CAM 74 letters

CAM 74 letters

  • Detail from the cover of CAM 74
    Cover detail from CAM 74

We received a tremendous response to CAM 74, particularly to the article Pulling together discussing the history of women's rowing at Cambridge. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write to us.

University matters

What does the stream of jargon in Graham Virgo’s article (CAM, Lent 2015) tell us of postmodern Cambridge’s preoccupations? “Policy and strategy”, “excellence in teaching and learning”, “enhance provision/learning experience/student experience”, “full-scale review”, “deliver an educational experience” etc. Do any of these modish phrases mean anything?

Aren’t they just expressions of the poverty of public discourse? The big metanarratives on offer in my time at Cambridge were Marxism and Christianity, the first now discredited, the other marginalised. Now it seems that busy academia has withdrawn into interesting but obscure specialisms lacking any linking narrative and overlaid with management jargon. They are, like life, the human race and the universe, without ultimate purpose, meaning or value. The aim is for Cambridge to remain “a global leader in education”. Why? So what? Till when?

The ultimate aspirations have diminished also — the grand Judaeo–Christian themes of sacrificial love and wisdom, the moral and the spiritual aspects of life, have dwindled away to “physical and mental wellbeing” and a fundamentally self–interested consumerist survival mode. After all, science tells us that all altruism is merely a subtle manifestation of the overriding biological imperative to survival of the fittest. Our profoundest thoughts and emotions are just chemical reactions in our brains.

Will CAM publish this? Probably not because following such thoughts to their ultimate conclusion (inter alia Nietzsche), is too uncomfortable these days; as is any suggestion that we should revisit Karl Marx or Jesus Christ.

Alastair Bates (Trinity 1971)

Pulling together

I have just come across the article about women on the Tideway in CAM 74, which I read with interest and not a little nostalgia.

I joined the Newnham and Girton Boat Club, as I think it was already called, when I arrived at Newnham in the autumn of 1941.

I rowed at number two for my first year, but hadn’t really got the physique for rowing as such, and in my second year became cox of the second boat and in my third year coxed the first eight.

The only race we rowed against Oxford, as far as I can remember, for some reason took place at Reading, where we stayed overnight.

That was in 1944, and I think we took our blades with us, but I don’t know what we did for a boat. Our coach was from the Jesus second eight.

I enclose a photograph of our crew, taken at around that time. We bought blue scarves for ourselves for this occasion, whether legitimately or not, and I acquired some kind of cap as well.

Barbara Kay (née Hopkins) (Newnham 1941)

I was interested in your articles and letters on women’s rowing at Cambridge.

My father always told the story of his experience as a rower at Emmanuel in the early 1920s when his sister rowed at Newnham.

A friend approached him, wanting my father’s sister to introduce him to the number four in the Newnham boat because “she pulled such a stout oar and he wishes to commit matrimony with her”.

They did marry and lived happily ever after, he said.

Michael L Richardson (Emmanuel 1952)

Thank you very much for your interesting and detailed article on the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. I rowed in the club for one year from October 1954. At that time there were 16 girls plus the cox, so we had two boats. As a beginner, I was in the second boat. Of course it is 60 years ago and I didn’t keep a diary, but my recollection is that the first boat did go off to race some other boat, and I thought it was Oxford.

My boat only rowed a crew of coxes. At the beginning of every term we had a basic medical, heart, lungs and hernias. I always wonder what the doctor thought when faced with 16 scantily clad girls!

Pamela Pentelow (née Chick) (Newnham 1954)

I was pleased to receive, as always, the most recent edition of CAM, which I read with interest. However the article about the women’s boat race ‘Pulling together’ contains an inaccuracy. The article includes the following: “The fixture fell into abeyance until it was revived by a pair of engineering students in 1964, but not everyone at the University was ready to hail its return. The captain of Selwyn Boat Club wrote to CUWBC: ‘I personally do not approve of women rowing at all. It is a ghastly sight, an anatomical impossibility and physiologically dangerous.’”

This seems to indicate that the Captain of Selwyn Boat Club in 1964 wrote that letter. I was captain of Selwyn Boat Club in 1963–1964. I did not write that letter, nor did I identify with its sentiments. Indeed currently I feel that in 2012 the British Olympic men’s crews could have learnt much from the British women about how to row effectively.

The matter is of no great importance, but the excerpt from the article does not reflect my views on the matter.

Martin Brown (Selwyn 1960)

In a recent edition of the Cambridge e-newsletter there was a leading article urging alumni to “Show your Light Blue colours at the Boat Races Saturday, 11 April”.

I found this particularly interesting as for many years I have been trying in vain to find Cambridge University sweatshirts, T-shirts, polo shirts or baseball caps in University colours.

The University has partnered with an apparel company called GWCC to design, manufacture and sell all official University of Cambridge apparel. These organisations between them have seemingly decided that no items of apparel are to be offered in Cambridge University Light Blue colours. This appears to be a totally unacceptable situation and one in which the university authorities should intervene with a mandate that a full range of apparel in Cambridge University colours should always be included in the officially approved apparel items.

Meanwhile, perhaps the e-newsletter writer of the Boat Race article could lend a hand in making their advice possible for alumni to respond to.

Phil Coates (St John’s 1958)

Rot stopped

I found the article ‘Rot Stopped’ in your Lent 2015 issue most interesting.

However, I was surprised that no mention was made of the recent remarkable achievement of a mainly French team of divers and archaeologists in raising a complete Roman barge from the silt at the bottom of the Rhône at Arles.

Various preservation techniques were used. The barge was sectioned so that it could be raised from the river and the wood was injected with a special chemical and then bombarded with radioactivity. The complete 30m barge, with cargo, is now on display in the excellent Antiquities Museum in Arles.

More information is available on the internet by searching for the term “Arles Rhône 3”.

John B Macmillan (Emmanuel 1958)

Beyond number

Thanks for your wonderful publication; it is great to keep up with the latest news! In this issue’s article on maths, the sum on the board 1+2+3+4+… Should really equal -1/12, a negative number. Perhaps this explains why the infinite sign collapsed from the ceiling!

Pierre Jouet (Emmanuel 2004)

In his article (CAM 74) Professor Barrow considers mathematical and actual infinities. The actual infinities are the predictions of a theory. If he considers the assumption made in section three of ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’ (Einstein 1905), and makes a different assumption, he may be able to resolve the infinity problem, calculate the size of the universe and remove the need for rubber trampolines and balloons.

What a relief that would be.

Kenneth Barnsley (Trinity 1970)

A poet’s field guide

I wanted to say how much I enjoyed Robert Macfarlane’s piece ‘A Poet’s Field Guide’ in the Lent edition of CAM — in particular my introduction to the word ‘horizontigo’ which describes perfectly the sensation I, and many others, used to experience when turning round at the start of a race at Henley and seeing if you can see the finish!

David Maxwell (Jesus 1970)

I really enjoyed reading Robert Macfarlane’s article ‘A Poet’s Field Guide’ (CAM, Lent 2015). Noting his comment that new words are appearing all the time I'd like to offer a few suggestions:

Greenshok — the condition of suddenly finding oneself underwater, normally as a result of falling off a punt.

Prunnkshh — the sound of one bicycle hitting another.

Clicgabbel — a group of tourists blocking the pavement.

Grumblechill — the atmosphere in a supervisor’s rooms when the students haven’t prepared. Well.

Professor David Taylor (Queens’ 1974)

With reference to Robert Macfarlane’s illuminating article on place words, I entirely sympathise with his contemporary students prefixing Cambridge’s Baltic weather with “an unrepeatable intensifier”.

Cycling up Regent Street without gloves into a freezing January headwind some 35 years ago, I could have done with all the intensifiers money could buy.

Justin Milward (Queens' 1976)

Living here in Alberta with Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the east, Macfarlane’s addition of “horizontigo” had some appeal in the lands of endless flat horizons.

Andrew H Brown (St John's 1960)

Teaching lesson

About 50 years ago, shortly after coming down, I mentioned to my former moral tutor that I was now happily teaching in a state primary school. He asked “What’s a primary school?” At that time there was animus in the University both towards both the advanced study of education and towards graduates considering teaching in state primary schools.

Half a century later, I am delighted that the University has a thriving school of education with considerable expertise in primary education, has established the new University of Cambridge Primary School and has three Cambridge–educated primary school teachers featured in the Lent 2015 issue of Cam.

Professor Colin Richards (Pembroke 1961)

A sporting life - Hares and Hounds

The Boundary Run is described as the Hare and Hounds’ calling card (A sporting life, CAM 74). At one time the Boundary Run was a unique race: 25 miles over a mixture of farm tracks, field edges, footpaths and a bit of road. Then Marathon Fever hit Britain, and in 1982 it was decided to change it to a standard marathon distance, all on road: just another marathon, like those springing up all round the country.

As a rather average cross–country runner, who just got into the third team for the Varsity Match, I amazed myself with fifth place in the 1980 Boundary Run on the old route. In 1982, I refused to even enter the race. “The road to injury is paved” — Adam Chase.

Anthony Kay (Clare 1979)

Gyp room gourmands

As pointed out in a letter in your last edition, austerity got worse after the war. I understand that during part of that time the food at Queens’ got particularly bad. Apparently one evening in Hall it reached rock bottom. When everyone at last put down their knives and forks after the main course, the diner at the end of one of the tables looked down at the row of plates and is reputed to have said: “It is easy to see who has been to a public school!”

Bob King (Queens’ 1940)

Not necessarily student, not necessarily supper, but somehow very indicative of academic–life priorities. A very long time ago, I picked up a piece of paper that threatened to cause an accident on already slippery stairs at CUED.

It was a neatly-written shopping list: Weetabix, grapefruit, whisky, beer.

Ken Warner (Clare 1987)

Exam nightmares

Your correspondents who suffer exam nightmares should be grateful that they have progressed as far as Tripos Part II. I have yet to get beyond A levels, which I invariably approach without having read any of the set books.

Anthony Keefe (Gonville and Caius 1968)

Cambridge connections

Thank you for a celebration of poetry in your recent issue in various ways.

I very much enjoyed, for example, seeing the Clare Chapel ceiling as reflected in a mirror at the feet of First Year Modern and Medieval Languages student, Millie Brierley, her mind seeming to race and heart to beat faster, as she evidently enjoys the opportunity of describing for CAM the sense of place, privilege and, even, belonging that is familiar to anybody who has stood to listen, expectantly, in a setting so beautiful.

I like the way you have in this issue amusingly and thought–provokingly established spatial and emotional connections in the dialogue which is going on in your pages involving fellows and students, past and present. Also wonderful and reassuring is the idea that far from losing words, children are still capable of making new ones up, when experience demands it.

Barnaby Lockyer (Emmanuel 1974)

Following the publication of a letter from June McNicol in CAM 74, I contacted her as she was a Leeds Girls’ High School friend of my later mother. She said she thought that she thought it would be interesting if Cambridge captured wartime experiences from alumni while they are still around. Now with Skype and other online tools it is possible to take oral histories of alumni, as we have done in the case of Professor Maurice Wilkes at the Computer History Museum. Is anyone, for example the Fitzwilliam Museum, archiving histories from former students?

Angela Hey (Girton 1972)