Friday was the first day of the Cambridge University Alumni weekend.  We set off early (6.30), to beat the traffic and to book into Churchill College.  Arrived at Churchill with what we thought was plenty of time, but, the booking we had made seemed to have been lost, despite Rosemary sending a confirmation email a few days ago.  Luckily they still had some empty rooms, and we were eventually able to dump our stuff before going off to the Sidgwick site to register.

First visit was to the institute of Manufacturing on Mill Lane.  They are part of the Engineering department. We were welcomed by Mike Gregory, head of IfM, and then heard a talk from Finbarr Livesey.  The crux of the talk was, the country did not invest enough in R&D. Manufacturers who send their manufacture to low-cost areas like China, should still manufacture some items in the home market.  If they did not, then their R&D would lose the skills required to design for cheap manufacture.  Oh and moving up the value chain, what was stopping the Chinese from doing the same.

We then had a demonstration of some robots, which are programmed by the students to perform tasks.

Afterwards, we had a long lunch break wandering around Cambridge, before a tour of the Haddon Library in the faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology.  Here we were treated to a simple demonstration of reconstructing written words from shredded documents.

On the same Downing Street site, we had a tour of the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum.  The highlight for Rosemary and I was touching and feeling hand axes from a million years ago.  We also touched many artefacts from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and from Roman times.  They also had the bow and arrow made on the BBC program by Ray Mears.

Before the opening reception, we had a quick punt along the backs.  Rosemary wanted a student to punt us, but instead, she ended up with me.  I thought I did very well, keeping a straight line and only losing the punt once in the mud.  Unfortunately, a couple at the reception saw me and said I had been spotted by them losing the punt.  The other complaint was from Rosemary, who thought I knew little of the colleges we passed.

We went to the Reception in the Fitzwilliam Museum, where the new wing has been opened.  It was very smart.  There was an exhibition of impressionists, with several pictures from Monet, Degas, Bourdin, and Pissaro.  We met Peter Worsley and Catherine Side from the Berkshire Branch.  We also met John Moore from the Buckinghamshire Branch.

There were some lovely canapés, and oodles of wine to be drunk.

Couldn’t hang around after the end, as we had to rush over to Robinson College to listen to a stand-up comic called Neil Mullarkey.  Neil was educated at Robinson College, was president of Cambridge Footlights.  He has acted in a number of films (Austin Powers), several TV programs.  For his show, he plays L.Vaughan Spencer, Life Coach, Self-Help Guru and Gangsta Motivator.  Kind of based on an Ali G type character.  He was rather amusing and did not descend into swearing.

A websites about Neil

I think the glass of wine at the interval was very large, so after the show, it was straight back to the college and bed without supper.  Thank goodness for the canapés.


We were up and into breakfast by 8.00.  Continental breakfast, so there were croissants, and cheese and dried meats.  Chatted to a teenage girl during breakfast, who had stayed the night in collage.  She had been on an admissions day, and was touring a few universities to select the ones she was going to apply to.  She was from central Edinburgh and was familiar with Whistle Binkies.  A friend of hers had a band that played there on occasions.

Rosemary and I went out separate ways for the first event.  She heard a talk on Portraits and Professions, while I went and saw a talk on “A Wonderful Thing is a Phillips Machine”.

The Phillips Machine is an analogue computer, which runs on the flow of water.  It was built by an engineer after the 2nd world war to model the economy.  You could see the effect of changing the interest rates, government borrowing, savings, imports.  They were built in the 1950s.  Of fourteen build this and one in New Zealand are the only ones, which work.  Allan McRobie, a specialist in bridge design and dynamics gave the lecture and demonstrated the machine.  He had spent considerable energy in rebuilding the machine.

Next, we had a tour of the Computer Laboratory on the Westside.  We were shown some of the work, which is in progress at the university to do with new methods of interacting with a computer.

The first event of the afternoon was Question Time, chaired by BBC Edward Stourton.  The question was, “Where is it all going to end”.

Afterwards, we saw a presentation by Sir Christopher Frayling about the image of Scientists in Movies.  Most of the examples were from older films, with very little from recent films.  Rosemary spoke to Christopher and was a bit dismayed that he had never seen the TV series CSI, where scientists are shown in a good light.

Tonight we managed an evening meal at the Galleria restaurant. First though a pint of beer, I had a very reasonable pint of Woodfords from Norfolk. We then went to the Galleria; we had eaten there two years ago on the balcony overlooking the river.  This year it was too cold to do that.  Reasonable meal, we started with a Tiger Prawn Salad and a Pastrami Salad.  The main course for Rosemary was Roasted Mushrooms, while I had Poached Monkfish.

Then it was back to college and bed.


Sunday started off cloudy.  Drove to the Botanic Garden and had a 90 minute guided tour.  The area around the pond had changed since we had last visited.  During the walk, the weather improved.

After the walk, we walked on down to the Cambridge Arts Picture House to see a 1938 Hitchcock film called the “Lady Vanishes” starring Michael Redgrave.  The file was introduced by his son Corin.  Rosemary and I had not seen the film before and very much enjoyed the humour.

Afterwards, she went to Fitzwilliam to see a performance by Corin Redgrave of  “De Profundis by Oscar Wilde“.  I went to the Cavendish Laboratory for a presentation of the proposed changes to the Physics department, and then a tour of the Physics departments. I saw some high vacuum experiments, high energy impact work, low-temperature experiments with superconductors, and an explanation of fundamental particles and an experiment where they neutrino is being weighed.

It was then on home, with a stop at St Neots for a quick meal by the River.  On the drive towards Milton Keynes, we saw a very spectacular sunset.