The Archimedeans
Colin Bell (Chronicler 1989–90)

“The Archimedeans have had another successful year ...” seems to be a favourite thing to say among Chroniclers sitting down with a blank piece of paper thinking of things to say about the previous year. I see no reason not to say the standard thing—after all, it has the dubious merit of truth. The year 1989–90 may not go down as a great vintage in the history books, but it was a fairly good one nevertheless. The committee did whatever it is that committees are supposed to do, and did it reasonably well too. So let us cast our minds back to that ridiculously hot summer of 1989 ...

In the Easter term, it is well known that nothing matters until the second week of June, and 1989 was no exception. The first event in the term of note was the Garden Party, which saw temperatures in the 90s and a correspondingly high turnout. The Barbershop Subgroup sang sweetly (although not sweetly enough for one senior member of the College, who was observed shutting his window when the singing began, and opening it again after it finished) but were thwarted from their usual method of arrival (a punt) by the Landscape Gardening Subgroup’s inability to divert the Cam through Pembroke. The Garden Party was followed in quick succession by the Punt Trip to Grantchester, the ramble, including a scenic crossing of the M11 (at road level), the Croquet Match against DPMMS (which, with two of their players being on international duty and a blossoming of Peterhouse talent, we managed to win for once) and a Punt Tiddleywinks match against the Dampers, who invented the sport. This we managed to lose.

The summer over, we returned to Cambridge; four months older and perhaps slightly wiser. The Societies’ Fair (with the now traditional computers) and the Squash brought in a fairly average number of freshers, eager to start their first term of university mathematics (one wonders how keen they will be three years later). The term proper began with one of the best attended meetings in recent years, given by Professor Penrose of Oxford, linking together such varied fields as logic, neurology, quantum mechanics and cosmology, in a manner loosely connected with his new book (of which a review appears elsewhere in this issue). Further talks were given by Professors Olive, Ledermann, Donaldson and Dalitz and Drs Monk, Berkshire and Isenberg. The last of these was a multivisual experience; the centrepiece of the show being a large plastic dustbin filled with soapy water, from which he proceeded to blow vast numbers of incredibly-shaped bubbles (or credibly-shaped bubbles, depending on how good you are at geometry). The only pity was that more people didn’t come to it, a problem which seems to be endemic amongst the Maths. Societies at the minute.

However, the highlight, at least, of the Michaelmas term, was the Call My Bluff competition. Teams from Imperial, Nottingham, Bristol and King’s College London arrived in Cambridge, and the first three did battle with the native Cantabrigians in the splendor of Trinity OCR. King’s went sightseeing. As a result of subtle changes in the scoring mechanism from the Chair, Cambridge ended up with no points at all. Those wishing to know further details are pointed in the direction of the article in this issue by Stephen Turner.

And so the Society reached the Annual Mark Owen Expulsion Meeting, at which the membership expel Mark Owen from the Society and then reinstate him. This done, the meeting pauses only briefly while the old committee is sprayed with liberal quantities of white foam, before it sobers slightly and elects the new committee. That elected for 1990–1 has a refreshing reduction in the number of members from Trinity (from six to four—it seems the Society had an allergic reaction to the comment J. Rickard made in Eureka 43, “... for the first time in the memory of even the oldest undergraduate, there were no members of Trinity College on the new committee!” and it has elected at least four at every AGM since). It does however have the unfortunate drawback of including only two first-years; it would be nice to see more of them about, since it is they who will be running the Society from next year.

As for the College Societies, they appear to be going well despite very poor attendances at some meetings. The New Pythagoreans managed a meeting at which the audience consisted solely of the current and two previous Secretaries and one “friend” of the Society. (I was the friend, and it was in fact a very good talk.)

The subgroup situation is mixed. The Barbershop Subgroup plan to make vaguely musical noises again this Summer; the Othello Subgroup, which has bifurcated into two rooms this year, is thriving and the Puzzles and Games Ring likewise. The PGR has also split into two rooms, but one of them is that of Il Dottori Adam Atkinson of La Sapienza University in Rome. The PGR’s most insoluble puzzle of the year has been to explain why vast hordes of people arrived just before a Plenum meeting held in the same room and went afterwards, rather than the other way around. The Musical Appreciation Subgroup has appreciated somewhat less music this year; Philip Belben has retired after many years’service and his successor Mark Allan had to wait a term in the outer darkness of Trinity lodgings before getting a room in the new Blue Boar Court. Much is promised from this new location, however. The Mathematical Models Subgroup has suffered similarly since its proprietor, the multi-faceted Tim Auckland, was moved out into the wastes beyond Newnham.

Thanks are due to the four speakers who spoke too late to make last year’s column—Dr Hawkes, Mr Hersee, Professor MacCallum and Dr P. Johnson-Laird, and also to our ex-Senior Treasurer, Dr Jonathan Partington, who retired after two years in the post last summer because of his impending defection to Leeds. He has been replaced by Dr Imre Leader of Peterhouse—long may he reign.

So what is lined up for next year? Not a great deal as yet, but plans are being drawn up for the 1991 Triennial Dinner which is likely to be held in February of that year. As usual it would be nice to have some past members present— anyone interested is invited to write to the Secretary.

It only remains for me to say thank you to the other seven committee members of last year for making it fun, and to wish the new committee good luck in their endeavours to make 1990–91 “another successful year”.


Reproduced from Eureka 50 pages 7-8.
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