Punting at night
July 30, 2007, 9:46 am
Filed under: england, travel, wine

Last Wednesday just when I was about to finish work, my mate Goldie invited Ian and I to formal hall at Queen’s College, because some other people had pulled out at the last minute (may good karma go to you people whomever you are, thanks for the tickets).

I was slaving away at my publishing job and a lush Cambridge formal hall was just what I felt like. I rode like the wind over to Queen’s and we sat down to a great meal in Queen’s Old Hall – one of the most gorgeous halls I’ve seen yet. I’ve been to a few formal halls now but clearly I have a lot to learn, because about five minutes into the three course meal I got pennyed. Wikipedia can give you the details but essentially it meant I had to scull the whole glass of wine. Luckily it was a very small glass, because I was then subjected to a pennying attack. People were very generous with their wine, which I appreciate – but as soon as it was refilled I was pennyed again. I tried in vain to protect my glass, covering it with my hand and even the butter dish, but as soon as I took a sip and forgot about it – plop, I was hit again.

Needless to say, it was very funny for everyone else but I can’t for the life of me remember what we had for dessert, or much else between about 8 and 10.

Even though it was a weeknight and I’m beavering away in an office again during the day, in my post-pennied state when Goldie suggested we all go punting in the dark I thought it was a brilliant idea. So Ian and I dashed down the Spar and grabbed some beers, and a bunch of us punted along the Cam in the still dark. It was stunning. Cambridge was quiet, apart from Goldie’s drunken singing and our occasional laughter.

The water slapped gently on the side of the boat as we passed ancient colleges, dim apart from the odd lit stained-glass window. The occasional white swan passed like a ghost. We snaked through the dark green gardens, eerily empty. Quayside, normally busy with spruiking punt workers and tourists milling about, was silent, the boardwalk lit like an empty stage.

It’s a Cambridge I’ve never experienced before, which I won’t forget.


The little phone that could
July 16, 2007, 8:54 pm
Filed under: england, nature, travel

I’m still quite chuffed with the quality of the photos it took, even if Hayley’s and Kim’s are higher resolution.

My camera phone is my friend.

Would you like a graveyard tour with your groceries?
July 16, 2007, 8:52 pm
Filed under: england, travel

One of the best things about having people stay with you when they’re travelling is the chance to see where you’re living through the eyes of a tourist. So it was nice to have our good friends Hayley and Kim stay the other day, I got some great photos of King’s College Chapel in more detail than I’ve bothered before, and we chilled out by frolicking in the meadows by the river at Grantchester, which I wouldn’t have taken the time to do without the excuse of company.

Hayley and I went to see the Royal Harpist, Claire Jones, play in an old English church. She was utterly charming and British (Welsh, in fact). As we wandered around Cambridge I tried to share any interesting pieces of information I’d eked out during my time here.

Something I find quirky and amusing is that the Marks and Spencer in the centre of town has to be spread over two sites, because space is at such a premium and buildings are so poky and ancient. So if you want to do your grocery shopping as well as buy some household goods, you have to walk through a graveyard and a garden.

As I was explaining this walking alongside the graveyard, a squirrel started nibbling seeds in the tree above us, while a bumblebee bumped fuzzily along the ground. Hayley and Kim whipped out their momentous cameras – Hayley works in photography professionally, so it’s to be expected, but it made my camera phone look measly in comparison.

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.
July 15, 2007, 8:22 pm
Filed under: england, events, food, travel, wine

I’m very busy at the moment, finishing off various projects and starting new ones. There’s also the underlying stress of not knowing what’s happening next, like the subtle but irritating hum of Ian’s laptop.

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’ve got too much to think about is nothing. This is precisely what Helena and I did the other day. Helena is someone I met last time I was in Cambridge, who’s subsequently moved to London and is coordinating the London Design Festival. It’s coming up soon, so she’s understandably stressed also.

So we got together in London the other day with the intention of a quick lunch, which ended up being a long lunch (at the best Vietnamese restaurant outside of Vietnam), then some more drinks, then some tapas and more wine, then a journalist’s party I was going to in the evening. We spent some time putting together a good journalistic alias for getting her into the party (something about novels and National Geographic), but it turned out nobody cared.

Sometimes, that’s what I like about London.

Life is much nicer without smoke
July 9, 2007, 4:38 pm
Filed under: england, health, laws, travel

Take a deep breath of fresh air – England has gone smoke free! It’s great. No more throwing clothes in the laundry basket in disgust after an hour in the Darwin Bar because they stink. No more avoiding The Eagle for dinner because the air in the RAF bar is so thick you could stick a fork in it.

I’m very glad this has finally happened. It’s been a long time coming! And pubs genuinely seem to be taking their new responsibilities seriously – I haven’t seen someone smoking inside yet. Of course, the same can’t be said for outside. If you walk down the pub-filled streets in Cambridge in the evening you’ll be lucky not to get a cigarette burn, there are so many people huddled in doorways, cantankerously sucking on their ciggies. Okay – perhaps burns are an exaggeration – but it is hard to avoid the fumes around doorways. Even at Addenbrookes Hospital it’s hard to dodge the trails of smoke at the entrance, despite the whole site supposedly being smoke free.

Still, it’s a great start. I think England handled it well. Apparently it was planned for July 1st to coincide with summer, so people won’t get so grumpy about getting turfed outside to indulge in their dirty habit. Of course, the rain rendered that plan a bit futile, but the ban’s working nonetheless.

They’ve done a much better job of it than the poxy ‘no smoking a metre from the bar’ law in South Australia. Really… why bother? It’s crap. You see people stretching their ciggie arm out (right into other people’s faces) to get closer to the bar for a drink. Plus if the bar is in a skinny room the law doesn’t even apply! How lame is that? It’s pathetic.

I can’t wait to see how the French go at banning smoking next February. The continental addiction is much more severe.

But stranger things have happened yet.

Glimpses of summer
July 7, 2007, 8:58 pm
Filed under: climate change, england, travel, weather

It’s like clockwork – every day at around 5 o’clock it starts to rain, just to bother people ready to walk home.

Of course, this isn’t isolated – it also rains in the morning often, in the evening sometimes. We just had the wettest June on record, even though it’s been slightly warmer, apparently.

Just my luck.

So, this Cambridge summer is about catching the patches of sunshine as they pass.

I hope July is better. It’s looking that way so far. Fingers crossed.