10 September, 2010

Relaxing with the Familiar Scent of Male Urine

Before I turned thirty, the year didn't really affect me - winter or summer, it was all the same to me.  Since becoming a wizened old geriatric, the cycle of the year becomes more and more significant.  The changing rhythm of the year genuinely affects me.  Some ways subtle, some ways not-so-subtle.

Summer is a lovely time here - all the undergraduates have left, along with the need to teach them, and my days are filled with performing long-neglected experiments, writing up my results, and talking to interesting people about their ideas.  Some of the best ideas come from the newest graduate students, their minds uncluttered by what should and should not be done.  My interns from this summer have finished their placements (some even getting as far as writing their own academic papers from their short projects with me), and, for the next month at least, everything is calm and unhurried.  It is that feeling of utter quiet that you suspect can only be followed by a period of more hectic pace.

April 2010

For now, though, the streets have quietened down as the schoolchildren have started their new term. The university doesn't start Michaelmas term for another five weeks, which is five weeks that I hope to fill with a combination of welcoming our son into the world, finishing off our house's renovations so that he can be comfortable, and then, finally, writing a clutch of papers.


This year, I changed colleges.  It's the same university, but we have some 32 or so colleges within it*, which makes for a whole lot of confusion.  My new college is, ironically enough, one of the oldest colleges.  It's a lovely, quiet place - you step through the doors from the busy traffic of the street, and suddenly leave all the noise behind.  Maybe its quietness is partly responsible for The Hobbit and the first two books of The Lord of the Rings trilogy being written here.

*I believe Harvard was set up after our university-comprised-of-many-colleges model, but they didn't get past building more than one college; hence "Harvard College", where one reads undergraduate degrees, was, so I understand, the first of many originally-intended colleges.  The college system certainly has some advantages, it must be said, despite (or perhaps because of) the decentralisation.

During term-times, college has a certain hushed industry about it as students go about their tutorials, and the tutors go about eating their lunches and dinners ("never knowingly underfed" being our unofficial motto).  During the summer-time, when all the teaching staff are going about their research, the college is let out to bus-loads of visiting American students.  They seem to enjoy themselves for their few weeks; they learn languages and some humanities while they are here, getting a taste of what they insist on calling "Arxford".  They are a lively-minded bunch, who have little to do with us, except for the fact that they seem to yell at one another across the quads, shattering the peace.  Last week, a crusty old don stood up from lunch to close the parlour window, mumbling something uncomplimentary about our visitors.

However, nothing lasts forever - these visitors will soon be gone, in time for our new intake of undergraduates, and life will return to normal, renewing itself with the start of the new academic year.

The annual cycle is a lovely thing, and has a charming rhythm, like a trusty old clock.

Let's drink some tea.  (Please scroll to the bottom on arrival at the new page.)

2003 Quanji Bulang
Mothballs and Quanji