Saturday, April 01, 2006

So what was I doing?

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.

thinking that grasps

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 session

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.

School of Pythagoras

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.

View from the Backs panorama

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.

graffiti 1

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).

capuccino of mushroom soup

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.

Very small cups of coffee

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.

Life mask of Wordsworth

I'll leave the next post to describe the impromptu blues karaoke session on the last night of the conference.

5 comments:

said...

the blue of the sky in the photo with the graffiti is unreal!

ampulets said...

4 years there and I never knew about that pythagoras building! er, but i do know about bad food.

if cambridge some 10 or so years ago is still pretty much still the same, then i recommend a thai restaurant near parkers' green. it has real good pad thai. and i like that italian place (forgot the name) at the corner of the market square (with al freco seats?) - it's got real coffee. or at the lane at the back of st john's, there's a cafe called clowns (it's pretty much an institution, so should still be there). it's old, dark, student-y - the walls are filled with sketches and paintings of clowns (many creepy), and they serve good italian coffee and chocolate fudge cake.

wahj said...

Your advice comes one day too late! =)
Anyway, the conference schedule was such that we finished at 4pm everyday, leaving only 1 hour to walk around and do things.

Which college were you at?

ampulets said...

aiyah. but you are now one day closer to home!

trinity hall. the small nondescript one hidden at the end of a "jack the ripper" lane.

Anonymous said...

hey dood,

looks like youre having fun man. enjoys. :)

wes