First return to Cambridgeshire

In a month or so we’ll be heading back to Ely and Cambridge so it’s probably quite fitting that I’ve just found this from last year:

I’ve learnt to never go Christmas shopping in a city I like. Now you may think that this is surely a ridiculous statement and that, if you must go Christmas shopping then doing it somewhere you like will obviously make it a more pleasant experience. In that, you’d be wrong.

I first need to point out that I quite enjoy Christmas shopping. I love giving presents and the whole process of choosing the right sort of gift for people I love and care about is one of my favourite things regardless of the occasion. (I have little patience with obligatory Christmas presents so if you’ve received something from me it’s generally a good indication that I like you. It’s at least an indication that somebody I love very much seems quite attached to you). I also love Cambridge as a city and have spent a lot of time exploring its little shops and cafes etc.

So it was an obvious choice then, to combine a trip in December to this city that I like very much with the necessary and generally enjoyable task of Christmas shopping. It would be a visit to the city I already know but with added festivity and loveliness. Brilliant idea!

Except… I didn’t actually get to enjoy the added festivity and loveliness. I was too cross at not being able to enjoy the familiar elements of the city I like so much due to all the extra people and their intensely stressed rushing about the place. Add to that things like opening times being silly because it was a Sunday, the little place on Mill Rd. where we planned to have lunch not being quite what it was a year ago and my missing the last carousel ride on Parker’s Piece (a Christmas favourite of mine); the afternoon did not go well.

As always though, Cambridge managed to redeem itself; my wife promised a visit to Toppings (my favourite book shop) the next day and we escaped the mad shopping crowds by popping into the Arts Picture House to see Bridge of Spies. A thoroughly enjoyable film in an excellent cinema which, it pains me to admit, I’d never seen a film in before despite having lived in Cambridge for nigh on two years (and had a drink in the bar a couple of times).

Now that I have I can’t sing its praises enough. It’s beautiful! The aforementioned bar is welcoming, the ticket prices are good and the staff so friendly that instead of paying full price for our tickets we were talked into an annual student membership (despite pointing out that we now live in Wales) because signing up for that gave us 2 for 1 tickets, free popcorn, a free shot of whiskey (an odd freebie but one we very much appreciated after a cold afternoon shopping) and worked out cheaper than paying the standard ticket price. Needless to say, we can’t wait to go back.

But I’m digressing terribly. I’m definitely supposed to be writing about a  book and so I shall. One f the books I brought with me to Cambridge was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I’ve been meaning to read this for far too long and what prompted my finally picking it up was reading (and subsequently watching) A Walk in the Woods by the same author while stuck inside during a crazy storm in Portugal but that’s a whole other story.

Notes from a Small Island is a marvellous journey and lots of it by train which resonated with me as much of my British geography has been accumulated through long train journeys across the country. But my main reason for recommending it (which I do and will to anyone who asks and many who don’t) is that it’s genuinely, honestly funny.

The voice is direct and a bit grouchy at times but I like that and it’s not at all misplaced. There’s very little playing for laughs and no sense of attack. Just accurate observation that rings so true it’s hilarious. I think it helps that there’s also a sense of genuine fondness for the subject matter. So I’m very glad I’ve finally read this. Bill Bryson is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I’m looking forward to enjoying many more of his offerings.

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