CAM 81 letters

CAM 81 letters


Re your amusing cover – and pace cartoon traditions – I’m sure a perfectionist would not allow so many dribbles on his paint pot.

Barrie Lees (Peterhouse 1962)

A perfectionist would have a step-ladder.

David Potts (Churchill 1970)

As an addition to the suggested bibliotherapies in CAM 81, might I suggest Matt Haig’s The Humans as a cure for those at risk of becoming trapped in an ivory tower? Academic research (although doubtless fascinating and revolutionary in its implications) absorbs a considerable amount of time and energy, but when concentration develops into blinkered obsession there is a danger of alienation from everything beyond the library or lab. When Professor Andrew Martin suddenly ceases to understand how to 'be human', he does have the excuse that he is actually an alien imposter. As he learns how to navigate the world around him, he learns that ‘being human’ is far more complicated than he imagined. A reminder that the true marvellous things in life are found in human relationships, however wondrous the contents of a petri dish might be.

Adelheid Russenberger (Newnham 2010)


While it is significant to acknowledge the 458 alumni groups around the world, it is important to realise that many of them are in fact ‘Oxford and Cambridge’ alumni groups. While intense rivals during university attendance, after graduation we find a close affiliation with many common bonds.

Nick Arden (St Catharine's 1962), Vice-president, Cambridge (2009-14) Vancouver Oxford and Cambridge Society

Poetic bookshops

In the late 1950s there was a version of the Cambridge bookshop ditty sung to the tune of Frere Jacques even better than Trevor Lyttleton’s which you published in CAM81 and Joan Schneider’s in CAM80: Heffers bookshop, Heffers bookshop/ Bowes and Bowes, Bowes and Bowes/ Galloway and Porter, Galloway and Porter/ Deighton Bell, Deighton Bell.

Brian Josephson (Trinity 1957)

I was delighted to read Trevor Lyttleton's letter in your last issue putting right the version of the Bookshop ditty. I can only confirm that I believe this to be the version taught me by Reuben Heffer, my father.

William Heffer (who left the printing world for the Antiques trade in 1972).

G David

I was pleasantly surprised to see Roger Smith's letter about my favourite bookseller. His discovery of David's came commendably early in his time at Cambridge. I was introduced to antiquarian book shops by Tim Munby, the librarian at King's. Tim would welcome anyone who showed an interest in books. He would tell stories of how, when an undergraduate, he and his friends would visit David's market stall and buy anything they could that dated from the eighteenth century or earlier! As a poverty stricken county major student, I could not run to such extravagance. But I did catch the bug ­­– whenever I am free in the city, I visit David's to seek out those early books that need my help. On retirement, I took up book binding and served a 17-year apprenticeship with Barry Brignell in Cambridge. Now I get much satisfaction from conserving them when I can, or restoring when necessary. Roger's letter caught my eye for a second reason; our time at College overlapped by a year.

Roger Smith (King's 1955)

Malthus Redux and Ethiopia

Ethiopia suffers from bad policies and under-population. Its 104 million people live in 1.104 million km². Government claims ownership of land, and provides only short term leases (of 15 years) to small farmers. Why put money and labour into tree planting and stone walls if you and your children are not going to get long-term benefits? And with a scattered population, the nearest market where you could sell farm products and buy other desirables is distant. You have to botch your own house and clothes, which Dr Johnson realised caused the poverty of Scotland in his time. If you get a good harvest, you turn the surplus into beer and have a good time. Good policies encourage the growth of market towns with people offering  specialist skills and services, and allow land tenure to evolve into secure land rights.

Mary Tiffen (Girton 1949)

My room, your room

In your fascinating article, you state that it “is traditional for the College’s organ scholar to reside here”. I wonder how far back that tradition reaches. It cannot have existed in 1957-59, when the organ scholar, Martin Neary, resided, if I remember correctly, in Gonville Court ­– I2 in Caius Court was occupied by myself. I could not have held the position of organ scholar, because I could not then, and cannot now, play the organ; I read for the Classics Tripos. I did, however, play in a humble position at the rear of the second violins in the College orchestra. In a memorable concert in Hall, Vaughan Williams was discovered sitting in the front row of the audience, having come to hear the latest composition of Paddy Hadley, the Professor of Music at that time. Vaughan Williams died very shortly afterwards, and I have worried ever afterwards that it may have been our concert that finished him off,

On the first day of my arrival in I2, I was warned by a much more senior student that I must never, even on the coldest Cambridge winter night, shut my bedroom window after 11 pm. That was the hour by which, in those days, all undergraduates had to be inside the College, unless they had permission to be outside. Those who were late had to climb in, and the bar across my open bedroom window constituted the first (or it may have been the second) foothold in the ascent from Senate House Passage to the roof above my room, then down to the passage between I Staircase and the Master’s garden. This meant that I was able to keep an eye on the night life of the College, and I enjoyed the cheerful cries of ‘Good night, Alex’ from passing climbers, as I lay reading in bed. But what goes up has to come down. On one occasion I suddenly realised that I had not heard the sounds that normally accompanied the descent. I felt obliged therefore to get up from bed and to go out into the freezing passage to rescue the latecomer who was peering anxiously over the edge of the roof.

In Mrs Clarke I had the best bedmaker in Cambridge. She would regale me with information about my predecessors, particularly the one who had left a mark on my huge dining-room table (it could accommodate 13 guests for dinner; I wonder if it is still there): “Oh, he was a lovely boy”, she would say. I suspect that I myself was placed rather lower in the scale of loveliness. One night there seemed to be more noise than usual from the passers-by in Senate House Passage, but it still came as a surprise when Mrs Clarke woke me in the morning with the news that persons unknown had passed the night in lifting a car up on to the roof of the Senate House, where it remained for some time for all to see. Eventually, I think, it was replaced by a No Parking sign.

Alex Garvie (Caius 1957)

A new normal

Stephen Hawkins believes mankind will have to exit the Earth for another planet in a hundred years or so as we are trashing this one with continual economic growth, technological advance and rising human numbers. I’m with him on the growth thing, but believe we should stay here to sort it out or face the consequences.

Thus any “New Normal” as given in CAM 81 must be one where ecological sustainability is paramount. This requires turning away from increasing excess in favour of simpler lifestyles and closer attention to the natural world upon which we entirely depend. As the article says, “….economics may not have an answer“. Indeed so.

John Gamlin (Fitzwilliam 1958)

You say nothing about the biggest current problem in economics: the fact that expansion cannot continue, growth has to stop, because the world is running out of resources.  There are too many people on the planet, gobbling them up.  What a disappointment. Where is the much-needed treatise on prosperity without growth?

Anne Stotter (Newnham 1968)

I was surprised to read this article (CAM 81) in which three experts were consulted, and not find any mention of the issues of climate change or sustainability. How can you have a meaningful discussion about the future of the global economy without discussing these issues? Perhaps you should have spoken to someone from the New Economics Foundation?

Susanna Riviere (Churchill 1973)

Economists seem unable to see beyond their fascination with growth ­– whether low or high. It is apparent that the growth that our society has been pursuing over the past, say, 150 years, and selling on to the rest of the world, is not sustainable, is not stable, and has been instrumental in the destruction and pollution of the world – literally, not metaphorically.

The detailed arguments are of course more complicated but the big picture / broad outline is clear. When will economists stop being in cahoots with politicians, and wake up and smell the coffee? Then they might help fashion a modicum of salvation rather than repetitively peddling myopia.

Maurice Herson (Corpus 1968)

On age

Many people influenced me whilst I was at Trinity Hall. 1948-51:

Launcelot Fleming, Arctic explorer, wartime naval chaplain, Dean of Trinity Hall, Bishop of Norwich, Dean of Windsor and chaplain to the Queen; W. Owen Chadwick, my young tutor who  played rugby for England, priest, scholar, future Master of Selwyn, widely tipped as a future Archbishop of Canterbury;  Michael Ramsey who was in fact elevated to Canterbury and whose lectures combined scholarship with charisma. Equally enduring and surprisingly enough was all that I learnt from my room-mate in G5, Geoffrey Dingle.

Geoffrey informed me that I was a tenor and he took me to sing with the Homerton Madrigal Society, and then to Kings’ College Chapel  where I was introduced, under Boris Ord’s stern guidance, to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with soloists Isabel Bailey, Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier. This was followed by the broadcast of the Tallis forty-part motet on the BBC’s Third Programme. Geoffrey’s college concerts with  Morley’s two part canzonets and Haydn’s Toy Symphony completed my introduction to Early Music. I have been singing in choirs, making and playing period instruments, ever since.

Now that I am eighty-nine the six-part consort has been reduced to music for two bass viols. My good friend Geoffrey, who became a faithful country priest and died far too young, is still a major influence in my life.

John Hodgkinson (Trinity Hall 1948)

I spent three very happy years at Girton (1954-57). I got married the year after graduating and raised three children. My main contribution to life has been the production of female scientists and engineers.  My elder daughter has a PhD from Birmingham but became a patent attorney, now retired. My younger daughter graduated in engineering from Nottingham, joined the Navy and became the first woman to go to sea as a member of the crew of one of HM ships.

I should also have told you that my mother graduated from UCL in chemistry in the 1920s!  Something in the genes? 

There is also now another generation actively busy in STEM!  My eldest granddaughter has a doctorate and will be reading a paper at the Royal Society this month.

Her sister is reading engineering In Birmingham and will be going to Sandhurst and into REME.     Their cousin is training to be a primary school teacher concentrating on Maths and Science. My contacts with primary schools gave me the impression that any science was taught by men!

Ann Franklin (Girton 1954)

I would just like to say how much (at the age of 86) I enjoyed the very readable and sensible feature in your Easter issue On Age. I am constantly astonished by the number of people who, without having any physical or mental reason to retreat from creative life when pensioned, quite simply assume that from that moment onwards everything will and must go downhill.

You may like to read the “Song for Methuselah” that I wrote to mark my own 83rd birthday. Its message is very much the same as that which I find in your pages.

Song for Methuselah

When I sit in my eyrie and note in my diary

“Eighty seven years – and not quitting”

I am not courting fame nor yet fulsome acclaim

(Though a grain of respect might be fitting)

But alas, now and then I encounter young men

Who, on starting askance at my eyrie,

Dismiss me as musty and fusty and dusty

And well past my date of expiry.

Gadzooks! Let them scorn; need I mither or mourn

When they scoff that my hair is receding?

Such species of youth are untried and uncouth

And uncommonly lacking in breeding.


There are others who silently sit and suppose

That old age is a burden and bitter

When has-beens are doomed just to dawdle and doze

And ambition is fried to a fritter.

So will they come around to be sporty at forty

And then to find fifty inspiring?

Or will they find room for some middle-age gloom

And descend to despair on retiring?

I wish them good sense and a fine future tense

And an urge to live further and faster

Impelled by all sorts of invincible thoughts

And disdainful of doom and disaster.


No, wrinkled and rusty I never must be

I shall still find occasion to clamber

I am better to see than that juniper tree

And millennia younger than amber.

I am younger today than tomorrow, I find

With verve and with vigour to spare

More anxious to lend than to borrow in kind

And far quicker to hedge than the hare.

Yes, younger today than tomorrow, you bet,

Is the mantra I daily repeat

I may fumble or tumble and grumble and yet

I am still not a feared or effete.


Maturing, though wobbly, in wisdom and wit

I shall never sit here to be told

That, weakly and wizened, in dotage imprisoned

I’m obsolete, outcast and old.

I am plotting my plans, I am planning my plots

With no grouses to nourish or nurse

I shall welcome whatever my future allots

Never dreaming of life in reverse

So, older and bolder and mocking at harm,

Unawed by prosthetics or pallor.

I’ll thrive – till Eternity taps on my arm

And bids me taste life in Valhalla.

Graham Dukes (St John's 1948)


You put a lot of work into editing CAM and I hope you get enough reactions to make you feel that you are doing a good job. I am 90 and my connection with the university is of necessity a bit tenuous but I would like you to know that I read CAM with interest and pleasure and a very strong suspicion that the place is a lot more exciting and lively than it was in my day!

Julian Ayres (Corpus 1948)