Not the centre of the universe?

Clever folk, both before and after Copernicus, have worked hard to demonstrate that I am not the centre of the universe.  Indeed, the whole concept of the universe having a physical centre is looking a little shaky since relativity and the growth of the dark.  Oh yes, as Susan Cooper warned us, in modern physics the dark is truly rising.

Nonetheless, contrary to my book-learning, Dame Nature and her handmaiden Coincidence do seem determined to convince me that everything does revolve around me.  Before I illustrate with a couple (of hundred) recent examples, I feel we should all take a moment to consider a quotation a wise, old friend of mine used to trot out whenever coincidence was in the air.  “How often didn’t that happen?” he would ask – and those around would cease their foolish prating.

My first example comes from my recent arrival in Cambridge.  Having travelled up from the south coast in dry sunshine, the moment my train arrive in Cambridge it started to rain.  I manage to catch my bus down to Addenbrooke’s only slightly moistened, but as I disembarked the wrath of God was loosed upon the earth.  By the time I had made it the 200 yards from the bus stop to the Blood Donor Centre, I was soaked through and my umbrella had been reduced to a useless wreck.  As I checked-in with reception, I noticed that my right hand was dipping with blood – my own as it transpired (perhaps from an umbrella disintegration-related injury?) – so I looked more like I was making a withdrawal than a deposit.  Fortunately, my injury was not severe and did not prevent my donation (or the ensuing biscuit-based mini-feast).  The Lord may have been wrathful, but it didn’t last long (is Our Father by any chance strawberry blonde, I wonder? – or at least was before he was stricken by old age).  A rampant egomaniac (like, for example, myself – well, just consider this blog you are reading) might feel he was being singled out by Fate for some payback.  Of course, subsequent viewing of the news suggests that most of the divine, weather-based retribution was aimed at Scotland and the east coast – so, I should be grateful that he could spare a small part of his bounty of rain and wind for me.

You will be pleased to know that my blood loss, both planned and otherwise, was soon made good through the medically recommended combination of mulled wine and mince pies.  However, these weather-related coincidences are not uncommon: oft rain will start just as I go outside and cease as soon as I regain cover.  I have even been to Florida when it snowed – first time in 80 years!  But not all coincidence is ill-favoured, which brings me nicely on to incident number two.

On Friday afternoon, I made it to the tail-end of a Christmas party at Hughes Hall college.  I am able to sneak into such events and enjoy a tepid glass of mulled wine and a mince pie as it was with Hughes Hall that I left my piano when I departed Cambridge to live in more southerly climes.  At this “do”, I was introduced to only three people – one of whom, it was soon revealed, had a penchant for musical theatre and had made much use of my piano (probably rather better use than I ever managed).  This same chap, it transpired, had been an undergraduate at Southampton University and so was perfectly placed to introduce me to a singing teacher near my new home.  What are the chances that one of an effectively random group of three people would prove to be so useful?  Then again, I did meet my current singing teacher in a rather similar fashion – so perhaps this is the established way to find vocal tutelage.

So, whilst coincidence is my constant companion, more-often-than-not she smiles kindly upon me (if we ignore some of her weather and train punctuality-based work).  Indeed, late yesterday afternoon as I returned from my singing lesson to my (Trave)lodgings (oh yes, I know how to live the high life!), strolling along beside the oily blackness of the Cam under the merest sliver of crescent moon with a song in my heart, my ego soothed by a positive response to my last post, I couldn’t help feeling I was the luckiest chap alive.


As a professional prognosticator I am always on the look-out for omens, signs and portents.  Often I will cut a squash in half and study its seeds for clues as to the future’s unfolding (yes, I know augury more commonly uses the viscera of the animal kingdom, but as a (mostly) vegetarian I have had to improvise).

I can tell you that Christmas is almost upon us as I was able to acquire my Christmas double issue of the Mortician’s Gazette at the weekend.  In a tradition almost as old a Christmas itself, the price is that little bit more than double the price of its normal weekly edition and we will no doubt find that half this new higher price will pertain after the festive season.  I presume this is on the assumption that either (a) we will have consumed so much alcohol or (b) the standard of mathematics in this country is so low that no-one will notice.

But it is about the proliferation of signs of a less mystical kind that I wish to write.  On my journey into Cambridge I have to use a short stretch of new road on the Addenbrooke’s site between one cycle path and the guided busway.  A new piece of signage seems to be added to this road every day – by the Spring, I fear the road will be in permanent darkness such is their growing density.  As well as the almost totally ignored speed limit signage, we have rather contradictory signs as to where cyclists are allowed to ride – I think at least one is in the wrong place (or someone in the Highways department is a fan of Epimenides and is letting his love of paradox affect his work).

We now have two signs from APCOA welcoming us to their World of Parking.  As theme parks go, this doesn’t sound like an obvious winner – even World of Leather seems a better offering.  In addition to the welcome, the signs contain a stack of small print which no motorist could safely read, even on the off-chance that they were obeying the speed limit.  I think what they are trying to say is that if you have stopped moving for more than 30 seconds and have not offered APCOA a couple of limbs or your first-born, then you are in big trouble.

Today’s new sign was to give the road a name – it is now called Francis Crick Avenue.  Since the road is basically straight with a bend to the right at one end, I can’t help but feel this is a waste of a good name.  Mr Crick, as co-discoverer of DNA, needs a road with a far more helical course to bear his moniker – I would want to see at least one helix and preferably two (or we could have it intertwining with a James Watson Road).  As it stands, the road barely justifies Uri Geller Avenue as a label.

Still, whilst the road is awash with signage, at least it has a nice level surface.  Most of the roads on the hospital site are in an appalling state, several seem to be subducting under the hospital and also produce a rather unpleasant sulphurous odour – which makes two signs of tectonic activity.   (But don’t worry, I’m not expecting an imminent eruption – and, if the worst happens, Cambridge could do with some new hills!).

I have mused that the poor road maintenance might be a deliberate ploy to acquire new business – certainly, an unwary cyclist could easily been thrown from his steed and require the services of the nearby A&E department.  The ambulance service could also expect to offer a very swift pick-up and delivery – which should help them meet their performance targets.  Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be giving our stressed NHS managers any ideas they haven’t thought of themselves..

Sidhe Maternity

As I have many times before, I was cycling across the Addenbrooke’s site yesterday when I noticed a new sign pointing the way to the new perinatal unit.  Now I have heard of ante-natal (usually in association with classes) and post-natal (in conjunction with depression) but never perinatal.  Perhaps it was recent posts which alluded to some of the Savoy operas (named for the theatre rather than the region of Italy) which caused me to think of Iolanthe – and more importantly its alternate title, “The Peer and the Peri”.  This may well be unique in popular entertainment as much of the “action” takes placed in the House of Lords – not a venue oft associated with entertainment or, indeed, action.

This association led me to imagine a facility where the female folk of faerie could go to give birth – a process rarely referred to in legend or ballad.  I fondly imagined Cambridge alumnus Edmund Spenser’s most famous heroine (a metaphor for Liz I apparently) giving birth to a Faerie Prince(e) in Cambridge (though if we extend the metaphor, there may have been no heir and a Scottish Lord of the Fae would have succeeded).  Perhaps this would explain the strange lights in the sky which I had previously ascribed to low flying aircraft – or perhaps I have become terminally fanciful.

Certainly, the Addenbrooke’s site contains (possibly) the finest monikered facility for the production of mortal offspring – the Rosie Maternity.  So, why not extend the brand to cover the fair folk?

Mr (or Mrs) Collins lacks the poet’s soul, and their magnum opus tells me that “peri” just means near or around – as in the word perimeter – but I much prefer my more whimsical interpretation.