12 October 2008

fresher's week dispatches

A financial bailout. So far I have been able to avoid the worst of what Cambridge's bureacracy can dish out, but I had a close call on Thursday. After getting out of my morning lecture, I hustled down to the Language Centre to sign up for a French class. The enrollment hours were brief and deviously inconvenient, and the place was jammed with people when I got there. Finally I made it to the front of the line and explained my dilemma. The class cost £100, payable by cash or cheque, but I couldn't come up with the payment that day. I had signed up for my bank account the previous week, but they hadn't sent me my chequebook yet. I had deposited my Gates stipend at my bank on Monday, but it takes cheques at least four days to clear in the UK, so I couldn't withdraw cash from the ATM. Knowing that my situation was not my fault and that lots of new Cambridge students must be in a similar boat, asked if I could reserve a spot in the almost-full class and pay at one of the later enrollment days, emphasizing all along how committed I was to taking the class.

To paraphrase the response: "not a prayer, buster-- come back when you have the money." Crap. I knew that the class was going to fill up, and it was now or never. A few moments of desperate haggling and attempts at negotiating failed. However, I was in luck-- there was another Gates Scholar in line behind me, whom I've known since we interviewed in Annapolis in February. She spoke up and offered to front me the money; she had gotten to Cambridge long before I had and consequently had a chequebook. I gratefully accepted and paid her back as soon as my cheques arrived, enclosing my repayment in an effusive thank-you note with a promise to buy her a cocktail at next week's Gates dinner cruise on the Thames.

If I had been shut out of the class, it would not at all have been an atypical experience for a Cambridge student. There are just so many uncoordinated moving parts around here, so many offices and institutions that don't talk to each other, so many delays intersecting with deadlines. Most people manage to scrape by, but you do hear the occasional horror story, and my missing out on the class wouldn't have been so bad in comparison to other possibilities.

A stroll to Grantchester. On a much happier note, this weekend I rounded up a posse to walk along a footpath on the River Cam to the tiny hamlet of Grantchester. The village is home to a teahouse known as The Orchard, which once played host to a remarkable group of friends. For the half-decade preceding WWI, The Orchard was a hangout for a subset of the Bloomsbury Group-- including the philosophers Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the novelists E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, the poet Rupert Brooke, and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Amazingly, they became friends before most of them had done their most significant work. Keynes is of greatest personal interest to me, as an economist with whom I have a lot of intellectual sympathy. (Hint: he's pretty much the boogeyman among the "just let the market run its course and everything will be fine" set.) I'll close with a shot of some contemporary Cantabrigians following in their leisurely footsteps:


1 comment:

maureenpow said...

Hi Shawn,

Love the picture. Glad to see you look well fed and healthy despite your lack of cash. :)
Love Mom