An emotional return to Cambridge

View from the Jerwood Library window

By Rod Cameron (1963)

Alighting at the Cambridge railway station, I was quite emotional, wheeling my small carry-on luggage case through once familiar streets now filled with unfamiliar modern buildings that had me make a wrong turn or two.

Once across Parker’s Piece and into the old town centre, everything was once more very familiar, save for the large crowds of visitors enjoying group tours. And why not, on this sunny day, they lined up to gain entrance to King’s College, with its splendid late English-Gothic masterpiece of stone and stained glass windows, the Chapel.

In my college, Trinity Hall, I stayed in a very lovely guest room. It had double bay windows looking down to the Fellows’ private walled garden and view of the river. This room is in a very old part of the College, close to the Master’s Lodge, the rooms had recently been restored, now with every comfort. Porters and staff could not have been nicer, I was quite taken aback by the kind-hearted welcome given by them. I informally handed over my modest cheque, strolled the main courtyard and was invited to look over the new library wing (Jerwood Library) erected during my absence.

Trinity Hall’s numbers have expanded with the passing years; it used to have about 300 undergraduates when I was there in the 1960s. It is tucked in between other bigger colleges. How scenic it looked, with nearby King’s College and others, punts and walking paths along ‘the backs’ by the river are a great way to see the colleges. Throughout the old colleges, never ending restoration of the old buildings continues, carefully. The Hall is a very busy place when undergrads are up. At this time there are fewer of us staying in College.

Looking down on the river from the new library wing, we can see that the Cam is narrow compared with, say, the wider Thames, in Oxford, so the yearly ‘Bumps’ boat races, that are spread over a few days in May, are an exciting, and once in a while dangerous, way to compete for ‘the Head of the River’, the coveted rowing title. Not wide enough for non-stop head to head, but occasionally wide enough to let boats pass, I can verify they are very exciting. I rowed number 7 in an eight person crew. We were informally called a gentleman’s boat, as opposed to a proper serious rower’s boat. That is, we trained sort of seriously, but not by any means as seriously as the other undergraduates teams. Serious rowers ate high protein beef meals regularly at dinner in Hall, and were fighting fit.

Strolling past older buildings near the new library, I passed the Stephen Hawking Room. He was some years younger than I when we overlapped at Trinity Hall. After undergraduate years in Oxford, where he confessed he did not really connect much, he rocketed into action with his PhD work in cosmology here, even when diagnosed with a serious condition and given two years to live. All the world knows this man’s drive and intellect lifted his status to superstar.

This post is an extract from a longer blog entry. Edited for clarity.
Read about Rod’s visit to the Engineering Department.