Adventures in ACTademia

Part Three
My first few days in Cambridge had already proven to be fairly eventful. It was time to relax for the remaining days of my excursion, while observing a plethora of category theory talks.
26 November 2021


After such an exciting first day, I wasn't sure if I would be able to handle four more days of category goodness. Fortunately, my dedication to the field meant that I was wide awake at 7am, ready.

As soon as I arrived, I made a beeline for the tea table, as my five minute cycle had already caused my need for hydration to return. I warily asked the lady for a small amount of milk, remembering how yesterday I had consumed more milk than I had in the past thirty-seven weeks. However, I was astounded when an actually suitable amount of milk was deposited into my cup. I blinked several times in astonishment as the lady handed me my cup with a smile, and almost didn't give her my thanks before walking away. Clearly today was going to be a good day. I then had a cautious sip to test how good it was and immediately burned my tongue.

It was at this point that I realised that literally nobody else was there. Was I late? Had they already started the talks without me? Perhaps they had moved the venue to somewhere that only proper researchers could get into. I then realised this was a completely infeasible notion: more likely, it was because category theory had peaked during my talk, and therefore nobody else could be bothered to try and top it. I wondered what they would do with the remaining days of the conference. Surely I wouldn't just be able to deliver my talk twenty more times?

To confirm this fairly likely intuition, I did some sleuthing. Eventually I ran into Alex, Calin and Ioannis, who were as equally as confused as me. I considered sharing my knowledge with them, but I didn't think they were ready to know that their research was now pointless. Another hypothesis was instead proposed: that everyone else had been on a mad bender and hadn't woken up yet. Despite my misgivings this actually turned out to be the truth, as everyone slowly made their way into the lecture theatre over the next hour.

The day's talks swept by and it was soon time to leave again. It turned out that many people were going for curry, and we joined them, going to a restaurant in the centre called Pakka. I eagerly ordered a chicken tikka and awaited my chicken doused in saucy goodness. However, when they arrived I was distraught to find that there was no sauce whatsoever. It turned out that I had been a foolish Englishman and not realised that 'chicken tikka', which means 'chicken pieces', just meant that you got pieces of chicken, rather than pieces of chicken doused in saucy goodness. Nevertheless, the chicken pieces were very nice.

A collage of four images concerning Pakka that I nicked off a random website. Clockwise from top left they are: a picture of someone's naan with a cartoon butler pointing at it approvingly; a picture of a narrow hallway with a long table in it; a badly framed image of the restaurant from the other side of the road; and a green square with a large 'N' in it. The whole thing is enclosed in the Google Images interface with the close, resize, next and previous buttons at the top: the image is from 'Restaurant Guru', the title is 'Pakka in Cambridge - Restaurant reviews', and below it says 'Images may be subject to copyright'.

Some images of Pakka, courtesy of the Restaurant Guru.

The account of the next events are heavily disputed by all who were there: to this day, I maintain that it was me that jokingly said we should go punting. Many other people at the table that day disagree with me. They are incorrect. Regardless, Jamie thought this was a fantastic idea and started looking up how much it would cost to go punting.

It was then time to pay, and Jamie requested the bill. However, he wasn't convinced that everything was quite right, and he went around the room twice asking everyone what they had, but there was mass confusion because nobody seemed to know how many drinks we had had, probably a symptom of having so many drinks in the first place. Jamie challenged the man that the receipt was wrong, and came around again to try and work out where the extra money had come from. Obviously, the man didn't believe this, so Jamie had to calculate everything very carefully just in case, but the numbers still didn't add up. To this day I still don't know what was wrong with the bill, but I think the drinks got counted twice or something.

As always, there was far too much naan bread for the table, so I collected up the remnants in a doggy bag and stored it in my rucksack, safe for another time. Then we all went to Sainsburys and ended up in Jesus Green until 2am.


Despite the late night, everyone did a much better job of getting up on Wednesday. Clearly the previous night had been nothing compared to the Monday mayhem.

I entered as Jamie was trying to get Alex to perform an act of comedy. One of the speakers had just got engaged, and Jamie wanted to heckle their talk with the wedding march. Alex obviously straight up refused to do this, as he was a man of integrity and would not allow his conference to descend into frivolity. Jamie then decided to just do it himself anyway, much to the confusion of the room at large and the virtual participants. While this was actually pretty funny, it did mean that the talk finished late and we got less time to eat biscuits. To counteract this we just had to eat them twice as fast.

Unbenownst to us, while we mingled in the courtyard, an intense battle was occurring. Some random non-mathematician had turned up and demanded that we hand over all the cups on the tea table. These were obviously our cups and therefore this person was not entitled to them, but they were very insistent. Fortunately, Ioannis was there to save the day. The way to save the day was of course to get Jamie, a person with actual power, to tell them off. But even Jamie's determination appeared to not be enough to sway the intruder. Jamie then took the person to his office to negotiate the use of the cups, and we never saw the other person again.

Once all the talks finished, I needing a good nights sleep so I returned to Fitzwilliam early. But to my astonishment, the door had been barriered off! Had I somehow managed to break it earlier that day? Probably not, but this presented a new problem: I would now have to go through the Porters Lodge, and presumably be scrutinised by a person I had never met before! I got my key fob thing out just in case, to prove that I was actually allowed to be here, despite not getting all A stars in my A levels. Confidently, I proceeded into the lodge and strode past the porter man, who didn't care.


A blurry picture of the broken door in Fitzwilliam: one of the door panes is missing, and the area is surrounded by red barriers. There is a social distancing sign on one of the barriers, but it is too blurry to read.

The broken Fitz door, less terrifying in the light of day.

As was now routine, I descended to the main hall for my Thursday breakfast. I inspected the mushrooms in detail, since they had changed from lots of little ones to a few big ones. Although I'm a man with a passion for mushrooms, I don't have a clear stance on this one, which is why I've been ostracised by most mushroom cliques. They just don't have a fence big enough for me to sit on.

As I pondered this issue, I was confronted by an official looking man. Internally, I went into panic mode: was I finally going to get found out? The man said 'Are you here for arhgghakhs', and I couldn't quite make out what he said. Rather than asking him to repeat himself, which would have been a sign of weakness, I simply stated 'bed and breakfast' with an air of authority. The man frowned and asked his companion something that I wasn't listening to. I nodded and walked off, leaving them to now do the pondering.

Although there were several more talks today, the real excitement was that in the evening it was punt time! The time soon rolled around and I was recruited for a secret mission: we needed to transport a non-trivial amount of bottles of prosecco to the waterside, and my bicycle would be the perfect vessel for such a task. Of course, I acquiesced to the quest immediately and we set off for Ioannis' pad to fill up several Sainsburys fridge bags with the bottles. With the bags swinging freely on our handlebars, we set off down the busy main road. As Alex and I got to the traffic lights, we noticed that Ioannis was nowhere to be seen. Feeling like it would be better if we didn't leave him behind, we waited for a good two minutes before he turned up. We asked what had taken him so long but we never found out.

Then we went punting and I didn't fall in, which meant that several people probably lost bets.

I gingerly punt a punt, while Alex and Ioannis watch.

I punt the punt.

Having disembarked safely from the punt, we walked through the entirety of Cambridge with the aim of finding somewhere to eat. Eventually we settled on local business Wagamama, where we immediately became separated from 90% of our party and we had no idea where they went. We didn't know where they had gone until we left the restaurant and we bumped into them again: apparently they had not just been waiting outside the whole time, but they had actually walked another twenty metres down the road and found a much better place. But that was in the past and there was nothing we could do about it now: the only thing we could do was drink. We were pointed towards the Eagle, which is apparently one of the oldest pubs in Cambridge. From my research, I also discovered that this was the place that Crick and Watson announced the structure of DNA. It was a shame that we would soon consign this discovery to a margin somewhere, but that's the cost of progress.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a man who asked how many people were in our party. I stuck my head back outside to ask how many people there were, but nobody bothered replying. I put my head back in and said 'dunno' to Alex and Calin. The man was very insistent that we tell him how many people we were, so we went out again and tried to count people, but people kept moving around so we still weren't sure how many people there were. I went back in and said 'um thirteen I guess', but I clearly didn't sound very convinced, because the man asked again, so we had to go outside and try and get people to stand still for one second but nobody did, and nobody seemed to realise what was going on. After many counts and recounts, we managed to discern a number and we were permitted access.

After many drinks and stimulating conversations, it was time to leave. As we walked home, we realised we were actually quite peckish again. Fortunately, I still had the doggy bag of naan in my bag, and we all chomped it happily. As a bonus, this gave me one less thing to carry!


The final day passed without event, as everyone was far too tired to do anything. Since my phone was running out of charge and as was my charger, I decided to turn my phone off for a bit to preserve its power. This is irrevocable proof that I'm not a slave to notifications, as some people might tell you.

Sadly, it was soon time to go home. But my train wasn't leaving for a few hours! I would have to find something else to do. I pulled out my phone and turned it back on. But something was wrong: although the boot screen showed up, the phone then immediately shut off! This was very bad, not least because my train tickets were saved on there. It would also mess up my google timeline if my phone wasn't turned on while I went to a new place, which was obviously unacceptable.

I did a little cycle around to see if my phone had just got too hot or something, and ended up back in Jesus Green. I studied my phone intently, trying to work out what was wrong with it. Maybe there was some safe mode I could boot into and fix things? Then I realised the brightness was just turned all the way down and it had been fine the whole time. To celebrate, I ate a slice of battenberg and checked my notifications, of which there were many.

A very (intentionally) low resolution picture of Cambridge North station: a metallic silver box with 'Cambridge North' mounted atop it.

I also went to look at Cambridge North station.

After lazing about a bit in Jesus Green, I decided to head towards the station. As it was getting late, I felt like I could do with some dinner. I looked at Google Maps, and I was in luck! There was a pasty shop on the platform. What a fantastic way to end my visit! I went onto the platform and headed for where it looked like the pasty shop was, but then it turned out that the pasty shop was shut. Disaster! It looked like I would have to go to Smiths instead, and buy an overpriced sandwich or something. But Smiths was also closed! What the hell was I supposed to do?

I accessed Google Maps once more. As luck would have it, there was a leisure complex nearby, and there was a Five Guys there! I had plenty of time, so I got on the bicycle again and whooshed off round the corner to order a big burger. However, I was immediately perplexed by the queueing system, which appeared to be a free-for-all, with no queueing system in place at all. I waited back a little bit, but then a girl came in and snuck in front of me, which made me very annoyed, so I didn't do anything.

Eventually it was my turn, so I ordered my burger. It had taken such a long time to order that I now had five minutes for the five guys who work at Five Guys to make my Five Guys. While it would be very funny if I missed my train because I'd gone to get a burger at a completely different place, I didn't actually want this to happen because then I'd be back really late and that would be a hassle. But of course, it soon came to pass that my number was called out and I darted to the counter, before shoving the burger in my bag and whooshing back to the station, now realising that this way was all uphill.

The train was delayed anyway so I didn't even have to worry.