Back from Cambridge

I just made it back from Cambridge and the SF and the Canon Conference at Anglia Ruskin University. I had a great time in Cambridge, and I’ve already planned out everything that I’m going to do there as soon as I can get back! One day is not enough to see everything.

I arrived in Cambridge on Thursday afternoon. Immediately, I began to figure some things out about this university town. First, there are nearly as many bicycles as there are people. In fact, I believe that I saw some bicycles perversely riding other bicycles in order to go about their bicycle affairs. Second, Cambridge is the de facto spring break location for French young people. I would need Vishnu’s fingers to count the number of French invaders that I encountered about the city. One observation that I made about the French young adults is that they are more rude and loud than British youth. Third and final characteristic of the people that I met in this town is that couples and groups of people maintain a constant and unbreakable SEP field. A SEP or Somebody Else’s Problem Field allows one to disregard and not consciously register external stimuli that is too much for their minds to deal with at that time, or as I append, stimuli that run counter to their inflated sense of self importance. There were numerous times that I would either stop dead still or barrel through a crowd on the narrow sidewalks, because those persons apparently expected me to walk in the busy streets (full of bicycle and motor congestion) or magically fly over them on a Nimbus 2000 (which unfortunately I left at home). In any event, I spread good cheer amongst these dimwits by glaring, telling them what I thought of their mothers, and using my psychokinetic powers to explode their heads.

With my rant out of the way, let’s go on to the good stuff…

On Thursday, I began exploring the city between the Travelodge and Anglia Ruskin University on East Road. Feeling a grumble in my tummy, I went to Chili’s for supper where I had a juicy burger, a Budweiser, and a slice of pecan pie. After dinner, I went for a stroll down some of the (well lit) side streets, and then headed back to the hotel after my hiking boots suffered a enigmatic malfunction.

Friday was my day to enjoy the city. It was overcast and cold, but I was able to see most of the colleges that make up Cambridge University. However, I didn’t actually go into all of the colleges, because they charge admission to let you walk around in certain areas. I did pay to go into Kings College, which was very impressive. The church and the grounds adjacent to the River Cam are amazing and very impressive to see in person. I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually attend school there or at one of the other colleges. I know that I would relish walking on the well manicured lawns that off limits to tourists, and I would be lost in the corridors of the buildings letting history osmotically permeate my body. I headed back to the hotel at sundown, because I was tired after all of the walking (I understand why there are so many bicycles in Cambridge now). I went back out that evening for a thin crust Dominos pizza (Americana–noticing a trend here?) and I checked my email at a cybercafe. Before going to sleep, I discovered an important piece of information about the hotel that their website didn’t indicate–there was a bumper car ride beneath my window. Luckily, I was so tired that I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Saturday–the big day! I got up bright and early and donned my J. Crew suit for the conference, and I walked the approximately two miles to Anglia Ruskin University. After navigating the labyrinthine halls of the main building, I found our room where Professor Brown was already setting everything up. Other conference members began showing up shortly thereafter. The only people that I already knew there were Andy and Sandor, but I quickly met many of the others. In the afternoon, I presented my paper on H.G. Wells’ “A Story of the Days to Come” and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Chris Beckett and others had some great comments on my paper that got the discussion going. I was very pleased with my presentation and the discussion that followed. Of the papers that I hadn’t heard prior to the conference, my favorites were Keverne Smith’s “The Tempest and Frankenstein: Forerunners of SF,” Genevieve Liveley’s “A Cyborg Geneaology: Science, Fiction, and the Classics,” and Michael Bywater’s “Zorking Hell: How the PC Made Hobbits of Us All.” Congratulations to Professor Sarah Annes Brown for hosting a superb conference!

After the conference, about ten of us adjourned to Cafe Adriatic, a local Italian restaurant for good food, fine wine, and lively talk. Lyndsey and I talked about Battlestar Galactica and Will Ferrell, Andy tried to exorcise my inner Darth Vader, and I overheard Tony Keen say something about Blake’s 7. Folks began leaving around 9:00pm, so Andy and I talked shop over bitters at The Cambridge Blue. When I eventually made it back to my room, I discovered that there was a bumper car ride directly beneath my window. I thought–huh. I was so tired that the screams, shouts, and collisions really didn’t hinder my ability to quickly attain unconsciousness.

All good things…On Sunday morning, I woke up at 8:00am, but I decided to drift in and out of sleep until about 9:00am. However, the fire alarm expedited my getting out of bed, dressed, and hobbling down the stairs with Coke in hand. I took a seat on the bumper car ride and waited for the alarm to go off. After twenty minutes, it ceased, so all of us waiting in the cold began to shuffle back inside. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go up the stairs, because there was a commotion making its way down the stairs. A cop had a black 30-something lady in an arm lock and she was yelling and cussing incoherences (though, I just finished reading Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, so I feel a bit of consternation about this). She was taken outside, and most of the guests stayed near a window downstairs or in the stairwell watching the drama unfold. I walked past them to go back to my room and get ready to catch the train back to Liverpool.

I dropped my keys off after a shower, and I walked to the train station. I considered hanging out there, but I decided to get a little more sightseeing in before I had to leave. I walked up to St. John’s College and took some pictures of the gondolas on the River Cam, and I walked down some unfamiliar streets. Feeling tourist satiated, I made my way back to the train station and I caught my train to Nuneaton, and then the next train to Liverpool. I arrived back in Liverpool after being on the rails for about four hours, and I walked up Edge Hill to Melville Grove.

I had a wonderful time at the SF and the Canon Conference, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Cambridge. There is a lot more that I’d like to see there, such as touring all of the Cambridge colleges and the Duxford Imperial War Museum (an enormous air power museum that has an impressive Cold War and American aircraft selection). Hopefully, I can make my way back there soon!

I have tons of pictures to upload to Flickr, but I need to clean them up first. I’ll let you know as soon as they’re available.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.