Wednesday, 14 December 2016

city of perspiring dreams*

I went to Cambridge today to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum.  It is a wonderful museum (and free) and I would go there oftener if it were not such a pig to get to from Colchester.  I had thought that maybe we could get the train, but it turns out you have to change at Ipswich and then it is a further hour and twenty minutes with only one train per hour, and then Cambridge railway station is on the outskirts of town.  As it is my friend offered to drive, and it took her an hour an a half from my door to the Newmarket Road park and ride, which was very nice for me and harder work for her.

We just missed a bus at the park and ride, but they go every ten minutes and it took us a good part of that time to operate the ticket machine.  The woman ahead of us in the queue was being talked through it by a helpful man in a fluorescent jacket but he disappeared before we could ask him what the form was.  The instructions on the machine include some of the most delphic use of language since my godmother's husband set an exam question for philosophy in which a pair of socks was taken to denote any two socks.  So 'pay £4 for parking plus one passenger' means one person has paid to ride on the bus.  If your car had one passenger in it you need to pay for parking plus two passengers.  By the time we'd worked that one out and bought an extra bus ticket the queue behind us was quite lengthy.  You can tell that Cambridge is a university town.

We'd gone to Cambridge this week because the Fitzwilliam has an exhibition of early illustrated manuscripts on until early in the New Year.  I was reconciled to having missed it, but once my friend suggested we go somewhere for the day we thought that place might as well be Cambridge. The manuscripts are beautiful and interesting and very romantic to view in the flesh, though if you wanted a really thorough look it would be worth buying the book because the light level in the exhibition has to be kept so low.  We made our way to the rooms housing the temporary exhibition through rooms and rooms of the permanent collection, and so kept getting waylayed by twentieth century British art, Impressionists, Gainsboroughs and ebony inlayed cabinets.  There would have been much more to see, but there is only so much art anybody can absorb in one session.  As I said, if it were easier to get to I'd go there more often.

After lunch we did a little shopping, and I amazed myself by buying a scarf, hand woven blue herringbone that could have been designed to go with my coat, in the sort of ethnic shop that smells strongly of incense and sells Tibetan singing bowls and cheap Afghan rugs.  I am partial to both, but since I don't actually meditate and didn't have the budget for even a cheap rug I limited myself to the scarf.  We peered into the windows of some more upmarket clothes shops, but window shopping was as far as it went.

Kings College was looking very beautiful in the weak autumn sun, and the streets were full of people riding sit up and beg bicycles with an absent air.  The shops appeared rather empty on the whole, when you think it is less than two weeks to Christmas.

*Frederick Raphael

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