They paved paradise

As my time as a resident of South Cambs draws to close – well, probably draws to a close, you can never by entirely sure with the rather painful process of moving house in England and Wales (Scotland, as so often, has its own programme) – Cambridge conspires to remind me of what a splendid place it is to live.  Joni Mitchell was right,  “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” – and some of her other lyrics still ring worryingly true more than 40 years later.  Given the current plethora of newly introduced tree diseases afflicting these shores, a tree museum may soon be the only option for those of an arboreal bent in the UK (and not just Honolulu).

A real summer has been delivered to much of the UK after a gap of several years, and a trip to the Proms last week reminded me of how good it is not to live in London at such times.  Trying to live in a city where most of the infrastructure was built before the invention of air conditioning (and cannot be retrofitted) is no fun at all when the temperature rises much above 20°C – and above 25°C it becomes seriously unpleasant.  The RAH was as hot as Hades (though had been worse earlier in the week, added to which I’m not entirely sure that the ancient Greeks considered the underworld to be especially warm), though luckily unlike the poor musicians I was not having to work in that environment nor wear a lounge suit.  However, I am of an age (or social class) where I find it impossible to wear shorts to see classical music or theatre – despite my relatively nicely sculpted lower legs – and so was somewhat formally attired.

Cambridge too is alive with the sound of music (though mercifully free of singing nuns) as the Summer Musical Festival is in full swing.  Thursday night I had the joy of seeing the Aronowitz Ensemble at the St John’s Divinity school.  This is a period building on which a serious amount of money has been spent recently – so much so that it puts most London corporate headquarters to shame (or at least those the day job has allowed me to peruse internally) – and which included the joy of efficient air conditioning.  A really fabulous concert at a comfortable temperature, with the first piano quintet by Dohnanyi a particular highlight (and one previously totally unknown to me).

Friday night saw me at a garden party in the garden of Clare College with, among other luminaries, our previous Archbishop of Canterbury (who was not only less tall than expected, but much more slender.  I fear an Archbishop’s vestments are less than flattering to the slighter figure and I think I shall eschew episcopal purple myself in future).  This was followed by a stunning performance of the Monteverdi Vespers (of 1610) in the chapel of King’s College – and I had a seat in one of the few areas of that elevated building with decent acoustics.  My own singing has a way to go yet…

Over a beer after the concert, the organist claimed to recognise me – which was odd, as he is quite famous and I am not.  Even stranger, perhaps, as I take the word “voluntary” in the phrase “organ voluntary” very seriously and tend to opt-out wherever possible – except for one famous occasion in Edinburgh where I learnt the important lesson that clavier does not always refer to the piano and had to sit through nearly two hours of organ recital (it was tough, but good old English fear of embarrassment got me through – or at least prevented me from leaving).  Still, many other musical shibboleths have fallen in my time in Cambridge, so I am (bravely) going to see this chap perform next week – well, he was good to chat to and the main work is called Cycles, so I felt the cold, dead hand of destiny on my shoulder and will face my phobia.

Talking, as I nearly was, about celebrity encounters – earlier in the week I bumped into Stephen Hawking multiple times at the flicks.  As a result, I caught a prolonged glimpse of the screen of his speech synthesiser and it would seem to have a special function to produce puns – well, there was a section headed “\pun” and I extrapolated freely.  I find it very reassuring that a man of his eminence still enjoys a pun – and so what little guilt I feel about including them in this blog or in my Twitter ravings has been assuaged.  (Insincere apologies to those of you hoping I might grow out of this habit.)

Cambridge is pretty good for spotting those that I consider to be celebrities – generally academics and intellectuals – but annoyingly has never managed to furnish me with a close encounter (of any kind) with Mary Beard.  If I were to have heroes, should would definitely be one.  Still, I’m young(ish) yet and so there is always hope – or I could venture up the Huntingdon Road towards Girton, but that feels like cheating.

I console myself that Cambridge is not that far from the south coast via the miracle of the railways (larger water fowl permitting), so even once I’ve departed these shores (or should that be “banks” in the case of a river?) I’m planning to be a pretty frequent visitor so that I can continue to enjoy its musical, architectural and intellectual delights.  Anyway, my new home will be surrounded be stacks of new delights (a river, a forest and the coast to name but three) – so with a little low animal cunning (perhaps that of a stoat or weasel, the giraffe – for example – lacks cunning) I should be able to have the best of both worlds!

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