Friday, July 17, 2009

From Cambridge

Good morning at the Goodenough Club

Sunday, July 5
My Dear Boys (and also the girl cats),

Got up at the Goodenough Club, a beautifully typical English day, bright soft sunshine with occasional splash! showers that passed over in five minutes, clouds scudding and cavorting and forever mutating and making new shapes in the sky. Crossed the street to London House for breakfast, and walked around looking at the quadrangle and dining hall for Peter’s benefit (since he stayed there for a few months when he was 17). Breakfast was in the comfortable bar/café, and it was a fine English one: eggs fried to order, English bacon, sausage, beans, grilled mushrooms, tomato, chips, orange juice, tea, topped off after I’d sat and checked my email for awhile, with a pain au chocolat, and excellent chocolatey cappuccino! Finally hauled myself up, took my wheely bag, book tote, computer, etc., and walked to King’s Cross, which is quite close, only a few blocks away, but it’s hard going, lugging bag on cobblestones and through chaotically trafficky city crossings. At King’s Cross, I bought my senior card and my ticket to Cambridge, L26 for card, L12 for ticket, and caught the 10:43 express which was quite crowded, got the very last seat, and was swept away to Cambridge. Quickly got a taxi and was at Jan’s house before noon. Even such a relatively simple straightforward journey like that was quite grueling, perhaps because I was alone: it was up to me to grapple with bags, looking out to be sure everything was right and nothing got left behind, while figuring out the route, watching out for cars and dodging pedestrians who seem to be overwhelmingly bigger and younger than I am.

Cambridge house

Jan’s house is a beautiful mellow brick Victorian pile, the taxi driver was impressed and so was I! Lovely to see her, she showed me the house (it has a history, John Maynard Keynes worked there) and we had tea, and then sat peacefully in the garden for a bit. We decided that this was the day to walk to Grantchester, as we might not get a better time. It’s about 5 miles round trip and pretty tiring – but so peaceful and beautiful, we did it on my last trip and I longed to see it all again. It did keep breaking into rain and we constantly had to dash and duck under trees, which was rather fun! Once at the Orchard tea garden: we had tea – I had my heart’s desire’s worth of scones and clotted cream and blackberry jam and a Victoria sponge, too! Just as we were about to leave, the skies opened and it really poured, so we waited in a little museum room, looking at the old pictures of Rupert Brooke and his set, and I bought a tea-towel. Some nice men offered to drive us back, but we decided to try to do it on our own. Got quite soaked on the way, and I got some blisters, but it was a most glorious walk.

The walk to Grantchester

The Orchard Cafe...and is there honey still for tea?

Cambridge rainbow


In the morning we walked into town and had cappuccino and pain au chocolat, and then paid a visit to Jan's lovely father. Back at the house, we found my Dove Grey list friend Elaine just arriving. She and I drove to Upwell, getting only slightly pleasantly lost, so it took an hour and a half, which was no hardship as we were sailing through the flat but lovely fen country, past green fields and smears of red poppies. We drove through Ely and circled past the beautiful cathedral, though we didn’t go in: another time. Reaching Upwell, we found the old church, 12th century with add-ons, and dear Alan gave us a warm welcome to his vicarage. Gillian (The College Cat) and Lesley (the Cross-eyed Lens) were there, and we had a nice pub lunch at the Three Bells; I had fish pie, cider, coffee and we shared profiteroles! After a delightful pifflechat, we toured the beautiful church, one of those that inspired Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors. Alan really made it come alive by telling us about it; I especially loved the medieval wooden angels, which almost seemed to fly. Also the 15th century gold pulpit, eagle-headed, which I didn’t understand until learning that the bird was about "spreading the word." Then we drove back to Cambridge – much more direct route.

Alan at the church


Pifflefest: Gillian, Alan, me, Lesley

Driving in the Fens

After a rest I was ready to go for dinner with Elaine and her daughter Helen at St. John's College, where Helen has been getting her doctorate in history (later we heard she's won a lectureship).

The dinner was truly one of the great experiences. I'd been instructed to “just turn right at Queen Street and go round to the college,” and I thought I’d have time to stop first in the high street to check for an internet café – but I went the long way round behind Trinity by mistake, getting very footsore (what with the blisters and aching knee from all those cobblestones and stairs and curbs), and it took me a full 45 minutes to find the Cripp’s Porters Lodge where I was to meet Elaine and Helen. Gave up on the internet, got to St. John's early instead, and had a specially lovely time waiting there, in one of the quadrangles that look out onto meadows. The flowers were bright patches of color and a dramatic storm was moving in, so I took lots of pictures. Then Elaine and Helen arrived and we walked into the dining room. Hall itself was being used for something else, but Helen said “this was really nicer,” and it was. A lovely lounge filled with gown-wearing professors (Helen wore a gown too) being very courtly and polite to us. Offered drinks, Elaine and I had beautiful elderflower water. I was encumbered by laptop and umbrella and books, which looked silly, but it didn’t matter much. We went into the hall, which was candlelit, and looked out onto the spreading green meadows: gorgeous. The oldest man present, 90, who invented radar and won World War II or something like that, said the Latin. I sat between a distinguished archeologist and a visiting chemist who taught at Charterhouse. The chat wasn’t difficult, though I felt a bit daunted and out of my depth at first, because of the level of polished conversation I had to sustain; it wasn't so much that I didn’t know about their fields, but that I didn't feel necessarily educated in how to deal in the convention of polite conversation that obtained! But I gamely talked to the archeologist, asking him about his digs in Borneo and general discoveries – like the one I’d fortunately read about, the musical instruments discovered from 40,000 years ago, and he told me about how he was investigating the time when people turned from hunter gatherers to farmers and the effect it had on the terrain and the terrain on them; and whether people really did originate from Africa, and what went on in the Borneo rain forest; and I told him about Hollywood. So it worked, well enough. The other man told me about Charterhouse and his girlfriend who’s an expert in Rumer Godden, and I talked about that and Jane Austen. Dinner was just lovely: potage d’aiglefin fume et de poireaux, which seemed to be potato soup; poulet a la provencale, couscous aux pois, epinards a la muscade – delicious chicken – and summer pudding with crème fraiche. Followed by more Latin and tea standing up. Beautiful food and I was told how the Fellows always complained about it. It did seem like an immensely rich college! Afterwards we went to the room where Elaine is staying, overlooking the Bridge of Sighs – Helen got her one of the rooms reserved for distinguished visitors, and it was lovely, gothic windows, red velvet couches, fireplace, books. We chatted awhile – and then I walked back through Cambridge.

Elaine and her daughter Helen

Wednesday July 8, 2009

Went to Heffers’ café in the morning to await Jan, who was having a haircut. Had a cappuccino, read the London papers. Then we returned to the house, at noon Christine from the Girls Own list arrived to take me off. She’s a Susan Coolidge expert who lives in Stilton (and gave me a most beautiful Stilton cheese to take home!), and we drove into town and walked a roundabout route to the restaurant, a kind of remodeled and beautiful churchy Crypt dining room – lovely ham salad with brown loaf, some kind of quinoa; very good. We were joined by Sarah Preston of the Cambridge library, and had a lovely chat. Afterwards we stopped in a camera shop for me to buy a camera memory stick (my camera cable was the only thing I lost during the entire trip, which was pretty good going), then to the Haunted Bookshop where we had a happy time squealing over the books there and I bought a couple. Christine took me to the station to leave Cambridge for Winchester, where I'll be staying during the New Directions in Jane Austen Studies at Chawton House Library.

Christine, me, Sarah

At the Haunted Bookshop


Emmet of Arolis said...

Good heavens, what delicious pictures! It's so lovely to see the wonderful old Upwell church and the fens. I've never gotten to see Lord Peter's precious angels before. You make me more determined than ever to go there.
~Corwyn Celestial

Ellen said...

Dear Diana,

So many Americans who as children lived through English books set in beautiful green and older areas of England from the 19th century on are on record as wanting to recreate the atmosphere and places they have grown up imaginatively in -- from Hawthorne and Henry James and Edith Wharton (though she was more drawn to do this in France) to people arriving today.

Most of the time they manage about 10 minutes and then turn to the modern world.

You managed days and days of it.

The pictures are redolent of this vision and I would have loved to hear the archeaologist's lecture.

Lucky Jan, I know she's earned it, but a lot of people in the world work as hard and do as good work and don't get this reward,