CAM 73 letters

CAM 73 letters

  • Detail from the cover of CAM 73
    Cover detail from CAM 73

We have published here the full text of some letters which had been edited for the print edition.

CAM and Cambridge life

Suggested topics (of wide interest, but not covered well elsewhere): mental illness [and] how can we as a society prevent it; brain research generally.

Adrian Stott (Jesus 1980)

Although it is interesting to read about 'successful' Cambridge alumni, I would like to suggest that you begin a regular feature on the more 'ordinary' lives of graduates – people who have lived their lives quietly, out of the spotlight. They may have spent/be spending their lives in non-spectacular jobs, they may not have reached the top of their profession, they may have faced personal challenges, like sacrificing years to care for an elderly relative and so on. As the majority of Cambridge graduates must fall into this category, it would be nice to read about them.

A focus on so-called success stories of people who have become directors, chief executives, famous musicians, actors and so on gives an unwarranted priority to the lives of those who have sought this 'male' pattern of public achievement and recognition (often, I imagine, at great cost to their families). Note: I am not asking that you profile me and my little life (perish the thought).

Rosalind Beck (King's, 1984)

The thrashing of Cambridge by Oxford by 43 points to 6 in the recent Varsity Match completes a sequence of five consecutive Oxford victories. This suggests that there is now clear blue water between the admissions policies of the two universities: Cambridge is clearly applying rigorous academic criteria when choosing students whereas, we may with reason speculate, Oxford is prepared to take into account outstanding ability in major sports when selecting students.

I submit that students who offer excellence in sports, music and the arts in addition to academic strength enrich their university. Perhaps those “all-rounders” have already discerned that their chances of admission to Oxford are higher than at tunnel-visioned Cambridge.

Adrian Crisp (Magdalene 1968)

I enjoy reading about subjects I am not familiar with in the user-friendly style adopted by most of your contributors. I have just one niggle, which I have been meaning to mention for a long time, and that is the width of the magazine, which makes it difficult to slot in with the other magazines in the pile of ‘waiting to be read’ items. It may seem a small matter, but is actually quite annoying! Anyway the trend is to go smaller – e.g. the Corpus magazine.

David Shacklock (Corpus 1957)

This is to acknowledge, with thanks, receipt of the Cambridge Alumni Magazine Issue 73 Michaelmas 2014.

It is heart-warming to know that an overseas person like me who did a year’s post-graduate course back in 1962 is still remembered by the University.  During that year I was resident in St Catharine’s College. Hope you can read my hand-trembling writing.  Last but not least, best wishes of the season and happy new year.

Tat Lai Cheng (St Catharine’s 1963)

(by postcard from Hong Kong)

Gyp room gourmands

After arriving for our first term at Cambridge, a friend and I decided to cook our Sunday lunch but, lacking a pot, we boiled the spaghetti in a kettle. Not only did it stick to the inside of the kettle (and burn), but we were unable to get much of it out through the lid. For the remainder of our three years, we ate out every Sunday for lunch!

David Lester (St John's 1961)

Thank you so much for this lovely article! It brought back fond memories. My always hard-working French housemate Fred regularly returned from the Cavendish around midnight, starving, having toiled in the lab all day. This would invariably lead to such culinary gems as frozen pizza with an extra layer of ketchup, topped with chunks of cream cheese. Maximum food throughput per time unit, so to speak. Those were the days!

Christian Kreibich (Hughes Hall 2002)

Your article revived memories I hadn't visited for decades. I went [up] in 1944 when the country was in the grip of austerity. After the war, things got much worse. Nevertheless, some friends and I decided to put on a Christmas party in the Michaelmas term, 1946, to which each could invite a male friend. It was to be held in my room in Peile (it was the largest) and in the afternoon because the thought of booking in several male students, collecting them individually at the porter's gate after Hall and booking them out before 10pm was too horrendous to contemplate.

I was to make the trifle, which I had some vague ideas about, but had no equipment. From memory, what is now termed the gyp room contained an ironing board, an electric iron with meter, a large fierce gas ring with meter, a sink and several brooms and dustpans.

As I had no saucepan, I bought one made of very thin tinplate at the Cambridge Market –- all our aluminium ones had gone to make Spitfires. I mixed up the custard using custard powder, dried milk and saccharine – the only ingredients that weren't rationed – and cooked it on the fierce gas ring, stirring madly with a small spoon, then filled it with bits of a sponge cake from Fitzbillies.

I cannot say the party was a success. None of the men knew each other; conversation was strained, little games we had thought up fell flat, but the worst was the food. I looked at all those grimacing faces eating my trifle, so took some myself – it was burnt! The guests manfully downed their serves without comment and as soon as possible made a hasty retreat. After 70 years I can still recall the taste of that custard!

I learned a lot of useful things at Cambridge, and one of them was how not to give a successful party.

June McNicol neé Taylor (Newnham 1944)

The girlfriend of a fellow American living with me in Grange Road digs returned from shopping one afternoon. She put one [shopping] bag in the shared fridge in the hall and the other went into my friend's room. 

Hours later there was a wild shriek from the house woman (she was a wee bit nosey) horrified to have found alluring silk underwear together with a box of lady's unmentionables chilling in the fridge. Oops. The other bag – containing butter and cheese – intended for the fridge, had ended up in my friend’s room.

As Yanks, we were already under extreme suspicion for deviant and inexplicable behaviour. I had already been admonished for offloading numerous chairs from my room into the hallway: "But how will you have your friends to tea?” she asked. My friends were all very tall rowers, I was in the third floor garret under the eaves, and had no idea that serving tea was obligatory to such manly men in so tiny a room.

On another occasion, after a hearty hunt through Chiver's orchards with the Trinity Foot Beagles, I returned with apples and put them on the fire escape to keep cool outside. More odd behaviour from the colonists was just too much. Apples on the fire escape? She shook her fist at me from the garden below.

A lead balloon and that woman's welcome would have made a very nice afternoon pairing.

Soon moved into Cripps.

Gardner A Cadwalader (St John’s 1972) 

Dear CAM,

In my final year at Robinson, I, and three like-minded young men, occupied the top floor of a college-owned house on Adams Road with our own kitchen. One of us was quite a talented cook, and the other three acted as grateful beneficiaries and dedicated dishwashers. In early February, however, one of the latter group, struck by culinary invention and a desire for reciprocity, declared he would be cooking our Sunday meal. He produced the most disgusting, inedible casserole/stew/mess we’d ever been served, and under pressure revealed that the main ingredient was Sainsbury’s Vegetarian Haggis––on special offer following Burns Night. His name for this dish was, presciently, Scottish Independence.

Brandon Green (Robinson 2005)

Your article served to remind me of my six-month's stay in Gonville & Caius College in 1943 when I was a member of the University Air Squadron, preparing for aircrew service with the RAF. We seemed forever hungry! Food was severely rationed and quantities limited. After early morning exercises on Trinity backs, breakfast was welcome but meagre. Mid-morning coffee and biscuits between lectures kept us going until diving into the local British Restaurant for as much bulk as possible. Then back to college for lunch! Military training in the pm only served to increase appetites for the evening meal, followed by coffee or pub crawl and the hope of further nibbles. On returning to the University in 1947 after Bomber Command duties, the situation – while rationing was still in place – was  rather easier and college meals were sufficient to permit rowing and cross-country running without a sense of famine!

Barry Floyd (Caius 1943) 

Who needs Michelin stars? Nothing can beat toast, made on a gas fire, with a bent coat-hanger as a toasting fork.


Andrew Stilton (Trinity Hall 1975) 

On reading of the exploits of gyp-room chefs all over Cambridge I feel that the time has come to reveal the secret of that al fresco delicacy known to all of my contemporaries in the Tankies, aka the Royal Armoured Corps Wing of the CUOTC, as the RAC Sandwich.

To prepare, take one weekend exercise, one Ferret armoured scout car, one petrol stove, a pack of streaky bacon, a dozen large eggs, lard, a large sliced loaf, a frying pan, a generous length of half inch bore clear plastic tubing and a small packet of boiled sweets. Inserting one end of the tube into the Ferret’s petrol tank and the other into your mouth, suck, pinch the tube, take it out of your mouth and lower it to create a siphon action in order to top up the stove which may now be lit and the ingredients, with the exception of the boiled sweets, be added to the frying pan in the manner traditional.

Meanwhile hungry comrades will be lining up in the drizzle for the feast. Having first, like good cavalrymen, checked on their mounts’ fuel, oil and coolant, the drivers’ hands will now be nicely coated with dirt and lubricant.  No soap, water or towel being available, present your hand palm uppermost to the troop sarn’t who will place upon it one slice of bread.  Under no circumstances move the supporting fingers or five oily fingerprints will become ten, etc. as rashers of bacon and a fried egg are delicately placed upon the bread and topped with a second slice, and try not to dissolve into hysterics at a comrade who is serenading the queue by playing a length of bacon rind after the manner of Larry Adler. Consume with as much dignity as possible under the circumstances, sans cutlery; only Other Ranks carry such things.

What was that? The boiled sweets? Well, some of us were better at siphoning petrol than others…

David Page (Trinity Hall 1966) 

The recipe offered by Mark Pallis (a starter of Branston flavoured baked beans, followed by chicken à la Kia Ora) would have delighted my father (JWJoyce, Peterhouse 1905), as it has delighted me (Jesus, ’47). In 1922 my father was the Crosse & Blackwell Branston Factory Manager, where he was said to have invented Branston Pickle; by the 1930s he had become the managing director of Kia Ora, manufacturer of the well-known orange-juice drink.

Dr Charles R Joyce (Jesus 1947)

My Room, Your Room

My room, your room article brought back many happy memories of time spent in Mike Gibson's company. I watched him represent Ireland many times and was fortunate to be able to follow the 1977 Lions tour of New Zealand. In those days the players were not isolated from their supporters and as I stayed in the same hotel as the players and knew two of them I was invited into the team room or dining room. On one occasion I was given a severe telling off by John Dawes for keeping some of the players up too late in the bar. Not that they needed much encouragement! 

As well as being a great attacking centre Mike was a charismatic individual with a rapier-like wit and great sense of humour. It was a privilege to spend time with him and it is good to see that he has continued his links with Cambridge

David McKenzie (Fitzwilliam 1967)

Cambridge Soundtrack

Sara Mohr-Pietsch is mistaken in her assertion that she "was in the last year of [music] students to sit a Finals fugue exam before they scrapped it." I'm sure I can't be the only person from my year group with genuinely fond memories of the (compulsory) Part II Fugue paper. I believe, though, that it may have been made optional for subsequent cohorts; can anyone confirm or refute this?

Karen How (Girton 1999)

Mohr-Pietsch (CAM 73, p.45) asserts that she was in the last cohort of undergraduates to undertake the 'Finals fugue exam' before it was 'scrapped'. It is true that, with effect from 2004, the paper ceased to be compulsory for candidates sitting the examination for Part II of the Music Tripos, because it was deemed 'an unrealistic requirement considering the level at which students enter the programme' (Cambridge University Reporter Issue 5846 of 16/05/2001). However, it has continued to be available as an option (with the length of the paper increased from three hours to four hours) for those of us wanting to take the ultimate test in imaginatively reconciling the strictures and demands of taste, voice leading, and contrapuntal possibilities (in fact, it was the reason why I wanted to study at Cambridge). For me, it was an immensely locupletative education in tempering the temptation to indiscriminately follow every opportunity for canonic imitation, invertibility, or chromatic inflection with the discernment to see when following such temptation may be liable to eliciting a musically unsatisfactory result, no matter how clever the artifice. Alas, looking at this year's issue of the Statutes and Ordinances, I fear the paper may not have survived the latest Tripos reform.

Sasha Valeri Millwood (Girton 2010)

May Balls

The King's Banana (1973) achieved popularity beyond the walls of King's. I and some friends at Christ's, not in sympathy with the May Ball ethos, saw the adverts for the Banana, and happily bought tickets for it.

The cost was closer to our budget, the dress code (none) closer to our inclination, and the music was more to our taste. I went along feeling comfortable in my black crushed velvet flares. Ah, the 70s!

I only remember two of the bands that were on: The Keefe Hartley Band, led by its drummer, Keefe, who had a very strong singing voice, and Arthur Brown (I can't remember if he was billed as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown or not). I think he injured his hand on electric cables coming from the makeshift stage, and reappeared with bandaged hands. I don't remember any naked flames being used when he sang "Fire", but that was probably just as well in a marquee....

David Hall (Christ's 1970)

Alumni Groups

Thank you for news of new Alumni groups from Armenia to Egypt. Little may you realise just what sturdy oak trees grow from such little acorns. Many years ago after graduating from Trinity, my first job was with the Penang Branch of Shell in Malaya, having previously served with the Suffolk Regiment in Malaya during my National Service. Newly married, on first tour, armed with a new cine camera and a Cantab historian's urge to record everything in my new life I took and recorded countless scenes of Penang and North Malaya at the time of Merdeka in 1957-59, and wrote an unpublished book about the state of Kedah at that time.

Last year, thanks to CAM, I made contact with Louise Goss-Gustard who runs the Oxbridge Society of Penang and North Malaya who took up my material with the Penang Heritage Trust, the Penang State Museum, and the Penang State Library as well as with the local Oxbridge Alumni Association.

There is now developing interest in Penang in the kind of lives expatriates like us used to lead in the last days of Empire. Louise and the Penang Heritage Trust would very much like to hear from any of your readers who have similar recollections of life in Malaya as it was before Merdeka. Contact Louise on

Martin Knowles (Trinity 1953)

Reading Minds

In her article in CAM 73, Lucy Jolin touches on a number of much-disputed aspects of silent reading with understanding.

1) Neuroscience may in due course unlock some of the secrets, but its day seems not yet, for two reasons. First, there are those who, unlike Matt Davis, do think that reading has a ‘hot spot’, namely the left occipito-temporal or visual word-form area (see S. Dehaene, Reading in the Brain, 2009). Secondly, there is the chicken-and-egg problem: the functioning and storage in our brains necessarily represent our experiences and learning, so any differences between the brains of more and less fluent readers are the result of that, and cannot be used to infer initial states. In at least two studies (for references see Mareschal et al., Educational Neuroscience, 2013/14, p.193) event-related potentials were measured in babies with a family history of dyslexia and compared with those of babies with no dyslexic relatives. Responses to speech sounds were positively correlated to reading ability several years later – but was this innate, or at least partly due to being brought up in families with or without a history of dyslexia?

2) Next, the reference to lexical and sub-lexical processes in reading conflates two hypotheses. ‘Dual-route’ theories do postulate that we can read words aloud either by comprehending them and thus accessing their stored phonology, or by assembling their pronunciations by serial letter-to-sound conversion (and yes, the latter is the way most, but not all, children are taught to read). But a separate issue is whether, when we read silently with understanding, we necessarily or sometimes convert the visual input into an internal equivalent of speech or hearing in order to comprehend the meaning of individual words – this question of pre-lexical phonological coding in silent reading was the topic of my PhD (University of Leeds, 1985). I found no evidence that compelled the conclusion that pre-lexical phonological coding occurs, and have seen none in the 30 years since – which does not of course prove that it doesn’t occur, only that this has not yet been convincingly demonstrated.

3) Then, when you read silently, do you hear a voice in your head and, if so, whose is it? I suspect most people would say ‘My own’, but when the psycholinguist Roger Brown (1970, in Levin and Williams, Basic Studies on Reading) was reading the chapter in that volume by Bowers, he experienced a transient effect of ‘hearing’ Bower’s strong Scots accent, distinctively different from his own American one.

4) ‘So texts are not simply transparent bearers of content.’ Bertrand Russell’s reaction on reading Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logicophilosophicus was to berate his own naivety in having thought, for the first 40 years of his life, precisely that language was a transparent medium for referring to the world.

Greg Brooks (Trinity 1963)

Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Sheffield

Don’s Diary

As a vet, I am more familiar with the 'I' in 'AI' referring to insemination rather than intelligence. Nonetheless, I believe there is a solution to Dr Mateja Jamnik's domino question. Surely tipping a big enough pile of dominoes onto a board would cover it. (No computer required.)

Julian Drewe (Magdalene 2005)

Exam Nightmares

'Exam nightmare' or not, my fellow student, Freddy Fritz, wrote the following 'Lines on a Cambridge Tripos Paper' in 1971:

'Three hours to answer four questions.

Three years to answer none.'

He is now a well-established poet in his native Germany.

Patrick Ainley (Selwyn 1971) with permission from Herr Fritz (Selwyn 1967)

When I attended my history exam in 1963, I went in with my morning post and some apples. After reading my letters and eating the apples I wrote, “It is a rainy day, it is a rainy day, it is a rainy day…” I cannot remember whether it was raining or not. I don’t think I was awarded a pass. I do suggest in these circumstances the examiners might consider recommending the student should see a psychiatrist. A month later I was receiving electric shock treatment in the Priory Roehampton, but it was a close shave that I survived that long.

Joe Tatton-Brown (King’s 1961)