short people in it, that could help with staying in time more naturally with the other rowers.

Some people getting ready for the 250 m erg sprint.
Some people hanging out after their 250 m erg sprints.

Anyway, I definitely wasn’t terrible at rowing, so that’s something. It’s not nearly as fun as cross-country skiing, but even the ski and snowboard club people I talked to looked at me like a crazy person when I asked if anyone did that here (they don’t even seem to go on nordic ski trips! Lame), so I probably won’t be doing much nordic skiing this year, sadly.

On the side of the ergs; Hey, I've been there! (Shout out to the Dreissigackers, awesome supporters of Dartmouth Skiing and makers of ergs and Ski Ergs.)
On the side of the ergs; Hey, I’ve been there! (Shout out to the Dreissigackers, awesome supporters of Dartmouth Skiing and makers of rowing equipment and Ski Ergs.)
Here's my boat going out (I'm in the bow). Photo credit: Amanda Chen.
Here’s my boat going out (I’m in the bow). Photo credit: Amanda Chen.

Sunday’s big event was a freshers’ trip to Chartwell, the manor house Winston Churchill lived in for much of his adult life. The house itself is not that large, considering how important he was and that fact that he and his wife had five children (one of whom, Marigold, died at age 3). It was quite tastefully decorated, in the style of the 1920s and 30s (his wife’s doing, both back then and when it became a museum) and definitely felt like a family home. I didn’t take many pictures because the light was quite dim.

One thing many people don’t know about Churchill is that he was a fairly skilled and very prolific painter, producing over 500 pictures after he picked it up as a hobby at age 40. His studio is a separate building from the house, and filled with some of his works.

The grounds are the most impressive aspect of Chartwell, covering 82 acres and including many features designed and/or built by Churchill himself, such as a swimming pool and several artificial lakes. The rose garden and orchard were nice, but I was most impressed with the kitchen garden and its variety (and size) of plants.

Okay, that’s enough blathering on about historic buildings and gardens. Next week should be pretty exciting (first time demonstrating! Elise is visiting from Germany! I finally get to work with real experimental samples!), and I need to get some rest so I’m not sick for all of it.

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