Sunday, June 27, 2004

Laura and Tom in Trinity Vaults before setting off for Po Na Na Posted by Hello

Judith and Laura outside the Senate House Posted by Hello

Laura and Tom Posted by Hello

Kings Chapel and the West front of Old Court on the left Posted by Hello

Still smiling! Posted by Hello

Laura, Richard and James BC Posted by Hello

Small noses Posted by Hello

Happy Laura! Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Romeo Oh Romeo!

By way of further celebration, and as a treat for Judith, we went up to London today on the train to see Romeo & Juliet performed in The Globe Theatre on the South Bank.

We walked across the Millenium Bridge from the north side, along with crowds of tourists, whose children, without exception, scuffed their sneakers on the ridged metal decking to revel in the unusual noise it makes.

The South Bank itself was also very busy, and we did well to get into the Globe Cafe Restaurant for a quick lunch before the play started. In fact, Judith managed to convey such a sense of urgency to the man who was serving us that, although he assured us that there would be no problem with getting us through in plenty of time, we were given express service! He twinkled and teased every time he came near the table, and we were in and out within 20 minutes maximum.

The kids had tickets for the floor of the theatre, standing (in the drizzle) in front of the stage with the groundlings. Judith and I had seats in the back row (of 4) on the middle gallery level, slightly to the left of the stage. It was a fantastic view, and the theatre, though large, feels incredibly intimate.

Luckily the drizzle stayed light, so although the groundlings adjusted their dress from time to time, depending upon it's intensity, they stayed largely comfortable. The playing was very good, and we've never seen Romeo and Juliet played for as many laughs, all as written. In fact, the only negative was that the performance happened to coincide with the Olmpic Flame being carried through London, which meant many helicopters flying in close circuits following the flag, which must have made it's way across the Millenium Bridge, judging by the proximity. This meant that for a significant part of the performance, the actors were having to compete with the varying rythmic beats and resonance of helicopters, which rather defeated the more quiet and reflective passages.

The production was in "original pronunciation", an attempt by the Master of Plays to interpret what English as she was spoke would have sounded like at the time. In practice, this interpretation appeared to be a mixture of Irish and West Country, with the occassional West Indian thrown in. It was all backed by worthy research and academic comment in the accompanying leaflet, but the initial effect was rather disconcerting. However, after a while one got used to it, and it seemed to work reasonably well.

Anyway, a good day was had, Judith bought some stuff (for teaching purposes!) from the shop, and we were home in time for fish and chips from the chippie!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Graduation Day

Judith, Tom and I drove up to Cambridge this morning to get there in time for the start of ceremonies.

By the time we had parked one car in the Park-And-Ride, found our tickets and parking pass (in Laura's pigeon hole at the Colony), parked, and walked to Old Court, it was nearly time for the Graduation Service in Clare Chapel.

I had something to do, so went to do it, but Judith and Tom accompanied Laura into the service. Apparently the choir was fantastic and the singing divine, as the a capela singing by the same students later on in the Old Court yard indicated, and Laura, Judith and Tom were well impressed when they came out of Chapel.

Then it was a Welcome by the Master, followed by champagne and canapes (and the a capela singing), followed by a rehearsal for the whole graduating body in the yard. After that we queued to get into The Senate House, where we got a great vantage point in the gallery, right above where the graduands kneel to have their degrees conferred, whilst Laura and the rest processed from Clare through the streets to The Senate House.

The graduation ceremony itself was spectacular, in terms of the ancient ceremony, the atmosphere, and the minor catastrophes. The Vice-Chancellor's Deputy (in this case the Master of Clare) and other senior academics process into the hall with full gowns, hats, ancient leather-bound books and silver maces (much to Tom's liking). The Master then sits in his throne-like chair, with a kneeling stool in front of him. The assembled graduands process in groups of 4 to the centre of the hall, where the Praelector (also a Clare man) holds out his 4 fingers, which the graduands hold, whilst he says, in Latin, "Most worthy, Vice-Chancellor, and the whole University, I present to you thes men and women, whom I know to be suitable both by character and learning to proceed to the degree of Bachelor of Arts; for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University".

After the Bedell names the degree, each graduand kneels on the stool before the Master, holding out their hands as if in prayer. The Master takes their hands between his and says, again in Latin, "By the authority committed to me I admit you to the degree of Bachelor of Arts [or whatever], in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

This is where the minor catastrophes ensued. At this point the graduand is meant to rise gracefully, take two steps backward, and bow. Not only were the bows entertaining, but in two cases female graduands unfortunately failed to negotiate the return to a standing position, and fell into unseemly heaps on the floor. One hardly batted an eyelid, but another, a friend of Laura's, yelped with surprise and embarrassment, and exited stage right in paroxisms of giggles, and to rising applause.

Laura managed the whole thing without incident, albeit an Elizabethan bow, and we met up again afterwards in the Senate yard, on the grass in the sunshine.

The rest of the day is something of a blur for me, due either to lack of food, or something wrong with what little food I did eat. However, it featured all of the normal time play in the England-Portugal match, watched on widescreen with the rest of the graduates in the Old Court vaults (now a club/bar for the students), followed by a meal in the Trinity Vaults restaurant, which Laura and Tom left early to attend a nightclub(!).

Nevertheless, however unfortunately it may have ended, the rest of the day was so sublime it will long live in the memory, only to be matched in time by Tom's graduation.

Pictures will follow....

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Laura's Results

Well, what a day!

It's Tuesday, the day Laura got her results. And what results!

After 3 years of hard study and two years of hard partying, she achieved a result which cannot be improved upon - a Starred First, which means a distinction at the highest classification from Cambridge University. To say we are chuffed would be something of an understatement.

Tom, bless him, immediately announced that we need not think he was going to rise to that precedent - he intends 3 years of hard partying when he goes up in October (but then he is on a 4 year course...)!

The graduation day is on Thursday, and I'll post more after the event.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

A Galloway calf in the valley near Ford Posted by Hello

The Damsel fly by the Byebrook Posted by Hello

Sunday Stroll

Judith & I decided to get up early today as the sun was shining and go for a walk.

So, after Scotland had striven manfully but were clearly going to win, we left the house and drove to Castle Combe, to do our favourite short circular walk and be back home for lunch in time for Judith to carry on doing school work (!).

It was a glorious day, and the combe was in magnificent summer fettle. Birds abounded, people didn't, the rare breed sheep were shorn and looking very small and tidy, and the sunlight played on the Byebrook in what Judith described as the epitome of dappled light.

We walked across the water meadows from the bridge over the brook, rather than up the sunken lane, and saw the damsel fly, whose photo either appears in the entry, or above it, and managed to beat off the biting flies.

Later, walking up the small tributary valley to the Byebrook from Ford, we met and conversed with a small herd of Galloway cattle, whose calves were in playful mood, and very shaggy and bear-like.

Further up the hill in the wild flower meadow we watched a surprising number of marbled white butterflies, and fewer, but equally spectacular, blues.

Nearing Castle Combe itself, we spent a couple of minutes stroking, and being licked by, a palomino, who obviously appreciated the salt on our skin.

After an icecream (for Judith), a Fentimans Ginger Ale (for me), and a close scrape with a craft fair (I nearly bought some more turned wood to gather dust on a shelf), we returned to the car and home.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Good News

After the sad news at the start of the week, there was much to remind us that life goes on.

Not only was it good to see Judith's brother Bruce again, and to be so well received by him after a break in contact of some years, but we also enjoyed vicarious pleasures courtesy of Laura.

She had the final part of her Finals exams this week - her viva. It sounds as though this went very well, with the interviewers starting the discussion by telling her that she had already scored very high marks for her dissertation, which was the subject of the viva! And as Laura was keen to remind herself, she's the world expert on her own dissertation!

Having finished the formal part of her undergraduate education, her first priority was to have her "official" birthday, some weeks after her actual birthday, which fell in the midst of exams. As is the form in Cambridge, she had organised a "formal hall", which means reserving the Clare College dining hall for a special, fully catered dinner for all her friends.

She was late arriving (as usual) and suffering high anxiety, due to the fact that she had invited several different and till now completely separate, groups of friends. However, all turned out well, and a good time was reportedly had by all.

The next day she and friends went for a day at the beach (Holken Bay on the North Sea coast), and had a loverly time by her account.

It's also "Bumps" this week, and her fella Phin is taking part, so she has spent some time roaming the banks of the Cam shouting encouragement. Latest reports suggest her encouragement has been ineffectual.

Further parties, dinners (including an Anti-Bumps Dinner for the non-boaties) beckon, but she hopes to actually get some sleep ahead of the May Ball next Tuesday.

Unlike some of the other departments, it appears that hers does not release the results until 2 or 3 days before graduation day, so we have to wait till the last minute before finding out if she has done enough to gain the funding she needs for her MPhil. However, we are quietly confident.....

More anon.

The Bad News

The week got off to a very bad start when we got a phone call at about 3:00 a.m. on Monday morning.

We were both deeply asleep, but as I swam up to the surface of wakefulness, Judith was already on her way downstairs. You know when you get a call at that time of day that its not good news, and by the time I got downstairs so much was clear. Judith's mother, aged 67, had died in her sleep in her nursing home.

Whilst it was unexpected, in as much as there had been no indications she was ill, she had nevertheless been in care for several years, and had had a series of minor strokes, so it was not a surprise.

We travelled up to Birmingham on Wednesday to meet with Judith's brother Bruce at the funeral home in Stirchley. Judith was able to see her mother in the chapel of rest, and that did a lot to help her come to terms with her bereavement. As did seeing her brother, and dealing together with the nuts and bolts of funerals.

Interestingly, Bruce expressed to me the same suspicion I had had - that the fact she died the night after the 60th anniversary of D Day may not have been coincidental. As often happens with stroke victims, Madge could remember vividly events from her youth during the war, and the happy days she spent with Judith's dad, Harry, who died in 1997.

He had been in the vanguard of the bomb raids on Caen. We both wondered whether the D Day commemorations called all this back to mind so vividly that Madge decided enough was enough, that she missed Harry and saw no point in carrying on her non-life in a nursing home.

We'll never know, of course, but the thought is a compelling one.

The funeral and cremation will take place in Birmingham next Thursday.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A yellow rose in the morning sun Posted by Hello

The heart of a poppy flower Posted by Hello

French Lavender looking like exotically feathered head-dresses Posted by Hello

A bumble bee enjoys the French Lavender Posted by Hello

Campanulas hug the hebe bush Posted by Hello

Flowers on a conifer enjoy the sun Posted by Hello

The osteospermum turns its face to the morning sun Posted by Hello

The fat flower head of a poppy Posted by Hello

An aquilegia in bright summer colours Posted by Hello

The best bed in the back garden Posted by Hello

Sedge flowering in a pot in the garden Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Eve of Invasion

It's the 5th June 2004. Sixty years ago, it was the day before the Allied forces landed in Normandy on D-Day at the start of the reconquest of Europe.

Today was a glorious warm, occasionally sunny, day. We passed the morning pottering about the garden, pruning and shredding, doing normal domestic things. England played New Zealand in the 2nd Test at Headingley.

Over a sunny lunch in the garden, I sat and read to Judith and Tom from the reminiscences of veterans of D-Day, published in Time magazine. Later in the day, after barbecuing burgers and chicken for Tom and I, I read letters from soldiers and seaman caught up in D-Day from all the Allied forces, letters written in the days and weeks after the event. Heart-rending letters home from people who would be dead within hours. Jolly, stiff-upper-lip letters from junior officers to their chums, written in quiet moments in the orchards of Normandy. Poignant, fear-ridden letters to Mums and Dads from young men who had seen things no-one should ever have to see.

I read the recollections of a 22 year old German soldier who, through fate alone, found himself manning the main machine gun in the bunker above Omaha Beach, and who is "credited" with the deaths of more than 2,000 young Americans before they reached the high tide mark. I read the rationalisations he has used to console himself and deal with the guilt he has felt through all the intervening years - "it was them or me, what else could I do?".

And here we sit, 60 years later, enjoying the peace both sides paid for so dearly. Enjoying the sunshine thousands of them saw for the last time 60 years ago tomorrow.

Shortly, we will be voting in a European Parliamentary election. Various political parties, not least UKIP, are urging us effectively to vote to leave the European Union. I only hope that sufficient people pause to reflect during the anniversary tomorrow, and recall why we entered into this union. Our fathers created it to ensure,once and for all, that no more young men need die fighting against any nation's tyranny. Whatever the loss of freedom we endure from sharing power with our European neighbours, surely to God those losses are insignificant if they avoid anyone ever having to make the ultimate sacrifice in such huge and wasteful numbers again?

Habib Koite & Bamada

Rock Paper Scissors - Habib Koite & Bamada, Foly! (World Village) - Press Release

I'm also listening a lot to this Malian guitarist and his band - it's amazing what you come across on BBC4! Wonderfully subtle, trance-inducing and understated music, but enthralling dancing on his live set. Check this out too!

Ojos de Brujo - Eyes of the Wizard


This Barcelona-based group make wonderful music, rich in diverse influences, and are one of my favourite listens at present. You have to check them out.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Laura & Phin punting on the Cam Posted by Hello

An orchid in National Trust meadows near Sutton Benger Posted by Hello

Early tulip flower in spring sunshine Posted by Hello

Bleeding Heart and fiery Pieris by the front door Posted by Hello