I finally took a couple of days off work and visited Cambridge with my sons. I suppose somewhere deep inside I was hoping to inspire them. I was inspired to apply to Oxbridge by the sight (when I was visiting England for the first time at the age of 14) of a random girl coming out of a college house in her gown opposite Magdalen College in Oxford and waving to the porter there.
We stayed in university rooms (although sadly, not in my college, because it doesn’t allow any under 18s), walked everywhere and chatted about the pros and cons of a Cambridge education. I was very pleased that they fell in love with some of my favourite haunts: Heffers, Grantchester Meadows and The Orchard Tea Gardens, the gardens of Selwyn and Wolfson, even the atmosphere at The Eagle.
The tourists were over-abundant and every college seemed to be under construction or renovation. The cakes at Fitzbillies were no longer quite as delicious as those of yore, and the (non-formal hall) food at my old college was still reassuringly bad.
I have talked before about how much Cambridge meant to me at the time: intellectual and physical freedom after being cooped up under the Communist regime; lifelong friends; unforgettable memories. But what did it mean to the boys?
Well, they said they liked it but when asked what they liked about it, they were unable to elaborate. They clearly have not inherited my capacity to gush! Perhaps, as someone once said about the glorious architecture of the colleges, it is all wasted on the youth. After all, the colleges were built initially to accommodate (more mature) fellows.