Bonfire Night, as Guy Fawkes Night seems to be officially called in the UK, was the “official” highlight of the week, at least in the sense that it was an official holiday. The main attraction in Cambridge was the fireworks show at Midsummer Common, which was cleared of cows (and, semi-miraculously, of cow pies) for the occasion. I only saw the last five minutes because I had an erg session in the Churchill gym that ended right as the show started, but the part that I saw was still pretty nice.
Then, of course, there was also a bonfire, which I was very excited for because of my previous experiences with bonfires at Dartmouth. This one was also constructed mostly of wood pallets, but it was smaller and much less impressively engineered than Dartmouth’s Homecoming bonfire, and we weren’t allowed anywhere near it. There was no burning of Guy Fawkes or the Pope, either, but that’s hardly surprising in this day and age.
There were some other attractions that kept people around after the fireworks had ended, like a long chain of food stalls selling hot drinks, delicious-smelling greasy food like burgers and fish and chips, and sweets. Bonfire toffee, made with black treacle (molasses), is one of the traditional Bonfire Night treats, but the sweet stall didn’t have any, so I settled for buying a toffee apple to take back to my housemate Amanda (who had to miss the fireworks for her erg session and was very grumpy about it).
There was also a “fun fair” of carnival rides and games, but I was getting cold by the time I made it down to that end of the common. I should also clarify that I was on my own, having sprinted down on my bike immediately after erging, and I wasn’t really in the mood to spend 3 pounds to go on a 1-2 minute fair ride all by myself. (I did think the concept of a “bacon baguette” was kind of amusing, though.)
Eventually, I decided to honor Dartmouth tradition and run a (very large, thanks to all the safety fences) lap around the bonfire and bike back to college.
The rest of the week passed major incident. Lab work finally started to pick up a bit, though I still don’t have new samples to analyze and the electromagnet I would be measuring them with is being used by somebody else anyway. I took an extra half-session of lab demonstrating to cover for a sick demonstrator, so I ended up spending a lot of time in the first-year physics lab this week.
I’ve been feeling mildly sick myself for the later part of this week, but I took it easy in and felt mostly better during the novice women’s outing today. We didn’t spent much time actually rowing, since the Cam was closed for a canoe race for most of the day. The extra time before the outing was spent making adjustments on the rigging of our boat (which had previously been used by a men’s crew, so it was set up for heavier people), which made it a lot easier to row without the oars hitting the water on the recovery. We’re definitely still not very together, but Anna, our captain, and Ed, our coach, seem pretty happy with our progress. There’s an erg “race,” Queen’s Ergs, at Queen’s College (what a surprise) on Tuesday evening, and I’m looking forward to getting really, really sore.
Something that was on my mind a lot yesterday, and Bonfire Night as well, is the weird tension I’ve felt here (and, to a lesser extent, at Dartmouth) between being “in the bubble” and being part of the community. Growing up, I wouldn’t say my family was super involved with “community” events, but there were all the little interactions and friend/acquaintanceships that make a place feel like home. The weekly conversations my Dad has with the guy who runs his favorite heirloom tomato stand at the Farmer’s Market, letting the little girls who live down the street in so they can pet with dogs, asking the local librarian for a book recommendation, that sort of thing. I think it’s also correlated with civic involvement (which was also on my mind this week, thanks to the election; yes, I voted in Utah, no, I don’t think it made much of difference, thanks to the gerrymandering of congressional districts in my lovely state. I think these articles sum up my feelings pretty well). I voted in Utah in 2010 and in New Hampshire in 2012, because my vote was more likely to count for something in the close races in NH than in Utah, but I didn’t really feel right about voting on local issues because I was too firmly inside the “Dartmouth Bubble.” I didn’t feel well-informed on the local issues and candidates, and I also didn’t really feel like part of the local community. I was a Dartmouth student, but not really a Hanover or Upper Valley resident.
Here in Cambridge, I’ve found the town pushing in more on my university/college/Cavendish bubble. I wave to the construction workers on one of my morning running routes out toward Madingley. I enjoy my short bike ride through a quiet neighborhood to Aldi on Saturday mornings, and the cashiers often make a bit of light conversation as they scan my items through with superhuman speed. I had a 5-minute conversation about allergen regulations with one of the guys who runs a crepe stand near the market square.
I definitely don’t feel as strong a connection to this place right now as I do to Utah, or even to Dartmouth. But the fact that I feel the community at all, after such a short and often hectic time here, gives me hope. My current life plans call for me moving around quite a bit in the next, say, 10 years, from here to the other Cambridge for grad school, then to a postdoc or two or three, before I (hopefully) get an actually permanent job in academia. At the start of my stay here, I was worried about spending a lot of time adrift, without a strong support system if/when shit hits the fan, as it were. I looked down and didn’t see a safety net. Turns out it just takes a little time.