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Posts from the ‘Cambridge’ Category


A Cambridge wander

Have been spending this week in Cambridge for the CICCU main events. It’s been a really encouraging time. But I had a lovely time on Tuesday afternoon wandering around with my camera, revisiting old haunts and generally taking it easy. Marvellous. Even more marvellous was the fact that the sun actually came out. Hard to believe when the south-west seems afflicted by hurricanes and tsunamis. Read more »


A model of devout resignation

I was in Cambridge for a few days speaking for some events that took place far too late at night for me (carol services at 10pm!!). So naturally, my mind wandered from time to time while the shepherds were watching. And my gaze settled on this memorial which was just above my head. It looks like any other, and is quite wordy. But those words definitely bear close reading. For this particular plaque testified to something far greater than the usual pieties of such things. Read more »


Douglas Adams eats biscuits on Cambridge station

This is one of my favourite short, and true, stories. It comes from the pen of the wondrous Douglas Adams, he of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. It needs little explanation or introduction. But it is the perfect illustration of all kinds of self-delusions and self-righteousness.  Read more »


Friday Fun 33: Christmas Moments on Instagram

So it seems our very human rights and liberties are being threatened by Instagram’s change of terms. Or they’re not. Or not in quite the same way. Well who knows?

Just in case they do decide to pilfer my works of art for their own heinous ends, I thought I’d display some of my chefs d’oeuvre from around London in recent weeks to put us all into a bit of a Christmas spirit.

Enjoy… while the world still exists… Read more »


In the company of spies: Charles Cumming’s Trinity Six

I’ve just found this in my drafts box having obviously never posted it. So better late than never…

It wasn’t particularly by design, but over Christmas and New Year, I found myself in the company of spies. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Le Carré’s latest, Our Kind of Traitor. Read more »


Micheal O’Siadhail’s GRANTCHESTER MEADOWS: an hypnotic evocation

It’s an age away – and was rather an extraordinary idyll. But for our first 3 months of marriage, we lived in a little terrace house in Newnham, Cambridge, which was just a few minutes walk from Grantchester Meadows. It was one of those lovely English summers that you don’t forget – and therefore perfectly set for nostalgia and memory. We used to wander down to the village of Grantchester to the fabled Tea Rooms of a mellow summer afternoon (though not nearly as regularly as we would have liked or thought we did). We’d go past the Old Rectory where Rupert Brooke (right) lived (and which was, slightly less impressively, then owned by Jeffrey Archer) and about which he yearningly and hauntingly wrote from the 1WW front. Though it has to be said that the circumstances surrounding my first encounter with Brooke’s heart-breaking poem was in the midst of doing battle with the nightmare that is the Greek optative (ειθε γενοιμην)! But that’s another story.

So it was a real joy to find this extraordinary piece by Irish poet Michael O’Siadhail. It’s an evocative meditation on the sense of history that a place like this creates – one can’t help but think of the countless, extraordinary minds that perhaps wandered down to Grantchester for some R&R, from Herbert & Newton onwards.


Grantchester Meadows in winter by Quintin Stafford-Fraser (Flickr)

Grantchester Meadows

Across Grantchester Meadows, May has snowed
cow parsnips, hawthorn, chestnut a stone’s throw
from here the Cam grooves slowly towards King’s.
An English heaven: ‘My real life’s began since
I came to Grantchester I eat strawberries and honey.
A perfectly glorious time. Think only this of me.’

I see you Rupert Brook blazered, flannelled,
a strolling presence in this albescent funnel
of young summer or picnicking under an oak
with Darwin’s granddaughters: ‘We used to talk
wearily about art, suicide, and the sex problem.’
Übermensch, libido, absinthe, fin de siècle.

A 100 rings in an oak which may have seen
George Herbert brooding by the Came or Milton
explaining the ways of God now Galileo’s sun
no longer danced attendance on our world. Newton,
did you some midsummer hatch along this path
laws to bring our universe back to earth?

‘Certainly I approve of war at any price,
it kills the unnecessary.’ Evenings of tennis
and cricket. It’s the Aegean 1913:
‘My poem is to be about the existence of England.’
Dead before the Dardanelles. A circle closes;
the hawthorn almost in bloom, the oak leafless.

Wars. Disillusion. Certainty a fallen idol,
our daylight turns a dice-dance of potential.
Turmoil of change as an old order dies
into us. Herbert must have known the crux.
Does the slow-leafing oak trust without proof?
I know the ways of learning yet I love.

Ghost Brook you could be my father’s father,
yet I’m your elder. Ride my Aeneas shoulder
as Grantchester blooms a lover’s carte-blanche,
another innocence. Do you remember how strange
the fullness of the riddle seemed? The acorn can’t
explain the oak, the oak explains the acorn.

(Hail Madam Jazz, p122)