Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Clay Pigeon Shooting

This week's escapades - online here.

Stress busters. I’ve tried them all. From lavender bath salts to meditative yoga to compulsive chocolate digestive eating, I’m yet to find the ideal solution.
After being set an essay that threatened to ruin my weekend, desperate times called for desperate measures. Mere stress busting would not do: I needed something that would smash it to smithereens. It was time to call in the clay pigeon shooting club to help me let off a considerable amount of steam.

Lest it be feared that I’m a potential threat to my fellow students, I can assure you that everything was monitored and controlled by excellent coaches, who provided an in-depth safety talk before letting us anywhere near the weapons. Once outside, I was first to have a go. Let me tell you, those guns are powerful machines, and not to be underestimated. I heaved it up on my shoulder, waited for my target to be released, pulled the trigger – and missed by a mile. “Oh, but it feels good, doesn’t it?” the coach said with a grin. A few pathetic attempts later, I finally hit one. My stress had been blown to pieces, and what was left of it lay scattered across the field in front of us. “Atta girl!” the coach called out, giving me a mighty pat on the back.
I took a break to allow others to get their thrills, and noticed my cheek getting sore. One of the more experienced shooters explained that I probably wasn’t “cuddling” my gun properly. I never thought I would hear the words “cuddle” and “gun” in the same sentence, but there you go. On my next turn I clutched the gun close into my cheek and took aim – only to be stopped by my coach to correct my posture. The best stance is, apparently, sticking out your bottom and leaning slightly forward. Not the most ladylike of positions, I’ll admit, but since I hit considerably more targets this time round, it was a concession I was more than happy to make.

Having sorted out my stance, there were certain technical tricks that would also help me. I’m no physics whizz kid, and the thought of calculating the precise point to shoot so that you don’t miss the moving target was enough to get my brain thoroughly muddled. “You’re over-complicating things, my dear,” the coach reassured me. The trick is – so I’m told – to shoot just slightly ahead of the target, so that it will fly into the shot and meet its bitter end.
Imagining the clay pigeon that was now flying across the sky, oblivious to the shot that would soon blast it apart, was in fact that horrible supervisor who had set me the unwelcome essay, I followed the coach’s instructions. As it collided with the shot I had fired and showered down in fragments, I felt a sense of cruel gratification. When I got back to college I still had to write the essay. But I nevertheless smirked with satisfaction knowing, in my mind at least, that I’d taken my revenge.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Trampolining

My latest exploits can be read about here...

Having established last week that watery depths don’t exactly float my boat, this week I took on the opposite extreme: the dizzying heights of trampolining.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t quite anticipated the preparation my body would require in order to withstand two hours of being bounced in every direction imaginable. Having got a little carried away with the G&Ts the night before, I arrived to the class with my head already spinning, and ten minutes in I was forced to remember what I’d sworn to forget: the kebab I had consumed in the early hours of the morning was threatening to make a rogue reappearance.
Noticing that I had turned a shade of green, our coach took the opportune moment to suggest I let someone else have their turn while he explained to me the secrets of avoiding unwelcome ‘giddy spells’ Thinking it best not to mention that takeaway binges probably aren’t top of the list, I listened attentively. On my next turn, I even pulled off a ‘seat drop’; as one of those ladies who likes the extra cream with their pudding, I had no trouble allowing the weight of my rear end to propel me downwards. After a few attempts I had the move nailed, and the coach looked reasonably impressed.

Now it was time to move on to more ambitious territory. A ‘front drop’ was proffered, but, given my rather delicate state, I asked whether there might be something a little less tough on the tummy. We settled on a ‘back drop’ instead: all I needed to do was jump as high as possible then lean my shoulders back, and I would float gently down to a lying position on the bed. Or something like that.

It might sound crazy, but soon I was actually beginning to enjoy the feeling of flying up and falling back down, only to spring back and repeat it all over again. With each turn I dared bounce that little bit harder, shoot my arms that little bit higher, fall back that little bit further…

Then something staggering happened. The coach told me to repeat exactly the same move, only lean backwards a bit more. Taking him at his word, I bounced back up and, by some flabbergasting gravitational feat, spun all the way around to land on my feet again. I couldn’t tell you how on earth it happened, but I somehow did a somersault. My fellow flyers (one of whom studies quantum mechanics) could probably explain the ins and outs of the gravitational forces that spun me round, but I’d rather not know, lest it lose its magic. Once I’ve retrieved my stomach from the ceiling and the room has stopped spinning, I can’t wait to make the magic happen again.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Water Polo

My latest instalment! Can be read on the Varsity website here.

I love Sundays. Given the chaotic pace of life at Cambridge, I afford myself the luxury of taking the day at a blissfully slow pace: a long lie-in, catching up on trashy TV, reading the newspapers, enjoying a relaxed roast dinner.

Not so, it seems, for members of the University Water Polo Squad, who sacrifice these
pleasures in favour of a morning of training in the swimming pool. Dragging myself out of bed and lamenting the omnipresence of closed curtains in the rooms of my fellow students, I prepared myself to join in their exploits last weekend.

Things didn’t get off to a winning start. Having not swum since my secondary school days (I prefer to lounge poolside, darling), I had entirely overlooked my lack of suitable attire for pool-based activities. I asked my neighbour’s impartial advice as to whether I could just about get away with one of my less skimpy ensembles, but the response being negative, I was forced to forgo breakfast and make a last-minute dash to John Lewis to scour its swimwear section for something more appropriate. I left the store with a hideously unflattering but positively practical costume, and cycled like the clappers to the sports centre.

I arrived in the nick of time, already red-faced and sweaty, only to discover that today the Varsity team trials were taking place. The captain, seeing the look of horror on my face, reassured me that there would be no pressure and we would take things easy. “Just twenty or so lengths to start off with, girls – no biggie,” she beamed. Half-way through my first, I was ready to faint with hunger, my legs had turned to jelly, and I had unintentionally swallowed copious amounts of water. With much coughing and spluttering, I reverted to doggy paddle. “Don’t worry – your technique’s great!” she reassured me, as I huffed and puffed my way to the shallow end. “It takes a while to get back into the swing of things – you should have seen me when I got back to training after the vac!” Something tells me she was anything but the pathetic paddler I was, longing for the comfort of my floats, woggles and – dare I say it? – armbands.

You see, water polo is played in deep water, and, to add further complication to matters,
involves a very specific style of treading water called ‘egg-beater’, the ins and outs of which got me thoroughly scrambled. Keeping afloat is only part of the battle – there are various manoeuvres, passes, catches and goals to execute, as well as warding off opponents’ attempts to ‘dunk’ you (thankfully, existing team members promised not to submit me to that treatment just yet, though I was given a bonnet with some rather hefty ear protectors to wear in case of any rough play…).

I never thought I would last the whole session, let alone see myself playing a game at the
end of it, but somehow the team’s infectious enthusiasm won me over. My legs might have only been capable of a gentle swish rather than the mighty egg-beating of my teammates, but I managed a couple of passes and even a shot on goal (easily saved, but, as the perpetually smiley captain pointed out, “at least it was on target!”). I returned home with a runny nose, dripping hair and bloodshot eyes, and savoured every last morsel of my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. As my friends showed up in hall bleary-eyed, I felt a sneaky sense of pride for having spent my morning engaging in such hard-wearing activity whilst they slept off last night’s beers. Though next time, I won’t skip the Weetabix beforehand.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Put A Soc In It!: Lindy Hopping

It's the start of a new academic year, and I'll be writing a weekly blog for Varsity about my various undertakings with different societies in Cambridge. Here's the first instalment (or you can view it online):

New year, new start. Beginning term at Cambridge brings with it a fresh set of resolutions: no more late night takeaway binges, changing the sheets at least every other week, finding a new hobby. Off we trot to the Freshers’ Fair, where we are lured by the enticing array of free chocolates and the endearing eagerness of society representatives, only to return to an inbox filled with details of the next yacht expedition, cheese tasting, or Warhammer tournament.
As an arts student, my technical ineptitude has meant that for the first two years of my degree I still haven’t figured out how to unsubscribe from such emails. Each term, the regular stream of updates from the multitude of societies our University has to offer only served to continually remind me of my inadequacy. So this year, I have resolved to make a real effort and have a go at some of the more under-the-radar activities offered by societies at Cambridge. Provided I don’t unearth hidden talents for which the pursuit allows little time for anything but practice, I’ve agreed to write a blog of my various experiences for Varsity. Who knows, in a few weeks’ time you might well be reading the words of a burgeoning champion pole-vaulter.

My mission began with an evening spent in the company of Cambridge’s Lindy Hoppers, involving an hour-long class followed by an evening of ‘social dancing’, accompanied by a live band. Fortunately the class caters to beginners’ needs, and the emphasis tended more towards having fun than perfecting the steps (or so one of my partners told me, perhaps to make me feel better about my rather haphazard footwork). Fortunately we changed partners regularly, so I didn’t have to feel too bad about my lack of co-ordination impeding the more ambitious dancers in the bunch. It did make for somewhat clammy hand-holds though, which I could have done without when it was my turn to dance with a very cute guy with flippy hair…
Admittedly, I didn’t exactly pick up the moves at lightning speed. In fact, I trod on the aforementioned guy’s toes a number of times, although on the rare occasion that I looked up from my somewhat unsteady feet he seemed to be smiling – and I’d like to think it wasn’t just a sympathetic gesture. In fact, while my technical dancing ability might have been a little lacking, I feel I certainly excelled at the ‘social dancing’ aspect of the evening. The class took place at a pub, and after a couple of pints to calm the nerves I was throwing some absolute killer moves. Flippy hair hottie even asked if I would be coming back next week, so I must have made some sort of impression.
If I were to dismiss the attraction of my fellow Hoppers, however, I’ll confess that I doubt a career in Lindy Hopping is my calling – somehow my knees don’t quite have the buoyancy required for all the bouncing, and my feet just don’t do what I want them to. But I had a good laugh, met some fun people, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to have a bit of a boogie in a non-judgmental, friendly atmosphere. What with the partner changes, live band, and dance moves, it could be an interesting alternative to your standard swap night out. One thing’s for sure: despite all the dance steps, it was a lot less sweaty than most nightclubs in Cambridge.