Cambridge — This is a different Cambridge. The gowns are gone, banished to a museum of what Britain was. The traffic and pollution have moved in, angry, irritable, uncompromising. Hopping off the train from Kings Cross, London doesn’t prepare you for the scene, one facing energetic fumes as disarmed citizens before a gas attack.
Another thing is also striking. The builders, constructors and developers have moved in, adding pudgy monsters of glass and cement, trendy forums for shopping and glitzy arenas for communing. Coffee shops have become colonists, and we are being told that eating in Cambridge has improved.
There is a sense that history has, with its feelers and reminders, caught up. The Scotsman manning a brightly lit bar from yet another new hotel down from the main station is friendly. He exudes a confidence that would make the academics in this city squirm. He is, as it were, not one of them, town, not gown.
This is to the good, if to the good means attributing value to movement, change and momentum. This has not always been the case – coming to this city of the Fens, a place of asylum and refuge from Oxford, is much like venturing to a living archaeological site, with humans still going about their business since time immemorial. Construction and building might be taking place on the perimeter, but the aged interior remains stubbornly intact, a city, as Matthew Arnold described, of perspiring dreams.
To be at Cambridge is to swan,…