Transformation Alumni weekend in Cambridge. Stayed at Steve’s old college, Cauis, in an old building off Harvey Court. Slight delay to departure for Steve to find credit cards, only prolonged by him deciding we’d go in Rosemary’s car so she could “drop him off at Heathrow” on Sunday so he could catch evening flight to Saudi for work. Rosemary thought Heathrow not on normal route home and how she’d rather not drive to Heathrow and risk humiliation of going round and round in circles prior to finding scenic route home, and she also felt tea party at CUP infinitely more appealing.
Arrived in Cambridge to find had somehow lost alumni booklet etc (which has not materialized since). Checked in at Harvey Court with no problems (what do you expect at such an establishment?) and walked to the Law Faculty at the Sidgwick site to collect our own separate itineraries.
Both of us off to the Scott Polar Research Institute to learn about the poles, exploration thereof and current work of the institute. Large confusion on R’s part over differences between North Pole, Pole of Inaccessibility and the drifting North Magnetic Pole. Views of the poles on the dome ceilings, executed in 1930s, in the main hall. Fascinating to note that the North Pole was first seen only on 12 May 1926 and how several aspects of the North Pole dome now out of date in a few years of its painting. Irritating to note that Steve had forgotten camera.
Lunch at Browns and then to the Herbarium to hear about 300 years of plants and history. We heard how Botany professor John Stevens Henslow had taught and later recommended his pupil Charles Darwin as the naturalist on The Beagle. We were privileged to see actual plant specimen collected by Darwin (to Henslow’s standards) and now extinct. But the most striking aspect of the talk was the enthusiasm of Curator Prof John Parker and Assistant Curator Gina Murrell. Their recent work was into how Henslow’s botanical investigations on the nature of species helped Darwin in his evolutionary thoughts. We caught up with them again at the evening reception and were enthralled to learn how Gina had found vital Darwin material in an off-site “archive” due for demolition. She remarked how the line between work and leisure was very blurred for her. What a marvellous state to be in.
Enthusiasm at this last event, meant both of us missed our next engagement. Steve decided we should go to M&S and, due to existing article of clothing looking as though he’d slept in it for several days, R should find him a new suit for Saudi trip. Major discoveries at M&S: a) their inches are smaller than they used to be and hence larger than normal sizes needed and b) ties cost a small fortune. Lessons learnt are to not drink beer & generally diet and, when going on a business trip, not leave ties at home. (Later heard, one of the others going to Saudi lost his luggage, so, as suggested by R, S should have taken both suits and hence perhaps clothed the lad who’d lost his wardrobe.)
Opening Reception in the Fitzwilliam where we were wined and canaped and heard the Vice-Chancellor talk. Quick wander around the Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts, before heading back to Sidgwick for A Philosophical Evening (with cheese & wine). Four names proposed as Cambridge’s greatest philosopher, with Francis Bacon winning. Wine and cheese not on a par with that the Reception.
Saturday saw Steve into Cosmology and big bangs in general while Rosemary took a more catholic selection of talks. Steve started with “Origins of Cosmology” and Rosemary with “Egypt from A – Z” by Dr Toby Wilkinson. Egyptian talk was totally brilliant, cohesive and engrossing. Later learnt the Berks branch of the Cambridge Society is trying to book him for a talk. We coincided for “Journey from the centre of the earth” and divided for Steve to hear Dr Simon Singh’s “Big Bang: The History of the Universe” and Rosemary to hear Claire Tomalin speak on Pepys. Steve discovered two books entitled Big Bang had been published this year, one of them more personally involving than Dr Singh’s version. Rosemary discovered she needed to read both Pepys and Ms Tomalin’s biography of the man immediately and also how amazingly young Ms Tomalin looked (she couldn’t possibly have matriculated in 1951, could she?).
Sandwich lunch before David Starkey’s highly entertaining, and with only (for him) a few mildly controversial remarks, “That was the year that was” about the Gunpowder plot of 1605 and the never ending problems of religions in society.
Simon Singh, David Starkey, the vice-chancellor and Griff Rhys Jones were the guests for David Frost’s “Tea with Frost” discussion. Steve briefly shot to fame as being, in common with Griff RJ, one of the occupiers of the Lady Mitchell Hall back in the summer of 1973 and one of a very select few in the Hall to confess to being so. As we left, one old boy said to Steve (having read Steve’s label) “I’ve got your number, Blasdale!”. He later confessed to being a Millwall supporter and therefore not entirely spotless himself.
Drinks at The Eagle (rather expensive but reasonable beers) with Catherine, Peter and David from the Berks branch before a very good Thai meal with them and (to quote) “so to bed”.
Sunday, lost several things in the room in space of just a few minutes, but finally collated all possessions into the car and walked into Cambridge for breakfast at The Copper Kettle. Steve off to Lucy Cavendish college (aimed at “mature” ie over 21, female students. Over 21? Mature? What are we?) and Rosemary to private alumni viewing of The Cambridge Illuminations. Sublime. Trinity curator superbly informative. One day R will get the book. Steve joined her for a quick check on her favourite painting –
Sandwich lunch before tour of the cast gallery (later discovered Selina did NOT go there while attending the Classics Conference in July.) Shameful lack of dedication.
Hideous drive down M11, M25 not too bad, but low lying, glaring, setting sun blamed for short detour on M4 during return trip home. Steve made his flight.