Well, ten-to–four actually – but it would have been a bit earlier if I’d been able to park the bloody car more easily!
What? Oh, OK then, I’ll back up a bit and tell you what I’m talking about.
My dear wife Faith and I were recently invited by one of our friends to return to our old village of Histon in Cambridgeshire to take part in a team quiz to raise funds for a new church hall. Actually, our friend often invites us to events of this sort – apparently we are referred to in the village as “Sue’s secret weapons”!
Anyway, we decided to make a bit more of a day of it than merely turning up for an 8 pm “kick-off” and arrived at lunchtime.
The weekend of 22nd/23rd May 2010 was the hottest of the year so far – scorching temperatures and cloudless blue skies – so our hostess decided that we should take a walk that we had long planned to take “one day when the weather is nice”.
So, after a leisurely lunch under a shady apple tree on our friend’s lawn we drove across Cambridge to the area called Newnham where, so we were informed, there would be “plenty of parking” for our walk to the village of Grantchester.
That village is historically revered as the place of residence of the poet Rupert Brooke, the meeting place of his intellectual circle of friends and somewhat less honoured latterly as the home of discredited politician and author, Lord Jeffrey Archer, aka Baron Archer of Weston-super-mare! I’ve never found that title terribly impressive – about as much so as me being appointed Baron Alfie of Felixstowe Docks!
The car parking area was not massive – there DID turn out to be one space left but it took me about five attempts at backing my somewhat unwieldy Citroen Picasso into it. This was not made easier by a coach load of Japanese tourists who had apparently been dropped off further away and were walking en masse along the ROAD that I was trying to manoeuvre across. Not one of them seemed to have any concept of pausing momentarily to let me finish what I was doing and I was muttering various profane, obscene and, possibly racially offensive remarks by the time I finished the job!
It is a fair old walk from Newnham to Grantchester, especially when, as we did, you follow the bank of the meandering river rather than the straight, and rather boring, direct path. We weren’t very far into it when I began to realise just what a big mistake leaving my hat at home had been!
Being extremely unfit I was soon breathing and sweating heavily but there were fortunately many reasons to stop from time to time. The river, along this stretch, is much narrower than in the centre of Cambridge along the backs of the Colleges so the standard of punting has to be very much higher, especially as there are other hazards not so noticeable in town.
These hazards do not just come from other river travellers; chauffeur-driven double width punts and nippy one and two-seater kayaks were pretty damned thick on the water along this stretch but at one point all of these intrepid voyagers came under serious threat from an unlikely direction – above!
The thing that really brought home to me that this was a REALLY hot day was that people were actually swimming in the river! In England? In May? Surely not!
And some of the more brave (or inebriated!) amongst them were not just swimming in the Granta they were climbing tall trees on the riverbank and PLUMMETING into it!
I did not actually SEE anyone drop into or through a punt or kayak but some of these idiots came close enough to soak quite a few of the lounging passengers and a certain amount of swearing ensued whenever this happened!
Not wishing to spoil our own enjoyment by becoming embroiled in any fights that seemed likely to break out for this reason we pressed on and eventually left the riverside to cut through a field and into the village of Grantchester itself.
We were heading for the second most famous building in that village (after the Old Vicarage, named by Mr Brooke in the title of his most famous poem and currently the home of the aforementioned seaside peer) – the Orchard Tearoom.
I don’t think I have ever visited such a place! An enormous lawn sprinkled with apple trees and small tables surrounded by dark green deck chairs – exactly as it was in photographs over a hundred years ago!
However, as I think I may have mentioned before, it was a VERY hot day and there were hundreds of people wandering about waiting to pounce upon any suddenly vacant seats so we felt we had no chance of getting an outdoor table. I wasn’t too disappointed by this as I wanted a bit of a break from the sun and the indoor part of the tearoom was nice and cool. So, while Faith and Sue went to get served, I went and bagged a nice table indoors.
I had just about cooled down by the time they arrived with Cream Teas for three and the little booklet from which I have gleaned most of the facts that have crept in here (and which will provide even more in the next article)!
We then returned to the car by the “straight line route” that didn’t follow the river and I didn’t get quite as sunburned on the way back!
It’s a funny thing about Cambridge and me – less than a day spent among University-type people there and my intellect seems to wake up for a while!
And how do I know that?
Well, for one thing, there was the quiz we had gone there for! Many of the other ten teams comprised people with connections to the world of Cantabrigian Academia while our “eight” had a handful of school teachers, a Solicitor and Faith and I – and we slaughtered them!
Unfortunately after a week or so it‘s all starting to fade away again (but not you will note until after I managed to coin the phrase “Cantabrigian Academia”)!