Animal Day: Bear


From the 2004-2005 Trinity College Cambridge Regulations and General Information for Members of the College in Statu Pupillari; Section 9, “Rooms in College and in College Hostels” (and curiously removed in the 2006-2007 version):

Animals. Lord Byron kept a bear in Cambridge, but nowadays Junior Members are not permitted to keep any animals in Cambridge.

Today a bear once again roamed the Great Court of Trinity.

The above photo is of me with one of the Trinity porters (the bowler hat is part of their ‘uniform’). He was a bit confused that the guy dressed up as a teddy bear wanted to take a picture with a porter, but alas, Cambridge is a place full of mysteries. I was dressed up in my Stanford Halloween costume to take part in the Trinity College Great Court Run, which was popularized by the movie Chariots of Fire. One is meant ot run around the Great Court in the time it takes the college clock to chime at noon. The clock actually chimes to twenty-four, the extra set being for St. John’s College (whose tower is without bells). In recent times, the event occurs the day of the fancy Matriculation dinner (more on that later).

I heard from the Vice Master that sprinters in the recent past have been able to deal with the sharp 90 degree (“pi/2” for Trinity mathmos) turns and cobbled path to complete the feat and join the ranks of Lord Burghley (1927) and Sebastian Coe (1988). However, less publicized is the unofficial silly costume contest and fun-run that occurs slightly out of phase with the front runners.

Always up to the challenge of public displays of silliness, I joined forces once again with my friend from Stanford, Suchitra, to represent the ‘old guard’ of the Fisher Group (admittedly I was an adopted member of the old guard). Little known to the others, Suchitra and I have a decorated history of silliness at Stanford. Teaming up with Yana, Nancy, Ann, and K-Yun, the Fisher Group took top honors in the 2003 Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materails (GLAM) holiday door decoration contest and second place in the following year’s holiday sombrero contest. (The “goldstone boson of a Mexican-hat potential” beat our pipe-cleaner animal menagerie sombrero.) Additionally, we whipped up the best non-sketchy LN2 ice cream on campus. Somewhere in there we managed to do some research, as well.

The chapel was closed to visitors today… but apparently it wasn’t closed to costumed weirdos and a couple of amused ladies. Suchitra is dressed up with a Cruella Deville wig and “a wizard’s cape.” She explained that Cruella had, in the recent-but-undocumented past, decided to dye her cape purple.

Anyway, Trinity’s “Side F” tutorial (first year postgrads from outside of Trinity) was well represented. Below is a snapshot of the Burrell’s Field contingency (L to R: Flip, Steffen, Evan, Julijana, Amit).

And so we lined up at the designated “fun runner” starting line (approximately a quarter of the race behind the “real” starting line. Pictured below is the caterpillar team, the “five people with legs tied together” team, Steffen warming up, and two guys in boxer briefs tied together at their ankle. The half-naked guy on the left is sporting Trinity’s college scarf.

When the clock struck noon, we started running. Unfortunately, we didn’t really hear the chimes as we ran… but it was mostly irrelevant as we navigated the abandoned shoes, dropped grapefruits (from a juggler), and one particularly motivated hobbler who completed the Great Court Run on crutches.

When the smoke cleared, we came in just before the caterpillar team (and well behind everyone else who ran with two legs per person) and took the time to soak in the pleasant summer-like day.

No world records for speed, but Suchitra-and-Philip made sure to make the most of the event by taking photographs. We bumped into our friends David (one of Trinity’s chaplains) and Anita, and took the following photo with David:

He later remaked “… and I’m the one that’s dressed up!” We found out afterwards that David also ran the race in his first year at Trinity, so we were in very good company, indeed. After the crowd dispersed, we were a bit lost for things to do… but luckily somone corraled us into the Trinity bar, where we won one of the two prizes for best costume! Score one more for the dynamic duo!

The Dean of College presented us with a bottle of fancy-looking champaigne: “One of our prizes for best costume goes to Cruella Deville and a bear.” We were amused both that the Dean recognized Suchitra as Cruella Deville and that he understood (as we did) that the two are a natural pair. Had I been a better student of British wit I would have been able to explain the historical significance of the bear with respect to historical Trinity alumni… but Suchitra and I were just content to be Cruella-and-the-bear. For the record, the caterpillar team won the other bottle. Neither Suchitra nor I drink (though I relax this a bit for formal hall where the chance to sip from Trinity’s wine cellars shouldn’t be passed up too hastily), so we decided to keep the bottle as a trophy. For this next year I plan to use it as a book end for the books that I’ve checked out of the Centre for Mathematical Sciences library.

The formerly-half-naked-guy-with-the-ripped-abs stopped to tell me “well done.” (I was tempted to return the compliment.)

After scarfing down several pizza-bites and a pint of coca cola, Suchitra and I headed out to walk around Cambridge. Given the nice weather today, it would have been a shame to put away our costumes prematurely! I was very pleased that several children would simultaneously tug on their parent’s sleeve and point at me to say “oh, it’s a bear.” (This is especially charming in an English accent.) I got a few other variations:

  • “Oh look, it’s a bear! … no, I think it’s a monkey. Excuse me, are you a bear or a monkey? “
  • “Are you Baloo, or just a generic bear?”
  • “Awww…. a teddy bear… aww.”

One child was crying as he and his father walked down the sidewalk. He paused for a moment when he found himself facing two very curious characters, but quickly returned to his original business of crying. There are some very serious matters as a child that don’t get proper attention without a few milliliters of tears.

We also got quite a few cars honking at us and waving, several punters taking photographs while we stood by the Cam to punt-watch, one family asking for directions to the train station, and one ice cream vendor asking if we meant to share our champaigne with him. Nearly everybody recognized Suchitra as Cruella Deville, though one punt-guide asked if she was Storm from X-Men (I’m sure that made him looked silly in front of his punt tour). One of the employees at the Disney Store in Cambridge (a bit unexpected, eh?) stopped us while we were perusing Winnie-the-Pooh plushes to compliment us on our brilliant costumes.

We passed by a person on a soapbox denouncing evolution. I was quite impressed at the civility of the debate (this, I understand, is part of the essential training of Oxbridge students), where the speaker took time to take in questions and answer them in a decidedly non-confrontational way. This is quite different from the analogous public speakers in the states (in places such as Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade), who are rather mean and confrontational. At any rate, the speaker was trying to make a point that like animals only beget like animals (someone was trying to explain that a horse and a donkey can produce a mule), when Steffen, who had joined us, suggested that I make a counterpoint by declaring, in my bear costume, that my parents are human. As delightful as that would have been, I decided against becoming involved in a public debate on evolution.

Suchitra pointed out the store where she bought former-labmate Yana a thesis-defense gift, a “little teddy bear holding a bottle of champaigne.” She then caught her self and looked at me, and we both started laughing hysterically in the middle of the path.

To be honest, it’s a common sight for those who know us.

Coming up tomorrow: Animal Day II: Penguin.

2 Responses to “Animal Day: Bear”

  1. 1 leo van nierop

    Hi Flip,
    that’s a pretty cute yogi you make there πŸ˜‰
    I seem to read from this entry that you plan to stay in Cambridge next year too. Is this so, or are you still off to Durham?

  2. Hey Leo — this is an old post. πŸ™‚

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