So yesterday was the first day of term. It was also the day of the first meeting arranged by the Visitors and Newcomers Group. I am, obviously, a Visitor and Newcomer, so despite the fact that I had grave misgivings (I've never been a visitor and newcomer who hangs around with other visitors and newcomers. That seems to me to defeat the purpose of being a visitor, and it leaves one permanently a newcomer), I went; after all, if you're trying to make friends and settle, you should go everywhere where you might make friends.
So who was there? Me and...many Asians! And a goodly number of women with babies (plus two men with babies. You rock, sirs!). Plus the whole thing was run by women in late middle age to early old age. The thing is, though, on my way there I pretty much figured the chance of this meeting's throwing me into a depression was about 90%, so I was prepared when it threw me into a depression.
First of all, as my friend L. will tell you, I'm not a fan of groups, and I particularly don't like groups of women. I was excluded by a lot of groups as a child, so now groups always seem to me to be a vehicle for exclusion. Plus, looking at all these women organisers I thought what I always think when I see single women of that age these days: Oh, God, is that how I'm going to end up? Because what you see in these situations is women whose husbands have died or who are divorced. Women who join things and get involved in a community with zest and good will. And so the impression one is left with, which is to some extent an accurate impression, is that all women are either divorced or left behind, and then you have to throw yourself into community activity to give you something to do. But I don't give a shit about the community in that way - I don't want to help out visitors or lead tours of interesting things near where I live or give potlucks or lead a book group (can you see that? "Now, let's take a look at The Eve of St. Agnes. Is hiding in a closet and watching someone undress sexually acceptable, or is it just pervy?"). I don't want to be a doughty dowager whose husband died, or a woman who wears those weird Eileen-Fisheresque clothes and really enjoys her baking group: I want to be a woman whose elderly and somewhat cantakerous husband is alive, or a woman who, frankly, gets fucked and has an intimate conversation with someone she loves on a regular basis. But you go to these sorts of things and the impression you get is that in about five years that chance will be gone for me.
And I love babies, but I don't have one, nor do I want one.
Plus, on a less emotional note, as is always true when I come to stay in England, I'm not really a visitor or newcomer. I know what the weather is like; by this stage I know everywhere to get a cake in Cambridge; I know who David Tennant is and have been to the Hamlet. I don't mean I know everything there is to know, but I'm on a weird cusp where I know too much to be a smooth fit with the visitors, but not enough to be a smooth fit with the residents.
So all in all the V&N thing was a downer. I've decided to give them one more chance, because the next meeting involves a presentation on Cambridge gowns, something I'm interested in all on my own. This suggests that it might be a better bet.
Fortunately, however, the day got better. After the meeting I went over to the library to do some photocopying, and also to have lunch. In the tea room, which is also the lunch room, I encountered a mature student named Nicola, who was reading a Spenser article. I introduced myself and asked if I could join her (I'm getting quite good at this, although I loathe doing it), and we had a very nice conversation. When we left, she introduced me to her tutor, who was sitting across the room. Upon hearing the name of my college, this woman asked me if I knew the English fellow, which I do not, and said he might ask me to teach! She said this off her own whack! Of course, I'd love to do some teaching, so I shall lie in wait for this man. And just meeting this woman, who was jolly and open, made me feel better. As did meeting the mature student. Oh, and although the lunch wasn't that great, dessert was a jam and sponge pudding with custard that was absolutely sublime. I don't know whether the sponge was deliciously buttery or the custard was deliciously creamy, but something in there gave it all a rich taste of warming fat.
I then spent the afternoon wandering about, buttoning and unbuttoning. Around about 3 I was filled with a burning need to have a vanilla slice (a Napoleon, my American friends). I love many things about Cambridge, but I'd say its major drawback is that vanilla slices are thin on the ground. As far as I know, only one place does them, and it closes at 3 (but then, I am a visitor and newcomer, so there could be more places, ones I don't yet know about). I had to be content with a piece of chocolate chunk cake from the infamous Caffe Nero. It has real chocolate chunks in its frosting, which is a plus, but even that couldn't really make up for the absence of a vanilla slice.
In the evening was the introductory reception for new fellows at my college, followed by my first formal dinner. I put on my semi-formal dress, which was fractionally too small in the
hips (despite a week's dieting before the jam sponge eating), and a very attractive pair of bright red shoes I purchased from Marks and Spencer earlier this year. The reception was very pleasant. I knew a person there (a woman, incidentally), so I hung out with her and her friend and asked whispered questions. One of those whispered questions was, "Why is everyone so old?" Because everyone really was. With five to ten notable exceptions in a room filled with perhaps 75 people, everyone was well into his or her 60s. The answer is, because in order to be a fellow, unless you're a visiting one, you have to have done something very impressive or important, and usually people who've got to that stage are old. Fair enough. And the little vegetarian dumplings were delicious.
After the reception (where, by the way, some man who was not old, but I would guess was somewhere between 47 and 55, kept staring at me but didn't come over) came the dinner. The dinner was ALSO filled with old people. (Please don't get me wrong: I have no problem with elderly people. It's just that since I've arrived in Cambridge almost everywhere I go seems to offer the same participatory group: me and a bunch of pensioners. Going to the cinema? Me and a bunch of pensioners. Going shopping? Me and a bunch of pensioners. Actually, writing it down I can see that this might be because Cambridge is quite a nice place to which to retire, and also because pensioners tend to be out and about on weekdays.) Overall, however, it cheered me up from the morning. For one thing, there were many married women there, and they were with their husbands. And those husbands seemed to love them. Good. For another thing, the women were interesting, and they knew how to make something more than very small small talk. At the V&N meeting, everyone was there for a purpose - to offer you information, to welcome you to Cambridge, to meet other V&N's - but here people were there for the purpose of having dinner and chatting, so the chat was, while still small, much more interesting. I would say it reached the level of medium talk.
The dinner itself works in three parts. The first part is the starter, the main course, and what I would call the dessert but what my college calls the sweet (alas, prune and Armagnac tart. Very dry. Quite disappointing, as dessert [sweet, whatever] is my favourite course, and most eagerly anticipated, so when it's not good it's sort of a double blow). Then everyone decamps to another room to stand up and have tea or coffee. Then those who remain go back to the first room to have fruit and port (which is called dessert - at first I thought it would include cheese, so I was very excited. But it did not. There were grapes, though, and I do like a good grape). By the time we got to dessert, everyone who appeared to be what my friend S.M. would call, "at the same position I am on my life timeline" was gone, and the only real young person was a man down the other end of the table. Up at my end were a bunch of elderly gentlemen. Now, it is one of the mysteries of my life that elderly gentlemen love me. And these elderly gentlemen were no exception. Nicely, across the table from me were a couple of people close to my age, although they seemed to be proper grown-ups, so I was able to talk to some people more like me, as well as to the elderly gentleman.
I feel that there must be people in their late thirties and early forties lurking somewhere around here. I'm not exactly sure why I feel this, since evidence shows me that there in fact no people in their late thirties and early forties lurking around here, and that there are no single people in this age range anywhere in Cambridge (I never see any. Unless they look freakishly young or freakishly old, and thus I'm mistaking them for much younger or much older people). There's a tea for new fellows next Saturday, arranged so we can meet the senior members, so perhaps more people in this age range will show up then - or perhaps I'll see the proper grown-ups again. Oh, and hopefully my neighbours will be there, and although my neighbours are elderly they're very nice, and very lively, and I like them very much.
Tomorrow night I'm off to a literature event, a lecture by an eminent theorist. I've contacted the person who runs the Romanticism lecture series and arranged to say hello to him there. I wouldn't say I have high hopes for this event as a friend-making venue - I've learnt not to have high hopes of this at any venue anymore - but it does seem like the sort of place where I could conceivably encounter at least a couple of likeable people who are interested in what I'm interested in. And I finally had some cards made! So I can actually just hand over a card, instead of scrabbling around for a pen and a bit of paper. AND I know what I'm going to wear. So things are looking good.