Sunday, 3 November 2013

Cambridge revisited

 
Cambridge in October...the falling leaves on the Backs and the sense of excitement and possibility...there's nowhere in the world that brings back my younger self to me with quite such intensity. It has been a busy half-term, and a shockingly sad one, for reasons I don't want to go into here, but it began with a trip to my old university with daughter Maddy.
 
It's been decades since I was last at the arts faculty buildings on Sidgwick Avenue, but there we sat in the old lecture halls for a couple of the Festival of Ideas talks that she was interested in: Six languages that changed the world given by Professor of Linguistics Ian Roberts, and Truth and lies in teenage fiction, a talk by author Anthony McGowan. Both were utterly engaging and thought-provoking, delivered to the kind of packed houses that lecturers like Christopher Ricks on Tennyson used to command in my student days.
 
In many ways, the town and the university seem completely unchanged. The venerable buildings are beautifully cared for, though more closed off from the public than they used to be. The atmosphere is the same; even the scraps of conversation  from passing students seem unnervingly the same as they always were. "...tea at Caius..." "...see you at the ADC..." "...essay crisis..."
 
Yesterday, it brought home how extraordinarily comforting it is, when a place stays so much the same, when I happened to drive past the location of my first real job as a trainee journalist, the next stage after Cambridge. Maddy was involved again, as she'd found a driving test theory centre that offered a slot that did not entail getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, that just happened to be down the hill from the old Kentish Times building on Sidcup Hill. 
 
After leaving her to take the test, thinking that it would be another glimpse of the past, I decided to take the road past the old newspaper office, a hulk of a 1920s/30s place with the name proudly emblazoned. But at the top of the hill there were only unfamiliar new buildings and no sign at all of what had once been the hub of a large regional paper with nine area editions. I had no idea it had gone, and the gulf between expectation and present reality was oddly disconcerting. 
 

6 comments:

Libby said...

Very hard to "go back" again; one always takes a chance, I think. I sometimes want to revisit the house I grew up in until age 12 and have such vivid memories of happier times with my parents...but in reality, I hope I never do go back. Anyway, it's a tricky thing....

BookBelle said...

Ah, a trip down memory lane. This week we were able to revisit the very old and stately building where my husband and I met in an elevator. It has been turned into condominiums, but still the outside brings back fabulous memories.

aguja said...

I agree with Libby in that one always takes a chance when going back. However, that is not to say that one shouldn't return to younger roots. I felt sad for you that your 'hub' had gone. A beautiful converted Victorian house where I once worked is now a block of modern flats and that piece of the past is only in my memory as there is nothing of the original gardens left either.

The `photograph is beautiful and your post reminded me that I spent a weekend in Cambridge on a course about reading. Everyone else had been sent there and paid for, but I had requested it as a birthday present from my husband, because I really wanted to hear this lady one more time. She was very elderly, but brilliant and I enjoyed imagining what it must have been like to study there!

Thank you for your post!

Muriel Jacques said...

Some things never change, and I find it very reassuring indeed.

James Kiester said...

I've often thought of revisiting my University town too. I'm sure I'd find different faces holding the same conversations as well.

Marcheline said...

Here's hoping whatever the sadness was is being mellowed by lots of wonderful things.

I can relate to your feelings of seeing parts of your past gone when you went to check on them... the people who bought the house I grew up in did unspeakable things to it. All the plants my mother lovingly brought from her mother's home in North Carolina are gone, replaced with white stone chips. The lovely cedar shake shingles are gone, replaced with godawful porthole windows and some sort of spray-on siding... I vowed never to go back again, but having already seen it destroyed I can't un-see it.

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