On the weekend of 25th to 27th September, we had our annual CAS family holiday. After all, we see each other every weekday, it becomes important to spend the occasional weekend together as well. Plus, it’s an opportunity to meet the new students. Besides, it’s always good to find out who in the department snores (outside of a seminar setting).
This year, our visit took us to the shores of Loch Lomond. To be honest, staying at a Youth Hostel can be like holidaying in an Open Prison, thankfully Loch Lomond Youth Hostel is a magnificent structure built during the heyday of the mid-19th century pseudo-castle craze, in a stunning location. As Dr Johnson, on his 1773 visit to the highlands of Scotland, noted, “Had Loch Lomond been in a happier climate, it would have been the boast of wealth and vanity to own one of the little spots”. As those who swam (willingly, or in the case of three of the canoists, unwillingly) can attest, it’s not the warmest of water bodies.
Thinking at first that we were a group of 18-year old undergrads, the hostel initially banned us from drinking alcohol: so on arrival it was with trepidation that we tried to hide the clinking of bottles in our bags. Once we’d convinced the hostel staff that we were, in fact, postgraduates and so mature enough to drink, they let us imbibe. Aware that this privilege could be revoked, it became of utmost importance that the hostel staff not notice that the new postdoc had had one or two too many. In fact, she was passed out, face-down, half-way up the central staircase.
An undoubted highlight of the weekend was the Africa-themed general knowledge quiz on Friday night – or, rather, the results. The team that came last – a long way last – was the team containing our acting head of department, James Smith. Maybe it just says something about the broad knowledge about Africa present in the rest of the department; in any event, I for one make sure that James is reminded of his performance at every opportunity.
On Saturday, we had what was referred to on the programme as outdoor team-building activities. For me, a couple of hip-flasks and a bit of sit down will be fine. So, unfortunately, I missed one of the other highlights of the trip: Shaun, James P and Dean developing their team-building skills together in a Canadian canoe, believed that they could easily beat Alex Beresford, alone in his kayak. In a masterful display of co-ordination, the three swung their oars into the water on the same side at the exact same moment. Their canoe immediately flipped on it’s side, sending them splashing into the loch. Together, as a team.
So as to not make us seem unacademic, it should be noted that we didn’t spend all our time laughing at near-drownings. We had three PhD presentations that highlighted the diversity of subjects studied in the department: Caryn Abrahams presented on food value chains in Zambia, James Pattison talked on his fieldwork amongst Orma pastoralists in Kenya, and Marc Fletcher spoke on his work on race and football in South Africa. James Smith provided an excellent session on writing: despite his lack of quizzing finesse, he has been averaging one book publication a week so far this semester, so he knows what he’s talking about! Meanwhile, the time-management course ran 15 minutes over schedule.
All-in-all, the annual CAS retreat is a great way to break to the ice and start the term. Long may the tradition continue!
Tom Fisher, Edinburgh