DAY 24 in Cambridge, England:
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” — Cesare Pavese
Despite the blessing of scoring two seats for each of us, sleeping wasn’t the most comfortable… unless You were Miriam and somehow knew how to make sleeping on an overnight coach comfortable. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. 😂 Like I said, everything was reduced to basics during this overnight bus journey: Medjool dates for dinner, seats to sleep on, no showers, no internet, no crystal lamp which I always have by my bed in Munich… We were shocked awake twice that night — the first time for border control at Calais and the second time to board the ferry from Calais to Dover. “I feel like a refugee,” I told Miriam. I didn’t feel sober, awake… I felt eyes on us everywhere we walked and I felt vulnerable, fragile almost.
Breakfast, for me, was ferry-bought cereal, weetabix and an innocent smoothie. Miriam had lamb’s lettuce stuffed in fitness bread. Simple,
but and we were happy. 🙂 We wandered about the ferry after our meal, determined to get a good view of the crimson red sphere in the sky that was the sun that we caught a little glimpse of during breakfast. It was gorgeous.
Boarding our buses once more and driving off the ferry, we were welcomed by the famous majestic white cliffs of Dover. On our left, hovering right above the water was a wall of clouds that seemed to have sunken from the sky. It was a short stop in London before we boarded yet another coach to Cambridge. “I’m not your mother and will not pick your trash for you. Please leave you trash in this bin beside me on your way out. Also, please don’t forget to smile as you are being filmed for security purposes,” our coach driver told us with a straight face.
Despite having read so much about Cambridge, I’ve never actually seen it (not even on Google) until Miriam enrolled in Murry Edwards College last year. Glimpses of Cambridge began featuring on her blog and in her messages/ e-mails, and just like a vision forming after rubbing one’s eye, more and more of Cambridge started forming in my mind over time. So right there and then, as I stepped out of the coach in Cambridge, and a wave of warm Summer peace washed over me, I could sense a strange sense of familiarity with the place as well. Miriam told me ‘the charity shops are right down this road’, ‘____ lives here’, ‘this is where I watch movies’, and the picture became clearer and clearer. I could finally match a ‘face’ to all these names.
We made our way to Miriam’s college, which was up a gradually sloping hill, and deposited our carry-ons with the porters (one, who was named David, we believe — he certainly did look like a ‘David’!). ‘David’ joked with us, ‘You know, we require some payment in chocolate…’ We laughed and pretended to shake it off as it was intended to be — a joke, but a look at Miriam and I knew she, too, was serious about getting them chocolate. 🙂
Murry Edwards, or ‘Medwards’ as they call it there, is a beautiful college with ‘wormholes‘, a little free library, a rosemary and spinach garden, and a dome-like main building that could pass off as a NASA office. I just felt so comforted knowing that Miriam found her way here — where she is surrounded by such lovely people and plants, where she fits like a puzzle piece, where she feels happy.
Our stomachs were grumbling by this point and all we wanted was lunch. As Miriam brought me around the town centre of Cambridge, I noticed that colleges of the university dotted the entirety of the place and it’s impossible not to notice them. Throngs of tourists had filled the town and students were almost nowhere to be seen. Ah, Summer. I thought about how wonderful it must be to study in a place so beautiful that others would flock there for their holidays. :’)
Finally at the market and getting closer and closer to food (we could smell it!), we navigated our way through the “Parkers”, a scent stall (Miriam and I agreed that the sandalwood stick smelled like what Vera had burning in her toilet to eliminate any smell), and a porter lodge where my palm was read, where smoke spewed out of the machine, and where I was subsequently told that I should please come back in 168 hours (aka. a week)!
Lunch Part I: A sweet potato wrap from a Caribbean stall owned by a man who remembers Miriam from the last time she was there. 🙂
Lunch Part II (because we were still starving): A really packed container (one for each of us) filled with a delightfully colourful mish-mash of salads, legumes, grains and noodles from Sainsbury’s, which we had while punting — more specifically, when we moored against a wall near Magdalene college where we pulled ourselves back onto the wall with the help of creepers whenever we would drift away. (While we’re on the topic of food… a presumably hungry swan stuck its head towards our salads, one salad after the other! But our salads managed to survive unscathed!)
I didn’t know my way around at all, but Miriam had her bearings and she was amazing at multi-tasking — punting and sharing with me what she knew about the colleges we were punting by. Sometimes, she’d say ‘that’s not true!’ when one of the professional punters weren’t telling the truth to their tour groups! We had a good laugh out of this.
I think it must have been obvious that both of us weren’t entirely skilled in punting, for we had other punters telling us ‘not to fall in’ or that ‘it’d be easier if we held the pole in this or that way’… We had fun (and neither of us fell in) so all was good! 😉
On the way back to Medwards, we bought chocolate cookies for ‘David’ the porter and Miriam showed me around more of the colleges — Trinity, King’s and Pembroke (the prettiest, in Miriam’s opinion) (I thought it was hilarious how Miriam knew her way to the toilet in Pembroke — the path there, to me, was like going through a labyrinth) (but then again, it was Miriam… she would need to know where the toilets are with all the water she downs on an hourly basis 😀 — I need to pick this habit up!).
On the way to the train station, Miriam recognised two people from the crowd: Tim and Liz! Again, finally a face to who I previously only knew as ‘Tim from JustLove’! We didn’t have much time other than for the exchange of a few pleasantries because we had a train to catch, so off we went, rolling our noisy carry-ons behind us.
As the train was chugging its way to Ixworth, I could tell that Miriam was getting visibly anxious — she was about to see her Mum after 9 months, that’s three quarters of a year! I remember how I was when I met my Dad after just 2 months… let’s just say I was anything but okay. I was shivering a little, bawling a little, but for the most part, I was overjoyed I could barely contain myself. It was like an explosion of emotions kept in for so long. I couldn’t wait for Miriam to feel the same, to run to her Mum for a warm embrace and feel the calm, love and protection that she had lived without for long enough. It was a lovely, teary reunion, and a tear or two may or may not have left my eyes. ❤
Miriam’s Mum drove us to Bury St Edmunds in Auntie Sarah’s car which told us that ‘we were gorgeous’. We dropped by Abbey Gardens and noticed that hugging some of the trees was colourful yarn (yarn bombing! just like the ones I saw in Olympiapark!). We even saw a ‘teapot’ and a ‘chicken’! Do You see them too?
We visited Miriam’s Grandma in the hospital next. Walking into the room she was warded in, we saw her sitting upright, and seriously browsing through the options on the hospital menus. She commented that deciding which meals she wanted was ‘like taking an IQ test’! It was my first time meeting Miriam’s prune-loving Grandma and oh boy was she lovely. ❤ Young at heart and lively as can be (despite the hospital socks having been much too much too tight for her), she told Miriam how much she loved the beautiful new skirt Miriam was wearing, she shared with us how she found the clover tones of her room’s walls calming and comforting, and she melodiously recited parts of Das Veilchen that she remembers having been examined for. There was so much warmth, closeness and compassion between the three generations; it was a beautiful moment that they shared.
Soon after, we were driven back to Ixworth where Miriam’s Grandma and Miriam’s Mum’s sister, Auntie Sarah, lives — I was starting to connect the dots here… once again, faces to names! We unload our carry-ons at Miriam’s Grandma’s house and headed over next door to where Auntie Sarah, Uncle John and their two children live. Uncle John was just making us risotto when suddenly, an anxious Ellie from next door came around and asked, “Auntie Sarah, do you have a net I could borrow? There is a frog in my backyard!” Seeing such a big frog up close was a first for me, and although I did flinch a little, I found it and its round spotty belly mesmerising. We subsequently let it go in Auntie Sarah’s makeshift pond and off it went, gracefully, in a ‘perfect breaststroke’, as Miriam said.
Auntie Sarah had everything in her house, even a sizeable inflatable pool which had been filled with water and had bowls of salt dumped into (to keep it clean)! Ellie and Auntie Sarah end up taking a dip in the freezing cold water on a complete whim, absolutely brave and undeterred… “Well Natascha, this is England at its finest!”, Miriam’s Mum’s said, and we laughed and laughed and laughed.
Uncle John’s risotto was delicious, the night sky was full of stars, and my sleep that night, I remember, was filled with happy happy dreams.