Inspection of our party in the brightly lit lobby revealed a group of faintly dishevelled people still in good spirits. Once we'd sorted out keys to our rooms and dropped off our luggage, it became evident that (perhaps unsurprisingly?) our priorities at this point differed slightly. I felt that planning the first two days in detail was the most important thing to do and the boys wanted to eat. It transpired that some of them had slept through the final pizza and filled roll opportunity on the plane and were in desperate need of food. Realising the urgency of the onboarding of calories, we wandered to 'Arby's', situated conveniently next door to the hotel and where we could both eat and plan, thus servicing everybody's needs simultaneously. After 25 long years of being a vegetarian, I did giggle at the massive poster stating that "A sandwich without meat is not". The very nice gentleman at the counter confirmed that there was nothing vegetarian to eat other than curly fries and a side salad. Having consumed at least a month's worth of salad on the plane, I decided that the curly fries would be my dinner and put it down to a delicious cultural experience. The boys tucked happily into various concoctions of vast quantities of meat contained in large buns. I personally fancied the fried turkey sandwich but the beef and brisket options were more popular with the boys. I shall not name those who took out the one slice of tomato from their burger, thus removing what appeared to me to be the only real piece of nutrition present.
I smiled at the spontaneous thought that everybody here sounds just like Mr Wight and realised that merely having this thought was probably an outward sign of being quite tired. It was time for bed and Mr Bacon and I dropped in to all the boys' rooms to check they were OK and ready for sleep. We reminded them of the need to brush their teeth and left them to it, with our mobile phone numbers and room numbers left in case of emergency.
Having failed miserably to sleep on the aeroplane at the designated times, I anticipated a decent night's sleep. I dropped off quickly and managed from 12 until 4. However, the bed was clean and the pillow soft and the heater effective, so it was a warm and pleasant night of not much sleep. I lay in bed and contemplated the décor. The bedrooms are decorated very differently, with old, heavy wooden furniture, two massive mirrors and a huge television screen, at least four times the size of mine at home. It didn't appear any better or more interesting than my television, merely significantly larger. Sorting out school emails so they're less daunting when I return in a week's time and unpacking a bit took up a while and all too soon it was time to meet for breakfast.
I looked disappointingly old in the morning. I often think that these days, but it was particularly bad today. Happily the boys never notice this sort of thing and the conversation at breakfast centred entirely around the food (a recurring teenage boy theme) and our plans for the day. They want to eat, I want to plan. And they argue less when their mouths are full, so everyone's a winner when we plan at meal times. The junior team had their first day occupied with an all-day excursion to Boston, so they had to leave early and we had all agreed to meet them at 6 am for breakfast to see them on their way. The senior team didn't have to start their journey to Yale for the introductory World Scholar's Cup opening ceremony until later, but we nobly made sure we had breakfast together. The food was fabulous – porridge with fresh berries (and chocolate chips), all sorts of teas and coffees and juices, eggs (hard boiled or scrambled), various pastries and toasts, bagels and cream cheese … An amazing spread and we took full advantage of it. The junior team departed for their excursion day to Boston and the seniors had an hour or so to relax before catching the shuttle bus to Yale. This was a bit of a fiasco – we had booked it last night, confirmed it this morning and then the person on the reception desk changed yet again and decided to ignore all previous bookings because they hadn’t recorded a room number. A fair whack of Australian style negotiating and we got away by cunningly joining up with an international school from Thailand and pinching some spare seats on their shuttle bus. Although we arrived on time, the competition organisers weren’t … well they weren’t really very organised. They were jolly and entertaining but didn’t seem able to stick to their own schedule. Possibly a tempting career change to consider for the future, events management? Either way, it didn’t matter as we had a fun morning with lots of in jokes about alpacas which it took a while to understand.
The students were taken off for a scavenger hunt around Yale. The weather forecast had described an 'Arctic vortex' and 'polar winds' arriving and said that this week might set a new record for low temperatures at this time of year. We wandered around at a temperature of 1 degree Celsius. That's properly cold and I realised I'd forgotten what it was like to feel your scalp contract with the cold. But it didn't stop anybody enjoying the activities and the Thanksgiving lunch and scavenger hunt were followed by a keynote speaker in the Battell Chapel - a beautiful place with stained glass windows and an impressively decorated ceiling. Emerson went through the College hymn book and we spotted hymns that we sing at school and commented that Mr Gething might be keen to have a go on this chapel's organ. The speaker, Rita Mae-Reese, spoke about her childhood and how literature and poetry helped her cope with challenges. I resolved to read her 'Alphabet Conspiracy' poem when we get back to Perth - I enjoyed what she said despite having a brief, unplanned nap in the middle. Ashton seemed to join me in this activity and we both appeared refreshed by the experience.
Dinner was in one of the College dining halls - a clean and lovely place, with a massive range of foods to choose from. The freshly made broccoli pizza went down well (with salad and shoestring fries) and various exotic salad dressings. Zach even took photos for his social media postings. The rest of the team managed ice cream and other delicious-looking desserts before we booked an Uber back to the hotel. Our Uber arrived on time as promised and had been bizarrely decorated inside with what appeared to be three colours of duct tape which reminded me of the artwork of Piet Mondrian (learnt about earlier this year in the Prep School). The driver said that this comment had been made previously. Our 15 minute journey home involved a discussion on Polish politics between the (Polish) driver and the four of us - me reminiscing about the old days of Lech Walesa and the shipyards of the 1980's and the boys with a more up to date understanding of recent proposed changes to the Polish judiciary. We decided that this definitely counted as studying for the competition, probably under the section on politics or current affairs.
We were back at the hotel in time for an early night. The juniors had a longer day today (we swap over and do the Boston trip on Monday) and revisited Arby's for meat-before-bed, at which point I caught up with them to find out about their day. They were very excited about Harvard and M.I.T. - I hope parents aren't going to be too cross that their sons have been inspired by what I imagine would be a fairly expensive next step in their education. William said that the best bit was M.I.T. - apparently they used to have a police car on top of their library roof to commemorate the number of parking tickets issued by police; they also throw pianos off their dorm roofs at certain times of year and drop pumpkins frozen with liquid Nitrogen off the tallest building at Hallowe'en. Mitchell's favourite part of the day was the first Boston tour - he learnt a lot about the history of Boston and the massacre which was the catalyst for starting the War of Independence. Noah's best bit was M.I.T. in general - he really enjoyed it and would like to study Engineering there.
I also asked the senior team to tell me two things - their best thing about today and one thing they'd learnt today. Emerson said that the keynote speech by Rita Mae-Rees was the best thing about the day and he'd learnt that Morse College (where we ate dinner) has the best and only full-time pizza oven at Yale. Zach said that the best thing was making new friends (from Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia) and that he'd learnt that American coffee isn't as bad as you think if you add two lots of French vanilla milk to it. Ashton enjoyed the bioethics speech most (they said that we are getting so caught up in scientific progress that we need to slow down and think about the effects of it) and that he'd learnt that Uber payments, whilst of questionable legality, are better tracked on-line than taxi payments.
I count that as a successful day on many fronts.
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