Posts in Category: Cambridge

WW2 Photo Appeal

One of the places I am most looking forward to visiting one of the days is the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. It’s quite ridiculous that I spend most of my holidays in Cambridge and have somehow never managed to make it there, but I do tend to use my school holidays as time to sit and let my brain stop whirling. But yes…someday soon.


I was intrigued, therefore, when I saw an article about the American Air Museum in Britain was asking for people to come forward and identify local people who worked there during WW2. There is an archive of some 5,000 photographs and, as time passes, the chances of identifying the people in them grows smaller. I really hope this appeal travels far and that the museum’s curators can find and identify many of the people in the photographs, and possibly share their findings with the public. That is one exhibit I would be fascinated to visit.

Cambridge Apple Festival

I’m not sure if I’m getting better or just more used to this teaching lark, but the longest term of the year didn’t feel so horribly long as it did last year. I was, however, very ready for break when half-term rolled around. And what’s a lovelier way to celebrate autumn half-term than with an apple festival?

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On Sunday I joined hundreds of other be-jacketed and booted people at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens for their Apple Day festival. While some people were bringing in local varieties to find out what they were, I was just there for a jolly day out. I started with a leisurely walk through the gardens, which are absolutely gorgeous this time of year. I paused at a tent for a pint of hot cider and kept walking until I found a serene spot in which to ponder Stuff and Things and cabbages and kings.

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It’s impossible not to quote Keats at this point, and so I did…’seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ indeed, so I took myself off to find the fruitfulness. I joined the long line for the apple tasting, chatting to the student in front of me and enjoying the warm smell of crepes and the soft sunshine.

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The tasting itself was a lot of fun. I must have tried about 40 different apples; only tiny pieces, but I didn’t want lunch at the end of the tasting. I had ticked off the ones I liked the most and bought a few bags to take home. After that, I had a wander through the shopping tent, stopping off for local cheese, homemade gin, a bottle of cider, and a choice sniffing of all the different chocolates, cakes and pies of local bakers. I only wish I’d stopped to snag a pumpkin, but otherwise, a truly glorious way to start off the half-term holiday.


The Little Fabric Stall

One of the loveliest stalls in the Cambridge Market Square is The Little Fabric Stall. And in a market full of fresh flowers, local farm produce, artisan cheese makers, ceramicists and jewellery artisans, and secondhand booksellers, that is saying quite a lot.

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The stall is full of the most beautiful collection of fabrics, fat quarters, ribbons, buttons and bits of haberdashery. (Incidentally, isn’t the word ‘haberdashery’ fabulous? There should be more haberdashers in the world) When I finally stumbled on the stall, I had already been to John Lewis and Cali-Co, looking in vain for some unusual fat quarters. I found exactly what I was needing at this stall, and more. I still wish I’d bought the green fabric I put back (damnit), but I finally have enough to start my summer quilt!

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War and Remembrance

On Thursday, as well as fitting in some shopping and wandering through town, I stopped in at the Fitzwilliam Museum for a look at their new exhibitLa Grande Guerre. It featured a collection of lithographs and woodcuts from the Great War, donated by the daughter of Cambridge’s own Gwen Ravarat, and arranged chronologically so that the viewer can see the change in tone as the war progresses. I found the exhibit very moving, and the thoughtful curation of the prints allowed the viewer to see the progression from complete nationalistic control of this military propaganda to letting in just the tiniest slips about the realities of the battles.

LaGrandeGuerreI was slightly surprised to see how the artists included quite a few images of the various cultural groups who fought in the war. There were the ‘Turks’, the Senegalese, Tunisian and Algerian troops who fought with the French, and ‘les Hindous’, the 1.5 million Indian soldiers who fought alongside the British. In fact, I am more than a little in love with that print, and brought home a small copy.

I lingered so long over the exhibit that I didn’t get a chance to have a wander through the rest of the museum, but I’ll be back. In one of those delightful jumps in time, I moved from the First World War to the Second, meeting Paul for drinks at The Eagle.


I’ve been meaning to visit The Eagle since I first heard about it — and it’s well worth hearing about! It was here where Watson and Crick celebrated the discovery of the structure of DNA (or, at least, where they drank to this discovery). Of more personal note, it’s also where the American soldiers stationed in Cambridge during WW2 used to drink. Fortunately for us, they left behind a bit of the past. In grand American tradition, the soldiers graffitied the ceiling of one of the rooms with their serial numbers and other messages. While the bar obviously caters to American tourists (odd hearing so many American accents in one room), it still has the feeling of a local pub, with students and faculty enjoying a quick after-work drink. We were lucky enough to squeeze into a booth in the back room, but there’s also a beautiful front room with glowing stove that must be gorgeous on a rainy winter’s day, and a few tables outside for a beer under the sun. Will definitely be heading back soon.


Half-Term Happiness

One of the reasons I was so excited to move to England was the ease of travel to so many places I wanted to visit and revisit. The reality, however, is that the intensity and focus of teaching means that, by the time holidays roll around, all I want to do is sleep. I’m getting a bit savvier about how I plan holidays now, with at least a few days to rest before jaunting off to see and do.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 21.45.30And while running to make a train to Cambridge immediately after school on Friday isn’t the smartest way to start my week off, I’ve basically spent the past five days resting and relaxing. I’ve spent time in the garden, read books, baked scones and cakes, had a fondue evening with Paul, watched films, knit on my seemingly endless Mitford sweater, chatted to family, made plans for the summer, and just had a lovely, leisurely week.

Christmas Holiday

I know Autumn Term is always the longest of the school year, but this one has felt very long indeed. The last week of school was a good one: there were lights and decorations all over, including some Christmas fairy lights on my monitor, the students were full of excitement, the last day was a jumble of carols and bits of spontaneous creative writing, and I enjoyed getting sweet cards and small gifts from students and my secret elf. I also really enjoyed getting to go home early on the last day of term, climb into flannel pyjamas, and spend the evening watching old films, secure in the knowledge that I didn’t have anything due the next day!

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I set-off for Cambridge on Saturday, spent Sunday reading books and making Kahlua balls, one of my favourite Christmas traditions from home. They weren’t as good as my mother’s, but that just means I need more practice…and more Kahlua! I spent Monday wandering through Cambridge stores and markets, finally getting around to my Christmas shopping. Cambridge was beautifully decorated and felt splendidly holidayish, even in the rain. I stopped off at Fitzbillies for a cup of tea and a scone before heading back to Paul’s. I can’t say that I felt the decor was particularly comfortable or inviting, but the scone was delicious and so was the clotted cream. I’ll definitely be going back to try their famous Chelsea bun.

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On Christmas Eve we headed for my friend Clare’s parents’ house for a lovely family day of great food, pub quiz questions, a walk past the River Nene and around Peterborough, including the cathedral, and an evening of more delicious food and fun games. I suspect that my attempt at impersonating Churchill was the worst Winston ever, but it was a lovely evening of games and laughter, and it was particularly nice to be with a family at the holiday since I’m no longer near my own.

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For the first time in ages, I actually slept in on Christmas Day. When I did get up, we had a leisurely brunch while watching carols from Kings. We then set off for Ipswich to spend the day with another dear friend, Selena. We walked around the harbour, braced ourselves against the cold for a walk into town, and came back to her flat for a peaceful afternoon of book talk, Christmas television, fireworks across the quay, and a lovely indoor picnic with a cheese theme. Even the pudding was cheese-based! Never let it be said that we don’t indulge in cheesiness.

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This morning, fter a lovely, leisurely breakfast and unwrapping of Christmas presents, Paul and I went out for a brief trip to the shops. (On Boxing Day, I know…!) I’m back now and ensconced under blankets, indulging myself with the Downton Abbey Christmas special and my favourite childhood film, Meet Me in St Louis. I should really be packing, as I leave for Copenhagen tomorrow, but I may put it off for just a little bit longer for some more lovely Christmas lounging.

Autumn Half-Term

I spent the past few weeks actively counting down to half-term. And I do mean literally counting down; I had a running tally of days that I ticked off before my week of freeeeeeedom.

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After two days in Stratford spent enjoying hotel breakfasts and the biggest shopping mall in Europe, we caught the train back to Cambridge for a quiet week. It was absolutely lovely to have time to bake again. There’s something incredibly relaxing about standing in a kitchen, going through the motions of a familiar recipe, watching raw ingredients turn into something golden and warm. While I am trying to eat proper dinners these days, not the hurried sandwiches I had last year, I don’t have that much time in the evenings to think about or prepare meals, and almost no time to bake. So it was an incredible luxury to just stand in a kitchen and think about what I wanted. In the end I made a plum cake, and a few days later, made another to leave in the freezer for Paul to pull out when he needs a nice cup of tea and slice of cake. I also made more molasses cookies, again with black treacle instead of molasses, but this time browning the butter and adding the treacle before mixing, which created a crisper, almost toffee-like texture. I was going to bring some of those back with me, but got carried away buying books, and ran out of room in my bag, drat it.

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I also spent my usual amount of time mooning around the garden. I’m lucky to live in a green and leafy suburb, but I do miss Paul’s garden. I went out to inspect the changing leaves, admire the hardy white roses which are still hanging on, eavesdrop on the fat birds that hang out around the feeder, and sniff at the cold air. It’s already starting to get dark early, so it also meant I was on hedgehog patrol most evenings, popping up to peer outside and see if I could find the resident hedgie who lives under the shed. No luck this time…

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…and that was pretty much my half-term. Nothing exciting, just peace, quiet, music, books, bubble baths, big cups of tea, spending time with Paul, feeding him stodgy winter food, getting my incredibly long mane of hair chopped off, and the occasional trips into town to do some shopping and revel in the autumn colours on every corner. It was exactly what I needed.

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I also made a point to go to evensong. I grew up listening to King’s College Choir and, although I’d passed the college multiple times over the past year, never managed to make it before. I almost didn’t make it this time, but in the end, found myself joining the long queue waiting in the dusk. King’s is always awe-inspiring, but there is something rather magical about seeing the lights go on in the quad and the slow ringing of the bells. The music was glorious, and the chapel, lit by candles, was dazzling. It’s impossible to be in there without thinking about all the people who have passed through over the years, and equally comforting to see the choristers, who look and sound like angels behind their golden lights, pushing and jostling each other on their way to communion. I gave one my patented Teacher Look until he piped down and then I went back to thinking about church mice (as you do).

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Knowing I’d be in Cambridge for the half-term, I’d been making a list of things I needed to buy. I ended up getting quite a few things on my list, necessary things like a hair dryer, fun things like new nail polish and perfume, household things like candles and holiday decorations, and even some new clothing. It was also an opportunity to get some of the teachery things that run out quickly, like marking pens and stickers, and the things you don’t know you need, but inevitably do…like foam, sequins, and sparkly paper. There will be an English crown in my classroom.

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And, unsurprisingly, I left Cambridge with a huge stack of new books. You know you have a problem when you arrive with one bag and have to buy a small suitcase just to get home. Paul brought me some book finds from the market, a copy of Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch”, which I would not let myself open for fear of getting nothing else done, and then I went mad at Heffers, The Haunted Bookshop, and various other stores. And the worst thing is, I now have nine new books on my wish list that didn’t buy.

Basically, the perfect half-term.


Scott Polar Museum

One of the many reasons I love the essayist Anne Fadiman’s writings is that she is an unabashed lover of all things explorer, especially the Antarctic expeditions. It’s impossible not to be drawn to someone who writes so beautifully of their bravery and the poignant humour in their failure.

“Americans admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure. Given a choice – at least in my reading – I’m un-American enough to take quixotry over efficiency any day. I have always found the twilight-of-an-empire aspect of the Victorian age inexpressibly poignant, and no one could be more Victorian than the brave, earnest, optimistic, self-sacrificing, patriotic, honorable, high-minded, and utterly inept men who left their names all over the maps of the Arctic and Antarctic, yet failed to navigate the Northwest Passage and lost the race to both Pole. Who but an Englishman, Lieutenant Edward Parry, would have decided, on reaching western Greenland, to wave a flag painted with an olive branch in order to ensure a peaceful first encounter with the polar Eskimos, who not only had never seen an olive branch but had never seen a tree? Who but an Englishman, the legendary Sir John Franklin, could have managed to die of starvation and scurvy along with all 129 of his men in a region of the Canadian Arctic whose game had supported an Eskimo colony for centuries? When the corpses of some of Franklin’s officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield. These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by god, they were gentlemen.”  – Ex Libris

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One of the more intriguing museums in Cambridge is the Scott Polar Research Institute. Founded both as a memorial to Scott after his last ill-fated voyage and as an institute to continue his scientific goals, it is now a museum, research facility, laboratories, and home to the Shackleton Memorial Library. It is a gem of a museum with some very important, very moving collections. There are last letters penned to wives and parents, scientific and photographic tools used during the expeditions, and even birds brought back from more successful ventures.



These baby emperor chicks are a touching reminder of the kind of birds and wildlife these men found and introduced to the Western world. They’re also just very sweet.



Even more than the letters home, what I found most moving was the collection of everyday items found after various lost expeditions. The goggles Scott wore, based on an Inuit design, to help protect him from the glare on the snow. The balaclava knitted by a member of the royal family for the expedition, demonstrating the excitement the whole country felt for these explorations. The huswife that was probably used every day, with the original needles and threads, and pockets to store other necessary items. It’s a comprehensive collection of the various explorations, but the museum also includes sections on the climate, native peoples, and future of these areas. It also has a smashing selection of books, which I carefully edged away from, but I’ll definitely be going back to see it again and to snap up biographies of these amazing men.

Ooshi Bubble Tea

One of my favourite ways of cooling down in Dallas was to stop for a bubble tea. I’m not exactly sure when bubble tea became so popular, but there have been fun and quirky tea houses popping up all over the state for the past ten years. I had missed it this past year so I was especially pleased to spot a small, bright shop in Cambridge’s city centre.

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Ooshi is a small cafe on Regent’s Street with a colourful storefront. There is a staggering array of flavour options, and they have natural flavoured “ooballs” as well as pearls and jellies. There are also some luscious looking cupcakes and mini-cupcakes and other various sweets. My coconut bubble tea with pineapple jellies was absolutely delicious, with plenty of ice and a lovely froth at the top. The cup was sealed and the fat straw made a satisfying “plonk”, and there are comfortable cafe chairs and tables where you can sit back and enjoy your tea. I’m a bit dismayed that I found Ooshi right before leaving Cambridge, but I’ll be back to try some of their other flavours.

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Cambridge Market

One of my favourite things to do in Cambridge is to visit the market in the centre of the city. It may just be me, but it seems every street and passage ends up there, so inevitably, I do too. (Please don’t tell me I’m wrong – I don’t want to stop going!)

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Paul has a book seller he returns to each Thursday, but there’s usually at least one book stall available every day, and I’ve found some really good books there. There are also fruit and veg stalls, beautiful flowers, people selling music, vintage clothing, all kinds of homemade food, from cheese and coffee stalls that smell divine to a constantly hopping Thai noodle stall where I spotted Sriracha sauce being liberally added so I must try.

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Most of the time, I just stop to look at the book stall and pass through quickly, noting new stalls (bubble tea…next time!), but I was struck by a small stall selling ceramics last week. They were beautiful pieces, delicate and slightly quirky, and with the loveliest colours and glazing. I ended up buying a necklace with the idea that it would be a nice gift, but I’m fundamentally selfish so I’ve kept it for myself!

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The necklace is fun; lightweight, which surprised me, and the blues and grays and reds and white should make for some colourful and interesting additions to my wardrobe. I was also struck with how she packaged the necklace, in bags made from magazine pages sewn together to create small pouches. A really lovely find. I hope All Gone ceramics is there when I head back for some spicy Thai noodles and a jasmine bubble tea!


The Haunted Bookshop

I had heard about The Haunted Bookshop long before I decided to move to the UK, and I have to say, the bookshop is one of the many reasons I love Cambridge. You step down a narrow passage that smells of coffee beans (I really must try the coffee shop next door), into a small store with a red door, and suddenly you are surrounded by beautiful old books.


The store is small but jam-packed with the most amazing books. Until last week, however, I’d only seen the ground floor. There was always enough there to entice me. However, some friends kindly pointed out that the best books are upstairs and I needed to have a look pronto.


Look at that bookshelf. LOOK at those Chalet School books! I’ve never seen so many Chalet School books in one place, and these were cloth editions, many with the original dust jackets. There were also Girls Gone By editions, including out of print titles, and the old Armada paperbacks. The room was stuffed, floor-to-ceiling, with Girls Own books. As well as Elinor Brent-Dyer, there was Enid Blyton, Josephine Elder, Elsie Oxenham, and so many more. There were even American authors like Susan Coolidge and Louisa May Alcott. It was basically paradise for anyone who loves girls school stories. I had gone upstairs with the intention of looking for an Angela Brazil I’ve long coveted, but I was so dazzled that I just wandered about finding more and more books to read. I must go back soon to find the last Fun in the Fourth book to complete my collection and to stand in that small room full of stunning books.

Signs of Summer

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather lately and haven’t been out much. But while I’ve been hibernating inside, lovely things are happening to the bushes and trees outside. The Cambridge birds and squirrels must eat rather well.

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Strawberries strawberries strawberry ice cream

Paul’s strawberries have been coming up since I got here, and they are delicious. Sadly, they also make me want strawberry ice cream every time I see them!

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Cambridge Botanical Gardens

Last week, on a beautiful sunny Friday, Paul and I wended our way to the Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

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I can’t say the ducks were overly impressed with us, but I was struck with how lovely the gardens were. Some botanical gardens are too tidy for my taste. This one felt nurtured, but still natural.

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Some of the greenhouses were too hot for me, but they had some really stunning plants and flowers in them. And for some, it looked like there were tiny tendrils of outside plants trying to make their way under the glass into the greenhouse.

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I’m not sure if someone ignored the rules and made off with the books, or if they’ve just stopped using this cupboard, but this was a delight to find in one of the greenhouses.

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I had expected to enjoy the gardens, but was also struck by how beautiful the greenhouses were. You don’t expect to go to a garden to admire the hardware, but the old cranks and pulleys and metal corners were as lovely in their own way as the flowers they sheltered.

The Fitzwilliam Museum

Yesterday, after a leisurely morning (well, for me…Paul worked from home), we wandered in the direction of The Fitzwilliam Museum. I’d passed it several times when visiting before, and we’d once popped in just to have a quick peep, but this was my first time to really get a chance to look around. We started our museum tour with a visit to the cafe, a technique I can fully endorse.

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The museum is vast, so promising myself several return visits to fully explore, we passed quickly through rooms of Madonnas and fat angels to get to the French and English galleries. No matter how many museums I visit, it’s always astonishing to find oneself surrounded by paintings, prints and sculptures and then being left to make sense of them. I wandered through the galleries, finding old favourites, adding new ones, and just enjoying my usual game of trying to understand about what the curators were thinking in the arrangement of the gallery.

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I found this wall in the 20th century English art gallery most pleasing. Women reading, thinking, and spending time on their own in domestic settings…lovely.

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And as an added bonus, outside or in, it’s a beautiful place to look up.