Under the Microscope: The prick of the pine needle

The electric doors slide politely to the wings, and the humming of schedule monitors, baggage carousels and expectant courtiers of the port fade into insignificance. In its stead floats an olfactory welcome toward the arrivals gates – pinewood, freshened by recent rainfall.


With inlets of the Pacific to the south and east, circumscribing evergreen forests and a mountainous crown, Vancouver embodies freshness. Walking along the boulevards of Coal Harbour, brunching on a bench overlooking False Creek or flying over Horseshoe Bay, the freshness is invigorating, and inescapable.


The pine greeting at the terminal doorway gently washes over each visitor, awakening them from the soporific daze after a long night flight. The psychological pinprick of the pine needle serves as a sensory courier, delivering them into a British Columbia state of mind.

We who step out of the arrivals gates this autumn are encased within the freshness of university life. For freshers, it is, perhaps, the prick of the meningitis ACWY injection which will serve as the courier into these fresh surroundings.


Whether breakfasting on peppermint tea and seeded brownie at Blenz every morning in downtown Vancouver or spooning in porridge before dashing out to a lecture on Wolsey’s economic policy, ferrying between David Lam Park and False Creek or between the library and halls, attempting to stake out coyotes in Stanley Park or a professor specialising in projectile motion, it is the freshness and vividity of the surroundings which will motor the fresher onwards.






In Vancouver, the oft overlooked home of breathtaking landscape, the prevailing freshness sweeps through the streets, waterways, underground lines and cycling paths to propel the people there to progress. At university, in the first term this very freshness will be what powers the fresher through homesickness, insecurity…and self-catering.

Freshness has lost its freshness by this point in the article, which is exactly like everyday life. It isn’t fresh. It isn’t exciting. At this moment, the most exciting it gets is a new YouGov survey arriving in one’s inbox or discovering an unseen episode of New Tricks on iPlayer. But escaping into the evergreens at Stanley Park or within the fjords gives a completely different feeling, and it’s that feeling that we need to encapsulate in our everyday life.

When everything seems dull and boring, hunt the prick of the pine needle.


Soundtrack: “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire

To accompany each article in this series, each author has selected a piece of music which reflects the location.


Nucleus of the Matter: the Quark editorial on the migrant crisis

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in” – Matthew 25:35

In 1914, we extended our arms to Belgians fleeing from war-ravaged countryside amidst the might of the imperial German army, tearing up fields and shelling villages for a stalemate. In the 1930s, we welcomed refugees fleeing from the authoritarian shackles of the National Socialists. In 2015, we walk away?

Read the comments under Telegraph articles, or pretty much anything which could possibly be related to immigration or asylum. It’s disgusting. People putting their selfish wants before these people’s needs.

It’s time. If you think it’s time to act, time to stop hiding from the legions of hostile inhospitability and racism, time to come and nail our colours to the mast of history, please sign this petition. You could be saving lives.

Our generation has emerged into the adult world as the vanguard of the future. Let’s not begin by denying other people theirs.


(Headline image comes from The Independent)

It’s a dog’s life

Since an increasing number of people complain about trust issues in politics, Quark decided to put back the loyalty and faithfulness.

Using a popular app, we face-swapped a few politicians and dogs bearing some resemblance – the results are…interesting. They’re ordered alphabetically by party – will it influence your vote on 7th May?

The Conservative and Unionist Party

David Cameron and a labrador


Sajid Javid and a Yorkshire terrier


Boris Johnson and a golden retriever


Green Party

Caroline Lucas and a lhasa apso


Labour Party

Ed Balls and a shih tzu


Ed Miliband and a beagle


Dennis Skinner and a dog of unknown breed


Liberal Democrats

Danny Alexander and an Irish red setter


Nick Clegg and a Jack Russell terrier


Scottish National Party

Alex Salmond and a pug


United Kingdom Independence Party

Nigel Farage and a whippet


Cambridge: the secret formula

So, there’s only one thing you want to read: our secret formula for getting in. The formula to auto-complete your dreams, propel you into a life of punting, formals and strange rituals and secure you a high-profile career.

Parents, pick up your pens: students, read carefully. This is important.


Yep, that’s it. There is no formula.

Let’s get one thing straight first. Applying to Cambridge or Oxford does not make you any better than someone who doesn’t. Cambridge isn’t the right environment for a lot of people – whether it be stress, course or the city itself – and just because you might happen to like it doesn’t mean anything. You’re not applying for a league table position, for a collection of arguably arbitrary numbers – you’re applying for a place to live for possibly 4 years, for a place to study in, to enjoy and to bear. If it isn’t right for you, don’t apply, just the same as any other university.

The beginnings

First things first, look on the websites. Although the internet may have been invented by an Oxford graduate, it’s still pretty useful. As well as the University itself, all the colleges and faculties have their own websites with lots of useful information including course details on them.

The prospectus is also good, but by far the most valuable are open days. Whilst the general Cambridge open days in July can be hectic and confusing, each college and often each faculty will have a specific open day, so you can really think properly about the feel of each component without having to rush around.

If there are any essay competitions, definitely enter them – it’s not only good for your UCAS form, but you might get the chance to meet your potential lecturers and it could help you to choose a college.

The choice

There may seem like a lot of choice for colleges, but don’t worry if you can’t really decide. People choose colleges for very odd reasons – they liked the ducks at Emmanuel, they approved of the banter of Trinity’s chair leg, they had a nice lunch from Queens’ at an open day – it really doesn’t matter!

If you’re good enough, you’ll get in, courtesy of the pooling system. Pick your favourite college, whatever your criteria might be. There’s no point ending up at one you don’t really like, which you chose tactically, when you could have got into your favourite.

The fun

Now we come to the crucial part: the UCAS personal statement. Forget any tricks you were told might work. Be truthful. That means not only actively avoiding any actual lies, but being true to what you are – what your strengths are and what you’re interested in. Don’t pretend to love the War of the Spanish Succession because you think the First World War is too mainstream; likewise, don’t go on about Tolstoy if actually you’d prefer to talk about Putin. If you get an interview (which you probably will if your grades are decent), it’ll be based around your interests, so if your ‘interests’ aren’t true, you’re probably stuffed.

Keep it relevant, and try to be original but don’t sacrifice truth for originality. Spend time getting it right – it’s important – and don’t let other people tell you what you should put if you don’t agree. Some courses such as MML are very broad, so you can focus on what you like – there is absolutely no need to fake a love for literature when you do actually love linguistics, for example.

You also have to complete the SAQ after you’ve submitted your UCAS form, which contains an optional short additional personal statement. Use that to tailor your interest towards the specific Cambridge course and opportunities that offers, such as breadth and variety. Double check you put in all the numbers correctly, because it’s an easy mistake to make, and check you send all the forms your college requires.

Check your college website and any information they send you for details about any essays you might have to send. Depending on your college, these might matter a bit, a lot or not really at all, so check TSR for advice, but in general pick essays you found interesting which are relatively recent.

The moment

If you do get an interview, don’t waste any time in getting ready for it. Ask for accommodation if you’re eligible (most people probably will be, depending on college). Going the day before will remove most if not all travel-related stress, relax you into the environment and give you more chance to make connections with people and the place – don’t forget you have to decide if you want Cambridge as well! If you’re settled, you are much more likely to do your best than if you’re frazzled after a train delay and confused about where you’re going.

It’s meant to be an enjoyable experience, so enjoy it! Socialise as much as you can – there’s no point wasting your energy on jealousy and competitiveness – and be positive about everything you learn.

For those of you with preparatory studies, don’t worry at all – they’re perfectly approachable and are a tool to display your ability. It’s a good idea to annotate a text you might be given, and also anything you’ve read, heard or seen which you can link in in case you forget through nerves.

The interview itself is designed like a supervision, so treat it like a conversation about your favourite subject. As long as you took our advice and didn’t lie on your paperwork, you’ll be fine – if it gets difficult, that’s when it really starts, so think rationally and creatively and reason answers through. They’re interviewing you, not your textbook, so be original as well.

And finally…

There’s no such thing as a typical candidate! Don’t write or say what you think they want you to write or say – it probably won’t work and you’ll get yourself into difficulty.

And that’s why we put a blank space earlier. Yes, there’s no formula, but there is a space full (oxymoron) of opportunity for you to fill it with what you want.

In the words of esteemed Cantabrigian Professor Stephen Hawking, “There should be no boundary to human endeavour.” Try in earnest if you want to, but only if you want to. It’s worth it.

Precedent politics

“They being subservient would be revolutionaries so as to be equals, they being equals would be revolutionaries so as to be mighty” ~ Aristotle

A slightly unhinged social outcast paces the room, desperately trying to reconcile himself with his extensive debts, both financial and social. The progressive downfall of his aristocratic family removed one source of renown and income, whilst moral degeneracy, unwise connections, filicide led a great deal of improbability about external loans.

What Lucius Sergius Catilina did have was indignation. His loss of status in the social wolf pack of the Roman republic drew out a rebellious sentiment within him, and his base desire for power and importance drove his activity. By attracting a crowd of robbers, muggers, parrides, fraudsters, thugs and by indoctrinating his principles into teenage boys, Catilina slowly built up the imperium he so violently craved.

This was a time of economic and political instability in the republic, and out of this was to grow first the Caesarian dictatorship arising from the first triumvirate and then eventually the empire out of the second triumvirate.

There isn’t a great amount of detail from the ancient sources, perhaps because no coherent economic theory existed then, but it is clear that Rome’s economy was not very healthy, bringing about a decline in the standard of living et cetera.

Perhaps spurred on by this economic downturn, many contemporary politicians and social figures were disenchanted with the way the republic was run, with the aristocratic faction holding too much sway over decisions and poor provisions in place for the various social classes within the republic and affiliated states.

Catiline preyed upon this sentiment, drawing in titans of Roman society and politics into the folds of his ‘conspiracy’. Amongst these were Julius Caesar, the archetypical populist.

Sallust’s version of Catiline’s first speech to his gathered group, whilst made up, does indeed have Catilinian flavourings to it. He incites his audience to fury by pointing out the numerous homes of the wealthy compared to the debts of those present, the privileged positions held by the powerful compared to the social obscurity of those present, the harshness and hatred with which those present were regarded by the prominent. As a populist, he manipulated common contemporary fears and mixed them with his own base ambition and lust for power.

Catiline’s feminine, aristocratic name belies the violence deployed in his putsch, thrown when Cicero was consul and targeting him, at least according to Ciceronian sources. Rising in the senate, amidst great uncertainty as to the extent of Catilina’s popularity, Cicero famously made an impassioned and highly effective speech debasing this quasi-revolutionary, beginning with the daring attack, “How long, Catilina, will you abuse our patience?”, playing on the tense and drawn-out progression of the second Catilinian conspiracy.

This speech had a dramatic effect on Roman politics and historiography thereafter. Cicero was declared the saviour of the republic, and Catilina and his companions were forced out. All the accounts take their information from Cicero, most notably Sallust, himself a bit of a wrongdoer trying to worm his way back into social favour and eternal remembrance with his historical works.

This was also an important training period for Caesar, allowing him to refine his political acumen and giving him an invaluable experience to be retained in mind for his later political career, not least the estimation of Cicero’s capabilities.

One of the primary purposes of studying Latin is to study the precedents of modern-day life and to apply them, just as with history. The deeper context and understanding provided by linguistic study affords a more complete picture of the implications of the texts, such as Sallust’s bellum Catilinae (The War of Catiline).

The Catilinian conspiracy is important not only for its implications in classical politics, but in terms of a precedent for its successors. Many parallels can be drawn between the Catilinians and certain modern parties – see if you can draw them.

This article was composed in semi-Sallustian prose which works much better in Latin than in English.

What Quark Is Listening To In…September 2014

The winter’s coming in, and so are thousands of spiders…fun. Here are our nominations for September.

Juliet’s pick“Canon” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

The emotive melody of the superb and unparalleled version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D sums up the feeling following last week’s referendum. The seemingly improved solo piper section is breathtakingly good – instrumental tracks, in my opinion, so vastly outperform vocal tracks for this very reason – imagine trying to perform this delicate and ornamental verse with mere vocal chords.

Pareesa’s pick “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar

I’m running out of synonyms for ethereal – and this is only the third What Quark Is Listening To In… post. While the production on Kendrick’s own, lacklustre single was pretty generic, FlyLo crafts a lush backdrop for Kenny’s unstoppable flow. The production is so textured that the bassline can dip in and out without causing the song to collapse. A musical head rush.

Daniz’s pick – “Rude” by Magic

Jazzy and classy, full of energy yet well controlled, Magic’s smash hit is an alternative to current songs in similar genres which smash windows and any suggestion of musicality.

 Tanvi’s pick – “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush

Kate Bush’s recent short concert appearances have had reviewers raving, and “Wuthering Heights” – perhaps her most popular hit – reminds us why. One learned observer said of her music, “Idk it just feels real”. If you’d rather hear a somewhat different version, Alan Partridge has it covered.

Nayana’s pick – “Waves” by Mr Probz

Mr Probz’ rock-style voice paired with this sort of summery relaxation piece brings a new dimension to the lyrics.

Joint choice from the Browns – “Crying in the Rain” covered by a-ha
Amazing, simply harmonies, a mournful guitar line and a tearful melody…the lyrics are deeply moving and very evocative, and the whole song reminds me of a requiem for a lost love (because that is what it is).  The a-ha cover version has rain effects in 4/4 time – nowhere else can rain in time with the music be found.

“The Great British Bake-Off” reached new social media heights in August when contestant Iain Watters was dispatched for the sin of letting his baked Alaska be judged by the bin. As our in-house baking supremo claims she doesn’t listen to music, we’ve selected the  campaign song “#JusticeForIain” by Jess & Laura Nicholson. With clever lyrics and a catchy melodic chorus, this epitomises the channelled fury typical of Facebook and Twitter during the heat of the outrage.

 Commentary by Pareesa Tai, Juliet Armstrong, Tanvi Acharya, Nayana Punnoose and Grace Brown. Check out our May and June picks!

Quark interviews…Oleg Gordievsky

Oleg Gordievsky was perhaps the most prominent Soviet defector of the Cold War period. The FSB is the modern Russian secret service and the KGB is its most recent ancestor. Litvinenko, an FSB agent ordered to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezowsky, was poisoned with polonium in 2006, having defected to the UK, and the Cambridge 5 were graduates of Trinity College, Cambridge University, who passed on British and American secrets from MI6, Bletchley Park, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the diplomatic service and the BBC.

 Quark: How do you react to the current situation in Ukraine?

OG: The reaction of the Western countries, though weak, impressed the Kremlin.  The march of 3 tank armies on Kiev was prevented.  Despite it, Russia will remain forever without friends and allies.

Quark: What is your opinion on Edward Snowden’s actions and the surveillance on Angela Merkel’s mobile telephone?

OG: The noise about Merkel’s telephone is a result of the active measure by the KGB.  Referring to Snowden, they accuse the NSA . The next turn will be Britain.  Snowden himself deserves only one thing – an electric chair.

Quark: How do you react to the enduring popularity of Stalin in Russia, and the fact that in most Western countries people can quote the figure of people killed in Nazi extermination camps but not of those during Stalin’s purges?

OG: Certainly I am deeply upset.  There were 476 concentration camps between 1928 and 1964 in the USSR.  In that period more than 50 million people ( best Russian and Soviet people) were exterminated.  It was 6 times more the number killed by the Nazis  That answer you will find in the profoundly intelligent work by Anna Applebaum – Gulag History, 2004, Pulizer prize.

Quark: The identity of the 5th member of the ‘Cambridge 5’ spy ring is often debated. Was it John Cairncross and how sure can we be?

OG: The British intelligence services knew without any doubt that John Caincross was the fifth man. The five passed to the KGB information which was in the Foreign Office intelligence service, the Enigma information and other top secret subjects.  They passed them not to Russia, but to the Communist party of the Soviet Union and the KGB.  The two latest exterminated 35 million Russians, not like it was in China, but the elite of the country.  British people whose reputation concerns you, should know it.  Those five were the most outstanding spies of an evil power.

Quark: You said that Litvinenko’s book “Blowing Up Russia” was the cause of his death. Do you think it was the revelations of the role of the FSB or more the political revelations which necessitated his murder?
OG: The reason for the execution of Mr. Litvinenko is not clear, but most likely his articles which were very critical of Putin were to blame.  It is like the fate of the girls who danced in the church singing  Our Lady, remove Putin please. 

By the way, for the FSB and the SVR, the murder is the smallest and most insignificant part of their activities, and have very little to do with espionage.
Quark: Could you estimate the degree to which the FSB bears the hallmark of its predecessor and is responsible for the killing of Litvinenko and Berezovsky (indirectly in the case of the latter)? Perhaps even others of which the public are not aware?
OG: Litvinenko was killed by the KGB.  Berezovsky committed suicide.  The GPU, and now the FSB, never kills foreigners, only their own Soviet/Russian people.  The FSB is really the KGB with the methods.  There is now a number of undisclosed cases in Europe and Turkey.  In Britain, a bit more than a year ago, a Russian oligarch went for a walk,  and only one hundred yards away from his home, fell down dead.  The police and the Services never informed the public what happened to him. The media obviously received the instruction not to mention him at all.