Thursday, 14 August 2008

Return to Cambridge

I wish I could have been here to insert my two penn'orth as the interesting debate continued in the Comments on Truth, but I'll get to it as soon as I can.

I was away in Cambridge at the time. Pat and I spent a few days there with her son Andy and his partner. The weather was much like the last time we went, at least at the beginning, but later it cleared up sufficiently for us to get around and see the town.

The highlight was undoubtedly our visit to the house at Kettle's Yard. It was an absolute delight, beginning with the little old ladies who shepherded us in and explained the rules, their quirky cloakroom arrangements involving clothes pegs and little squares of paper with numbers written in biro. I know I wasn't the first to think, "When can I move in?" because one of the ladies said so. The place has a completely lived-in feel with arrangements of stones and bowls of feathers, lino cuts by Ben Nicholson standing on the floor, Gaudier-Brzeska sculptures everywhere, Winifred Nicholson and Alfred Wallis on the walls, art just everywhere! I could have spent hours in the library alone. Another visit must be arranged, I can see.

And several more visits will be needed to get to grips with the Fitzwilliam Museum. I particularly wanted to see the temporary exhibition of Christopher Le Brun's suite of Fifty Etchings 2005 and I wasn't disappointed. Thought-provoking and hugely imaginative.

Close by was a room containing The Arts of the 20th Century. A huge Alan Davie dominates one wall and opposite is a wonderfully dramatic painting in four panels by Keith Grant, Volcano and White Bird. (1974-75). In addition there's almost a whole wall of lovely small pictures by Nicholas de Staël.

While I was taking it all in, a group of French students came in and their tutor kept them standing in front of the only French painting there, while he rattled on at length. It was a Soulages and for my money the least interesting picture there, but it was French.

But the Fitzwilliam Collection is huge and I had no more time. There's never enough time.

We did find the time to have some good meals there, not least the excellent Thai pork curry Andy made using chillies and other produce grown on the balcony of his flat. I do think he might have made the effort to raise the pork there, too, though.. Bit slapdash really. But he made up for it later by treating us to dinner at the Back Street Bistro, a cheerful little place with really great food.

On Monday, before catching the train home, we spent the day with True Rat and his wife, who lured us into The Free Press, the kind of pub that's so rare these days, at least in the North East. Untouched by modern trends, it bans music and mobile phones and serves a fantastic home made steak and ale pie (or if you're Pat, conger eel and samphire).

Afterwards, we took too long over our visit to the King's College Chapel and wandering the streets, so we were forced to make a sprint for the train home. We had to catch a train to Peterborough to make our Newcastle connection, and got there with four minutes to spare. I think we could have made it, but the jobsworth on the ticket desk had other plans. He confirmed it hadn't gone yet, then insisted on seeing our Senior Rail Cards. Then asked to see Pat's again, after she'd put it away.. I thought I detected a smirk when he said, "Oh, it's gone off the screen now. You must have missed it."

On a long shot we caught a train to Ely then another to Peterborough, but the Newcastle train had gone. This left us faced with buying fresh tickets at over a hundred pounds. Pat must have looked pitiful as she recounted our story to the man on the ticket desk at Peterborough, because after a moment's consideration, he charged us nothing and endorsed our old tickets to allow us to travel to Newcastle on the next train. What a nice man. And how annoyed I'd have been to have had to pay the full whack when no one checked the tickets on the entire trip to Newcastle.

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