More on Cambridge

In the latest round of the never-ending quest to sort my head out, I have been going through old diaries, and I found this, from about eighteen months ago:

Cambridge is cold and windy, and beautiful in the winter light, and a little bit aloof.

That was when I was living in Guildford and going up to Cambridge once or twice a month to see Tony, and wondering whether I would ever actually be able to live there. I found the city terribly intimidating: it’s so old, and so full of terrifyingly clever people. In all fairness, I was intimidated by Guildford when I first moved there: so full of terrifyingly rich people.

I’ve been in Cambridge a year now, and we are beginning to become acquainted. There are some parts – my cycle ride to and from the station; the section of the Cam from the Green Dragon in Chesterton up to Baits Bite Lock – that I pass through daily or weekly. I can find my way around the city centre without a map now. I’ve been doing lots of walking – I always explore a new place on foot, if I can. But there’s still an awful lot that I haven’t discovered. There’s probably a lot that I’ll never discover.

One of the loveliest things has been discovering Cambridge with other people. One of them has known Cambridge longer than I’ve been alive, and dragged me off to Fitzbillies for the best Chelsea bun in the world. One grew up in Cambridge – and gave me a long list of pleasant places to eat and wander in. One had never visited before – and we downloaded a walk from the internet and found all the colleges. My father came to stay and went for a drink in the Mitre – where, he casually mentioned, his grandfather had almost certainly drunk before him. That made it better.

I like Cambridge. I like the cherry blossom and the pale yellow stone and the rowers. I like the way that everybody cycles and how ridiculously easy it is to get to London. I like the college arms that line the staircase in Boots. I like the Te Deum windows in Great St Mary’s. I like the Renoirs in the Fitzwilliam and the Chelsea buns in Fitzbillies. I like the charity shops on Burleigh Street.

There are probably all sorts of other things I like, but I haven’t got round to them yet. No matter. There’s plenty of time.

Ascension Day, 2015

Dog-eared in my handbag, polling card
and service sheet lie face to face.
God is gone up. And what a mess
He’s left behind Him. Did He take
all of the world’s compassion, all its love
to shine with ineffectual gleam up there
and leave these few, these twelve-take-one, alone
tiny before this tide of hate and fear
surging around them? Come love, come Lord.
Show us your kingdom come
on earth, as you are
in heaven. Come, Holy Spirit. Come.

Unexpected Cambridge

I’ve been living in Cambridge for just on a year now. Here are some things I’ve discovered:

1. The wind. People do tell you about the wind, to be fair; it’s just that one can’t comprehend the sheer sideways chilling force of it until one’s been there. ‘Cambridge winds are lazy,’ says my friend Helen. ‘They can’t be bothered going around you. They just go through you.’ I understand that this has been a relatively mild winter; nonetheless, I got caught out last week and had to wait half an hour on the platform at Cambridge station without gloves. Following liberal daily applications of hand cream, my skin is just about returning to normal.

2. You start caring about the Boat Race. This was not a good year to start caring about the Boat Race. Thank goodness for University Challenge, that’s all I can say.

3. You forget all about hills. Hills? What are they again?

4. You get very good at dodging bicycles, tourists with selfie sticks, and people trying to sell you punt trips.

5. You begin to believe that every conceivable object can be transported on a bicycle. Not just the obvious things like kegs of beer or small children. I myself have brought home on the back or the front of my bike a) an orchid in a pot; b) a daylight lamp; c) a herb planter. And I know someone who used to carry a folding bike on his cargo bike, so that he could meet his partner at the station and they could cycle back together. Now that’s love.