What can you do when you're tired of thinking, bored of work and, basically, broke?
This is a problem that has plagued many a student - in many a city - for as long as people have studied anything. Although this entry is about Peterborough, Ontario, the methods of wiling away the hours, herein described, work just as well almost anywhere.
Imagine, if you will, that you are staring at a blank page. The report is due the next morning, but there is not even a trickle of inspiration left in you. You would go out to a movie or take yourself to dinner to ease the torment of your troubled intellect, but your pitiful collection of couch coinage only adds up to $5... no matter how you pile it up.
What do you do? McDonald's again? Put a down payment on that shiny new pen you've had your eye on at the campus bookstore? Rent a movie you've seen a hundred times before? Or sit with The Second Sex strapped to your head in the hope that, by some miracle of osmosis, the spirit of de Beauvoir will inhabit your body? You could, or you could try one of these time-honoured methods for the eradication of writer's block and boredom.
The Great Coffee Shop Relay Race
The Great Coffee Shop Relay Race is by far the most popular student activity in Peterborough, exceeded in popularity only by the bacchanalian rite of passage of September and January (when student loan cheques are issued, spent, and lamented), which is a biological imperative and, therefore, doesn't count.
Peterborough has a wide range of coffee shops, offering the inexpensive hot, brown, stimulating liquid. Some of the most popular are:
- The Only Café
- The Great Little Bread Company
- Dreams and Beans
The Relay Race involves starting in one of these venues, with a coffee and a good random used book (see below) and waiting for other players to show up. You will recognise them by the harried student look they have about them. Invite them to sit and discuss de Beauvoir1, the weather, or whatever, until you get bored and decide to move on to another coffee shop, where you find another player and repeat the process. By the fourth coffee shop, you will have gathered quite a crowd and be having fun, when you begin to feel guilty and have to run home to your essay.
The Random Used Book Shell Game
For this activity, your best bet is to check out the block of Water Street, between Hunter and Simcoe, where the highest population density of used book stores (Dixons, Books n' Things, and Mark Jokinen Books) makes this activity faster; although the advanced player might choose three book stores on different streets. You then purchase one book in each store, each related to the others in some distinct way. Some popular themes are:
- Colour of spine
- First letter of author's name
- Number of words in title
- Picture on cover
You then retire to either a coffee shop or a field of green and see which book wins. You usually give each book about 15 minutes, to begin with, and then see which, if any, grab your interest. You never know what gems you may find in a used book shop; and, if nothing holds your interest, you always have recourse to that essay... as a last resort.
An attractive alternative to buying books is to curl up with a random collection garnered from the shelves of the public library, which is especially appealing on a crisp, clear winter's day. The Trent University library has the added benefit of bestowing picture postcard views of the Otanabee river... for free.
Immersing Yourself in Local Art
There is always something artistic going on in the Peterborough area, from plays at the Gordon Best Theatre and the Market Hall, to art displays in local galleries such as Artspace, on Hunter Street, and the Peterborough Arts Umbrella, in Peterborough Square.
In fact, it doesn't end there. During the nicer months, you are likely to find much outdoor theatre. Also, in the winter keep your eyes open for ice sculptures.
But it doesn't end there either... get involved! Creating art is the most fabulous way to involve yourself in local culture. You need only open your eyes to find a multitude of plays in progress. Many theatrical companies are only too willing to take on students to help with all aspects of production, from costumes to acting. This won't cost you anything, except your free time.
The Great Railway Getaway
The fact that CN2 doesn't roll through town anymore is a true disappointment to many railway buffs, but a boon to the pathfinder. Either look for some abandoned overgrown path or seek out one of the former tracks that has been made into a path by the removal of the actual rails.
Once you have found a path, then strike out in whatever direction takes your fancy. Where am I going? Did I choose the right path? Will the journey be difficult or easy? These are only a few of the soul searching existential questions you may be asking yourself during your trek.
The point of this journey can be manifold; discovering a new path through the city may lead you to places you have never been, or make old places more accessible. For those of you interested in people watching, it can provide a candid look into the backyard world of the residents of Peterborough. And, for those of you into improving your health, it's great exercise.
No matter where your chosen path leads, you can never completely be lost, because your journey through the dark and unfamiliar environs is clearly laid out, pointing your way home. Be warned, however, that more than one of these paths leads to Trent University.
The Riverside Trail Experience
Far beyond the sound and fury of Peter Robinson Colleg, through the nest of streets with the names of British counties, and over the Perilous Blue Footbridge of Doom (or at least of midnight skinny dipping) lies the mythical City of East. You're nearly there, hang a sharp left, and you've found it.
Along the banks of the Otanabee, tucked in behind plenty of greenery and the odd ditch is a little riverside trail, where nothing has really changed in 20 years. It doesn't seem like much, but it's almost like a little anthropological experiment to see old Coke cans, circa 1982, and various other bits of pop culture mish-mash that adorn what has been, for many a year, a little tucked away 'woodette', where many a highschooler3 has giggled around a small bonfire, drinking stolen beer, and many a Trent student has done the same with a joint. See this place in the spring for a truly pretty sight.
Discovering the Civic Forest
One of the best things about Peterborough is the fact that it is not so much a city, as a forest, where someone went around and planted a few houses.
It is, in fact, a spectacularly verdant city, the likes of which are seldom seen in cities of this size. Most gorgeous to explore in the fall are the groves. These little anachronistic wonders can make you forget that the world of cars and smoke is only, usually, a few hundred yards away.
The little spots of quiet shade are ideal for reading in the summer and sloshing through in the winter. Nothing beats a walk through a civic forest right after a snow storm, or at midnight when there is a full moon.
As ever, the rule with these little cachets of wild (which are to be found all over town, but most notably up behind Prince of Wales School) is to leave them as beautiful, or more beautiful, than you found them, as they belong to everyone.
The Great (Choose your Object) Quest
This is a Peterborough favourite. You simply pick something you need and go out searching for it. It seems quite simple, but here is the catch... you don't give up until you find it. It may seem banal, but trust this Researcher; nothing brightens a dreary afternoon in Peterborough like a good quest. The more people you can drag out on your quest, the better.
A list of things to consider going on a quest for might include:
- A food item with a specific expiry date
- An obscure movie, especially one in a foreign language
- A friend who is certain to be out when you call
- True love, truth, Elvis...
The Amateur Historian and Tour Guide
The City of Peterborough offers some wonderful opportunities for beguiling visitors with your wealth of local knowledge, real or imagined. This is a great way to pass the time, and a novel way meet new and interesting people.
The Summer months are replete with visitors from far and wide, many arriving on the Trent-Severn Waterway, and all in need of your services as guide and interpreter, though many may not immediately realise it. The trick is to choose the most obviously alien and bewildered tourists in the throng, because it is they who will most appreciate your warmth, charm, and erudition.
The Peterborough Lift Lock - The Lift Lock, located on the Trent Canal, is the highest hydraulic lock in the world... and a natural draw for tourists. The advantage here is that the site is open to a broad range of interpretation and embellishment; and the chances of being overheard and contradicted are relatively slim.
The Riverview Park and Zoo - One of the nice things about the zoo is that it is quite a short stroll from the main campus of the university. It offers a sweeping range of possibilities for the creative student to imagine being an expert on all sorts of subjects, including the improbable fact that the zoo was founded and is maintained by the local utilities commission. And, like the Lift Lock, there is very little likelihood of being undone by hard and contradictory evidence.
Quaker Oats - The well-known manufacturer of wholesome breakfast cereals is a prominent local employer. As a change of pace from the role of cheerful but essentially objective interpretor, you could assume the more serious guise of a gloomy writer and internationally recognised expert on porridge, researching a new book. Some care should be exercised when talking with tourists from Scotland, in this case.
The Canadian Canoe Museum - This is a very interesting place, and provides an entertaining and educational way to pass the time without the subtext of pretending to be someone you're not. If the temptation to present yourself as an expert proves to be irresistible, however, canoes are as good a subject as any to have expertise in. The Canoe Museum has the largest collection of canoes and kayaks in the world; and the role canoes played in Canadian history is well worth exploring. Be very cautious about what you claim to be true, because museums are, after all, designed to present information without your intervention. There are even paid interpreters about who are quite capable of making you look a fool, if you're not careful.
Peterborough is a hot-bed of committees, clubs, and councils dedicated to making this world a better place. From food drives to staging public action days, you will never run out of fun and controversial things to do. There are almost too many activities for the budding philanthropist or blossoming activist lurking in the heart of each and every Trent student.
For more information you can look at signboards all around the campuses, or drop by the Peterborough Volunteers and Information Peterborough at 229 King Street.