23 July 2015

Some ‘Wonderland’ moments in
the afternoon sun in Cambridge

King’s Parade, Cambridge, in the sunshine this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After a busy week in High Leigh at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency Us (USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), I had a little time for myself in Cambridge on Wednesday before catching the last flight from Stansted and arriving back in Dublin early this morning [23 July 2017].

In the summer sunshine, Cambridge is crowded with tourists, and even late in the afternoon the queues of tourists for the punts near Trinity College were spreading from the slipway at the River Cam up into Garrett Hostel Lane. For tourists, summer in Cambridge seems to be all about punts, bicycles, Pimm’s and finding out which colleges are open to visitors, especially King’s College and its chapel.

I was happy instead with a quiet return visit to Sidney Sussex College, browsing in the bookshops and enjoying a quiet glass of wine in the garden behind the Pint Shop in a listed building in Peas Hill in the centre of the city, close to the Market Square and the Grand Arcade, where I had dropped my bags at the left luggage facility offered by Station Cycles.

Cambridge bicycles … seen from the Pint Shop in in Peas Hill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Even outside term time, bicycles are chained against the rails outside churches, colleges and other places throughout Cambridge.

There is always something new to find in Cambridge, and the Pint Shop, which opened its doors almost two years ago was an interesting discovery.

In G David’s antiquarian bookshop in Saint Edward’s Passage, I browsed for some time, and came away with a bag-full of books on TS Eliot, classical sites in Crete, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – this year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice on 26 November 1865.

A poster in the window of Ryder and Amies in Cambridge this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There were some Wonderland moments too, in the window of Ryder and Amies, and at an old telephone kiosk on Hills Road.

A poster in the window of Ryder and Amies on King’s Parade advertises the 50th anniversary match of the Volunteers earlier this month, when a President XI played a Director of Cricket’s XI at Longstowe Cricket Club.

Fifty years ago, in summer 1965, a group of Cambridge undergraduates, of “very modest cricketing skills,” formed a team to play local Cambridgeshire village sides.

Established as “The Volunteers” and almost always losing their matches, the undergraduate side continued at the university into the 1970s. Today, old Volunteers reunite every few years for a match of their own. Standards have changed very little.

But the poster for this year’s 50th anniversary match on 3 July 2015 gives the dates “1965-2105” – the very sort of mistake I make myself.

Hopefully, there is always time for cricket in Cambridge in the summer. Hopefully too, the Volunteers will still be playing in July 2105, because the Volunteers support disabled students at the university through the University’s Disability Resource Centre and its work.

Hopefully there is always time for cricket in Cambridge in the summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Returning by Hills Road to the station, I had another Wonderland moment when I stopped to look at the old telephone box outside the estate agents Strutt and Parker.

The red telephone kiosk was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was a familiar sight on streets throughout England and a British cultural icon from 1926 on.

However, the production of the traditional boxes ended in 1985, and they have started to disappear with a change in habits and the popularisation of mobile ’phones.

Little-used red telephone kiosks have been adapted for interesting uses throughout England. In the small Staffordshire village of Wall, south of Lichfield, a red kiosk has been adapted for use as a small library or book exchange.

Interesting snippets on a red telephone kiosk on Hills Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The kiosk outside the Cambridge offices of Strutt and Parker on Hill Street has become a clever advertising agent, decorated with miscellaneous pieces of information that invite passing pedestrians to stop and read:

“The first game of Association Football was played on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge” – the Cambridge University Rules were adopted by the Football Association in 1863.

“Pink Floyd are probably the most famous band from Cambridge.”

“Cambridge has more than double the people with a higher level qualification than the National average at 41.2%”

“Cambridge has the highest level of cycle use anywhere in the UK with 25% of residents travelling to work by bicycle, with 47% of residents travelling by bicycle at least once a week” – which might explain why I almost got myself run over a few times yesterday when I stopped off the footpath in King’s Parade, Trinity Street or Sidney Street.

And of course: “Cambridge was described as one of the most beautiful cities in the World by Forbes in 2010.”

I hope to be back in Cambridge at the end of next month, staying in Sidney Sussex College for the annual summer conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Sidney Sussex College … the view from Green Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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