Out of Town

We took a day trip to Cambridge, to see England from a different perspective and to get some relief from moving against the flow of Londoners on their way to work.

When I began graduate school, the department listed new students with their fields of interest and the colleges they had attended. Having come from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, I was a bit surprised when at least one of my new colleagues assumed that I had attended a different King’s College and asked me about life in Cambridge, about the British university system. I sometimes wonder if I could have been able to maintain, if only briefly, the fiction that I had come to Cornell after an undergraduate career at Cambridge. I chose to be more honest but since then have had a desire to visit this version of King’s College. The annual PBS Christmas concerts from the King’s College Chapel helped keep that desire in mind.


While strolling from the train station toward the college precincts, I felt more at ease than I had the previous day walking up Oxford Street. I was back in my element, among students and locals whose work depended on those students. Sitting in a cafe, I overheard an intense conversation between an older woman and a younger man. On their table were notebooks and a typed manuscript. The man was doing most of the talking, intensely stammering, trying to emphasize major points. The women, hardly ever spoke, but with the manuscript open, leafed through it, pointed to particular sections. A grad student/mentor discussion, I assume.

Besides visiting the colleges, in Cambridge one must, a friend who had in fact attended the university, punt on the Cam. Wider and a bit deeper than any of Ithaca’s downtown creeks, the Cam is also slower and more turbid. How difficult should this be?


Nancy and I had spend much of the afternoon wandering in and out of college courtyards and not enough time in Heffer’s Bookstore, so that when we finally turned out thoughts to punting, we hadn’t much of the time left before catching a train back to London. I had researched “punting technique” and been assured that navigating a punt was within the ability of any reasonably adept person. Nancy wasn’t so sure, and we opted for one of the commercial trips along the back yards of the colleges.  A loquacious/garrulous young man punted and attempted to amuse us with odds and ends of Cambridge academic culture and history. Watching a few novice punters, I suspected that my opinion of “reasonable adeptness” was most likely overrated.


A country mouse moment: Arriving at the train station after a hurried walk from the center of the town, we scanned the departures listing for London, crossed an overpass to our platform and found a train ready for departure to King’s Cross Station, London. We got on and took our seats. I opened my iPad  to log onto the trains wifi, and suddenly realized that the network I had used on the trip up was not available. What I had instead was a network offered by a different railroad. I had learned in buying the tickets that Cambridge was served by two trains, one from King’s Cross and the other from Liverpool St. We had departed from Liverpool St and should have returned to that station. We had gotten on an express train that cost more than the local for which we had tickets. When we would leave the train in King’s Cross, we would have to show our tickets to an attendant to leave the station. Perhaps we would suffer the fate of Charlie on the MTA who would never return, not having an exit fare. I put on my most sheepish manner and explained the problem to a guard at the barrier. He asked, bemusedly, “You’re not from here, are you?” and let us out without penalty.

A Cambridgeshire landscape, a field of rape seed in bloom.


One thought on “Out of Town

  1. I am so proud of you for splurging on the $20 + entrance fee. That amounts to about two of those fancy Ithaca IPA’s. Cambridge cannot be any nicer than Wilkes-Barre.


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