Originally posted November 28, 2011.
I said that I wasn’t going to post again until the end of the term, but I can’t help it. I’m going to make time to write because, after not blogging for a week, I can literally feel the difference; there’s a void in my life because I’m not posting! I think sharing my experiences with everyone reading this from back in the US is part of what makes them so special to me. Plus, so much has happened to me over the past few weeks that if I don’t write it all down, I might be going into emotional-overload very very soon.
Anyways, sixth week. Truthfully, not much exciting happened during the actual week. My essay on Siegfried Sassoon went over pretty well. We did have an interesting conversation though because my tutor thought I had purposefully touched upon the topic of propaganda in my paper, when in actuality I had stumbled upon it in the writing process without actually exploring the concept or how it applies a lot to my reading of Memories of an Infantry-Officer. Other than that, it was just a nice third tutorial, unfortunately my second to last World War I tutorial of the semester. And for eighth week I funnily enough decided to revisit poetry. It’s funny; I had previously planned on avoiding more poetry at all costs, but instead I found myself asking to read more World War I poetry. I guess that’s the cool part about being in tutorials—I have begun to appreciate and look at pieces of literature that I might not have chosen to read on my own.
As for the primary tutorial, it was my first week with George Eliot- so scary! Sort of like with the World War I poetry, I had previously planned to avoid reading her. I had heard so many intimidating things about Middlemarch that I didn’t think I would be able to handle one of her novels during this term. But, since our discussions of Elizabeth Gaskell seemed to lead perfectly into comparisons with Eliot, I assented to my tutor’s wishes and embarked upon my first George Eliot novel, Adam Bede. And it was much better to read than I expected. Her direct narration surprised me and the long descriptions of the landscape annoyed me at first, but after discussing the novel with my tutor I appreciated it so much more. And even from the first read I was impressed with the depth of the characters. On the other hand, I found writing an essay on George Eliot a much bigger challenge. My essay was okay, but my tutor had lots of criticism about the way in which I chose to engage with the text. And that’s why we both decided I should focus on Eliot for a second week. As it turns out, I needed more time to mull over Eliot.
Because it was a double tutorial week, most of the time I was holed up in my room or in the library working, but when I wasn’t working, I was out on the river, training with the WNA crew for our two upcoming races. In some ways it was exhausting. Instead of training in the afternoon, they scheduled us for a lot of early morning outings. I don’t know how I made it, on time for a 6:45 am outing on Wednesday morning (which was actually quite exciting; we saw a dog catch a goose in his mouth on the bank; it was disturbing and a little sad, but at the same time, it definitely woke me up!), a 7:30 am erg session on Thursday morning, a 7:30 am meeting to take apart the boat and load it on the trailer, and then a 6:00 am call on Saturday morning to take the bus (here it’s called a coach, which definitely helped the 2 ½ hour bus ride that much more “glamorous”) into Cambridge for our first race, the Cambridge Winter Head. But once Thursday night hit and my tutorial was finished, I began to get nervous/excited for Saturday’s race. Everyone made fun of me for taking notes about how to prepare when we met in a pub on Thursday night for last details, but I wanted to be completely prepared. (I also got to try mulled wine for the first time that night; yummy! And so nice when it’s so cold I can see my breath)
And then finally, it was race day. I slept through most of the coach ride, even though I had previously planned to read my new Eliot novel for the week, The Mill on the Floss. But once we arrived, I had to wake up really quickly: we had to boat almost immediately because our race, women’s novice division two, was about to begin. I found it pretty intimidating to boat off the side of the Cambridge bank; it was slanted and I was so afraid that I was going to topple over into the freezing river when I put my blade in. For once I wasn’t so happy to be on stroke side. But, we all managed to remain dry and just a few minutes later we were paddling down the river toward the start.
The whole morning had been such a whirlwind that I hadn’t had time to get nervous, but once we got down there with all the other boats, it became real. I watched them, in their rowing suits or coordinating uniforms and began to get nervous. None of us had ever raced before and, even more intimidating, the stretch of the Isis we had been practicing on was about 800 meters; this course was 2.5 kilometers. Thankfully, we had an experienced cox who knew the river and he kept us focused and energized. First he told really bad jokes, then he had us stretch (“Now touch the back of the girl in front of you …”), he passed a bag of Haribo candies up and down the boat, and then when we had been waiting for at least 45 minutes, he started singing “The Final Countdown.” So inspiring. And finally, we got the call from the marshal, swung the boat around, and got ready to race.
The race itself is sort of a painful blur. I remember Henry’s voice calling for stroke side to pull us around the curve, shouting “Knees down, knees down!” to motivate us to keep squeezing through our legs and pushing the boat forward. I remember hearing the crowd of Hertford boaties cheering at us from the bank as we approached the second railway bridge. That definitely helped me keep rowing. And then I remember finishing the race, thinking that I was in so much pain that I would never be able to do that again. My arm hurt from feathering the blade, my legs definitely hurt from that long, long stretch. When they called us to pull the boat out of the water immediately, I thought we were going to drop it because none of us had the same amount of strength as usual to swing the boat up to heads. And yet, somehow we did it. Then as soon as the initial exhaustion wore off (and I had eaten a bunch of Hobnobs and had a hot chocolate), I was pure hyper energy. I couldn’t believe that I had completed the race. And the endorphins were telling me that racing was so awesome that I needed to do it again. Immediately. Unfortunately, we only had one race that day so instead I had to content myself with chatting with the other girls, eating a lot of food (we did burn a lot of calories, right?), and cheering on the senior boats and the boys’ novice boat.
Plus, not racing again allowed us to go into the city of Cambridge and explore while everyone else had to remain by the river. As it turns out, their stretch of the river is at least a thirty-minute walk from the city center. Of course, just as we started off, my energy level crashed and I did not enjoy the pretty walk into town as much as I could have. But, once I found a cappuccino for myself at their outdoor market, I had a much better outlook. Overall, we didn’t get to see too much of Cambridge, but we did spend time poring over their covered market and I got to walk past Kings College (their gargantuan college, like Christchurch at Oxford; except I swear it was bigger, they even have their own shop for souvenirs …) and the pub where Watson and Crick announced they had discovered the double helix shape of DNA (too bad it wasn’t really an option to stop in for a drink). I’m glad I got to visit, and I do think it’s a pretty place, but I still like Oxford better. I guess being here for a semester, surrounded by the spires and the ancient buildings of Oxford, makes me biased.
I was so exhausted and behind on work from all of that fun that I thought Sunday would be a boring catch-up day, but somehow I managed to make it productive and still entertaining. After our rowing outing at 4, I had originally just planned to do work, skipping both choir/Evensong and formal hall. But, my friends convinced me to run from the river to choir, arriving just in time to join the queue for the choir procession. And even though that was rushed, choir was amazing. I’m glad I didn’t miss singing “Zadok the Priest;” it’s too pretty and silly at the same time. After that I planned to go back and finish the last 200 pages of The Mill and the Floss, but again, my friends had different plans. They helped me find a spot for that night’s formal hall and so even though I hadn’t signed up, I still got to attend. And it was worth it. I had so much fun giggling with Leah and Alice all throughout the meal. I’ll only get the chance to go to a formal dinner like that a few more times.
But once I got home, reality set back in. I did get the chance to skype my parents and some friends from Rice, but as soon as I finished, not only did I still have those pesky 200 pages to read, but I also promptly lost my voice. I guess that’s what I deserved from shouting for two days straight and then giggling/chatting/singing for the past four hours, but still it was a bit annoying.
In the end, it was all worth it. The weekend between sixth and seventh week with my trip to Cambridge and my first race was one of my best weekends of the term.