Today, April 10, 2018, marks the 106th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, bound from Southampton to New York, but which, as we all know, sunk on April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.
Dramas played out on the world’s stage sometimes have a way of intruding on our everyday existence in ways that are so commonplace that they would be hard to imagine. Not included among the estimated 705 survivors, or the nearly 1500 victims of the Titanic disaster was a woman whose life on this earth was long and whose influence on the people with whom she came into contact profound. Naomi Halstead nee Lenander was 22 years old when she returned to Sweden from Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1912. She had been sent from her home in Malmo, Sweden by her parents when she was barely 11 years old to escape from the hard and bitter times, the bad harvests, and near famines that had descended on Sweden at the end of the 19th century. Now, no longer a child, but a young woman trained as a teacher, Naomi returned to Sweden to visit with family and friends.
It had been a grand visit, but now it was time to return to her home in America. And so, Naomi booked sea-passage—no jumbo jets leaving daily from Southampton to New York in 1912—and began the final round of visits and good-byes. Naomi came from a loving family who were reluctant to let her leave—particularly when her birthday was only a few days away. “Stay at least until after your birthday,” her family implored. “Who knows when we’ll see you again?”
Naomi heeded the entreaties of her family and turned in her tickets. She did not sail on the Cunard Liner Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship ever built, leaving Southampton, England on its fateful maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912. On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 PM, the Titanic struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea. On April 17, 1912, Naomi Lenander celebrated her 23rd birthday safe in Sweden in the loving embrace of her family.
Naomi Lenander Halstead was my grandmother-in-law and lived with Nancy and me for several years prior to her death at the age of 89 in 1978. I have often thought how different my life might be if Naomi had sailed home as planned. Nancy Lofkvist, my wife, would not have been born. Presumably, I would be married but to someone else, living somewhere else, doing something else. The mind reels.
Many long years ago I was telling this story to a group of my students, all members of the Davis Chapter of Model United Nations at the University of California at Davis. The occasion was a party and we were talking about the “small world” concept—how we are all connected to each other at some point of acquaintanceship. Later, American playwright, John Guare, wrote a play called Six Degrees of Separation that explored this notion [many years after this, I was in the Knickerbocker Tavern in New York City, one of Brother Tom’s locals during the days when he was a resident of The Big Apple, having a drink with Tom and a friend of his, the writer, Brad Morrow, when in walked John Guare, a friend of Brad’s, who joined us, thereby creating zero degrees of separation in a sense, but I digress]. Meanwhile, back in Davis, we were all intrigued by the implications of my story. One of my students, a Mexican—Jose Baron—said that he believed that he had a distant uncle who was a mechanic on the ill-fated Titanic. It was a family story often told, said Jose. I observed that that meant his uncle was a Hispanic Titanic Mechanic. And, if he were tall, well then, he was a Gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic Mechanic. That occupied our time for the next half hour or so (evil? —Satanic; showed off his learning? —pedantic, etc.) and probably obscured the original source of our word game. But here again was a connection.
And so, on this auspicious anniversary date, I see Naomi and Jose and Jose’s uncle, that gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic mechanic, in my mind’s eye and I recall the stirring words of the 17th century Scottish priest and poet, John Donne: No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory were; as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
It was a cold morning here in the greater Windsor metroplex, and I decided that, rather than venture abroad to procure my thrice-weekly health-conscious breakfast at McDonald’s (an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin and an order of hash browns), I would fry up a couple of eggs in the warmth of the kitchen at Stately Johnson Manor South. It’s a contradiction, I suppose, that, if I am frying my own eggs, or when I have eggs at breakfast at Gus’s Diner (or anywhere that I am having breakfast out), I want my eggs over-easy. The egg yolk in an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin is broken of course. No problem for me. Luckily, the “law of contradiction” is never enforced otherwise the jails would overflow and I would be a frequent guest. I suppose I shouldn’t confess that I do not eat cheeseburgers, but I would be incensed if the cheese were omitted from my thrice-weekly Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin. And while I won’t eat pastries that contain nuts, yet a bowl of vanilla ice-cream strewed with salted peanuts and chocolate sauce is among my favorite foods.
But I digress.
I broke the first egg successfully (no broken yolk) into my cast-iron skillet. I did not have the same success with the second egg as you note in the picture. “Damn,” I cried, “and double damn.” Nancy Johnson, my wise and wonderful wife, who was boiling porridge next to me, asked what was the source of my vexation. “Look,” I said, “See the waste I have laid to this egg rendering it inedible.” Did Mrs. Johnson roll her eyes? Perhaps. After 49 years of marriage I really don’t notice those things anymore. I used to tell Nancy that, if she continued to roll her eyes over my every little inconsistency, she might get them stuck in the “rolled-up” position one day.
Did she offer me comforting words, a balm in Gilead, extinguishing my sorrow and pain? Well, perhaps. Her reply was, “May that be the worst thing that happens to you today.” And I thought that that was a kind and generous response, whether it was meant to be or not. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. It was certainly kinder and more generous than Nancy’s normal advice to me when I am confronted with a situation that calls forth my best whining: Cope!
And so I hope for you, Gentle Reader, that, whatever your metaphorical broken egg yolk might be, that that is the worst thing that happens to you today.
Hemingway, at least, expected to be sad in the fall. In A Moveable Feast he wrote, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” I have always found this passage to be very moving and I often quote it in various writings and even in conversation. If you live in a landscape of seasons, it’s evocative.
I find a solace in the fall that tends to buoy my spirit and find beauty even in branches “bare against the wind and cold, wintry light.” Part of the reason is that, growing up in the Midwest, you punctuate your life by the colors and textures that each season brings. We Midwesterners well and truly understand Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, summarized succinctly in its opening line: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” I recall a time when I was teaching at the University of California in Davis. I had a comfortable office in venerable old North Hall with a view of a magnificent tree just outside my office window. The problem with that tree, I discovered, was that it remained the same year round. It might have been a painting hanging just outside my window. I was standing in my office one day looking at the never-changing tree when a student came in (my door was always open) and asked what I was doing. “Waiting for that tree to change color,” I replied, “so that I’ll know it’s fall (or winter, or spring, or summer) and I can be about my seasonal appropriate activities.”
For many years, the fall was a time of renewal for me. From age six to age 35, I was a creature of the academic life either as a student, a teacher, or both. When the leaves fell from the trees and nature began hunkering down, when the hounds of winter were on summer’s traces, I was renewing old acquaintances and forging new friendships. The fall semester of academic life was the budding spring of the academic year. It was invigorating, full of potential, providing a new start. A time to sow, a time to be born, a time to laugh, a time to dance. Heady time, the fall.
The first fall after I was out of law school at age 35, the fall of 1980, I hadn’t expected to be sad, but I was. The rhythm of academic life that had sustained me for so long was out of sync. Fall didn’t bring the energy of renewal as it had up to then. September, October: now they were just months of the year, sands in the hourglass of time, markers on the paths of glory that lead…Well, Gentle Reader, you know where the paths of glory lead I am sure.
This past week I was able to immerse myself in the glory of a northern Wisconsin fall. The colors had not quite peaked, but there were the aspen and white birch with their golden leaves shimmering along the Brule as I drove HW 13 from Superior to Bayfield and Washburn. The coniferous Tamaracks give a deep golden yellow glow as well. They will shed their needles in the late fall, the only evergreen tree in the state to do so. The sumac were already a deep scarlet red even along HW 94 and 53 driving up north from my home in Windsor. The reddening of the sumac is always an early harbinger of fall. Farther north, In Superior, the leaves of the red maples were meeting expectations by turning a brilliant red.
And then I was in Bayfield, my original home town, the place where part of my soul still resides. There’s a black maple tree in front of the old courthouse in Bayfield that I have taken a picture of for years and years. It was still there, still beautiful in its fall golden coat, and I took its picture once again.
The tree is about a block from my Johnson grandparents’s home. That site of blessed memory is no longer in the family, more’s the pity, but I feel its Siren call whenever I am in Bayfield. There’s an old barn on the property that is now on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Cousin Mark Johnson and I spent many happy hours playing in that barn when we were wee lads in a time long ago, and, it sometimes seems, a faraway place. But when time and place seem to be slipping away from me, I always find my way back.
Sad in the fall? Hemingway maybe, but not me. Not me, not yet.
In the Dining Hall at Sidney Sussex College, in Cambridge, England hangs a 1656 portrait by Samuel Cooper of a former Sidney Sussex College student, Oliver Cromwell, who, though he did not graduate from the college, attended from 1616-1617, and is rightly embraced as a “Son of Sussex.”
In the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College hangs a plaque commemorating the return of this “Son of Sussex” to his Alma Mater on March 25, 1960.
Let me set the stage. If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that Dennis Ryan and I spent a week as residents of Sidney Sussex College while Dennis, a disciple (I don’t think that’s saying too much) of the great 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, examined various documents held in the Wittgenstein Archives of the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge where Wittgenstein taught from 1929 until his death in 1951. While Dennis spent three days buried in the Wittgenstein Archives, I was on a somewhat different journey of discovery: trying to locate Oliver Cromwell’s skull. Though I made a Herculean effort (as documented in the pictures below), the closest I came to Cromwell’s head was sitting under the Cooper portrait in the dining hall.
For starters, I was able to acquire the services of a couple of local blokes possessed of a backhoe and practiced in the art of digging holes who were willing, guided by my admittedly limited knowledge of the precise location of Cromwell’s skull, to dig where I instructed them. All to no avail and, after a couple of days, they filled up the holes, I paid them off, and sent them on their way. Cheerio and all that.
I then decided that perhaps the authorities that buried Cromwell’s head would not have been quite so public about the location of the head’s final resting place. And given that the burial was in 1960, an age of modernity even in Cambridge, maybe these authorities utilized the myriad underground tunnels that contain the water mains and electrical conduit that connect Sidney Sussex College to the outer world. I located a manhole cover very near the antechapel that contains the plaque commemorating the burial of Cromwell’s head and I brought the blokes back for another effort.
Our efforts, more’s the pity, were not successful. Bitterly disappointed, I abandoned the quest to find Cromwell’s head and retired to a nearby pub, the Champion of the Thames, where I found solace in the warm beer and warm heart of Beth the bartender— and daughter of the pub’s owner to boot.
Beth told me to buck up, suggested that I just tell the story of the journey of Cromwell’s head (“and by the way,” she asked,” who is this bloke, Cromwell?”—Beth is very young), that I didn’t really need the skull to tell the story, and besides,Beth pointed out, drawing another pint for me, if I had found it, it was unlikely that I’d be allowed to leave Cambridge, let alone the UK, with the head in my suitcase. She was right, of course, though it took a few pints of Summer Lightning and a Scotch egg or two to convince me. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
The story I am about to tell you, Gentle Reader, is, I think, mostly true. It is the story of the curious journey of Oliver Cromwell’s head from its first appearance at Sidney Sussex College in 1616, firmly attached to the body of Cromwell, to its macabre return 343 years later: there and back again.
We’ll let ourselves get a little ahead of the story and briefly describe the importance of Oliver Cromwell in British history. Some of you may already know what I am about to relate and you have my permission to scroll down a couple of paragraphs to the start of the journey of Cromwell’s head from his body in 1661 to the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College in 1960.
From 1653 to 1658, Cromwell was the Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland. This occurred after the English Civil Wars (there were three of them from 1642-1651) whose consequences were the trial, conviction for treason, and beheading of Charles I on January 30, 1649; the exile of Charles II in 1651; the replacement of the monarchy with the Commonwealth of England from 1649-1653; and then the Protectorate under Cromwell and his son from 1653 until 1659.
Cromwell had been a member of Parliament during Charles I’s unhappy 24 year reign. Charles was his own worst enemy: self-righteous, arrogant, and unscrupulous. His troubles began the moment he ascended the throne in 1625 upon the death of his father James I. Charles simultaneously alienated both his subjects and his Parliament, prompting a series of events that ultimately lead to civil war, his own death and the abolition of the English monarchy. When the conflicts between Charles and the Parliament finally resulted in a civil war, Cromwell became the military leader of the Roundhead army of the Parliament against the King’s Cavaliers. He was also the third signer of the death warrant issued after Charles I’s conviction. On January 30, 1649, a bitterly cold day, Charles I was led to the scaffold erected at Whitehall Palace, London and beheaded. Charles went to his execution, or so the tale is told, wearing two heavy shirts so that he might not shiver in the cold and appear to be afraid.
What followed was a two year period of the First English Commonwealth, a rough patch that led to the third English civil war. Cromwell and the Roundheads effectively eliminated the military threats to the Commonwealth, but economic trouble continued and, for reasons entirely too complicated to be discussed here, Cromwell, with no apparent authority except the backing of the Roundhead Army, dismissed Parliament and was appointed the Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
I’ll not bore you with the tedious details of Cromwell’s adventures over the next five years. You can read about them elsewhere at your leisure.
Cromwell died at Whitehall Palace during the mid-afternoon of Friday, September 3, 1658 probably of septicemia following a bout of malarial fever and a urinary infection to which he was prone. He was buried with great pomp and circumstance befitting a king. Ironically, Cromwell, Caesar-like, had previously turned down the crown. Still, being the Lord Protector was pretty much like being the king, though to say “It’s good to be Lord Protector” is not as funny as saying “It’s good to be king.”
King or not, preparations for Cromwell’s funeral did not go well. The government planned a public viewing, a grandiose funeral, and internment in Westminster Abbey. Given that all of this would take time to organize, the powers that be ordered that Cromwell’s corpse be immediately disemboweled and embalmed. This preservation was carried out as instructed, however Cromwell’s corpse was already in a horrendous state of decay and the embalming was done badly. According to George Bate, a physician present at Cromwell’s embalming, Cromwell’s corpse was wrapped tightly in four layers of grave cloth then buried in two coffins, one lead and one wood, yet despite this, a horrible stench still leaked from the outer coffin. Hence the decision was made to bury the putrid Protector, prematurely and privately. An effigy dressed in Cromwell’s clothes took his place at the lying in state at Somerset House.
Thus, Cromwell’s body was buried in Westminster Abbey several weeks before his state funeral. In mid-October, Londoners were invited to view Cromwell’s “body” lying in state at Somerset House though what they saw was an ornately-dressed wooden mannequin sporting a wax death mask. The funeral procession did not take place until November 23rd, eight weeks after Cromwell’s death. The coffin transported to Westminster Abbey was probably empty.
Opinion varies about whether Cromwell was a proto-fascist dictator, or the herald of democracy in England. I do recommend Lady Antonia Fraser’s interesting biography of the Lord Protector, Cromwell, Our Chief of Men. Her goal was to rehabilitate Cromwell’s reputation as a statesman without ignoring his many flaws, among which were a very bad temper and his propensity to see events as in the hands of a divine providence, that, surprise surprise, spoke to him at critical times. I still pitch my tent in the Cromwell-as-a- proto-fascist camp, but that’s neither here nor there for this story. Suffice it to say, that whatever one’s opinion of Cromwell might be, it cannot be denied that he is a figure of central importance in British history.
Now the real tale begins (“and not a moment too soon,” I hear you chide, Gentle Reader). Cromwell’s son, Richard, who inherited the Protectorate after Oliver’s death, was not the man his father was and, in May of 1659, he resigned as Lord Protector ushering in the restoration of the Monarchy and the return of Charles II from exile in 1660. Richard, by the by, having resigned from government, fled to France, and then traveled extensively around Europe under a variety of pseudonyms. He quietly returned to England in the 1680s and managed to live to the ripe old age of 85, dying on July 12, 1712.
On January 30, 1661 (the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I), Charles II had Cromwell’s body exhumed from Westminster Abbey and given a gruesome posthumous execution. Cromwell’s corpse was hanged at the Tyburn Gallows, the principal location for the execution of traitors back in the day. If you are at all familiar with London, Tyburn was located near the present day Marble Arch.
Cromwell’s body was left to hang for a day and then the body was cut down and decapitated. According to legend, it took eight blows of the executioner’s ax to separate Cromwell’s head from his corpse. Who knows? The body was wrapped in four layers of grave cloth through which the ax would have had to cut. But the job was finally done. Cromwell’s head was dipped in tar and then impaled on a wooden pike attached to a 20-foot pole and displayed on the roof of Westminster Hall facing in the direction of the spot where Charles I had been beheaded. Cromwell’s body may have been buried in a pit under the Tyburn Gallows, though one story has it that his daughter was able to retrieve the body. I have no idea if that’s true, and, if true, where those bones might be.
So now we have Cromwell’s head on a pike on the roof of Westminster Hall where the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded seeing it on Feb. 5, 1661. A gruesome sight I am sure. You can see the pike impaled through the skull.
And there it remained for at least 24 years, an eerie human weather vane blown by wind, drenched by rain and snow, bronzed by countless searing summer suns. But in the late 1680s, maybe about 1685 or maybe a bit later, the pole on the which the head was impaled snapped during a fierce storm. Cromwell’s head rolled into a gutter in Parliament Square and is believed to have been found by a sentry, one Pvt. Barnes, who promptly took it home and, according to a diarist of the time, “secreted it in a chimney-corner.”
There is some thought that Barnes was a republican who did not want the head to fall into royalists hands once again. More likely, he was frightened by the hue and cry that arose when it was discovered that the head was missing and by seeing placards issued by the government a few days later ordering anyone who found the head to hand it in . And so it stayed in the chimney until Barnes revealed his secret and the location of the head to his wife and daughter on his death-bed perhaps around 1702.
The next time we have evidence of the head it is in the possession of a collector of curiosities, Claudius Du Puy. Du Puy maintained a museum of curiosities which was apparently one of the most visited museums in London at the time, a motley collection of marine monstrosities, idols, waxworks, musical instruments and strange footwear that filled four rooms.
Du Puy died intestate in 1738 and when next we hear of the head it is in the possession of Samuel Russell, “a dissolute, drunken and impecunious comedian.” Russell appears to have married Pvt. Barnes’ granddaughter and thus his link to the head, though how he came into its actual possession is not known.
Russell attempted to sell the head to Sidney Sussex College and was rebuffed. But James Cox, a London jeweler and moneylender, paid Russell £118 for it in 1787 (about $18,400 today). Twelve years later, he sold it for £230 (about $26,000 today, a tidy profit) to a trio of speculators, the Hughes brothers.
One of the stranger aspects of this already strange story concerns the fate of the Brothers Hughes. Before the head was very much older, each of them suffered a violent and untimely death. One was mugged by a highwayman; another drowned; the third had an apoplectic seizure while out riding, fell off his horse, and died.
The three daughters of the third brother then became the heirs to the head. In 1814, they sold it to their family physician, Dr Josiah Wilkinson, a collector of Cromwellian artifacts. Josiah often showed it to his patients, and the Wilkinson family was apparently in the habit of showing off the relic to their house guests. One house guest reported that the head was usually shown off after breakfast.
Cromwell’s head remained in the Wilkinson family for 146 years until it was donated to Sidney Sussex College in 1960.
But there remains a pressing issue here, does there not? And you, Gentle Reader, I am sure you are asking the most important question to be asked: How do we know that this skull, now secreted somewhere in the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College, is truly Cromwell’s head? Because if it’s not, then all this has been merely words—sound and little fury signifying nothing.
Fear not Gentle Reader, the provenance has been well and truly established. Let me count the ways. The Wilkinson family allowed scientists to study the head, including Dr. George Rolleston in 1875 and Karl Pearson and Geoffrey Morant in 1935.
In 1875, Dr. George Rolleston, an Oxford professor, examined two heads that were reported to be Cromwell’s and compared them to Cromwell’s death mask. The first was a skull from the collection at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. Rolleston believed this skull wan’t Cromwell because the damage around the hole in the parietal bone indicated that a spike entered from the top of the head, not the bottom; there was no flesh left on the skull, and no evidence that it had been embalmed all of which as would have been the case if the skull were Cromwell’s. Rolleston then compared the Wilkinson head to Cromwell’s death mask. He considered this to be the best candidate for Oliver Cromwell’s head.
After another full examination in 1911, with comparisons to the Ashmolean head, archaeologists dismissed the Ashmolean head as a fake. But the absence of firm evidence of the whereabouts of Cromwell’s head between 1684 and 1787, a chain of custody issue, made the examiners wary about declaring the Wilkinson head genuine. They concluded their study unwilling to verify or refute the Wilkinson head’s identity.
The uncertainty increased public demand for a full scientific examination, and Canon Horace Wilkinson, a descendant of Josiah, reluctantly allowed the head to be taken for examination by the eugenicist Karl Pearson and the anthropologist Geoffrey Morant.
Pearson and Morant examined the head for their book, The Portraiture of Oliver Cromwell With Special Reference to the Wilkinson Head. They described the head as embalmed, very shriveled, but still showing a depression on the site of the famous wart that Cromwell had always insisted his portrait painters depict faithfully. The marks of the ax used to sever the head from the body were also apparent. X-rays confirmed that the Wilkinson head was the skull of a man of about 60, Cromwell’s age at death. They argued that the cranial measurements corresponded to portraits of Cromwell. The skullcap showed evidence of having been removed and then reattached with embalmed skin, which corresponded to historical reports. They also found the remains of red hair, which Cromwell had. Their 109-page report concluded that there was a “moral certainty” that the Wilkinson head was that of Oliver Cromwell.
Well, this verification of the Wilkinson head as Cromwell’s head caused Canon Horace Wilkinson no little ethical concern: what on earth to do with the head of a former head of state? He was apparently reluctant to give it to a museum on the grounds that it constituted “Christian remains” and descendants of Cromwell were still living. Perplexed by what to do, Canon Wilkinson apparently just “popped” the head on his mantle piece awaiting divine instruction one presumes.
Canon Horace Wilkinson died in 1957, bequeathing the head to his son, also called Horace. Horace Wilkinson, fils, wished to organize a proper burial for the head rather than put it on public display, so he contacted Sidney Sussex College which, having rebuffed Samuel Russel a couple of centuries previous, now welcomed home this infamous, if not famous, “Son of Sussex.”
And so Oliver Cromwell’s head, whose first recorded appearance at Sidney Sussex College, according to the Matriculation Record Book, was April 23, 1616, returned to the sheltering arms of its Alma Mater on March 25, 1960, its 343 year journey complete. It rests now in a secret location near the antechapel, preserved in the oak box in which the Wilkinson family had kept the head since 1814. The box was placed into an airtight container and buried with only a few witnesses to the end of this most curious journey.
In an era full of anxiety, when mercy in this world is less and less available, perhaps it’s time to recall the words of that 18th century sage, Dr. Johnson (Samuel that is to say). No, I don’t mean “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” though that is certainly apt these days. More to my point is Johnson’s reminder to us that “Kindness is always in our power even when fondness is not.” I offer this, not as a plea to suffer fools gladly, but to tell a story about an act of kindness of which I was the recipient on my Cambridge excursion with Dennis Ryan.
The story relates to the featured image above. You, Gentle Reader, probably think you are seeing a picture of Michael Caine. You would be right, and you would be wrong. It is a picture of Michael Caine, but I offer it as the spitting image of an attendant at a National Express Coaches Booth in Heathrow airport. If you have been a constant reader of Cromwell’s Head, you’ve already read that all British, white males over the age of, say 60, sound and look to me like Michael Caine. I know I am overstating it, but, in this instance, the attendant in question did sound and look like Michael Caine and he was kind to me when I needed kindness. More than that, he was our Joshua leading Dennis and me, as lost as the Israelites after the Exodus, out of our wanderings in the desert of Heathrow.
Here’s our story. Dennis and I arrived at Heathrow at approximately 6:45am, on Monday, July 17. We were tired, we spent endless time getting through customs and retrieving our luggage, we were confused as to how we were to get to King’s Cross Station where we would connect with our train to Cambridge. While we had train tickets (well, we didn’t have the tickets in hand; we’d have to obtain those from a pre-paid ticket kiosk the location of which we had no clue), we did not have pre-arranged transportation plans to King’s Cross Station.
There are three basic ways to get to King’s Cross Station: take a bus, take a cab, take the “tube.” A cab would have been expensive, in excess of £60 (close to $100 American for an hour ride and the traffic into King’s Cross on a Monday morning is horrendous we were told). We didn’t know where the “tube” was, but, after schlepping our luggage through the vast desert expanse that is Heathrow, I spotted a National Express Coaches booth. Dennis set off to find the tube and I set off to see about a bus to King’s Cross.
It was a warm and humid day. I was wearing a black blazer that was far too heavy for the weather and I was sweating profusely when I arrived at the ticket counter. There sat Michael Caine, or perhaps his twin brother. Same smile, same lilting south London cockney accent. Mr. Caine took a look at me and said, “You just slow down a bit. Everything’s going to be fine.” And then he reached under the counter and pulled up a box of Kleenex-type tissues and offered it to me. I hadn’t said a word at this point. I took a few tissues and wiped the sweat out of my eyes and thanked him.
“Now,” he said, “just how can I help you?” I said I was wondering about the possibility of taking a bus to King’s Cross Station to connect with our train to Cambridge. “No,” he said, “you don’t want to take the bus; you want to take the tube which is much easier.” Easier! Hah! I didn’t say that out loud by the way.
I said that my traveling partner and I were a bit confused about things and didn’t know where the tube was, or where we’d get our pre-paid train tickets to Cambridge. Mr. Caine, in that no-nonsense cockney, said that the tube was just down the corridor in which I was standing and that I could get tube tickets from the folks handling the tube ticketing. “Just go until you see a lot of people sitting around not doing anything.” Then he pulled out a tube map and showed me where we were and where we were going. The tube is on the Piccadilly line and it goes all the way to King’s Cross. The bus, said, Mr. Caine, goes to Paddington Station and then we’d have to take a shorter cab ride to King’s Cross. He also said that the pre-paid ticket kiosk was at King’s Cross Station. He never lost his smile. He seemed genuinely concerned that I was working myself into a state of something. He offered me more tissues. This took about 10 minutes and I was feeling much relieved, and a good deal drier as well. So I took the map and a few more of the offered tissues, expressed my eternal thanks and was about to take my leave when Mr. Caine stood up (yes, he was about as tall as the real Michael Caine) patted me on the shoulder, offered his hand to shake, and reiterated that all would be well, and that he hoped I would enjoy my stay in Cambridge.
That’s it, that’s the story. Such fuss, you’re saying, about so little? Well, I don’t believe that you, Gentle Reader, would ever say such a thing. You understand that this reluctant traveler was pressed to near the limits of his endurance and that a harsh word would have pushed me over the brink of despair. But I walked away from the National Express Coaches booth nearly a new man, prepared for almost any obstacle that Heathrow could throw in my path.
I met up with Dennis who had found the tube. We got our tickets and a seat on the tube (they would be at a premium as we moved on down the line) and arrived at King’s Cross Station about an hour later. We found the pre-paid ticket kiosk and retrieved our pre-paid tickets. We arrived in Cambridge, about 64 miles north of London, at high noon, a mere five hours after landing at Heathrow. All was well. All as my Michael Caine had predicted.
How easy it would have been for Mr. Caine to have dismissed me outright. Was I so different from other harassed travelers who clamor at his booth? In truth, no one else was clamoring at his booth. Prior to my arrival he had sold a bus ticket to a little old lady who seemed even more confused, if less sweaty, than I and he treated her with the same Michael Caine smile and good will.
Clearly, that was my Mr. Caine’s/Joshua’s style. I am willing to bet that fondness for others was as much in his power as was kindness. And the walls came a-tumblin’ down.
Dear Gentle Reader: Like the refugees in Casablanca, you have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this third and final post dealing with cricket. Your wait is over. Soon you will be in Lisbon, metaphorically speaking.
You’ll recall that the first post in the trilogy, An American Game, argued that, although cricket has pretty much fallen out of favor in the USA, there continues to exist a sub-culture of cricket playing in America. Part II, It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish, compared cricket to an absurd game invented in 1965 by Mad Magazine writer, Tom Koch. Similar to 43-Man Squamish, cricket is defined by a series of seemingly nonsensical Laws (as one cricketer told Dennis Ryan and me, “Monopoly has rules; cricket has laws.” The Laws are published in the blue handbook under the auspices of the Marylebone Cricket Club, the keeper of the flame since 1788.
I confess that I was making fun of cricket when I compared it to 43-Man Squamish, although I don’t think the comparison is entirely unfair. But, after watching some videos about cricket including some video clips of cricket matches, I have come to appreciate the basics of the game, even if I don’t entirely understand the nuances.
At its core, it is a fairly simple game. Let us begin with the basics. Cricket is a contest between two teams, called sides, composed of 11 players each. It is a bat and ball game the object of which is to score runs . Whichever side scores the most runs wins. How simple is that! Well, there’s a little more to it than that, of course.
Cricket is played on a more or less oval field, called the ground. Here’s a diagram of a typical field:
Note the Squamish-like positions that the non-batting side can assume on the field.The Deep Gully is something like the Brooder in Squamish. The Silly Mid On and Off are more or less like the Overblats. Myself, I am particularly fond of the Forward Short Leg.
The center rectangle is the pitch. The pitch is sort of like the space between the pitcher’s mound and home plate in baseball. The pitch is 22 feet long and 10 feet wide. The ground between the ends of a pitch is hard-packed mowed grass like the tennis court at Wimbledon. Unlike baseball, the cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced on the pitch. “Bouncers” hitting a batsman in the head have proven to be fatal on occasion. At each end of the pitch are positioned three stakes, called stumps, upon which rest two bails. Together the stumps and the bails are referred to as a wicket. Here’s a wicket:
The distance between the two outside stumps is nine inches. The height of the stumps and the bails is 28 inches. The objective of the bowling side is to take down the wickets. The objective of the batting side is to defend the wickets.
The essence of the game is that while one side is being pitched to, called bowled, trying to score runs by hitting the bowled ball, the other side is in the field trying, in a variety of ways, to take down the wicket. Only two players of the side that is batting are on the field: the scoring batsman, and the non-scoring batsman. All 11 players of the bowling team are on the field. Here’s a helpful diagram.
The point of the game is that the batsman is attempting to defend his wickets while the bowler is attempting to knock the wicket down (take a wicket). A batsman can bat the ball all over the field; there is no foul ball such as in baseball. The batsman bats until he is out (his wicket is taken). When all 11 players on the batting side are out (well, 10 actually because you can’t have only a single batsman on the pitch), or, more precisely, when ten wickets are taken down, the side that’s been in the field has its turn at bat. Note that there are two batsmen at either end of the pitch. When the batsman who is being bowled to hits the ball, he and the non-striking batsman (at the other end of the pitch) run back and forth as many times as they can. Each exchange scores a point. The goal of a really good batsman is to score a 100 points before he’s out. The official record is 400 points for one batsman. Some of the ways a batsman is out are noted on the diagram above. It’s more complicated than that—there are at least 10 ways a batter can be put out—but you get the basic idea from the diagram. By the way, a batsman who is put out is said to have been dismissed. Also, by the way, a batsman doesn’t have to run if he thinks he might be dismissed if he and the non-striking batsman are running. The batsman also gets six points if he hits the ball in the air beyond the boundary of the ground; if the ball rolls over the boundary, he gets four points. I believe, however, that if a batsman is awarded six or four points, no other runs are scored so running back and forth on the pitch is of no value.
Given that a good batsman may be batting for a long time, and if you have 11 good batsmen, well, a cricket match could conceivably take a long time. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the longest official cricket match was played between South Africa and England in Durban in 1939. The game commenced on March 3 and continued for nine days until March 14. England needed 41 runs to win at the close of the ninth day, but the match was a draw because the English players had to leave to catch their boat back to England.
Nowadays, the length of the match is agreed upon before the match starts. For example, in so-called test matches, the agreed-upon time is five days. Sides will play as many as eight hours a day, not including tea breaks. When the five days are up, the match is over. So, while there is no rigid “clock” as in American football, cricket matches do have an implicit time limit.
If a cricket match is not completely finished when time runs out, the match is a draw, no matter how lopsided the score may be. You could have the situation where a good side could bat and bat for five days in a test match, scored hundreds of runs and the other side hasn’t batted yet. But after five days, the game’s over and it’s a draw because the Laws of Cricket say that you have to take all ten wickets of the other side.
There is a way around this. It’s called “declaring.” At any time the captain of the side that is batting may “declare” that their innings are over, regardless of where the side may be in the batting order. The formerly batting side immediately takes the field, and the other side has its turn at bat. Remember, the batting side has to score runs, but it also has to take the ten wickets of the other side as well.
In the match that Dennis and I watched on Grantchester Meadow, the sides had agreed that they would play only two hours. Food and drink would be served at 4 o’clock. Game over. We did not stay around to see what the outcome of that friendly match was.
Let me explain one other concept, that of “overs.” A cricket inning is divided into “overs.” In one over, a bowler delivers six balls from the same side of the cricket pitch. When this is done, a different bowler delivers six balls from the other side. That’s the next over. Then a different bowler from that one (might be the first bowler, but doesn’t have to be) bowls the next over from the first side again. Sometimes a cricket match is timed by an agreed upon number of “overs,” 20 or 50 being common.
Well, that’s basically it. Shall we review? Cricket is played by two sides of 11. Each side is usually up twice. The first side is up, they send two players (batsmen) to the field. The two batsmen stand at either end of the rectangular pitch. The bowler delivers the first ball of the first over. The scoring batsman tries to hit the ball and/or defend his wicket. He hits the ball in any direction in an oval-shaped field. If he hits the ball, he does not have to run. If he hits the ball a little, he and the non-striking batsman run back and forth on the pitch scoring runs. If he hits the ball far enough, he may get a “boundary.” Six points if the ball goes over the boundary on the fly, four points if it rolls over the boundary. If the batsman is dismissed (wicket knocked over, fly ball caught, etc.) he leaves the field and is replaced by the next player in the batting order. When ten men are out, the innings is over and the other side is up. When each side has been up twice, the game is over. If it’s a test match, five days have elapsed. The side with the most runs wins. As in baseball, if the last side is having their last innings (“bottom of the ninth”) and they surpass the other side’s run count, the game ends immediately at that point.
On the day that Dennis and I wandered onto the cricket ground of the Grantchester Cricket Club, we were invited to sit on the sidelines and watch. Our host was John Anderson, or “Johnny” was he introduced himself. Johnny is 62 and a retired Cambridge policeman, a Bobby. “Johnny’s a Bobby,” said one of the other club members on the sideline. At one point, Johnny got up and came back with a cricket ball and bat, the characteristics of which he described to us.
Then he said to Dennis, ” Put your camera down.” and he gestured to Dennis to follow him. I knew what Johnny had in mind and I relieved Dennis of his camera. Johnny was going to give Dennis a lesson in holding, swinging, and eventually, hitting the cricket ball. And, by golly, Dennis took the instruction well and after a couple of misses, smacked the ball pretty impressively. You will note Dennis’s form in the featured image above. Johnny declared Dennis a “cricket natural” of such raw power the likes of which he had never seen before. Johnny was proposing to set Dennis up in a nice set of whites, beginning by slapping his hat on Dennis’s head. Is it too much to say that Johnny was nearly weeping? Yes, I suppose it is.
But the Lidgate-Ousden side objected, citing some obscure Law of Cricket from the Blue Book, and threatened to take the keg of beer they had provided and go home. Since beer and food are the main reasons that these friendly matches are played, Johnny snatched back his hat and declared that Dennis’s cricket career, at least with the Grantchester Cricket Club, was over. I made up this part.
The Preamble to the MCC Laws of Cricket reads: Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself.
The spirit of the game was alive on the cricket ground of Grantchester Meadow that famous afternoon that Dennis and I, having taken our lunch at the Orchard Tea Room, wandered onto the Grantchester Meadow and into history. The members of the Grantchester Cricket Club, Johnny Anderson in particular, could not have been more gracious to us. Members of both sides chatted with us before the game began and the Grantchester side invited us to sit with them.
For a brief time, Dennis—who was born and raised in Connecticut, and, therefore, is truly a Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court—and I felt as though we were characters in a Mark Twain story, part of the long and proud, if still somewhat baffling, tradition that is cricket.
I am pretty sure that you, Gentle Reader, have never played on a 43-Man Squamish team. Unless you were a reader, as was I, of Mad Magazine, it may well be that you have never even heard of 43-Man Squamish. It was the June, 1965 issue of Mad (#95 if you are now digging through your collection) wherein Mad Magazine’s long-time writer, Tom Koch, along with illustrator, George Woodbridge, introduced us to what was not destined, more’s the pity, to become the next great American pastime.
You are aware that this is the second of three posts about cricket, the first being An American Game wherein I argued that cricket was once also an American game and not just a British or European game. Such is not the case today, although there appears to still exist a sub-culture of cricket in this country. The final post is A Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court wherein I will detail Dennis Ryan’s brief, but not altogether unsuccessful, career in cricket.
I start with 43-Man Squamish because it seems to me that cricket could just as easily have been an invention of Tom Koch as was 43-Man Squamish. Take the positions as an example. There are 43 positions of Squamish: the left and right Inside Grouches, the left and right Outside Grouches, four Deep Brooders, four Shallow Brooders, Five Wicket Men, three Offensive Niblings, four Quarter-Frummerts, two Half-Frummerts, one Full-Frummert, two Overblats, two Under-blats, nine Back-Up Finks, two leapers, and a Dummy.
Cricket, on the other hand, has only 11 players, but they can play numerous positions on the cricket field as this diagram indicates:
Not quite 43 positions (I counted 40), but it comes close and your Backward Square Leg, Silly Mid, or Cow Corner is no less imaginative than a Back-up Fink, a Frummert, or a Brooder. And, like 43-Man Squamish, cricket also has its Wicket Man.
I know that you are thinking that this is all very silly and that I am making fun of cricket…and you’d be right. But there are other similarities between 43-Man Squamish and cricket that just can’t be ignored.
For example, each squamish player is equipped with a frullip, a long, hooked stick that is used to stop opposing players from crossing your goal line. The frullip and its use is picture below.
I know that the frullip looks nothing like the cricket bat, pictured below,
but the original bats were not always this shape. Before the 18th century bats tended to be shaped similarly to a modern hockey stick. Cricket historians think this may well have been a legacy of the game’s reputed origins. Although the first forms of cricket are obscure, it may be that the game was first played using shepherd’s crooks. If a frullip isn’t a shepherd’s crook, you tell me what it most resembles.
I don’t want to carry this analogy too far, but it also strikes me that the “laws” of cricket and the “rules” of 43-Man Squamish are similar in that they seem to disregard the notion of syntax. For example, here’s some of 43-Man Squamish’s rules as devised by Tom Koch:
The Rules of 43-man Squamish
Each team must have 43 players.
Games consist of 7 Ogres (8 if it rains that day) that are 15 minutes long.
Each player must wear the regulated uniform: a Helmet, Gloves, Swimming Flippers, and is equipped with a Frullip.
Before play begins the Probate Judge flips a Spanish Pesta and if the visiting captain guesses correctly, the game ends immediately.
Play then begins after the Frullip of the advancing team is touched to the Fluteny and “Mi too es enfermo per la carretera es verde” is chanted.
Hitting the Pritz across the goal line is a Durmish and scores 11 points.
Carrying the Pritz across the goal line is a Woonillk and scores 17 points.
In the 7th Ogre (and 8th if it rains) only Niblings and Overblats are allowed to score.
Each team has 5 snivels (similar to downs in football) to get the Pritz across the goal line.
If there is a tie, a sudden death match must begin, but if both left overblats are out of the game, dirty limericks are to be shouted from opposite ends of the field until one team breaks up laughing.
The pritz, by the way, is equivalent to the cricket ball. The Flutney is the five-sided field on which the game is played. “Mi too es enfermo per la carretera es verde” means “My uncle is sick but the highway is green,” or something nearly similar to that.
As an example of the loss of syntax in cricket, consider Law 28 of cricket regarding Dismissing a Batsman (the rough equivalent of striking out a batter in baseball) which could have been written by Tom Koch and maybe it was:
“Losing a wicket refers to a batsman getting out. If dismissed by a bowler, the bowler is said to have taken his wicket. The number of wickets taken is the primary measure of a bowler’s ability.
For a batsman to be dismissed by being bowled out, run out, stumped, or hit wicket, his wicket needs to be put down. What this means is defined by Law 28 of the Laws of cricket. A wicket is put down if a bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or a stump is struck out of the grounds by the ball, the striker’s bat, the striker’s person (or by any part of his clothing or equipment becoming detached from his person), a fielder (with his hand or arm, and provided that the ball is held in the hand or hands so used, or in the hand of the arm so used).
If one bail is off, removing the remaining bail or striking or pulling any of the three stumps out of the ground is sufficient to put the wicket down. A fielder may remake the wicket, if necessary, in order to put it down to have an opportunity of running out a batsman.
If however both bails are off, a fielder must remove one of the three stumps out of the ground with the ball, or pull it out of the ground with a hand or arm, provided that the ball is held in the hand or hands so used, or in the hand of the arm so used.
If the umpires have agreed to dispense with bails, because, for example, it is too windy for the bails to remain on the stumps, the decision as to whether the wicket has been put down is one for the umpire concerned to decide. After a decision to play without bails, the wicket has been put down if the umpire concerned is satisfied that the wicket has been struck by the ball, by the striker’s bat person, or items of his clothing or equipment separated from his person as described above, or by a fielder with the hand holding the ball or with the arm of the hand holding the ball.”
It is at this point that I believe one would start to shout dirty limericks.
If it’s cricket or squamish you play,
You’ll play to the end of a day.
Like the Man from Nantuckett…
On a pleasant late Sunday morning, our last full day in Cambridge, Dennis Ryan and I took a taxi to the famous Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester, just a couple of miles from Sidney Sussex College, our home away from home. The Orchard is more than a room, it is an apple orchard as well. Tables and chairs are scattered under the apple trees where, since 1897, Cambridge students, faculty, townspeople, and tourists have taken morning coffee, lunches, and afternoon high teas.
The Orchard grew in popularity when the poet Rupert Brooke, then a popular graduate student of King’s College, took up lodging in the Orchard House in 1909. Brooke attracted a great following at the Orchard, among them John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—the so-called Grantchester Group, or the neo-pagans as Woolf called them. A poet of the First World War who never saw action, Brooke is famous mainly for one poem, The Soldier. You are probably familiar with its opening lines: If I should die, think only this of me / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England. The foreign field in which Brooke is buried is an olive grove on the island of Skyros in the Aegean. Brooke died, not of battle wounds, but of a mosquito bite and an ensuing blood infection. He was not yet 28. Brooke’s presence, and the presence of the other neo-pagans, is memorialized by a simple display board in the orchard that was just a few feet from where Dennis and I sat.
We offered to allow management to take our pictures and add them to the board, but we were rebuffed. Undaunted, we finished our lunch and strolled down a short and gnarly path to a rusted gate that opened onto a large, green meadow where the Grantchester Cricket Club was assembling for a friendly afternoon cricket match with Liddgate-Ousden.
The featured image above is the Meadow. We chatted with a few of the players who were standing around and they graciously invited us to sit with them on the sideline as the match was about to commence. Dennis and I sat for a time and watched the match unfold, aided in our understanding by the commentary of Johnny Anderson, about whom you will hear more in a subsequent post I am tentatively calling A Connecticut Yankee In King Johnny’s Court. That will be the third of a three-part post on cricket. This is the first. The second post is tentatively titled It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish.
Cricket is, I suppose, the quintessential British sport. Wherever the British Empire reigned, cricket reigned too. Its origins are lost in the misty veils of history, but when the tower of St Bene’t Church (you’ll recall that we strolled by the church in an earlier post) was being built, about 1020 AD, a form of cricket was already being played in England.
Cricket is a truly international sport played by millions of people in 92 countries. But not, seemingly, in the United States. And that is ironic because cricket was once the national game of this country. “The Hell, you say!” Yes, I do say. I do not lie to you, Gentle Reader. Cricket was one of the first outdoor sports to be played in America. An 1844 cricket match between sides (cricket “teams” are called sides) from the United States and Canada was the first international sporting event in the modern world, predating the revival of the Olympic Games by more than 50 years.
In 1751, the New York Gazette and the Weekly Post Boy reported on a match between a London “eleven” ( as sides are often called, there being 11 men on a cricket side) and one from New York City. This may be the first public report of a cricket match in North America. Both sides were probably from New York.
An article in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2006 noted that the rules of cricket in North America were formalized in 1754 when Benjamin Franklin brought back from England a copy of the 1744 Laws, cricket’s official rule book. By the way, Dennis and I were admonished by one of the cricketers on the Meadow at Grantchester, “Rules are for Monopoly; cricket has laws.” One further reads in The Smithsonian that “there is anecdotal evidence that George Washington’s troops played what they called “wickets” at Valley Forge in the summer of 1778. After the Revolution, a 1786 advertisement for cricket equipment appeared in the New York Independent Journal, and newspaper reports of that time frequently mention “young gentlemen” and “men of fashion” taking up the sport. Indeed, the game came up in the debate over what to call the new nation’s head of state: John Adams noted disapprovingly—and futilely—that “there are presidents of fire companies and cricket clubs.””
Abe Lincoln reportedly turned up somewhere to watch Chicago play Milwaukee in a cricket match in 1849. By then, an estimated 10,000 Americans were playing the game, and many more were watching.
The website of the United States of America Cricket Association, headquartered at Miami Beach, says that there are 1,000 clubs with more than 600 playing fields, and more that 24,000 active players of cricket in this country. I suppose they should know and why would they lie? So, say what you will about cricket, but do not call it un-American.
But, let’s face it, most Americans dismiss cricket as an elitist game played by girlie-men who dress in traditional whites and break for tea. And it’s slow. A match can take days to play. As slow as a baseball game might seem to some, cricket unfolds with glacier-like slowness. The longest recorded cricket match (a “Test” match—you’ll learn about that in Part II of this three part blog on cricket) was between South Africa and England played in Durban in 1939. The match lasted nine days (about eight hours each day with tea breaks of course), and ended in a draw when the British side had to board a boat back to England. International Test matches last five days. The friendly match on the Grantchester Meadow was going to be played in an agreed-upon two hours. Johnny’s wife was bringing sandwiches to the Meadow at 4 o’clock.
Cricketers are quick to argue that the game is far more dynamic, and more dangerous, than baseball. Johnny, our guide to the arcania of cricket, showed us a cricket ball: it is heavier—by half an ounce—than an American baseball. A cricket ball has a core of cork, is sheathed in layers of twine and cork shavings, and then wrapped in a bright red leather casing.
Johnny said that a cricket ball launched at a batsman by a skilled bowler (that’s like a pitcher in baseball) can be a dangerous projectile. The bowler, unlike a pitcher in baseball, is in a full run after sprinting for up to 30 paces before hurling the ball. and unlike a baseball pitch, which is not intended to be bounced off the ground, a cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced off the ground of the cricket “pitch”whose grass has usually been trimmed and rolled to a concrete-like hardness. Johnny says that he has been hit in the chest by a “bouncer” and that it “hurts like hell.” Johnny said that the best bowlers can launch a ball at 95 miles per hour or more. That’s as fast as a major-league fastball. Johnny said all this and we believed him.
So, I don’t know about cricketers being girlie-men. And I certainly would not call a cricketer that to his or her (mostly his though) face. Johnny, for example, is a six foot and solidly built 62-year-old who had been a Cambridge policeman before he retired. No girlie-man he. But, Dennis and I both agreed, he did look fetching in his dress whites.
It’s such a beautiful day, Gentle Reader, that I am wondering if you’d walk with me for a time. I’ll take you on a guided tour of some of the sites around and about Sidney Sussex College. Are you game? You are? Lovely! Grab your walking stick and your old slouch hat and we’ll be on our way.
So here we are on Sidney Street looking south I think. Just to our left, as we’ve exited through the Gate of Sidney Sussex College, you’ll see a fine old book store.
If you turn around, you’ll get a charming view of the Sidney Sussex Chapel Clock and Bell Tower.
Seen enough? Okay, let’s walk just a few feet and turn right onto Green Street. Look, there’s Bill’s Restaurant where Dennis Ryan and I ate three meals during our week in Cambridge and then had dessert and Bellinis on the last night of our stay. Bill’s is a happening place—always busy, always friendly. Bill, or one of his minions most likely, makes a very good hamburger.
Take care on these cobblestone streets, Gentle Reader. They are ancient and uneven and can pose a problem to those of us of an age who walk on tender knees. We’ll just walk down Green Street a bit longer and then turn left onto Trinity Street.
We turn onto Trinity Street just at the corner of Trinity College’s Great Court. We will amble on for a bit. Trinity Street becomes King’s Parade as we pass by King’s College and its magnificent Chapel. Then it become Trumpington Street. A little confusing perhaps, but this is England after all.
There’s the Senate House on our right. It’s an early 18th Century Building of neo-classical design. It was where the University’s Council of the Senate met. The Senate House is now mainly used for the degree ceremonies of the University of Cambridge. It is also the building upon the roof of which Cambridge students once hoisted, overnight and unseen, a derelict Austin 7 automobile from which they had removed the engine and transmission. If you read the blog post Boys Will Be Boys, you know all about that. That’s one of the buildings of Gonville and Caius College in back of the Senate House. Alum of G&C are termed “Caians.” Among the notable alums are John Venn whose Venn Diagrams you have undoubtedly come across, and Francis Crick of double helix fame, whose path we will cross a little later on in our stroll. Steven Hawking is also a Caian.
Now we are on King’s Parade which, I am sure you have noted, is dominated by King’s College and King’s College Chapel.
That’s the Senate House on the far right. Remember? We just walked past it. King’s College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI. The Chapel is maybe the most iconic Cambridge building. There are eight Nobel laureates who were either students or fellows of King’s. A notable alum is Alan Turing of Bletchly Park fame. Bletchley Park, you’ll recall, Bletchley Park was the home of British code breakers during World War II. It housed the Government Code and Cypher School, which successfully decrypted the secret communications of the Axis Powers and broke the German Enigma code. Yes, they did that by stealing an enigma machine, but let’s let bygones be bygones shall we? Other notable alums are John Maynard Keynes, Salman Rushdie, E. M. Forster, and, perhaps most important of all, Sir John Harrington. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of Sir John Harrington? But he makes your life better each day, several times a day I suspect. Sir John was the inventor of the flush toilet!
Getting a wee tired are you? Let’s walk just a bit more and then we’ll stop for refreshment. We’ve come to Bene’t Street where King’s Parade (formerly Trinity Street) becomes Trumpington Street. I want to show you the Corpus Clock on the facade of the Taylor Library of Corpus Christie College. Here it is. What do you think?
Awesome! Yes, I agree. Big too. That gold disk at which you stare (blink your eyes now) is nearly five feet in diameter. Let me tell you a little about it. The face is 24-carat-gold-plated stainless steel. There are no hands or numerals as you can observe. The hours, minutes, and seconds are displayed by the opening and closing of those slits you see on the face. They are backlit with blue LEDs. That peculiar looking insect on the top that looks like a grasshopper is called a Chronophage, “time eater.” Let’s watch it for a time….You see how the Chronophage moves its mouth appearing to eat the seconds as they pass. Did you notice that the beast blinks its eyes? It likes what it eats, I think. By the way, Cambridge Students call the Chronophage Rosalind. No, I don’t know why. Can you read that Latin inscription below the clock? Mundus transit et concupiscentia eius. Your Latin’s a little rusty you say? It’s from the Vulgate John 2:17 and translates (thanks to Mrs. Nina Carlson, my high school Latin teacher) as, “The world passeth away and the lust thereof.” Yes, I agree, more’s the pity. Just a few more words about the clock and then our little tour is almost complete. The clock is accurate about once every five minutes by design. The irregularity, according to the clock’s inventor, John C. Taylor, reflects life’s irregularity. Except for a motor that winds the clock’s mechanism and provides electricity to the LEDs, the clock is entirely mechanical. The clock was conceived and funded by John C. Taylor, a wealthy inventor and fellow of Corpus Christie College. Taylor donated £million to the project which took two years and 200 people to complete. It was dedicated on September 19, 2008 and unveiled by Stephen Hawking. Expectations are that the clock can run for 200 years. Speaking of time, perhaps we’d best move on if you’re ready.
We don’t have far to go. In fact, if you turn around, you’ll see we are on Bene’t Street. See the sign above the Chop House’s Window?
Are you oriented after gazing at the Corpus clock for so long? That’s King’s College off to the left. No, let’s not eat at the Chop House. I’ve got a better place in mind and it’s just down Bene’t Street. There’s but one more stop before we eat. Here it is on our right, St. Bene’t Church, the oldest building in Cambridge. Those in the know figure it was built around 1020 AD, well before the Norman Invasion in 1066.
Bene’t is a contraction of Benedict. Bene’t is an Anglo-Norman name. Benedict is the Latin form. The church is affiliated with Corpus Christie College for which it served as the chapel until 1579. The tower was probably built around 1020, but the bell-openings are a “modern” addition, having been added in 1586 or there about. The bell tower contains six bells, five of which were cast in the 16th or 17th centuries. The bells still ring, but it’s best not to ask for whom they toll.
Turn around. There’s our final stop on today’s tour. Right across the street. It’s the famous Eagle Pub.
It’s really a very large place and probably the oldest pub in Cambridge opening in 1667. It sits on land donated to Corpus Christie College in 1525. The College still owns the land and is the Eagle Pub’s landlord. As an aside, the various Colleges that comprise Cambridge University (there are 31 colleges) own about 70% of the land in Cambridge. The Eagle is famous for at least two things: the RAF bar and Francis Crick and James Watson. I might add the bangers and mash as well. But you see we are entering the Eagle through the RAF Bar. Look up.
During WWII, the Eagle Pub was frequented by Royal Air Force airmen who would put a chair on a table, or sit on a chum’s shoulder and burn their names and unit designations into the ceiling with candles or cigarette lighters, or otherwise affixed the graffiti with lipstick or charcoal. When the Americans came to England in 1942, they carried on the tradition. Over time, the graffiti became covered with nicotine and other deposits. A pub regular got permission to clean the ceiling to reveal what was written underneath.
But wait, there’s more. In the early 1950’s, the Cavendish Labs were located on Free School Lane just around the corner from St Bene’t Church. The Eagle was a popular lunch spot for the scientists and staff working at the lab. Among those who lunched at the Eagle were Francis Crick and James Watson, credited with unraveling the DNA code. Crick and Watson are reported to have eaten lunch at the Eagle six days a week. On February 28, 1953, Francis Crick announced to all that he and Watson had “discovered the secret of life.” Those gathered at the Pub shrugged their collective shoulders and waited for Crick and Watson to stand everyone to a round. Whether that happened I don’t know, but Crick and Watson are memorialized with a plaque.
Well that’s the tour for today. Let me stand you to a pint or two of ale, Gentle Reader, and I highly recommend the bangers and mash.
Doesn’t get much better than this does it? Sort of reminds me, as we sit here quaffing a brew or two in the historic Eagle, across from the ancient St Bene’t, enjoying our bangers and mash, of Shakespeare writing in Richard III:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
“Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
So reads the self-penned epitaph of Robert Louis Stevenson. It is carved on his gravestone at Vailima in Samoa where Stevenson lived from 1890 until his death in 1893. The Samoans called him Tusitala which means “writer of tales.”
In my own way, in this blog, I have tried to be a “writer of tales.” The stories are mostly true or as true as my failing memory can render the events about which I have thus far written. I have not even changed the names to protect the innocent.
I read Stevenson’s epitaph as recognizing the struggle of travel. Stevenson was, of course, a world traveler well acquainted with the rigors of travel on sea and on land. The sailor’s life in Stevenson’s time, even now, was a hard life on an unforgiving sea. The hunter’s quarry is often elusive and difficult to track, yet the hunter needs to provide. But now, rest at last is their due and we all know where the paths of glory lead, do we not.
Was my trip so very burdensome that I am reduced to quoting epitaphs as I sit recuperating in my familiar and beloved bunker at Stately Johnson Manor South? I suppose not, although schlepping 50+ pounds of luggage through caverns measureless to man that masquerade as the Toronto and Heathrow airports, as well as the “Tube” from Heathrow to Kings Cross Station, the train to Cambridge (and then reverse the trip) is backbreaking and bone grinding as far as I am concerned. Walking the narrow, cobbled, and uneven streets of Cambridge with knees that are aged and protesting tested my mettle as much as my mettle has been tested lately. But I steeled myself to the moment by recalling the words of another of my favorite travel writers, George Kennan, the American adventurer famous for his explorations in the Kamchatka and Caucasus regions of Russia in the 1860s and 1870s. Kennan wrote that the Caucasian mountaineers say that heroism “is endurance for one moment more.” So I kept on truckin’ for one moment more, muttering under my breath, “feets don’t fail me now,” and eventually, Dennis Ryan and I arrived at our various destinations.
And then we were back in the good old USA. And then I was boarding a plane to Detroit headed eventually to Madison. I believe whatever gods may be took some pity on me after testing me so severely for so long. In Buffalo, I was steps away from Delta baggage drop when my stalwart travel companion, Dennis Ryan, dropped me off at the departures entrance of the Buffalo airport. There was no waiting line. Then I was ushered off to TSA security pre-check. There was no waiting line. I was through baggage drop and TSA in less than 10 minutes. But (there’s always a but isn’t there) my departure gate was at the far end of the airport, a long walk away. Undaunted, I saw a courtesy cart with a driver and asked him to transport me to Gate 23. We were there within minutes. I had not yet broken a sweat, and, believe me, I break a sweat easily.
The plane to Detroit left on time, arrived early at Gate A 73. I had to make my way to Gate A 15, a long way away—but not when you have a moving walk-way about thirty feet away that deposited me at the base of an escalator to the express trams, one of which had just arrived as I came off the escalator. Into the tram and in five minutes, maybe less, I am at Gate 15. I had still not broken a sweat.
Flight to Madison was about 45 minutes. The longest walk of the day for me was from Gate 9 to baggage claim, maybe 4 minutes. My baggage was coming around when I got to claims. I snatched it off the conveyor, walked out the front entrance where my brother, the ever-reliable Tom Johnson, was waiting for me. From touchdown to getting into the car, maybe 15 minutes. If the logistics of travel were always this easy, I might travel more than I do. On the other hand, I might not. Smart money is on the “might not.”
So here I am, back in my beloved bunker, surrounded by my books, photos, and the other assorted treasures I have accumulated over years of haunting thrift stores, antique shops, junk stores, and rummage sales. My stuff—it makes me happy and content. I am once again at peace with the world and myself, and always with you, Gentle Reader, always content with you.
This is not a final post. I have more tales to write about the Cambridge trip. Moreover, Cromwell’s Head is not just about the trip to Cambridge and back. It is about the search for answers to life’s persistent questions, and that search will continue though the memories of Cambridge may fade. But for now, I am where I long to be. I am the sailor home from the sea, the hunter home from the hill.