CAM 76 Letters

CAM 76 Letters

  • Cover detail from CAM 76
    Cover detail from CAM 76

Don’s diary

Dr James Clackson tells us (Don’s Diary CAM 76) he was late in on Monday morning because he had taken time deciding the right colour of his kitchen. He goes on to tell us that he is colour-blind and that most shades look vaguely off-white to him.

However, he further tells us that his wife assured him that he had chosen pink. Had he simply asked his wife to chose the colour, would he not have been able to arrive at his office on time?

Donald MacBean (Christ's 1958)

I read with amusement Dr Clarkson's report on Welsh mistranslations (CAM 76). I have another to add to his list that readers might appreciate.

When Tesco opened its new Express shop in Aberystwyth in October 2014, it provided a free cash machine on the outside wall with a helpful notice: “Free cash withdrawals”. Unfortunately, in Welsh the notice was rendered as "Codiad am ddim" – which roughly translates as "Free erections".

While not quite a case of mistranslation, I was also amused a few years ago by a notice in the window of a butcher's shop in the West Wales market town of Machynlleth, which read:

 "All our meat is vegetarian". Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph it before the hapless proprietor had succumbed to the advice of patrons and scribbled below it: "They all eat grass!".

Tony Jones (Clare 1967)

Dr Clackson's short piece in CAM (Issue 76) grabbed my attention, as Romance Philology was my bent from 1972-1974. And I was surprised (though not really, given the shortness of the article) by his not mentioning stress.

For example, the r in Fr. encre and It inchiostro. The root is the Greek ένκαυστον, adopted into Late Latin in the form encaustum – stressed on the first syllable, and with no r; in fact the Old French enque still had no r. This dictionary definition of ink  gives some background. Why the changes?  I don't think anyone knows for sure; they certainly didn't at the time of the lecture in which Joe Cremona suggested the following possibility:

...Writing with ink was something that was done – predominantly, at the time – in monasteries. If the ένκαυστον was something that was usually found in chiostro [='in cloister'] that would explain both the change of stress and the addition of the r. 'Se non è vero è ben trovato'

Perhaps you could persuade Dr Clackson to write a full-length article for a future issue...?

Bob Knowles (Corpus 1971)

P.s. Re Richard Harris' letter: I congratulate myself on solving – for the first time in several years of trying – a single clue in this issue.


Being a bear of very little brain (and I've a Third to prove it), certain concepts have sometimes proved problematic for me.

Like 'stream of consciousness' for example. But, by the time I had finished reading Michael Bywater's article, I now not only understand what a stream of consciouness is but I've actually been for a swim in it (well it was 600 words long).

Geoff Brown (Fitzwilliam 1967)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Michael Bywater’s piece about thinking (CAM 76), but couldn’t see why you had to take a rather silly side swipe at “mindfulness”, which clearly demonstrated that you obviously don’t know much about it.

The whole point of mindfulness (meditation) is that it gives one respite from the frantic, albeit creative, lunacy of one’s mind, after which one will probably find that its clearer and functioning even more effectively.

Kumba Hutt

I would like to comment on Michael Bywater’s article on thinking (CAM issue 76) as I feel he is mixing up some important issues. He is right in saying that thinking has a bad reputation, for most of the thinking that most people do is not only a pointless waste of time and a distraction, but also it is stressful. Some would assert that it is the prime cause of stress, and maybe the only cause of stress in our lives.

Thinking should be a useful tool for us to employ in specific situations, but instead has become an oppressive taskmaster. Thinking has become so all consuming that most of us are not aware that we are doing it. Instead of thinking consciously, we are thinking unconsciously – all the time!

At this point I would like to differentiate between thoughts and thinking. Thoughts are normal, healthy and part of being human. Thoughts arise spontaneously into our awareness, and we have no control of which thought arises. If we had any control over our thoughts we should be able to predict what our next thought will be. Try it! Thoughts are where creativity arises. Where we are inspired. Where the inventor is presented with his invention, the composer with his concerto, the scientist with his theory, the author with his blockbuster. J K Rowling said that the Harry Potter stories came to her ready formed – characters, storylines, settings. All she had to do was write it all down (and consciously use a bit of thinking in the process).

The problem with unconscious thinking ­– that which most of us do most of the time – is that it takes us away from this present moment. We can only think either about the past, or about the future. It is not possible to be thinking about this present moment. We can be aware of this moment, and of everything that is happening in this moment, but as soon as we start thinking, we have left this moment. And the thinking that we do is all fairytale, all make-belief, a series of ‘what ifs’. What if this… what if that…The thinking part of the mind loves it, and we can spend lifetimes doing it. But it is a waste of time, and takes us away from living life, which can only ever be done now.

Because the mind and body are inseparably linked, constant thinking puts a huge strain on the body. The body responds to our thinking, preparing itself for action. But that action becomes countermanded by a different action as our mind flits from one story to another. So the body can never relax, and because it is always active there is not enough time for it to maintain itself, so it becomes tired and sick. If we can find ways of not thinking (which is not difficult given the right tools) but instead discover how to be aware and resting, then the body can start healing itself. The results of being more aware allow us to be more creative and productive. We can be open to and notice those thoughts that enter our awareness that are the solution to the problem in front of us, or the next Nobel Prizewinning discovery. Those thoughts that have always been coming to us, but that we have not noticed because we are thinking.

So if you want to be more creative, more efficient and more productive in whatever you do, more content and less stressed – learn to stop thinking!

Richard Lawson (Sidney Sussex, 1967)

Ticket to ride

Your piece, “Ticket to Ride”, brought back memories. I was a member of the Cambridge Comex 2 team in 1967.  Relations between Pakistan and India were still tense but those in the Middle East were far worse. So our route differed slightly from that taken by Comex 1.  From Eastern Turkey, we crossed into Iran and then on to Afghanistan, following the main highway via Kandahar and Kabul to the Khyber Pass and into Pakistan. Sadly, it couldn’t be done safely today.

I can’t recall much preparation before departure, although my fellow travellers remind me there was quite a bit, including a training camp at Sussex University. I took, and passed, the test for a PSV licence in order to drive the very smart 30-seater coach with which we were equipped. I never knew where the money came from to buy these – there were 11 coaches on Comex 2 – but we did manage to return it to England more or less in one piece for resale: one careful owner, 15,000 miles. 

We did, however, lose shock absorbers on the many miles of unmade roads, and the coach’s alternator – a new-fangled piece of kit in 1967 – failed and could not be repaired in Asia. So we came most of the way home without, bump-starting to save the battery and driving in daytime only. The border guards were not wholly amused when we sought to push the vehicle from the Afghan frontier post to the Iranian side.

The Cambridge crew put on a play, Shaw’s “Arms and the Man”, as our contribution to the cultural programme. A very good job those involved made of it too.  What the audiences in various parts of Asia thought of it, I don’t know.

We shall be having a second reunion in Cambridge in April, nearly 49 years on. Many of us will recall it as quite an adventure, in the days before long-distance travel became commonplace. And I don’t suppose any of us will look a day older!

John Holden (Emmanuel 1964)

The article on the Comex expedition of 1965 revived memories of a smaller expedition undertaken at the same time by myself and two other King’s students, Alan Greggains (King’s 1963) and Quentin van Abbé, (King’s 1963) along with my girlfriend Sheila (now my wife). We set off in an old Morris van we had ‘fixed up’ to visit the Middle East and with the hope of getting as far as India. We had fascinating experiences in Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Unfortunately Sheila contracted encephalitis as we entered Iran and spent months in hospital there and back home. Our friends brought the van back to the UK – but at least we didn’t get trapped in India.

Peter Bowler (King’s 1963)

Bone matters

I enjoyed reading the article on Professor Duer's research into the structure of bones and, as an engineer, to learn that she was inspired by a teacher descendant of the great Richard Trevithick.

However Richard should not be described as inventor of the steam engine – Thomas Savery was granted a patent 70 years before he was born. As Richard grew up, he was also aware of the successful work of my great-great-great-grand uncle, William Murdoch, on steam locomotion. William was James Watt's right hand man, installing steam engines in the Cornish tin mines.

Richard was a colourful character and a great pioneer of steam locomotion for the early railways. He deserves to be remembered by Camborne's Trevithick Day, just as Uncle William deserves to be remembered by Redruth's Murdoch Day. I had the honour of inaugurating Murdoch Day in 2004, the year of William's 250th birthday.

Peter Glass (Jesus 1964)

A few good things

Your Michaelmas editorial asks what allure objects hold in the digital age. Mathematically, mapping involves a loss of dimensionality. Modelling and representation require selection of those features the modeller considers essential (climate and economic models being prime offenders) and necessarily detract from the personal experience (or, at worst, truth) of the real thing – even if it is in a glass case. As an agronomist friend once pointed out: “You can't grow potatoes on a map of Ireland”.

Alan Calverd (Peterhouse 1963)

Fractured memory

I read Becky Allen’s article with interest, since my Dad died from Parkinson’s this summer. She mentioned that a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) made her mother agitated and angry; this is something I learned about with my Dad and I think the public should be more aware of.

It is better known in the care industry – I remember Dad’s carer phoning my sister to say Dad wouldn’t let her in and had sworn at her (very much out of character) and her saying simply ‘He probably has a UTI’.

My message, for those with elderly relatives, would be if you notice any sudden, out of character changes, go straight to the GP and ask for tests.

Margaret Marsh (née Scopes, Girton 1980)


Thank you so much for profiling the Cambridge University Ceilidh Band. As the Band's original lead fiddler, it was great to read that it's still flourishing, successful and fun - and that the romances continue to blossom!

There have indeed been several ceilidh band babies born over the years - I know four of them!

Emily Coltman (née Baker, Newnham 1995)

On time

I enjoyed your feature about the best time of the day in Cambridge and thought I would share my personal best time.

It is 4.30pm on a Sunday in term time, and the Choir gathers for rehearsal before Sunday evensong. Two-and-a-half hours of beautiful music, in the timeless surroundings of Chapel, singing with some of your best friends in the world. Candlelight flickers over our faces.  Following the service, we have sherry in the Ante-Chapel, then head to Formal Hall. True, the food is nothing to write home about (and you can turn the dessert upside down without it falling off the plate) but company is everything. The evening concludes with more revelry in someone’s room before starting a new week as it should always be started: with a slight hangover.

Chris Thompson (Christ’s 1996)

Too Much Education

My main purpose in writing is to take issue with a letter in CAM 76: “Too much education”

I belong to a book group of Newnham graduates, ranging in matriculation dates from 1954 to the late 1970s. We are all married to Cambridge men, and that I certainly never came across the prejudices mentioned! I think Anne Thackray must have been very unlucky in her choice of friends.

But my second reason is occasioned by the article ‘Ticket to Ride’ chronicling the Comex expedition leaving Cambridge for India in July 1965. It made me think of a journey in the opposite direction, leaving Singapore, where my husband, Ian (Christs’ 1954), had been teaching in an army school for three years. Coincidentally we started on almost the same day as the other expedition, and also reached our journey’s end in October.  

On our travels we were accompanied by our two small children aged six and four, and a brand new Bedford Dormobile. The Dormobile, named Pandora for obvious reasons, sailed  with us on a cargo boat to Madras, then north and west; she suffered various problems on the trip: a new clutch in Kabul, various horrible engine noises, shuddering stops, and a sheared air filter, a collision with an uninsured truck, but amazingly only one puncture. In three months we drove through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and the rest of Europe – a journey unthinkable today, alas.

We too, like the Comex expedition, fell foul of the cholera epidemic, involving endless check points and ‘interesting’ visits to local doctors and clinics – the  International vaccination certificates appeared to have no validity, even for those officials who could read them. But, we did see the Taj Mahal in the light of the full moon, travelled the Swat valley and the Khyber Pass, spent three weeks in Afghanistan where we saw the gigantic Bamiyan Buddhas before their destruction and dispensed aspirin and antibiotic creams to hospitable villagers. We wandered, almost alone, in the ruins of Persepolis, marvelled at the simplicity of the tomb of Cyrus the Great,  told the tale of Noah when we glimpsed Mount Ararat,  and  were impressed  by the magnificence of Kemal Ataturk’s mausoleum in Ankara. After three years in the tropics the children’s main delights were snow in Austria on the Arlberg Pass, and apples growing on trees! Incidentally, far from complicating the journey, the presence of the children was a great help – when we were in difficulties the blue eyes and blond hair of the four year old eased our path.

When we reached UK, my husband put in a claim to the army for our homeward travel of 10,750 miles – £650 in old money! This saved the army at least £50, as they would have paid for a more conventional homeward passage by ship or plane.

Fay Pascoe (née Yelland, Newnham 1954)

Chalked up

Chalk on wall

Frank Trethaway's letter (CAM 76) about the Downing Street chalked walls reminded me that there was fertile ground there also for some philosophy, history and science. The attached picture was taken in June 1970. No doubt Rudolf Hess, Enoch Powell and Francis Crick have long since been washed off or replaced.

John Haigh (Queens' 1967)


I was pleased to read about the creation of the El-Erian Institute for Human Behaviour and Economic Policy, looking at how people actually make economic and social decisions. As an economics student I remember first hearing the now-common phrase ‘in the real world' to distinguish theory from practice. I also concluded early on that the explanation for rival but valid economic theories boiled down to the fact that ultimately everything depends on the uncertain art of predicting human decision-making, individual and collective. So yes, I decided economics was merely a specialist branch of psychology.

Philip Venning (Trinity Hall 1967)

CAM feedback

Issue 76 of CAM is interesting to read and attractive to look at.  But it is not good for reading while eating because it won't lie flat on the table! Thank you for an otherwise excellent magazine.

Philippa Russell (Hughes Hall 1958)

Dear CAM, was it just me or was there something different about the paper on which CAM 76 was printed?  It seemed sturdier and less glossy.  I'd be very delighted to know if CAM printing is now being more environmentally responsible.

Many thanks,

Silas Brown (St John's 1997)

Just a line to say how much I enjoyed the Michalmas Edition. I liked the new format and found the articles (those I could understand!) very good. I particularly enjoyed the one about the trip to India. Keep it up!

Matthew Ridley (Corpus 1948)

Love the new look AND the new feel.

Leonard Pearcey (Corpus 1959)

Many congratulations - the new look CAM is a vast improvement on its dreary predecessor. Much better feel, much better looking and a much better read. And it's the only communication from the University that echoes what I loved about Cambridge and doesn't ask me for money. Thank you.

Simon Loftus (Trinity 1964)

I always thought words were meant to be read and I assumed easily. On page 3 of CAM 76 a red font has been used on a white background, this is ridiculous. There should be a good contrast between font and background. When I was at Hughes Hall in 1950 we were told that the best contrast, and in those days we were thinking of boards, was navy blue chalk on a yellow board. I wonder how many alumni and alumnae can read the piece on page 3. Did you have complaints about the old CAM? It used to be said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Enid Woollett (Newham 1947)

EDITOR’S RESPONSE: Apologies. The design must balance the need to fit a set amount of text, while still remaining legible, but on this occasion I fear that we did not get it right. CAM 77 will carry larger type, which I hope will improve readability.


As far as I know, I am the only member of the illustrious brotherhood of Dull Men whose unexciting exploits have been consolidated in a recent publication entitled, of course, Dull Men of Great Britain.

I do not claim to be the most travelled person in the UK (with a mere 2.5 million miles flown) but being an IT nerd, I  am perhaps one of the few who has religiously recorded each and every flight and its details since leaving Cambridge, hence my selection for the book.

I imagine this may solicit a flood of counterclaims which I look forward to reading.

Jeremy Burton (Churchill 1961)