October 2020

I am now in Cambridge in a small rented flat by Midsummer Common, overlooking the river. Rented because of dishonourable ‘Gavin the Gazumper’, whose house I would not buy if he donned a hair-shirt, got on his knees and pleaded with me (a fantasy I often indulge in). Cambridge because, well… Cambridge. I have moved out of my lovely Whitechapel house.  I did it because I like to use my kitchen more than once a day.

I timed it.  6 minutes 45 seconds between deciding to leave my office on the raised ground floor and sitting in the wheelchair in the basement kitchen. You may say that 7 minutes is not very long, but do two return trips and that’s half an hour of your life you’ll never get back; plus included in those 7 minutes were two transfers – wheelchair to stair lift, stairlift to wheelchair – a process Uschi describes as ‘nicht ungefährlich’. They do double negatives in German: who knew? 

Why then did I move back into my house in Whitechapel when released from Stanmore two years ago? Surely it was obvious that 4 storeys of Georgian terrace was going to be frustrating? I blame George ‘seven jobs’ Osbourne, just about to add number 8 in the form of the Chairmanship of the BBC, I hear. He’s the genius who increased stamp duty such that an old terraced house, once a slum for sure, attracted duty of over £50k. I just felt that I could not afford that twice in 2 years.  They would only have wasted it anyway, on a world beating track and trace system or something.

So for the second time in my life, last week I turned up in Cambridge with my travel chest and a few odd possessions.  I remember the first time, aged 18, and everyone seemed impossibly intelligent, unfeasibly beautiful or incredibly exotic.  Often all three. Of course they did, I came up from Hyde County Grammar School and had been driven down from the village of Broadbottom, Cheshire. Others on my course flew from Saudi Arabia, were Finnish and looked and sounded American. Or were called André van der Schwartzenveld or something. It did not take me all three years to work out that of all those impossibly intelligent, unfeasibly beautiful or incredibly exotic people there were quite a few good bluffers, and no-one without his or her demons – many worse than mine.

This time around, 43 years on, there are still many unfeasibly beautiful people; the other two – intelligent and exotic – less so. Those 43 years have perhaps made me arrogant and blasé. As for the beautiful, of course they are: they are in their 20s when everyone is beautiful, full of life and hope. I just wish they would stop rubbing it in with their lycra-limbed loping up and down along the river bank and their synchronised concentration as they click-clack smartly along in their pencil-shaped boats.

If you come to Cambridge maybe you’ll spot me. I’ll be the one looking imperiously down on a sobbing man on his knees in a hair shirt, or gazing with undisguised jealousy at the joggers with their tightly-coiled muscles running optimistically towards the future.