ThinkCon in Cambridge

“I never could get the hang of Thursdays”, is what I tweeted the day before I was travelling to Cambridge. It had been a more-than-usual hectic week. Even the three hour train trip to the ferry almost seemed too short. I realised I like trains so much because they force me to do nothing. I did already arrange for a taxi on the other side (however did we manage again before the interwebs?) Anyway, while doing this nothing thing, I noticed the Moon coming up and I was fully relaxed when I had sushi for dinner on the last train.

While checking in for the boat, I met Julian. A lovely guy with whom I was travel buddies at first sight. I invited him to my lecture and he invited me to his party. My dear friend Rona said she wasn’t surprised: “You’re always picking up strays, aren’t you? I mean, look at us…!” I did manage to gather seven good friends to come to this event (although I wasn’t sure yet if the formerly mentioned friend was going to be supportive or if she’d heckle!) It really was great to have them there and the audience was lovely, Cambridge was beautiful and the day was sunny.

It was nice to finally meet Andy, who had invited me. The atmosphere seemed easy-going as I did go over my slides before I actually went on stage. Andy had showed me to the green room, saying it wasn’t really green (they never are) and I knew I had just missed a great talk when I heard Kat Arney explain types of tumours as “tigers or pussycats”. I think my slot went well too and it was fun. I very much appreciated the guys coming up to me afterwards to say they enjoyed it; that’s a nice thing to do. And I met even more nice people in the Eagle pub next to the venue, where we had lunch.

Next up were Gia Milinovich, Sophie Scott, Alice Roberts and Heather Williams, for a discussion on woman in science. I’m a fan of Alice and I loved how she said she wanted to become a horse when she was a kid; I had a similar ambition. But their main point was how important it is to have female role models in science. After I just received another invitation to speak at an event and the organisers practically begged me since all the other woman had said no, I guess it is important to celebrate these role models. I very much like the ScienceGrrl organisation, which does just that.

Then Matt Parker was on with his stand-up maths and he instantly had a new fan. I was very impressed by how easily he seemed to show the audience not only how things work, but also how fun maths is. I’m slightly proud to say, I managed to do one of his ‘tricks’, with help of his excellent explanation afterwards. Matt, you rock! And there was more planned still. I also learned ThinkCon wasn’t the only event going on this day; it was part of a whole scientific weekend in Cambridge and I gathered from the programme that Robin Ince was in town too! I’m afraid I missed him though.

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I had to enjoy the view with my friends too and while we were sitting on the grass, I learned what baby swans are called (‘cygnets’ – there’s a little fact for you). After that we went on to freshen up and I stayed in a lovely hotel, where I was welcomed with a cookie (?) when I checked in. I managed to not get lost when I found my friends outside the pub again later. Dinner was hilarious, as expected. When the waiter asked if we wanted dessert or coffee, Rona replied she could deal with life and death decisions, but not handle this difficult question.

She also said she’d let me eat soil before letting me put hot milk in my tea. I did it anyway. When we all walked off to our beds, we ended up hugging in the middle of the streets. I’m thankful for having such good friends and luckily I’ll see them again soon. Meanwhile I had another day of travelling ahead, but before I left I had a nice walk. When I came back to the hotel, my previously booked taxi was waiting to take me to the airport. This was so tiny that I started to understand why a couple of friends didn’t even know it existed!

There were only three other people for this flight and the stewardess could just as well have said “lady and gentleman”. The pilot announced we were travelling at a speed of 700km/hour over Ipswich and I took a picture of my cup of water as it reminded me of Jurassic Park. I’m easily amused.

Rona, Nigel, Geoff, Julianne, Richard, Yvonne and Todd: thank you; you made it memorable. Julian, thanks for the laughs on our journey and for almost ruining that happy song for me. And Andy and all the lovely people in Cambridge: thanks for having me over. It was a blast.

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