In between lovely times with family (you know who you are, you and your wonderful cheesecake), I had a day to wander about Cambridge by myself.
How do you begin in a new town? Do you head for the Tourist Information Office, gather a handful of leaflets and then sit over coffee and realise that most of them are for Farm Parks forty miles away? Do you wander about, map in hand, looking for blue plaques on walls so you can take their photographs?
I often begin with the open-top bus tour. I know the running commentary is flimsy with jokes that aren't funny. And the British summer isn't always conducive to sitting on top of a bus for an hour. But they provide an overview of what a town is about - and, for me, it helps to signpost things I'd like to see when the bus finally stops.
The bus tour round Cambridge is much the same as all the others. The earphone plug-in had been plugged-in once too often and I needed to hold it in place to hear anything, so my fingers were very cold by the time I got off. And from time to time the connection slipped and I missed bits of sentences, so I'm not sure why I didn't give up and just look around me. Though I heard enough to realise that the commentary was out of sync with the bus, and so we'd be told to 'look at the gates to your left' ... by which time the gates were 20yards behind us. There we were, on the top of the bus, heads swivelling this way and that like demented dancers.
The most interesting bits of the city are pedestrianised, and so beyond the reach of buses. In order to make sure people felt they had their money's worth, we were driven round in several circles, peered down passageways from each end, and then out into the countryside to stop at a Garden Centre (no, I've no idea what that has to do with Cambridge.)
In spite of all that, I loved it. It allowed me to glimpse some of Cambridge's nooks and crannies, and confirmed that the best way to see the city was to wander around and get lost. And it is in the lost places that the real feel of the place comes alive, and I realise why I love it.
Away from the tourists, this town (or the centre of it - I'm sure there is deprivation that doesn't hang around outside Kings College) is about learning. All those young people with brains the size of planets exchanging ideas, reading, believing they can make a difference. They have an air of excitement, of potential, of urgency - of needing to know, and then to know more. They have realised that learning matters, for its own sake, because it is exciting and slightly frightening to be faced with new ideas or information every day.
They take no notice of tourists. Why would they? They belong here, in these ancient buildings, where men have studied for centuries. (Not women, until recently - I have a view on that, but I don't suppose that surprises you. And there are definitely efforts to redress that imbalance now.) This is their town, and it was wonderful to share a corner of it, just for a few days.
And here is a picture that sums this up:
Only in a university town could posters for Birdsong, and the Canterbury Tales, Guitar Concerts, Macbeth, Music for a Summer's Evening - and many more - gather on railings like this.