CAM 79 Letters

CAM 79 Letters

  • Iceland

Iceland by Benedict Redgrove

Cover

The cover of CAM 79 captured the civilised scene of Christie Morrallee reading in the Eagle. On the wall behind her are two 19th-century cockfighting prints that took me back to my childhood. After the War, my father bought a fine set in original frames, which didn’t look out of place in an old house in the Lake District. Years later, when I hung them in more sophisticated Clifton, Bristol, they attracted enough adverse criticism for me to give in to political correctness and take them down. Full marks to the Eagle. Sporting prints belong in historic pubs. 

Jonathan Musgrave (Churchill 1965)

Letters

I cannot compete with Michael Kennedy's (Letters, CAM 79) impeccably humble origins! However, I too arrived at Cambridge via a slightly surprising route in my late twenties, complete with wife and three children. I left a Jesuit grammar school without much to show for seven years of indolence. The Metropolitan Police Force kindly gave me some free clothes and a place to live in exchange for wandering the streets of London. Eventually, pressurised by my father-in-law, I decided to sit a few more A Levels. Before I had a chance to fail them, a very kind tutor suggested I applied to Cambridge. To my surprise, King's offered me a place to read History, which I later changed to Law when it was impressed upon me that my wife might like to live in a style to which she was not accustomed. When I asked what grades were needed, a rather puzzled Admissions Tutor explained that they were not interested in such matters!

I spent three happy years at King's, gradually realising that academic progress involved effort.  Any success I have had is entirely due to the opportunity given to me by a system that did not rely, at least in my time, solely on examination results and convention. And, yes dear reader, I did sit those A Levels.

Christopher Ash (King's 1973)

Michael Kennedy's letter on Cambridge's flexible admissions policy (CAM 79) recalled a disheartening and abortive interview I had at the University of Hull in 1959 – and a contrastingly civilised one at Pembroke later the same year. As a 25-year-old fairground worker who left school at 15, I was hoping for a place despite having low formal qualifications. A professor introduced me to my interviewer with a bored, dismissive sigh."This is Gerald Mars. He hasn't even got Maths at O Level. Perhaps you'll look at him?” I wasn't surprised to be refused a place.

A year later, I received a letter from Hull. The professor was researching the fates of applicants interviewed in the previous year. I was delighted to tell him I'd accepted a scholarship at Cambridge.

Gerald Mars (Pembroke 1959)

University matters

In his article on the challenges of Brexit (CAM 79), the Vice-Chancellor states: “We woke up to the news that a majority of the British electorate had voted in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.” One might have hoped that a former head of the Medical Research Council would be rather more rigorous in the use of statistics. Less than 38 per cent of the electorate voted to leave the EU. Passive acceptance of the myth that a majority did so has resulted in the public debate on the important choices now facing the nation becoming a great deal nastier than at any time I can remember in British politics.

Martin Olsson (Clare 1962)

Professor Borysiewicz worries too much. He worries about the "networks of collaboration on which the advancement of world-class science depend". But these existed long before the EU was constituted.

I admire his "commitment to a shared cultural and intellectual heritage”, but why is he being so narrow as to restrict this to Europe? Surely this should be global.

As we "set down the uncharted path towards the UK's exit from the EU", we surely need to recognise that all paths into the future are uncharted and not worry too much about the uncharted nature of this particular one.

When our successors look back to this time 800 years into the future, will they see Brexit as one of the biggest challenges the University ever faced? I doubt it.

Joe Webster (Selwyn 1972)

A Heffers history

It must have been the Michaelmas Term when I first visited Cambridge with my family in 1941 because we brought our Christmas cards at Heffers Stationery Department in Sidney Street, as well as visiting the book shop. My brother was at Catz on a six-month preparatory course after being called up into the Royal Engineers. I remember him taking us to a balcony in a Hall to look down on tables laid with silver and glasses for a ceremonial dinner, and we paddled through a sea of yellow leaves under the now long-gone elms in Queen’s Road. That was the day I decided I wanted to go to Cambridge.

As your contributor says, “a lot of bookshops have come and gone in Cambridge”. I remember returning one night from London in a coach singing to the tune of Frère Jacques: “Bowes and Bowes, Bowes and Bowes and Heffers as well, Heffers as well. Galloway and Porter, Galloway and Porter, Deighton Bell, Deighton Bell!”

Joan Schneider (Girton 1948)

You mentioned in passing Andy’s Records among those aspects of Cambridge that remain forever in the memory. Andy’s was very good and I still have the second-hand John Lee Hooker LPs that I purchased there for 99p ­– they have weathered well.

I also remember Red House Records on St Edward’s Passage, off King’s Parade. It is now a second-hand bookshop, aptly painted red, but during my undergraduate time at Clare in the early 1970s, it was a vital source of vinyl for blues, r’n’b and soul devotees. It was run by Nick who lived upstairs and also taught at what was then the Technical College, having read English at Cambridge. I still remember hearing such blues artists as Little Walter and Muddy Waters coming out of the shop’s speakers, sounding as raw as if we were in a Chicago jook joint. Whenever I return to Clare, I stand outside the shop for a minute in silent tribute to Nick and the spirit of Red House Records.

Andy Edwards (Clare 1973 – and co-founder of the Clare R’n’B Club)

I am delighted with your article on Heffers. How good to see undergraduates reading real books printed on real paper, and not wearing headphones. I am currently reading a book I bought in Cambridge for 4s.6d, and am using a Heffers bookmark.

James Seddon (Trinity 1958)

As ever, I greatly enjoyed the Michaelmas edition of CAM (arriving late in Lisbon, as it always does, due to the vagaries of the diplomatic bag). I particularly enjoyed the piece on Heffers. It brought back fond memories of growing up in Hertfordshire. Every so often, on a Saturday, my parents would take me and my brothers to Cambridge for a sticky bun at Belinda's (another Cambridge institution, now gone I think) and to buy a book at Heffers just across the road. Aside from the new book, our greatest pleasure was to visit the dungeon in the basement, step on the switch under the carpet, and watch the skeletons glow in the UV light.

Peter Abbott (Magdalene 1998)

Your piece says that Heffers' Trinity Street store was “purpose built” in 1970. In fact, the building dates from at least the 19th-century and from 1858, it was occupied by another family firm and Cambridge institution, Matthew and Son, grocers and wine merchants. The firm was taken over in 1849 by my great grandfather John Matthew, [brother of the business’s founder]. He lived above the shop, where my grandfather, Arthur, was born. He inherited the business, as did my father, Bernard Matthew (Clare 1918). He had good links with the University and it was very much an old-fashioned, family grocers, with many customers among the Colleges and Dons. Anyone at Cambridge before the early 1960s will well remember the delicious smell of roasting coffee in Trinity Street emanating from the roaster that my father installed in the shop window. Further down Trinity Street, at number 14, was also Matthew's Café. So the business also fits very well into your category of “University institution”. In 1962 the firm was sold to Harvey's Wine Merchants before finally closing in 1964.

Richard Matthew (Clare 1958)

Misreading the Editor's Letter in the last edition (CAM 79), I thought I would find articles about all the businesses mentioned, and was disappointed not to be able to read more about The Gardenia. I was amazed on a recent return visit to Cambridge to see, on walking along Rose Crescent, that The Gardenia is still there. In my undergraduate days, dining in Hall was not only obligatory, it also made economic sense when having to survive on a local authority grant (how that dates me!). However, the food was somewhat dull and repetitive and included dishes otherwise unknown to gastronomy such as braised celery. Every now and then, I escaped to The Gardenia, where for 3/6 (less than 20p) I could enjoy my favourite – vol-au-vent bolognese with chips and peas.

There is perhaps an article to be written about eating places surviving and also those that have disappeared. On my visit, there was no sign of The Whim on Trinity Street, which I rarely patronised as it tended to be the preserve of Trinity toffs. The Turk's Head was a Berni Inn regarded as sophisticated for offering prawn cocktail as a starter and black forest gateau for dessert. Main course was a choice of wing, leg or half a chicken, the latter, if I recall, a rather pricey 5/- (25p) – a place to be taken to by your parents. That disappeared as part of Trinity's Blue Boar Hostel development. In King Street, now completely transformed, there was a fairly standard "greasy spoon caff", the King Street Corner House, but being Greek-owned, they offered the highly exotic moussaka just one day a week. It was every Friday I think, when we would make a pilgrimage. How eating habits have changed!

Stephen Butcher (Trinity 1964)

In meetings

As a third year at Homerton, I recall bawling my eyes out watching Colin Powell trying to convince the UN Security Council that Iraq should be invaded – it seemed obvious that thousands of people would be killed as a result of going to war. It was, therefore, astonishing to read [CAM 79] that “Blair’s secret deals with Bush in pursuit of regime change in Iraq” was a “pursuit of peace”. The writers of the article failed to acknowledge that the original premise for war was WMD [weapons of mass destruction], not regime change. Also, to write that the war was a “disastrously ill-planned intervention” is to give the impression that mere mistakes were made. No: as Professor Noam Chomsky wrote in 2003, the war was part of a “grand strategy [which] authorises Washington to carry out a ‘preventive war’. Preventive, not pre-emptive. Preventive war is, very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremberg”.

Neil Laurenson (Homerton 2001)

Your picture caption states that the 1986 Reykjavik Summit “collapsed”. On the contrary, US President Reagan stood his ground and told the General Secretary that the United States would not discontinue the Strategic Defense Initiative as pressed by the General Secretary. The Reagan firmness on this issue was ultimately a major reason for the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Harry Marshall (Churchill 1965)

What a hypocrite!

I don't think we should follow Matthew Parris in his interpretation of David Hume (CAM 79).  Rather than saying that “we must separate thought from action”, Hume is surely, in the famous passage which Parris quotes, pointing to the pitfalls that await those who fancy that reason ought to be able to settle our doubts and guide our speculations. Hume's whole project in the Treatise can be seen as one of putting reason in its place. Once we realise that the source of many of our most deeply held beliefs and attitudes is not in ratiocination, but in our pre-rational human nature, then (thinks Hume) we can attain an honest view of those beliefs and attitudes. “Rational thought” neither can, nor should, dislodge these. (The passage from Hume sounds like an autobiography, but that is surely the sort of literary device so characteristic of him.) Parris writes in favour of “allowing our moral or philosophical reasoning to float above the way we feel we should actually live our lives”. But Hume would think it neither possible nor desirable to let our “moral reasoning” float free in that way. The thinkers who say they are doing this all too often embrace inhuman ideals.

Roger Teichmann (Trinity Hall 1982)

Matthew Parris (CAM 79) attempts a dangerous and confused defence of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, he confounds philosophical speculation with moral judgment. The value of the former is open to debate; the latter should always be defended in any civilisation worthy of the name. None of us is perfect, but the creative tension that Matthew Parris mentions surely comes not from a facile acceptance of hypocritical immorality, but from the noble struggle to live ‘a good life’. The deepest personal satisfaction and widest social benefit are achieved when we strive in all our actions, both public and private, to leave the world a better place than when we found it.

Daryl Tayar (Jesus 1985)

What a hypocrite! and the space of possible minds

CS Lewis’s collection of ethical essays, Present Concerns, has something to say about two of the features in CAM.

In The Empty Universe, Lewis suggests that David Hume is the “great ancestor” of a movement of thought that has ended with the conviction that: “The subject is as empty as the object. Almost nobody has been making linguistic mistakes about almost nothing. By and large, this is the only thing that has ever happened.”  Lewis agrees with Parris about the separation that exists “between how we think and act in the course of daily life, and where our minds may take us when we give ourselves over to philosophical contemplation”. But whereas Parris regards this as “a creative thing”, Lewis identifies it as a clear signal that a wrong philosophical step has been taken somewhere along the line.

I suspect that the quote, about robot minds, which ends The Space Of Possible Minds comes from a naturalistic world view. Lewis’s essay On Living In An Atomic Age contains an abbreviated version of his Argument from Reason To Refute Naturalism. Despite the erudite criticisms of some philosophers this argument remains convincing. The sense of absolute certainty we all feel when we work through the proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem – that it is true for all right-angled triangles ­– cannot be wholly accounted for by cerebral physical and chemical events alone. This knock-out blow to naturalism leaves theism the last man standing in the punch-up of world views.

Philip Almond (Downing 1964)

Soundtrack

Reading CAM 79 aroused two very happy memories of my modest acting career at Cambridge. The article about Jesus Chapel reminded me of my first term, Michaelmas 1955, when I played Mary in the Jesus Miracle Plays, in that beautiful setting. As well as playing Mary, I helped with the make-up! I made many of my first friends at Jesus, and we had regular Sunday lunch gatherings there, when we cooked omelettes.

In the Lent Term 1956, I was thrilled to be cast in the chorus of the Greek play The Bacchae. I think it was the first time that a female chorus had actually been played by women. Like Philip Pendered (Letters, CAM 79) I found the experience a highlight of my undergraduate days, and fortunately I realised at the time just how special it was. The play was directed by Alan Ker, and the leader of the chorus was Pat Fairfax, later, as Pat Easterling, who was to become Regius Professor of Greek. The chorus were taught to use sprechgesang for the words, and had patterns of movement and mime, rather than dancing.

At one late rehearsal in the Arts Theatre, one character forgot a line. A prompt came from the darkness of the stalls, the voice of Professor Denys Page, a Vice-Chairman of the Greek Play Committee. The story promptly went round the cast that Professor Page, who was much loved and admired, knew the whole of The Bacchae off by heart. When challenged about this, he admitted he didn't know the whole play, "But I did know that bit!"

Mr and Mrs Ker gave a party for the cast in their house. Any non-classicist must know that the climax of The Bacchae is when the king, Pentheus, is torn to pieces by his crazed mother, Agave, and her fellow Bacchants, and then Agave's father gently brings her to a realisation of what she has done. Mrs Ker had made a cake for the occasion, decorated with little paper pine trees and the limbs of Pentheus, in marzipan! And, as a party piece, Professor Page spoke the final dialogue, in Greek, using the tiny marzipan head, on a cocktail stick, as a prop!

Anne Mathews (nee Wilcock Newnham 1955)

University Library

I was intrigued by the references in CAM 79 to the University Library tower. They were explained by a pre-Christmas clearout of a pile of papers, revealing CAM 78 waiting to be read.

It seems the Upper Library, where the non-academic Copyright Deposit books are stored, has changed in the past 60 years. Its catalogue used to be available in dozens of small loose-leaf binders alongside the more impressive academic catalogue.

In 1955, the final book of The Lord Of The Rings had just been published, I was given all three as 21st birthday presents, and I found the story referred back to The Hobbit. Having never heard of that, I looked it up in the catalogue, and ordered it. I was surprised to be told I couldn't have it there and then, but it would be available next day. It was, and I read it.

Later, I learned that the library staff were allowed to borrow from the Upper Library with one day's notice; if a reader asked for the book, they had to bring it back the next day. So some Cambridge child's bedtime story was disrupted by me.

As for the pornography, that was in class 'Arc' ("Enquire in Anderson"). A friend reading English asked for some 18th-century work, and was told he needed his tutor's permission.

Alan Hakim (King's 1953)

In 1950, I was a graduate student of Sir Denys Wilkinson, whose hobby was ornithology. Being the tallest building in Cambridge, Denys wished to release Shearwaters from the Library’s tower. These birds are famous for their homing instincts and immense wingspan – a metre or more.

The top of the tower has a square area to stand on, but from there, as anyone can see, the roof slopes outward. Denys released the first two birds, and we followed the direction in which they flew with binoculars. However, the third bird simply dropped out of sight. The thought of a large dead seabird outside the front door of the library did not appeal to us, so Denys threw the next bird up from the centre of the tower top. All went well, but the bird after that also collapsed on the floor. Denys threw it up again ­– but – bump. Our conclusion was to put the bird back in the box and return it to North Wales where it came from and Denys took it back to his lab in the Cavendish. However, that night, the bird escaped from its box, and started wandering the corridors. The porter, while making his rounds, came across this gigantic bird walking along at about two in the morning, much to his surprise.

Denys had a droll sense of humour, as witness the two lantern slides he developed. In those days we used large square glass slides. One slide had a plot with an inscription in Chinese. Since there were eight different ways this slide could be projected, this gave much latitude for upsetting the projectionist. The second slide had a theoretical curve firmly attached. Several images of experimental points were stuck to the slide with wax. On projecting this slide, the wax slowly melted, and the points drifted along the slide onto the curve.

Ronald Edge (Queens’ 1947)

Feedback

Hooray for the new format written on an off-white background and in a typeface that anyone over the age of 40 can read! Really enjoyed the Heffers article, but what were those students reading? Also found interesting Shelfie with Dr Suchitra Sebastian – what a great Christmas gift list.

Anna Bacon (Emmanuel 1981)

CAM 79 is totally brilliant! Fascinating, especially the My Room, Your Room piece, which is very moving – along with the Heffers history piece, which brought back wonderful memories. Thank you and very well done.

Neil Calver (Christ’s 1983)

Many thanks for the latest issue of CAM. Lots of thoughtful articles as well as the regular columns. I also like the fresh look of the magazine.

John Gamlin (Fitzwilliam 1958)

Our readers write…

I should have sent this in at the beginning of the year in time for the 60th anniversary, but I had forgotten about it until a recent conversation reminded me. Older graduates will remember that in the 1940s and 1950s, British Railways (BR) carried first and third class passengers, having abolished second class long before. Meanwhile, continental railways still had first, second and third. In 1956, they announced the abolition of third class, so BR decided to fall into line.

As a result, somebody at Cambridge found an official BR notice saying, "As from May 1956, third class will be reclassified as second class," and pinned it up next to the Tripos Class Lists outside the Senate House. Very comforting to third class graduates; an early example of grade inflation?

Alan Hakim (King’s 1953)