Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ireland and Ice


Ireland was neat, aside from the lack of sleep and perhaps partially because it was colder than usual, something that led to a lot of painful and comic falls on the sidewalk and to a lot of fretting about early morning departures in a city where taxi drivers told us they didn't know how to drive in the snow. We spent our first day sitting in a bagel shop, under-slept after our four am flight, shocked at how expensive Cork, a small, pretty city where Christmas music played from speakers in the street, a town without chain stores that felt like a 1940s film set, seemed to be. I was there for a debating tournament, and so didn't see much of the town, though I can recommend the University College campus for beauty, a grey stone castle set amongst gardens, a less tourist-filled version of a Cambridge college. I met lots of lovely friendly Irish people, most of whom managed to debate very impressively after eleven ciders. We ate fish and chips in a shop where everybody seemed to know each other, where everybody we'd met in Ireland seemed coincidentally to be, we drank mulled wine between debates and were told about a festival where they put a goat on the top of a hill, give him a paper crown, call him the King and celebrate his coronation by drinking for two days. 
And now I'm back in Cambridge and it’s icy and cold, really my favourite weather, and I need to keep reminding myself that I need to do work, which is hard with Christmas trees and tinsel everywhere.

Cambridge at the End of Term



I returned from London for the last week of Michaelmas term, to discover that people were occupying the Old Schools in protest of the UK fee increases. Since I really believe all education should be as free as possible and I think protests are in themselves important as a form of political expression and are often effective (they worked with the VCA and I do think even if they don't initially succeed they mean at least there's some sort of record of resistance, that resistance is felt), I got over my fear of walking into a room where everybody but me knew each other and went along. It turned out there were plenty of people I knew there and it was wonderful, a sort of energetic protest universe, and we blew up balloons and wrote anti-tory slogans on them. It's nice when people care enough to actually act when politicians try to do bad things rather than just being cynical and accepting it, and it was like a party, a party where everybody believed in everybody else's rights and everybody could do whatever they wanted and nobody wanted to hurt others... 

I really loved the occupation; it was like a universe that I agreed with, contained within a beautiful room in the centre of Cambridge, and it felt like even the room was happy, like the room was finally being used and loved as the social and intellectual forum that it had always wanted to be... 

Unfortunately, I missed the first three days because I was in London and the last four days because I was in Ireland. I wish I'd been able to be more involved, but I'm still really pleased I was there at least a little bit and really, really pleased that it took place. My supervisor mentioned to me that he thought for a lot of the younger students it was a sort of political coming-of-age that would really influence who they became as people, and I really think that that's a sort of lovely experience to have when you're nineteen, because there was just so much contained in that room, so much hope and energy and kindness and community, and it's really a good model to have in your mind for what a society should be.