Sunday, June 30, 2013

A walk down memory lane

I am A New Yorker in England at present, in Cambridge to be specific. My husband and I are on vacation, and this year, we decided to return to the place where we first met twenty-six years ago. We met at a scientific (flow cytometry) conference that was held at Cambridge University (scroll down to end photo). The majority of the lectures and parallel sessions were held at Trinity College. It was my first time in Europe, and my first opportunity to attend an international conference. I arrived alone in London a few days before the conference, and made my way to the Belgravia section of London where I had booked a room at a small boarding house run by an immigrant Italian couple. I spent those days touring London, Bath, and Stonehenge on my own before heading north to Cambridge by train from King’s Cross station. It was an exciting time—making my way around London and taking day trips from London by bus at a time when internet, cell phones and social media were non-existent. 

The first time I was in Cambridge, I became completely captivated by the city and the university. I soaked in the university atmosphere. What made the experience complete was being able to live in a dorm room for the week of the conference. The room was austere, fit for a monk, containing a bed and a desk and chair, and not much else. The bathroom was down the hall, to be shared by the inhabitants of the dorm rooms on that floor. The dorm building was a stone’s throw from Trinity College, so it was a pleasure to wake up and to walk across the street to get breakfast in one of the main dining rooms with long tables (think Harry Potter at Hogwarts where he and his friends sat at those long tables, and you’ll get the idea). This is where we ate breakfasts and dinners—formal affairs where the food was served from the head of the table and passed along down to each diner. I remember some really good dinners—roast beef and roast lamb with different sauces. The organizers of the conference made sure that we experienced real university life. I spent some time wandering around the city’s many bookstores; the end result was that my luggage became much heavier, and I ended up having to ship the many books I bought back to New York as I could not haul them around for the rest of my stay in England. After the conference was over, a colleague and I took the overnight train from London to Edinburgh and toured Scotland for several days, before returning to London for the trip back to New York. I met my husband a few days before we left Cambridge, and we managed to spend some time together wandering around the city and getting to know each other before we returned to our respective countries. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yesterday, we wandered down the same streets as we did when we first met. We discovered that some of our memories of what transpired many years ago were faulty, whereas the walk through the city brought back other memories that had been buried. We stood on one bridge overlooking the river Cam and watched the amateur punters trying to steer their boats in the right direction in order to avoid crashing into other boats. It brought back memories of punting with my colleagues from Memorial Sloan-Kettering; my former boss was the designated punter, and he did his level best to keep from falling into the water and ruining his leather jacket and shoes. He managed that amidst our laughter and teasing. My colleagues also joined me for a traditional English tea with scones and clotted cream at a tea house in the city center; my two wishes upon landing in England, both of which were fulfilled, were to experience a traditional English teatime and to eat fish and chips. We also enjoyed a beer together at the Eagle pub that Watson and Crick (of DNA fame) frequented.

Today, we met an old friend, Judith, whom we both know from the time when she did her doctorate in Norway; she and Charlie kindly made the trip from London to Cambridge, and we met at the Fort St. George pub/restaurant on the Midsummer Common for lunch. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and three hours passed in pleasant conversation. On parting, we made plans to keep in touch and hopefully they will visit us in Norway at some future point.

One of my ‘bucket list’ wishes is to take a summer literature course at Cambridge University. I have already found some online information about the different courses available. It would be a real privilege to study at Cambridge, even if only for a few weeks, and I hope it comes to pass.

These photos of Cambridge University are from 1987, and were taken from the tower of Great St. Mary's Church, which provided me with wonderful views of the university buildings and city. The photos of the Bridge of Sighs were taken during our punting trip on the river Cam. 


notice the beautiful lawns 


King's College




Bridge of Sighs, St. John's College
Bridge of Sighs




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