Avalon asked in a comment what the heck I was doing so far away from home ... well, I asked myself that question more than once in the 5 days I was Cambridge.
It's not that the conference was bad (and it's not that it was all that great either - frequent conference-goers will recognize what I'm talking about when I talk about conference fatigue, and how sessions at these conferences seem to either ask you to do too little, in which case you feel your time is being wasted, or too much, in which case you gripe about it being too much too fast - there's no pleasing conference particpants, really), but that I was really depressed about having to leave home after just barely getting back from reservists.
Anyway, more about What I Did in this past week.
As you may have gathered by now, it's a conference on Critical Thinking. Organised by a foundation that hails from California, it was hosted in St Johns College, Cambridge ... a distinctly un-Californian locale.
Conference sessions mostly consisted of us sitting in the upper croft at the School of Pythagoras, working through how best to teach critical thinking in our various schools.
In a campus where every building is old, the Pythagoras building has the distinction of being the oldest in Cambridge - built in the 1200s as a residence. It certainly feels old - the stonework is rough, the stones are irregular, and there are only two rooms - one above, one below.
The location, as I've said before, couldn't be more beautiful. All St John's College (view above of New Court, from the Backs: I stayed in a room on the bottom right) needed was an actual ivory tower somewhere to give substance to the atmosphere of one that loomed over all of us.
Not that there weren't any more prosaic moments to ground us: I was amused by the juxtaposition of the graffiti scratched into the wall by the window, and the view of a different kind of marking on the wall of the library opposite (the inscription stands for Iohannes Lincolneisis Custos Sigilii - John of Lincoln, Keeper of the Seal, the man who paid for the building of the library in 1624. I can only guess at the provenance of the scratchings on the left, from 1984).
The food, as I've mentioned before, was interesting, but made me wish for some thing plainer and simpler. Pictured above is the cappucino of mushroom soup. Pictured below are the incredibly small cups of coffee, which really meant that everybody had to have 2 or 3 to get the required caffeine intake for the kind of heavy thinking that goes on at these conferences - critical thinking being fuelled primarily by caffeine, and thinking about critical thinking doubly so.
I don't have any good photos of the library, which was really incredible, and which defeats my ability to praise it enough: here's one of the life mask of Wordsworth that is on display there. Apparently he had to have his face covered in wax for a few hours to get this done, which to me seems to guarantee that any life masks produced by this method would show people at their grumpiest.
I'll leave the next post to describe the impromptu blues karaoke session on the last night of the conference.