Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Two

Saturday, 18 March 1987
Cambridge & Saffron Walden
Day Two

The day dawned cloudy, but with that thinness of overcast that allows hope for the sun’s breaking through eventually, especially with a fresh chilly wind that could move things along.

For breakfast Mrs. Payne served me a fried egg on toast, bacon (English style), sausages, two mushroom caps, toast, and cereal, with orange juice and tea. Considering my meagre budget for food, I scoffed the lot, cereal and all.

Called the Europcar agency in Cambridge and they told me certainly, I could bring the Maestro back and exchange it. Still not for an Escort; rather, for a Vauxhall Astra. But hopefully better.

Mrs. Payne gave me directions and a Xerox map of how to get to the correct street in Cambridge, but I got lost anyway. Overshot my turnoff due to not being in the correct lane and went blocks and blocks before I found a place to turn around.

But I arrived on Mill Street eventually and made the exchange. Man had to remove my Cellini tape with a couple of spoon handles. I tried it in the Astra’s player and it got stuck there, too. So maybe it’s the tape.

The stick shift is a little freer on this one, which is the main point.

Found the £1 parking garage opposite Parkers Pieces (a playing field), deposited the vehicle, shouldered my equipment, and set off to explore The Other Place. Headed for King’s College first as I wanted to check the chapel service hours.

The gatehouse tower was swathed in scaffolding, a common infection on this side of the world. And so were a couple bays of the chapel. The rest was visible, though, from the outside at least.

The chapel was closed to visitors today-- the choir was holding rehearsals. I stood on the lawn across the court and listened to the combined harmonies of men, boys, and organ drifting over . . .

I have to admit that Cambridge is a prettier college town than is Oxford. Not that the colleges themselves are nicer, but that here they are more open and hospitable to their surroundings. Oxford colleges tend to suffer from a siege mentality and keep their architectural beauties hidden within. Their Cambridge counterparts make more of a display on the street.

And then, due to the Anglo-Saxons’ original town plan, the colleges at Oxford are not strung out along either of the rivers (excepting Magdalen) and thus cannot boast anything like the Backs. Once I’d passed through King’s court I didn’t go back into the street in front for two or three hours.

Much of the work here is Tudor or Renaissance, in the Christopher Wren style. Clare College is entirely the latter, and despite a silly voice saying, "But it’s out of your period!"--me being a diehard Medievalist-- I rather liked it.

But then, I was disposed to like it; and the pretty bridge over the river and the clipped hedges in the private garden, and the daffodils and crocus all blowing in the breeze added to the happy effect-- but not so much as the knowledge that Nigel* [NB-- an Englishman for whom I bore a hopeless fancy; hopeless, as he'd engaged himself to his long-time sweetheart shortly after I met him. We were platonic friends nevertheless] had spent his undergraduate days here, that he had walked along these paths, seen these walls. This feeling of awe and exultation was not even dampened by my seeing Emily's* [Nigel's* fiancee] name and address on a list of graduate students at the Clare lodge. She is a part of him; any love I bear him must include her as well.

I saw the chapel, with its circular antechapel with the lantern above, and inside, the chapel itself with its classised furnishings, its two organs and choir desks. I found it hard to leave the place, as the sun peeked out and dusted the towers with light: it was like parting with someone I knew, met with again in a foreign realm.

I was not able to see the famous hall where Nigel's* friend had fired a table knife into a wall in a fit of anger (the friend is a now a clergyman, I believe) [I'd misunderstood. The student he'd told me about the previous autumn had been a member of Clare back in the 1700s], as it was already laid for dinner. But I could take pleasure in the smell of apple crisp wafting through the air, appealing to a different sensibility than had the King’s singers, but being no less enjoyable.

I went back and crossed and looked over more bridges, strolled along Burrell’s Walk and the University Library grounds, then came back and went through Trinity College.

The antechapel there is full of statues of Great Cambridge Minds, such as Isaac Newton (his academic robe enveloping him like a rather ponderous toga) and Lord Tennyson and Francis Bacon. The ceiling there is wooden, and Tudor in effect, though I believe the pattern currently there is of Victorian design.

Passing out onto Trinity Street I duly took note of Henry VIII’s chair leg sceptre in the hand of his effigy in its niche over the gatehouse entrance. Serves him right, most likely.

The weather had settled in to being determinedly grey, which was too bad. The Round Church (St. Sepulchre), an Anglo-Saxon edifice, really needs some light to model it.

The congregation seems to be a pretty live one, judging from the tracts and literature they had for sale on the racks. They had a guest book to be signed; I wonder if they have organised prayers for the souls of those who put rude comments in. (I was unable to add anything of any sort, the book being coƶpted by a couple who settled in for a long look.)

After that I explored the shopping areas along Sidney Street and St. Andrews Street, stopping for a hot steak and kidney pie at a bakery along there. Ate it sitting on a bench at the east end of St. Andrew's church, watching the people go by. The Cambridge shopping area seems rather nicer and more interesting than Oxford’s, too, but maybe that’s because here I could bum around and explore and didn’t need to run down to Cornmarket then get my rear home.

I was on my way back to Kings Parade, as I hadn’t yet seen Queen’s. Passing through an arcaded shopping area I saw a man juggling flaming torches. This would make a great picture, thought I, and I raised my Minolta. And as I did, I realized that my mechanical crises were not at an end. My Vivitar wide angle lens had slid down as it often does, from its own weight, but this time was stuck both at 70mm telephoto and at macro. I couldn’t budge it from either position.

I do not think I can adequately explain what this does to me. Overwhelmed as I am with study and essays, I don’t get much drawing done these days. Photography is my only real artistic expression anymore. It is my way of seeing and also my way to describing what I’ve seen. You could almost say that without having taken a picture of it I haven’t seen it at all. And the whole point of travelling, of going anywhere, is to take pictures of it. That lens had become an important organ of vision for me and now, the first day back in service since getting it back from being repaired, it had become stiff and useless.

I didn’t totally want to believe this so I spent a great deal of time tramping around to camera stores to see if they could do anything. Sorry, no.

Saw St. Benet’s Church, another Saxon foundation. And went to Queen’s, but they wanted 40p for the tour and from what I could glimpse from the gateway I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Bought an apple and a card to send Mom along Regent Street then at around 4:30 got the car and headed back south, putting the old Rokker 55mm lens on the Minolta first.

Did not get lost this time. Congratulate me.

Drove past Little Chesterford and on down to Saffron Walden. The grayness was quite settled in and it began to rain a little, but I looked at the outside of the parish church and the Market Square and found the houses with the famous 17th Century pargeting on Church Street. And I in one blow negated all today’s economy on food by going into a used book and antique shop and coming out with leather bound and gold tooled editions of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Heart of Mid-Lothian. £4 total.

Wandered around a little more, then retrieved the car and drove back to Bank Cottage in Little Chesterford.

They had a fire burning in the parlor; unfortunately sitting by it isn’t part of the B&B arrangement. I retired upstairs, planned routes for tomorrow, ate the apple (mealy, darn it) and some chocolate, then fooled around till 2:00 in the frigging morning reading the Country Living magazines that were sitting on the night stand and then a book there in the room called How to Be Oxbridge. The scary thing is that according to the author’s criteria I had many of the traits of this species before I ever came to England-- though it would seem the real "Oxbrites" don’t or didn’t share my delusion of Real Scholarship.

Or maybe it does go on but just has no place in a basically humorous book?


Sandy said...

Do you think you'll go back? I thought the car was cute. GM - fancy that!

St. Blogwen said...

Actually, I did go back to Oxford three years later, to do my theology degree.

Or do you mean back to Cambridge? Took my mom there in June of '93. She said she liked Oxford better. LOL!!