Family Matters

The thoughts of a husband, father, brother and son

24 Hours in Cambridge

King's College from the river

One of the many things my wife’s new career has done has been to throw me and my youngest son (the Small Boy Wonder) closer together. I’m close to his elder siblings as well, but in different ways – in their cases adversity has often been the mother of connection. The SBW and I are much more like each other in terms of personality than any other two members of our family.  And as a result of the sometimes intense distraction of the Beautiful Armenian’s course, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the last few years.

This week he and I have been in Cambridge. His mother is writing an essay, I had a few days’ leave to use up, he has half-term, and I said we were going to do something vaguely improving.  He turned down walking in the Yorkshire Dales, on the basis of it involving both walking and the Yorkshire Dales.  He also declined a trip to Chester, having apparently developed an inexplicable aversion for anything too far north.  So, having informed the BA that in a man’s world “what goes on on tour, stays on tour,” we set course for the city of my student days.

Trinity College

St John's College from the river

A week ago, if you had believed the weather forecasts, you might have been a little nervous about the possible incursion of polar bears into these normally tranquil parts.  Yesterday morning we were punting along the River Cam in almost spring like conditions. And we managed to avoid falling in. In between times we got upgraded at the hotel, had a walk round some of the Colleges, rejected the ubiquitous chain restaurants for a great little cafe/bistro (with the added attraction of a waitress who the SBW said was at least an eight out of ten – bless him, he had about as much chance with her as I did), went to the cinema to see Chronicle (bad news for the waitress, this got a straight ten out of ten) and looked at paintings and porcelain in the Fitzwilliam Museum. I also pretended that the whole trip was calorie-neutral by spending an hour in the fitness centre (can you lose weight in the sauna?).

I would be misleading you if I said that my student days at Cambridge were uniformly happy. The Beautiful Armenian and I had decided even at that young age that we intended to spend the rest of our lives together, although we might not have been quite bold enough to say it to each other, and being apart wasn’t always easy. I also found the place so very, very different from the small-town grammar school from which I had emerged – there were a lot of unbelievably pretentious and capricious people there (and still are from what I could see this week).

Courtyard at Pembroke College

But in time I found my feet and made good friends, and overall the experience was very positive. Not least because I had an understanding of how lucky I was. I had access to fabulous facilities, I had many of the normal hassles of student life looked after for me, and I lived for three years in one of the most beautiful of places. And as far as I can work out, I ended up there for no other reason than that I had a knack for doing well in exams. Believe me, I am no great intellect.

Each time I go back, that sense of good fortune strengthens. I wasn’t lucky to have gone there. It was an incredible privilege.  And I think I’ve taken away from it a confidence in my own abilities, which counters my natural shyness, and has served me well.

I think any of my children could have followed me to Cambridge, but nobody has to date and I think it unlikely that the SBW will.  It hasn’t seemed the right place for them.  Their talents all lie in areas which Cambridge doesn’t serve.  But it’s still a wonderful place in which to spend a couple of days.

Another view of St John's


Queen's College from the river


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4 thoughts on “24 Hours in Cambridge

  1. Isn’t it beautiful.

    Of course you can lose weight in the sauna. But you usually put it on again immediately afterwards with a cold beer.

  2. I’ve been meaning to say ‘hello’ properly after you kindly left a post on my blog in January. Since then I have been away from cyberspace but am now easing myself back in gently.

    Your delightful pictures tipped me into nostalgic mood (in a good way), so thank you. I haven’t been to Cambridge since the late seventies, when my late husband and I spent a very happy weekend there, which included visiting my sister-in-law, who was a student nurse at Addenbrooke’s at the time.

    A decade and a bit earlier I had wanted to go to Oxford but didn’t, for a variety of reasons, none of which were academic. At that time, Oxbridge represented the ne plus ultra of higher education but your children’s choices, ditto my daughter’s, suggest that this might no longer be case.

    Meanwhile, just wanted to say that I am greatly enjoying your blog and the tales of you, the Beautiful Armenian, the SBW et al, and am subscribing without further delay. I look forward to you next post!

    • Thank you very much.

      I do find the Oxbridge thing a little baffling. When I was there, there were certainly some brilliant people, and there were some very privileged people. But there were many others about whom there was nothing remarkable. More recently, some of our children’s very bright and able friends have deemed themselves, or have been deemed, not to be bright enough to apply, whilst others have done so and have been successful. When I was at school, they encouraged anybody who thought it might be right for them to have a go, because they had seen some very surprising results.

      One thing which I think is clear is that if your talents lie in non-traditional areas, it’s no longer the place that you must try to get to.

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