Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I am currently working my way through my worldwide string theory tour. Sitting in London, Heathrow airport, sunburnt and coughing, and ready to party.

Let me explain. I'm doing a bit of a whirlwind tour of the world, including
1) Visiting Cambridge for a week
2) Visiting Queen Mary, University of London for about a day
3) Meeting KB for a brief vacation in Amsterdam over a long weekend before
4) Attending a string theory conference in Amsterdam for a week
5) Finally, visiting NYC

and then back to Cape Town. It would seem to be a brilliant experience, and it's fine; I just don't really like traveling. Or being forced to talk to physicists. This may cast a shadow on my career.

Anyway, the trip to Cambridge went (mostly) very well. Unfortunately, due to a last minute talk she had to give in Germany, Amanda couldn't be there for most of the time, but she more than graciously allowed me to stay in her flat. And anyway, I suppose there could be a few other people worth talking to at the home of Stephen Hawking. So, indeed, I hung out and had drinks with Hawking's wheelchair engineer, Sam. I also talked a bit of physics with a few of the people there (mostly about how much I hate the Landscape of string theory - if you don't know what I mean, perhaps I'll discuss it at a later date, but probably not). The best parts were going out to the pubs and drinking English Ales. Damn it was good to drink decent beer again (SA beer is crap, due to the complete dominance of South African Breweries - South Africa's answer to Bud, and the second largest beer company in the world).

The worst part, however, was that I got sick. About halfway through the visit, I discovered that I must have caught something off of the plane on the way over, and I was put out of commission for about three days (my other theory was inspired by Robert Mugabe - the colonialist English bastards purposely infected me because I'm from Africa). It was most annoying.

I finally began to recover the day before I left, and my new friends at DAMPT took me out to a nearby town called Grantchester, which was gorgeous. We had tea at The Orchard - a famous tea house, previously patronized by such minds as Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Maynard Keynes, Crick and Watson, Alan Turing, and so on. I felt smarter immediately. We also spent about 8 hours sitting out at the local pub having lunch, dinner, and a number of beers. That day had been particularly beautiful, and we had been sitting in the sun the whole time. A few hours in, I started to worry that I might get burned, but the other two were possibly even whiter than me, and I figured that living in Africa for a year ought to count for something, so I ignored it. Rookie error - you hate to see it. Hence my current toastiness.

Anyway, after leaving Cambridge, I took the train down to London to visit Queen Mary's. I would say that part of the trip was a bit of a write off, as almost everyone happened to be out of town so there weren't many people to meet. Regardless, they were extremely friendly and gave me a desk in the visitors' room. But I also continued to feel unwell (not helped by the sunburn, I think) and so I didn't really get to take advantage of being in London. Which is probably for the best, because my strongest impression of England was this: it is BLOODY expensive! Even in Cambridge, going out to eat at a crappy chinese restaurant cost me nearly US $50. It's incredibly deceptive, because it's all written in foreign currency (pounds), but it still hurts. I actually don't think that London was much more expensive than Cambridge, though - the explanation to me was that it's because a lot of people live there and commute to London. So might as well charge them the same amount. But DAMN. I could not afford to live there. Puts New York City completely to shame (or redeems it, however you want to say it).

Anyway, so that's the current state of the system - I'm sitting in Heathrow now, waiting for my plane to Amsterdam. I'm very excited, never having been there, and I can't wait to see all the city has to offer. Hopefully I'll let you know how it goes.

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