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Inbox 85

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Editor’s letter

Welcome to the Michaelmas edition of CAM. From Trump and Boris to May and Merkel, charisma – or lack thereof – has never played such a crucial role in politics. In this issue we examine the weird, compelling, sometimes overwhelming, power of charisma: what it is, why it has such an effect and whether it is possible to resist.

The Junior Common Room, or as it is also known, the JCR, the student union (or, at Peterhouse, the Sexcentenary – Sex – Club) is at the very heart of student politics. As well as being the main way in which undergraduates can make an impact on student life (not to mention the quality of the May Ball), College JCRs provide a continual internal challenge, pushing Colleges forward. We find out what it is really like to serve on the JCR and talk to current committee members about what’s on their agenda.

Elsewhere, Professor Bhaskar Vira explains why protecting the natural world is not just about resources but also about wellbeing, and we tell the story of why the humble Petri dish remains at the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

And we explain the principles of machine learning. As ever, on all these topics, we look forward to your contribution to the debate, whether by post, email or on social media.

Mira Katbamna (Caius 1995)


Between the lines

Some witty illustrations for summer reads in CAM 84. But please, can we have your urgent reassurance that no real books were harmed in creating the artwork?
Nigel Watson (Pembroke 1970)

Busy doing nothing

I fully endorse the sentiments of your article on boredom. Speaking as a member of the pre-internet generation, my memories of summer holidays, Sundays and quite a lot of the rest of the time (when not studying or working briefly at my Saturday job mornings only – at the local newsagent) are of fully-formed boredom. So I’m relieved to find out from your excellent article that, in fact, it was good for me after all. And, of course, it did force one to read quite a bit.

PS: I was trying to throw out some of the back issues of CAM in a ‘start of the holidays boredom’ kind of way, but I’ve only managed to assign one to the bin so far – too many interesting things, too many memories jogged. How annoying!
Jill Burton (Homerton 1981)

As a lifelong practitioner of actively doing nothing – DMN [default mode network], mindfulness – I am outraged by the idea that boredom is part of the mix. It isn’t. My guilt-free, empty mind becomes a receptacle for all kinds of intellectual activity: pondering anarchy, banning the Tory party, inventing a device to stop walking sticks falling over. My mother years ago: “Don’t just sit there Sara, do something.” My answer: “I’m thinking.” It seems Descartes had the same problem.
Sara Sharpe (Newnham 1955)

Great article about #neuroscience, #mindfulness and #boredom. “To experience, in other words, that itchy sensation of boredom – and go deeper into it, filling it with #meaning.”
Elanor Kortland (New Hall 1991)

On Boredom contrasted “thinkers of previous centuries”, who believed that boredom “is a crime”, with recent research that suggests that boredom is productive. But this does scant justice to many thinkers, such as Goethe, who long ago wrote: “Let boredom be hailed as the mother of the Muses”. Endymion Wilkinson (King’s 1960)

New tricks for older brains

I’m almost 88 and routinely lose my glasses three or four times a day after taking them off to read or look at something more closely. They could be anywhere: in the house, garden or workshop, or even on the top of my car engine! Professor Kourtzi’s suggestion to ask “Where is a safe place to put …” means that I now know exactly where I left my glasses. A simple suggestion, with significant benefit to me, but not one I would have thought of.
John Bradley (Darwin 1988)

Up the tower

Contrary to what readers in the North Wing may think at certain times of the year, the UL does have a heating system, located directly below the reception area – and its chimney is at the very top of the UL tower. In other words, the tower hides the chimney – so maybe it was a case of making a virtue out of necessity. The original drawings show how the Library might have appeared without its tower – nothing like as majestic as it is.
Richard Holroyd (St John’s 1968)

On holiday in Switzerland with three friends in 1959, we found ourselves unable to solve a wooden puzzle which had been given away by the magazine Tit-Bits some 20 years previously. No problem. Next term: a quick trip to the UL, a short wait until the relevant Tit-Bits was delivered from the Tower, and lo and behold, the solution to the puzzle was in my hands!
Peter Caspar (Trinity 1958)


Geoffrey Willett supplied Geography undergraduates not only with the occasional humbug (CAM 84) but also sage advice on the relevance and whereabouts of books and journals needed when facing difficult assignments or imminent essay deadlines! Thanks, Geoff.
Tim Cattell (Downing 1959)

Don’s Diary

Dr Andrew Grant says he hopes to keep all of the plates spinning and that none wobble – or if they do, that he’ll catch them before they break. My sentiments exactly! But equally applicable to the lives of most professional musicians.
Stephanie Muncey Dyer (King’s 2006)

In praise of porters

To this day, I fondly recall King’s porter Wilfred Childerley’s cheery and spiritually uplifting: “Good luck, Sir!” as I walked through the lodge in a terrified state on my way to Tripos exams. Wilfred’s warm and friendly greeting became such an essential support that, on the one occasion he failed to appear, I actually walked back to pass through the Porters’ Lodge a second time in order to receive Wilfred’s indispensable boost to my confidence.
Trevor Lyttleton (King’s 1954)

Ten years after graduation, I was moved to devote the first thanks in the acknowledgments page of my book “to Mr Iredale and Mr Wilfred Childerley, who welcomed me back to work at King’s”. They were, of course, the embodiment of entrance to, and benevolent existence at, the College – its porters.
Mallory Wober (King’s 1954)

Downing in, ahem, pink

The My Room, Your Room feature is often the first article that I read and, as the latest issue featured Downing, I was more than usually interested. However, the reference to a black and pink boat club blazer did rock me back on my heels – black and magenta, please! But the article also prompted a memory: attending a Downing reunion earlier this year, I went to renew acquaintance with room T3, T Staircase, where I had spent my first year. Sadly, the board listing current occupants did not include T3. Further investigation revealed that my room is now the communal bathroom. I suppose that is progress!
Terry Oddy (Downing 1958)

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