Special Edition: Graduation Day

Well it’s done now, my educational career has come to an end, and I am no longer in statu pupillari.  On Saturday I graduated.  It was a poignant day, and the realisation that I was leaving the calm and sheltered harbour of Cambridge behind for the tempestuous high seas of the real world that will undoubtedly be fraught with various (presumably metaphorical rather than literal) Maelströms, Krakens, and other such delights.

The day started with a service in the College chapel, with a couple of classic hymns (such as Jerusalem and Tell Out, My Soul), readings, and an address by the Director of Studies for Medicine.  After that, the photo in Front Court, followed by a dress check by the Head Porter and Praelector.  We then all processed formally to the Senate House where our degrees get conferred.

The Senate House

The Senate House

It was at this moment, as we were waiting outside that it decided to pour with rain.  We entered the Senate House all soaking wet, and there we waited for the graduation to take place.  Owing to the large number of Colleges that comprise the University (31 in total), there is a strict order.  King’s, Trinity, and St. John’s Colleges go first due to ancient tradition, then the rest follow in order of foundation date, with Peterhouse (est. 1284) first, all the way through until Homerton College (which only gained full College status – by getting its Royal Charter – in 2010) last of all.

The Cambridge graduation ceremony dates back in part to the foundation of the university in 1209, and so is quite unlike most universities’ ceremonies.  Instead of walking across a stage, shaking some dignitary’s hand, getting your certificate and going off, it’s rather different.

People are arranged in rows of four, alphabetically, and in the order of precedence for degrees.  While you wait, the Head of your College enters, accompanied by some university officials carrying two mediæval maces.  Once the entry formalities have concluded, the graduation starts.

Your group proceeds forward to your College’s Praelector who presents his right hand.  Each person holds (with their right hand) one of his fingers.  He then says to the head of your College (in Latin), that he’s presenting these people for whichever degree(s) they’re getting, as they have proven themselves in both studies and in character.  After that, individually, you kneel in front of the head of your College and put your hands together as if you were praying.  The head of your College then puts his hands around yours, and (again in Latin) formally admits you to your degree(s).  Then you rise, take a step back, bow to him, and walk out the side door of the Senate House where you collect your certificate and shake the hand of your College’s Senior Tutor.

Anyway, once all that had been concluded, we headed back to College for a reception and to say some final farewells.  Afterwards, my family and I went punting on the Cam, and visited the Geology Department one last time prior to returning to College to finish packing and heading home.

It was a great day, and a truly memorable one.  I have no doubts that I shall miss the University, my College, and perhaps most of all, my Department.  On the upside, there are extremely strong alumni relations at Cambridge (presumably owing to the shared trauma of completing the Tripos), and there’s a University-wide alumni festival every year in September (which I fully intend to attend this year). There’re also things run by both College and the Department too, so rather than being a goodbye, it’s more of an à bientôt.

Special Edition: My Top 6 Travel Destinations

Not had a Special Edition for a while (or any posts for that matter).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit various places in my time, and obviously, I really want to keep adding to the list (my travel bucket list is the current place to see where I’d most like to go next).  However, which places have been my favourite so far?  Time for a Buzzfeed style list I reckon.

So the top 6 (originally 5, but I felt like putting one more in) are in no particular order:

6. Vermont, United States

The beautiful state of Vermont is in the top corner of the USA, in a region known as New England.  The scenery is absolutely stunning, with mountains, forests, lakes and all sorts of wildlife (including bears).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of times, as my family has some good friends who live there (one of whom has graduated from university and is now living in China.  You can read her excellent blog about it all here).  There’s no shortage of outdoorsy things to do, such as kayaking, or snow sports in the winter.  Not only is it the place for maple syrup, but also it’s the home of Ben and Jerry (of ice cream fame).

5. Little Langdale, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Ah the eternally delightful Lake District.  Home of Beatrix Potter, and the rainiest part of England (the  town of Buttermere – which was sunny when I visited, much to my surprise).  Full of stunning mountains, small villages, and of course lakes, the Lake District is not to be missed.  However, in my opinion, the hamlet of Little Langdale (it’s so small that the term “village” is a bit optimistic) is beautiful.  Not only does it have the famous Slater Bridge (a photo I took in 2008), as well as views of Wetherlam, Little Langdale Tarn, and abandoned quarries, it is also home to a most excellent pub (The Three Shires Inn).

4. Andorra La Vella, Andorra

Andorra is a tiny landlocked country in the heart of the Pyrénées. Consisting of only a couple of small valleys, it’s not especially well known.  However, it’s a hub for financial services, and is very wealthy. Skiing is hugely popular in the winter, whilst in the summer, the spectacular scenery will enchant you.  The food has a strong Catalan influence (which also happens to be the official language).  If you’re ever in the area, it is a country that is definitely worth visiting.

3. Château De Peyrepertuse, Duilhac-Sous-Peyrepertuse, Languedoc Rousillon, France

This ancient castle, built by the Cathars a while back (it was first mentioned in 806), towers over the surrounding countryside in the foothills of the Pyrénées.  An absolutely amazing place, and not one for those of you who are scared of heights (it is perched half a mile (800m) above the adjacent village, and surrounded by almost vertical cliff faces).

2. Hong Kong SAR, China

Hong Kong is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, and British until 1997, giving rise to curious differences with the Chinese Mainland (such as driving on the left and red post boxes).  They say New York never sleeps, but Hong Kong is a level above that.  At all hours of the day and night, the bright lights and masses of people going about their daily lives make this city hugely exciting.  Gazing over the skyline from the peak of Hong Kong island towards Kowloon after sunset is an incredible sight.

1. Easter Island, Chile

Let’s be honest, this post couldn’t have omitted Easter Island.  I don’t really need to say especially much about it, just click here to see my series of blog posts I wrote during my visit to this magical place.

Special Edition: Easter Island – The Summary (or The Boring One About Logistics)

Summary of the posts:

1 – Arriving on Easter Island

Sites visited: Hanga Roa

2 – Exploring the South West

Sites visited: Ana Kai Tangata, Rano Kao, Orongo, Vai Atare, Vinapu

3 – A Tour of the North and East

Sites visited: Anakena, Papa Vaka, Tongariki, Rano Raraku, Huri A Urenga

4 – The West Coast and Interior

Sites visited: Tahai, Hanga Kio’e, Ana Te Pora, Ana Kakenga, Puna Pau, Akivi, Ana Te Pahu

5 – A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside

Sites visited: Hanga Roa Museum, Poike, Vai A Heva

Having detailed my activities for each day on this marvellous island, I feel that it’d be appropriate to summarise the more tedious side of things (like logistics), in case anyone reading this fancies planning a holiday there (which you definitely definitely need to do)! (In case you were wondering why there’s no post for Day 6, it’s because it consisted of me waking up, packing, and going to the airport, which isn’t really that exciting)!

First of all, flights.  These are available from Lan Chile from Santiago Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez” (SCL) to Easter Island Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Mataveri” (IPC).  Price is about £500-£600 ish (and you get loads of air miles from BA too).

Accommodation is pretty handy.  I stayed at Residencial Vaianny, and got a private double room with private bathroom for about £20/night.

The hostel put me in touch with Christophe the excellent tour guide. I’ve already linked to his website, but for the sake of completeness, the link is here.  A private tour will cost between around £30 and £45, (half day and full day respectively per person).  However, when a car costs about £30 to hire for the whole day (excluding petrol), a tour guide is infinitely more economical (as not only is all the transport included, but the knowledge of the sites is too).  If you do book a tour with Christophe and have places that you’d especially like to see, then that’s no problem (it’s a private tour, you can see what you like)!

The guide book I got while I was there, but books in Chile are expensive.  Buy it from Amazon before you go, it’s cheaper.  If you aren’t doing a tour, then it’s well worth getting, as personally I found it more informative than the official leaflets.  Also, it tells you about various places before, so you can decide which ones you’d like to visit (handy for when organising tours).

There is a lot of choice of places to eat, but food is expensive when compared to the mainland (or much more similar to London prices). A main course will probably set you back about £10 (so buying cheap food from the supermarket helps save money – I lived off a 500g bag of crisps for two days, not healthy, but very good value!).

Finally, you have to pay for an entry ticket to the Easter Island National Park to visit Orongo or Rano Raraku.  This can be done upon arrival at the airport.  A ticket (for non-Chilean nationals) costs about £40.

Anyway, sadly this posts concludes my series about my holiday to Easter Island, but if you have any further questions, feel free to ask me through the Suggestions Box page.

 

Special Edition: A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside (Day 5)

The final full day dawned, which was a shame.  There were still lots of sites I wanted to visit, but I’d run out of time.  On the upside, it gives me the perfect excuse to return some day!

Anyway, HC and I decided to spend the morning visiting the museum, and shopping for souvenirs, as that was a rather important thing neither of us had done.  The first point was the museum, which was fascinating.  It had several very interesting artifacts on display, including weapons and stoneworking tools, but those that were most interesting were the (copies) of rongorongo tablets, and an original moai eye.  People have spent their whole careers studying rongorongo, but the salient facts are that it is an undeciphered script, found only on 26 tablets (which were found on the island).  Nobody knows what it means.

An original moai eye

An original moai eye

We went to the artisanal market, and I ended up buying a small model moai.  I couldn’t not really, and I knew that if I didn’t, I’d definitely regret it!  For those of you who will inevitably wonder if I named him, the answer is yes.  I christened him Tim.

After the shopping, and a brief lunch, Christophe appeared once more, and drove us both (as HC accepted my offer of joining me on another trip) to the North Eastern end of the island, the Poike peninsula.  It is inaccessible to vehicles, and so you have to walk (or ride) to explore the area.  As a result, it’s seldom visited.

There are various archæological sites on the peninsula, some of which are completely unique.  One on the itinerary today was one such unique one. It is called Vai A Heva, and is a statue that has a large mouth in which to collect water, carved into the side of the mountain.

Vai A Heva

Vai A Heva

A little farther up the mountain was a very tiny cave (you essentially had to curl into a ball to get inside), but inside the cave was another petroglyph of Make Make.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

We continued walking, and reached the summit.  At this point, we were very lucky with the weather, and the sun came out, to give the most amazing view.  Looking west, you could see most of the island, and from one coast to the other.  It was awe inspiring.

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

With the view having been seen, it was time to head down the mountain, and return to the hostel.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent holiday.

Special Edition: The West Coast and Interior (Day 4)

After having such an insightful tour with Christophe the day before, and having a great desire to see as many archæological sites as possible while on the island, I’d emailed him to arrange two half day tours.  One was to several sites to the west and centre of the island, while the other (which is going to be the subject of Day 5’s instalment) was for a hike around the Poike peninsula (the peninsula in the photo from the plane in the post entitled “Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)”).

Anyway, before the half day tour (which started at 3 in the afternoon), I went for a walk with some of the people from the hostel. One of them only came as far as the first site of the day, called Tahai. There were several platforms here, one of which has a moai with modern eyes installed (after archæologists discovered fragments of an original eye on Anakena beach).

The moai with eyes at Tahai

The moai with eyes at Tahai

An interesting aside is that I was talking to Christophe (my guide from yesterday) about this, and he said he spoke to the archæologist who discovered it – a native Easter Islander.  Apparently the archæologist didn’t realise what it was, but showed it to his grandfather, who promptly told him that it was a moai eye (as he remembered the time when lots of them had eyes).

Tahai

Tahai

At this point, one of the hostel people left, and it was just me and the other (HC) who continued onwards.  A little farther down the coast was Hanga Kio’e.  Here stood a solitary moai, which, according to the book, was one of the final platforms and moai to be built.

We continued onwards, hoping to reach Te Peu, but without any success (as we were fighting a losing battle against time – we had to be back at the hostel by 3 to have the tour).  I’d invited HC to join me on it, as she wanted to see one of the sights that it involved anyway.

Turning back (probably only 10 minutes from Te Peu with the benefit of hindsight), we stopped off at a cave called Ana Te Pora, which was interesting, and had a stone bed in it.

The next cave along (back in the direction of Hanga Roa), was called Ana Kakenga, which had two large openings facing the ocean which was beautiful.  However, the entrance to the cave is very small and narrow (with a low ceiling), and also pitch black (and therefore not suitable for those with claustrophobia).

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Upon returning to Hanga Roa, and having a quick lunch, HC and I got ready for our afternoon tour.  Sure enough, at 3 o’clock, Christophe appeared, and we went off to the first site.

The site in question is called Puna Pau, and is the quarry where the topknots (Pukao) were made.  These topknots are the red “hat like” objects on top of some of the moai.  You can see one clear example in the first image in this post.  There are three different designs of these, which either represent a feathered headdress, tied up long hair, or a bandana like thing.  Those you see upon the moai are just balancing, they are not cemented or attached in any way.  Overall, only about 100 were ever made (including those abandoned in the quarry).

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

The next place to visit was Akivi, which is an inland platform consisting of seven moai.  This platform is unique in being the only one where the moai face out to sea, rather than inland.

Akivi

Akivi

The final stop for the day was a cave called Ana Te Pahu, which, like all the caves I visited, are former lava tubes.  Inside was an interesting petroglyph to Make Make, who was the god related to the birdman cult.  Also in the cave were several ferns which were endemic to Easter Island (and only to Easter Island), which was pretty interesting.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

With the tour over, we were dropped back in the hostel, where we relaxed.  HC and I went for a walk along the shore in Hanga Roa just as the sun was setting.  This gave the perfect opportunity for a sun-setting-behind-a-moai photo, which was too good to miss!

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After wandering around for a while, we decided to get some supper at a French restaurant, whose proprietor was described to us in a way that made him sound like Basil Fawlty (a character from Fawlty Towers – which, for the benefit of my foreign friends, is probably the most famous British comedy programme on television that has ever been made) – although we never met said proprietor, so sadly couldn’t confirm personally alas!

Anyway, we ordered a massive paella to share, which was full of delicious seafood (lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, various types of fish, etc.).  It was very big, and very filling, and very nice! Feeling delightfully full, we called it a night, and headed back to the hostel to sleep.

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!

Special Edition: A Tour of the North and East (Day 3)

Apologies for the delay in getting this instalment out, I’ve been pretty busy this week, visiting London, moving back to university, researching graduate jobs, and sorting out my research project for my master’s degree! Unfortunately I left my travel journal at home, so I’m doing this completely from memory, but as there are lots of details, I might miss a couple of things out (although obviously, I’ll try not to)!

Anyway, my third day on Easter Island consisted of a private tour with a guide (named Christophe) who’d lived there for six years (who originally came from Brittany).  If you happen to be visiting Easter Island at some point, and want a guide who is extremely knowledgeable, then you can find his page here.  One great thing about Christophe’s tours is that he only takes small groups (of 1-3 people), and avoids the sites when the larger groups and tour buses visit them.  You only get to see four or five sites on a full day tour, but you’ll learn more history and folklore than you can shake a stick at. I really recommend hiring him, and he’s a great bloke too!

He collected me from my hostel, and our first stop was at the beach of Anakena, one of two beaches on the island.  It was spectacular, with several moai on a platform, framed by golden sand and palm trees.

Anakena beach

Anakena beach

Also on the beach was a moai that really reminded me of one of my favourite poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ozymandias (full text available here).

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Real life Ozymandias?

The second site we visited was called Papa Vaka, which is a site full of petroglyphs, including the largest on the island (12 metres long depicting a canoe – visible in the following image by the two parallel lines in the rock).

The petroglyphs at Papa Vaka

The petroglyphs at Papa Vaka

The hole full of water that you can see towards the bottom of the image was used in the past as a rudimentary mirror for looking at the stars.

After this great second site, we headed on over to the next location, Tongariki.  Nothing really prepares you for the scene in front of you at Tongariki.  It’s a massive platform consisting of 15 moai all facing inland, and it’s truly breathtaking.  For me, it’s definitely one of the “must see” places on Easter Island.

Tongariki

Tongariki

The third site of the day was the quarry of Rana Raraku, which is where the moai were all carved.  About 900 moai exist in total, of which about 400 of them are in various stages of construction in the quarry.  Everywhere you look there are moai, and it’s fascinating. Nobody is sure how they were made or transported, but however they did it, it must have been a huge effort!

Moai at Rano Raraku

Moai at Rano Raraku

Like with Orongo, you are only allowed to visit Rano Raraku once per visit to the island, so it’s extremely important not to waste the opportunity.  I spent around 90 minutes at each site, which seemed enough (and significantly more than the “suggested” amount on the boards :D)!

Rano Raraku was the final stop scheduled for the day, but we stopped off for one more on the way back to Hanga Roa.  This site is called Huri A Urenga, and is home to a special moai.  Typically, the platforms they are standing on are very wide and narrow, and the moai faces perpendicularly out from it.  However, at Huri A Urenga, the moai faces towards the corner, and the platform is more of a square shape.  The reason for the moai facing a different direction to usual is due to the fact that it actually faces the direction of the winter solstice.

The moai at Huri A Urenga

The moai at Huri A Urenga

Christophe drove me back to the hostel after this, where I spent the evening relaxing and talking to some of the others who were staying there.

Special Edition: Exploring the South West (Day 2)

I enjoyed a rather nice lie in, before heading out at 10:30 with my new book to explore the South West part of the island.  Caves, craters, villages of religious cults, and abandoned platforms of moai were on the agenda today.

I started off by walking along the coast, past the airport to a cave (called Ana Kai Tangata) where there were cave paintings.  The sea was pretty violent, with massive waves crashing against the coast.  It was pretty spectacular.

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After a brief stop, I went on and climbed up the extinct volcano (Rano Kao) that forms this corner of the island.  Upon reaching the crater, I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights.  It was huge, about a kilometre in diameter, with huge pools of water and reeds inside.

The crater at Rano Kao

The crater at Rano Kao

Walking round the crater to the coast took a while, but I eventually reached the entrance to the village of Orongo.  This is where the cult of the birdman was celebrated.  Numerous stone houses were perched right on the top of the cliff, sandwiched between the vertical drops into the crater, or the Pacific Ocean.

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The houses at Orongo

Numerous petroglyphs were dotted around the site too, each with special significance (relating to the birdman competition, and the god it honoured).

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Petroglyphs

After spending an hour and a half at the site, I went out and walked round to the other side of the crater (to a place called Vai Atare).  It took several hours to get there, but I was greeted by an amazing view, putting the precarious position of Orongo in context.

Putting Orongo's position between the crater and the ocean into perspective

Putting Orongo’s position between the crater and the ocean into perspective

I headed back, intending to take a path shown on my map to the next place I wanted to visit, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it.  This meant that I had a six mile walk ahead, with a four mile walk after back to the hostel.  Very fortunately, two miles in, a very nice man (who turned out to be the director of the island’s hospital) stopped and asked if I wanted a lift.  I gratefully accepted his kind offer, as it cut an hour of walking off (and, having already walked about 15 miles that day already, I was a bit tired).

I arrived at the ruined platform of Vinapu where there are several toppled moai, along with some good examples of good masonry. After a good 30 minutes looking around the site, I walked back to the hostel.  A very long and tiring day, but a very good start to the holiday!

Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)

After an early 5am start to pack and get to Santiago airport, I was on the LAN Chile flight to Easter Island.  Five hours of flying above the blue of the Pacific, with no land in sight, until suddenly, a peninsula came into view.

My first glimpse of Easter Island

My first glimpse of Easter Island

We landed, got through the airport, and I was met by the staff from the hostel, who gave me a flower garland before driving me to the hostel itself.  I dumped my stuff, and went for an explore of the town on the island – Hanga Roa.  There’s not a lot to the town, with it consisting of only about four roads, but there were lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés.  However, that was not was I was first looking for.  Top priority for me was to visit the post office to get a souvenir stamp in my passport.  Owing to the fact that Easter Island is a special territory of Chile, my domestic flight meant that I hadn’t had to go through any immigration procedures, and so the only proper way was to get a special stamp from the post office.  Having come all this way, I couldn’t not!  I went on to browse some shops, and elected to buy a guide book to the island – Amazon link here (written by the Honorary British Consul to the island, and former Cantab – we seem to get everywhere!).

At the end of the road lay the coast, and, with it being Easter Island and all that, there were a couple of moai standing there.

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

They are curious statues, and about 1,000 exist in total.  Their size varies enormously (between one and 20 metres – although the average is usually about six or so), and almost all of them face inland (towards where villages once stood in the past).  So many questions remain about them, yet there are no answers.  I appreciated the moai for a while, and gazed out towards the west over the sea.  The next nearest piece of land was 1,200 miles away or so – the Pitcairn Islands (British Overseas Territory), population 50.  I was so very far away from anywhere, but with only four whole days, I had a lot to explore!

Special Edition: Football’s Coming Home

(Author’s Note: This post isn’t particularly special in itself per se, however, it is a long one, and there are plenty of anecdotes in it, but anyway, I digress.  Oh, and if there are any typos, please let me know, as at over 2,000 words, I’m bound to have missed one!)

It’s not possible to visit South America without playing football, and so that’s what I got up to last night with some of the guys from the office, in the form of an hour long four a side match at a small indoor stadium in the town of Nogales.  At prep school, I discovered that football was not one of my talents, and in the decade that has elapsed between then and now, my prowess could not be said to have improved.  As the match went on, the dismal skills of yours “might as well not have had legs for all the difference it would have made” truly became more and more apparent, and things weren’t helped by my difficulty in understanding various colloquialisms my teammates said to me, while out of breath, in a dialect of my third language.  Add this to my rather impressive hand-eye coordination skills, and you’ve got a winning combination.  The bloke whose job at the mine is to organise stuff like this came on to help our team halfway through, so we had one extra player, although seeing as I was worth about -2 players, our fortunes didn’t improve too much.  It was a laugh, but I was rotten from start to finish, but hey, at least I’m consistent.  However, at the end, we all got some excellent empanadas to eat, which was a nice surprise!

Empanada

Empanada

 

Unfortunately, my rather dismal performance is not just limited to football.  Most sports are beyond me, well beyond me.  While I am able to do stuff like play the bassoon, or write a sonnet (if suitable incentivised), sport has never been one of my talents.  So let’s have a summary of my extensive expertise.  Sit back, put the kettle on, and relax, for we’ve got a lot to get through!

We start off in the late 1990s, while I was at prep school.  Most of my time there was spent playing football, my skills of which clearly need no introduction.  Typically we were split into two groups during lessons, with one side wearing the home shirts of the school (a rather deep shade of maroon), and the other donning the away colours (maroon and white stripes).  Often this was done on an ability basis, with the two groups being taught separately, and the stripes were usually worse (no prizes for guessing which shirt of mine was used more often).

Cricket was a sport that I played in the summer of prep school, under the excellent tuition of a (sadly now late) Mr. Johnston (who was liked by all, and an absolute giant – over 2 metres tall, which to an eight year old is huge).  I’m not being sarcastic, he really was a lovely bloke, and was extremely patient, teaching me the rules of cricket and how to bowl.  One game on a summer’s afternoon that sticks in the mind was especially memorable because I attracted the ire of my fellow fielders when I and JF (another friend), who were supposed to be fielding, missed the catch (and therefore allowed the other team to score about 10 runs), because instead of paying attention, we were sitting on the grass having a nice chat (probably about Pokemon, seeing as it was at its peak at that point).  To be fair, it was a gorgeous summer’s day, and my school was in a heavily forested valley in the Surrey Hills.  Idyllic doesn’t even begin to describe the scene with any justice (or rather, the scene before my friends conceded quite a few runs – although to be fair, my friends on the other team were delighted. Every cloud eh?).

I recall that after prep school, when I moved on to the senior school (yes I was educated privately my whole life, “haters gonna hate” and all that), football was abolished, and we went on to play rugby.  Once more, this was not a sport that I was any good at, and the Saturday morning turnouts and pre-season training sessions were the bane of my life (and were very quickly abandoned, in spite of my mother’s attempts to bribe me with a cooked breakfast if I attended them).  My father once said that he was very proud when he watched me “play” in the U12 C team match (we only had one fixture that year), in spite of me doing essentially nothing.  After this introduction to the sport, the C team (who rather interestingly, with respect to the boys who’d been at the prep school, was mainly composed of former stripe wearers) was disbanded, and from Second Form onwards, we were reincorporated as a group known as the Legends (one of those delightfully sarcastic in-jokes that private schools love dreaming up).  I never really had any affinity to rugby, although being in the Legends didn’t really help matters for two reasons.  Firstly, we didn’t actually play any proper rugby, and secondly, most of our time was spent up on the hill fields, crawling through mud in the middle of winter, in the rain and gale force winds, wearing only a thin shirt and shorts.  That’s often how it is with sport at private school, lots of doses of very cold weather and broken limbs – for my unfortunate friends at least, I was fortunately exempted from the broken limbs aspect of this (presumably owing to my attaching a greater importance to self-preservation than to any sporting awards).  In fact several friends got frostbite once on a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award expedition several years later, but that’s an anecdote for another day.  Things didn’t improve much in the Spring Term, which was dedicated to hockey.  Yes folks, I was a member of the Legends for that too, (as were most of the other rugby Legends too now that I think about it).

A couple of years later, I took up golf at the local club, and in spite of having weekly lessons for several years, never really managed to improve my game.  After becoming a member, I was given the worst handicap possible (as was customary for new members), which I could then improve by playing in competitions weekly.  Well, I was supposed to be able to improve it, although it’s somewhat difficult to improve on something if you can’t actually achieve the base mark.  Yes, I never once managed to reach my actual handicap.  The proverbial icing on the cake came when I was playing a casual game with a friend of mine (JS), who was much better at me than golf.  We’d agreed to play medal, which essentially means you can’t abandon a hole.  That was a big mistake.  On my local course, the fifth hole is a par five, with a large lake breaking up the fairway.  This lake was the recipient of a large number of my golf balls, so many in fact, that I ran out, and had to borrow some from JS.  I eventually holed the ball, with a respectable score of 54 (funnily enough, my handicap was 54 too, although that was for the whole course…).  It was after this incident that I invested in a lake golf ball retrieval device, and JS and I often only played the front nine, before spending the afternoon on the back nine, in the woods, scavenging lost golf balls, instead of playing the second half of the course.  One occasion we did this, he accidentally concussed himself, went a bit crazy for a few hours, and subsequently got angry with a tree for “annoying” him, but, like the D of E frostbite story, that’s an anecdote for another day.

Once Fifth Form came around, there was much more freedom in the choice of sport we could do.  Well aware of my limitless ability for failure, I elected at first to go to the gym.  It must be said at this point that I despise the gym as a place.  The atmosphere and environment I find highly unpleasant.  So why did I choose it?  Essentially for two main reasons, firstly, most of the Legends did as well (after four years together, we were loathe to split up, in spite of the Legends officially being disbanded at the end of Fourth Form), and secondly, it was an extremely easy way to be able to appear to be busy without actually doing anything (which is something I am good at!).  Luckily, the staff supervising the gym were rather gormless gap year students, who, when they did finally notice a my penchant for laziness and came over to berate me for it (often with a self satisfied smirk on their face), could be dealt with rather easily by employing a few sarcastic rejoinders.

Sixth Form then came around, and I decided to take up épée fencing.  This was a sport that I actively enjoyed, and was slightly better at than the others (not that the bar was set especially high – and, while we’re on the subject of bars, high jump was another unsuccessful venture of mine).  It was a lot of fun, and you learn how to fight someone with a sword, which is pretty exciting, so Lower Sixth wasn’t too bad.

By the time Upper Sixth appeared, I’d had enough of enforced sport, having experienced it and been appalling at it for well over a decade by now, and so I contrived a plan to deceive the system.  Essentially the way it worked was that at the beginning of each term, everyone signed up for a sport, and the list of names for each then comprised the register for each.  Clearly it didn’t take a genius to work out that if you failed to sign up in the first place, your name would not feature on the register, and therefore you would not be missed.  The plan worked perfectly, except once, when the staff conducted a year wide audit of who was and was not present, at which point my scheme was noticed (although the following week, and all subsequent weeks it worked perfectly again).  Luckily for me, due to a highly unfortunate bout of amnesia by the head of Sixth Form (who, to be honest, could not realistically or truthfully be described as competent by any stretch of the imagination), my name was not entered into the detention database on the school IT system (although to be honest, if it had, various friends could have removed my name from said system anyway using a selection of nefarious means to do so, hence it would never have been an issue really).  So instead of wasting time in the gym etc. I spent many enjoyable afternoons up with my friends (primarily ZKZ and KLL) who lived in the boarding house (being from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, it would have been rather difficult for them to have been day boys), drinking squash, eating biscuits, chatting with the matrons, and generally wasting time in a fun and sociable way.

I did however do some sport in the Upper Sixth, I wasn’t completely bone idle.  Cross country was what I opted for in the end.  I’m sure that it surprises you greatly to hear that, especially once I say that it was the least popular sport in the school, and one that was almost universally hated with a passion by pretty much every pupil.  However, all is not as it seems.  The bonus was that it was unsupervised.  This meant, once you were out of sight, you were essentially free to do whatever you desired.  So our plan consisted of running up the road and round the corner (until we were out of sight of the school), at which point we walked, chatted, and generally had a laugh.  Once we’d entered the woods (at a leisurely pace of course), we spent the afternoon enjoying fun pursuits such as playing hide and seek.  We almost went to the local pub once, which was down the road from the woods, but none of us remembered any money, so alas that plan didn’t come to fruition.  Who was in this band of miscreants you wonder?  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that it was us boys who formerly made up the Legends.

Special Edition: How To Make The Perfect Cup Of Tea

In amongst this plethora of posts about expat life in Chile, I thought it would make a change to inject a touch of the familiar back into the blog.  What better way to do this than talk about tea.  I must put a disclaimer in at this point, and say that it probably won’t make you a perfect cup of tea, not least because the term is a subjective one anyway.  So really, this post is about how I make tea (assuming that I have the time, energy, and inclination to do it properly, which I’m afraid is usually not the case – I know, I’m the worst Englishman ever, don’t judge me).  With that in mind, the most accurate title for this entry would be “How I Should Make A Cup Of Tea If I Want To Do It Properly”, but I’m sure you’ll all agree, that it’s not quite as catchy as the title I opted for (not that it is that catchy anyway).

Anyway, pointless and irrelevant preamble aside, let’s get on with it.  In true Blue Peter style, I am of course drinking “one I made earlier” as I write this.

For this exercise, you will need the following items:

1. Tea leaves (not bags, and it has to come from Camellia sinensis).  Herbal “tea” isn’t tea (an analogy would be saying your glass of wine was a type of beer). “Ooo, I love this delicious wine beer” sounds rather silly doesn’t it?  Anyway, all flippancy aside, you get my point.

2. A kettle.  Electric is easiest, but if you have a metal one, and want to boil it over a wooden fire, then that’s equally fine. 

You at the back!  Yes, you! Don’t you dare even think about using a microwave!

3. A teapot

4. A mug (or a cup and saucer, I don’t really care, but it depends on number 8 – see below)

5. A tea cosy (optional)

6. A jug of cold milk/bowl of white sugar (granulated or lumps) – brown sugar is for coffee (also optional)

7. A supply of water (not optional, but it being free of contaminants is highly recommended)

8. Biscuits (optional, but your best bet would be rich teas, digestives, hob nobsor ginger nuts).  If you go for biscuits, the cup and saucer arrangement is better, as the saucer can hold your biscuit as well as the cup of tea.

9. A tea strainer (to catch all the leaves, unless you like eating them/plan to “tell someone’s fortune” – although we know that’s a load of old cobbler’s – and yes, that apostrophe is deliberate, I checked)

Right, shopping list out of the way, what do you do with all this stuff?

Method:

1. Empty the kettle, and add new water.  Then boil the water.

2. Put boiling water into the teapot.  The teapot has to have no tea in it at this stage.

3. Boil kettle for a second time.

4. Empty hot water from the teapot, and add tea leaves to it.  The number of teaspoons of tea leaves you need to add is one per person, and one “for the pot”.  (i.e. n+1 spoons where n = number of people for you Mathmos out there).

5. Add boiling water to pot, and leave to brew (length of time varies according to how strong you want your tea, but don’t leave it too long, as you don’t want it to stew).

6. Putting the strainer over your cup, pour the tea in.

7. Add milk/sugar to taste.  I know I’m provoking a huge row of monumental proportions here, but it’s definitely better to add milk afterwards (as then you can control how milky your tea is.  If you add it before, and you put too much in, then you’re stuck).

8. Put tea cosy over pot (if applicable).

9. Enjoy your nice cup of tea.

I can’t advise on biscuit dunking techniques I’m afraid, as I’m rather lacking in those skills.

Anyway, that’s my guide on how to make nice tea :).