Après le Déluge

It has been a little quiet on here of late, and this is not entirely my fault.  As you will later see, I am placing some of the blame firmly with higher powers (or perhaps with a malicious butterfly).  Some portion of the causative liability does lie closer to home, and with the chronic insomnia that has afflicted the author, intermittently, for the last couple of decades.  My recent, prolonged estrangement from the restorative embrace of Morpheus has left me parted from my muse (or at least the get-up-and-go to translate limited inspiration to textual iron pyrites).  Some days, I do wonder if the bone-deep enervation, combined with such news as I fail to avoid, is nature’s way of telling me that I have passed my natural span and I should exit, stage left: it probably has been too long since last I visited the Swiss.  Still, last night I managed to achieve nearly eight hours of uninterrupted slumber for the first time in weeks and so will probably stick around for a little longer.  Annoyingly, when I did awake this morning, it interrupted a dream in which I was being effortlessly witty in front of an audience – something I rarely manage when awake (perhaps the jarring unreality of the hypnogogic state was what brought me back to reality?).

The last few days I have been lying awake in historic Cambridge: seeing friends and indulging in pursuits both cultural and physical.  It had been six months since my last visit, but the orgy of demolition and construction seems to have continued unabated (or even intensified).  Like London, it would seem that Cambridge is pricing out the claustrophobic young – but still offers reasonable value for any sardines seeking a flat share.  Do young sardines get given the key to the tin when they turn the fishy-equivalent of 21?  Or does that musing date me horribly?

In the wee, small hours of Friday morning, Cambridge was hit by a storm the likes of which I have never seen.  We had continuous thunder for several hours and a prolonged period over which the city was struck by 200+ bolts of lightning per minute.  I had a decent excuse for my sleeplessness, rather than the usual “cause unknown” (though having been between jobs for a little while, I think I must exonerate “the man”).  In the morning sunshine, the city looked rather beautiful with all the building and plants washed clean by the night’s precipitative excitement.    Sadly, this was not the only effect of the storm – with significant flooding across the city, including the basement parlour where my massage therapist plies his trade.  Luckily, the waters had been conquered by the modern day Knut by the time I had my massage later that afternoon and the (as always, odd) conversation with my therapist should generate several posts in the days to come.  The storm also took out the city council’s offices and had a rather serious impact on Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

I was staying in Sidney Sussex College – wisely on the first floor and so above any rising waters.  My room was perfectly comfortable – though with oddly few, badly-positioned power sockets, which must be an issue for the modern student – and the shared shower could offer a force of water to match the previous night’s storm.  The college is wonderfully central and offers a very generous breakfast – and, to-date, has always offered extremely stimulating breakfast conversation.  This time, with an american chap involved in the drafting of NAFTA, covering the Euro crisis and the different models of university on the two sides of the Atlantic.  I have never had a conversation in a proper hotel which can match those I’ve had in a Cambridge college refectory: it is almost worth paying for a night’s stay just for the breakfast.

The biggest impact the storm had on me (and, lest we forget, I am the important one here) was the damage to Cambridge University’s computing systems which meant that I was without internet access for most of Friday.  Even when it returned, it was generally slow and would not load the WordPress website at all (though was quite happy to serve any other site I attempted).  Is there some sort of long-term feud between WordPress and Cambridge University?  Have they published something slanderous about the VC?  Whatever the reason, I was actually unable to blog until I returned home: an enforced period of cold turkey (which I seem to have survived without obvious symptoms, so this is not an addiction – it must be a life-style choice).

It was lovely being back in Cambridge and I remember why I loved living there.  I also remembered some of the frustrations too: Saturday combined graduation with an enormous quantity of foreign language students and the usual shoppers making the city centre hideously busy.  I hid in a variety of bookshops, the Divinity School (aka The “Div” School – which gives a very different impression of its role) and a church before fleeing back towards the relative peace-and-quiet of London’s Southbank and thence home.  I think I could live in Cambridge again – if life were to take me that way – but there is now a lot about Southampton and it environs that I would miss.  My new city has quietly wormed its way into my affections and become home.

The title for this return to the blog, continues the occasional (and largely ignored) conceit of using foreign titles: on this occasion turning to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (never played by Sly Stallone, so far as I know) and his thematically rather apt work of the same name.


The title of an album of short but quirky ditties by They Might Be Giants, ownership of which scored me a point on the Geek Test way back in the 1990s (not that I was short of points, of which more, perhaps, in another post).

However, the title actually refers to the fact that the weather is now officially wet (well, providing you are willing to accept me as an official source – and why wouldn’t you?).  As but one example, I spent a chunk of yesterday evening sitting in a pew next to a man with a cuddly ark: though I’m not sure what help a cuddly ark would be in the face of a biblical deluge.  As it turns out, the chap was planning to use the ark as a mike stand (though ultimately didn’t need it as he managed to source a more traditional mike stand) to record the Bridge Quartet performing Greig’s String Quartet (well worth recording) which goes to show that some folk can see a much wider range of possibilities in an object than can I: cuddly ark as mike stand – there’s some Olympic standard juxtaposition!

My key evidence for this current thesis is that Sawston is now cut-off from Stapleford (the next village) to pedestrians unless they own wellies (or fancy wading without).  This is only the second time in the 5+ years I have lived here that the River Granta has burst its banks and flooded the sole pedestrian and cycle route which links the two villages.  On the previous occasion, the flooding was caused by a sudden thaw which led to a large volume of snow melt from the Alpine scenery for which Cambridgeshire is so justly famed.  This time the flooding is only 6-8 inches deep and is entirely rain based – but it was still enough to drench my feet as I tried to cycle into Cambridge yesterday.  I lack Paul Newman’s facility on a bicycle (well, I assume it was him as Butch Cassidy on the velocipede, rather than a stuntman) and the flooding was too extensive for me to keep my feet clear of the water (also, I hadn’t realised quite how deep it was).  On subsequent trips I braved the main road – more traffic, but drier feet!

I would suggest that it has been lovely weather for ducks – and, indeed, I’ve seen them swimming merrily in the fields all around Great Kneighton  – however, I see the RSPB is saying the weather has been bad news for our feathered friends with many eggs being washed away.

For those who have the misfortune not to live in the modern day Eden that is South Cambs, Great Kneighton is the name to be given to the wasteland that has been created between Trumpington and Addenbrooke’s once it is covered in houses or, perhaps more wisely given the depth of water now covering most of it, house boats (though the website does not mention this more sensible option – or the ready availability of water to the future residents).  One of the wetter parts of the site has been planted with a multitude of green plastic tubes which I assume contain the potential for future trees, though if so, I hope they are mangroves or some other swamp loving species or I fear the worst for the future of Great Kneighton forest.

The poor weather has also been bad news for the asparagus crop – though perhaps good news for those who have to spend any time in close proximity to the author.  Each year I seem to find that asparagus has a more serious (and rapid) effect on me, a few sticks is now enough for me to start sweating the rather strange aroma that I had previously only linked to micturition.

The final plank of my argument is that my ears have started producing abnormally large quantities of wax.  This is a problem that used to occur when I swam regularly – a habit I may be compelled to restart if the weather continues in its current mode!  I am now wondering if rather than a source of irritation, this is perhaps an evolutionary adaptation to keep my head water tight?

Still, here at GofaDM we are working hard to look on the sunny side and thinking of the boost to the UK’s waterproof and watercress industries!