Cambridge Chronicles #6 | September 2020

I was struggling to find words to describe the past few months, to piece together how life as we know it became life as we knew it.

And then, on an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? of all places, along came this quote:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I could, so easily, write off this year. I’ve seen only a handful of friends in person this year; I’ve not seen my parents or sister since Christmas. I’m still living in Cambridge (which is picturesque and rather nice sans touristes, but not somewhere I’ve ever felt especially at home). I’ve not gone on a single hike.

Yes, it was the worst of times – but only sometimes, and time spent dwelling on those would do nothing but expend energy I simply don’t have.

It’s also been the best of times – and a wake-up call to realign my time with my interests. Here are just a few of the pretty darn good times from the past six months . . .

Highlights

Cycling to Norwich

If you’d told me a year ago I’d cycle 150km in a day, I wouldn’t have believed you. Heck, if you’d told me six months ago, I wouldn’t have. We booked a few days off at the tail end of August and cycled to Norwich (and back) to see Laurence’s parents, as neither of us fancied catching the train. Whilst there, we squeezed in a 90km ride to Mundesley (pronounced Munsley) via Happisburgh (pronounced Haysborough – thanks for setting us right on that one, Uncle Geoff!), had our fish and chips fix and dropped by to see Laurence’s aunt and uncle. Our route back to Cambridge took us through Ely, where we saw my auntie, uncle and cousins and enjoyed a cuppa and a slice of homemade cake (thanks, Auntie Anne!).

Learning Spanish

I’ve been dipping my toes into language learning again over the past couple of months, and thoroughly enjoying it. If I’ve learnt anything*, it’s that you have to try a few resources out and see which work for you. I didn’t get past the first sequence of videos in iversity’s ‘Spanish for Beginners’ course as it felt incredibly dated, and only made it through the first module of edX’s ‘Basic Spanish 1: Getting Started’ course, which was very thorough but felt quite slow-going. I’m currently learning the basics through Duolingo, though I could definitely do with setting aside time to jot down vocabulary and practise grammar.

*Aside from essential phrases, such as yo quiero un gato (I want a cat), that is.

Moving Flat

Packing up our life into boxes, suitcases and rucksacks revealed just how much stuff we’d acquired over the past three years. Maps, leaflets and tickets from our travels. Kitchen knick-knacks that hadn’t seen the light of day since going into the cupboard when we first moved in (why hello again, plastic apple-shaped timer). Piles and piles of paperwork. You get the picture. We kept what we needed, and donated what we didn’t. After all, it didn’t make sense to pay to move things we weren’t using – and we don’t have space for surplus stuff in the new place. We enlisted the help of a local removals company, and everything went swimmingly on the day. (If you’re based in/around Cambridge and need a man with a van, I would highly recommend Tom’s Van.) I am so, so glad we moved – our new flat is cheaper, toastier and, best of all, there are no slugs lurking by the door.

Blackberrying

Plump, juicy berries caught our eye whilst out on a run, dodging rabbit holes on Coldham’s Common as dusk fell. We returned in the morning, methodically working our way round the field, tubs in hand. The morning’s pickings left to soak, we headed out on our bikes to Saffron Walden. We put tubs in my pannier bag in case there were more blackberries to be had, and hit the jackpot in a layby on a quiet country road. I could feel a jam-making session coming on, and sure enough we had enough berries for two crumbles and four-and-a-half pots of jam. (Thanks, Katie for the tip on how to remove maggots and other bugs from blackberries!)

Six Months in Six Photos

What’s Next?

We’re off to see my parents, and I am beyond excited to see them after all this time. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that the powers that be don’t throw a spanner in the works. Aside from that, I’m aiming to cycle 2,000km this year – I’m about 100km off the mark at the moment.

Exploring Wimpole Estate

Last week was emotionally draining. A trip to Wimpole Estate was the perfect pick-me-up; the tonic to flat-hunting tedium and work woes.

Ring, ring. Long time, no see, 07:15. We’d been hoping for a lie in, but the mid-morning slots had already filled up. We ended up booking our timed-entry tickets for 09:30-10:00. (Once you’re in, you’re free to stay until closing time.)

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The Glad Game

Many moons ago, I made a list of places to go, recipes to try, hikes to fill my weekends with and the like. ‘Cairngorms.’ ‘Seven Sisters hike.’ ‘Run a half marathon.’ ‘Bake a vegetable-based cake.’ ‘See Les Misérables.’

I didn’t want 2020 to slip through my fingers.

But 2020 had other ideas.

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My Bookshelf #14 | June 2020

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s 2020 for me – and for you, too, I imagine. (I can’t be the only one looking at a sea of blank squares on the calendar and wondering how it’s the end of June already.) Although I’ve not motored through quite as many books as usual, I’m not short of gems to recommend. Dip in – there’s something for everyone on this shelf – and share your recommendations in the comments.

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Courgette and Lemon Loaf | Gâteau Courgette-Citron

[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] Vegetables in cakes, I hear you cry. Hear me out.

Vegetable-based cakes are, in my experience, the Marmite of the baking world: some love them; others hate them. (In case you were wondering – and you probably weren’t – I love Marmite. I also, obviously, love vegetable-based cakes.) I’ve been munching carrot cake since my little legs could carry me to the top of the road where I grew up. I’ve used up leftover pumpkin innards in cakes (waste not, want not). I’ve eaten cakes with beetroots and sweet potatoes in them. Trust me: nine times out of ten you wouldn’t even know a vegetable had gone anywhere near the cake, let alone in it.

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Ready, Steady, Ride: Recent Bike Rides in East Anglia

When I first moved to Cambridge, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. I wobbled. I panicked. I fell off (more than once). I got back on again.

Fast-forward: it’s March 2020, and exercise is one of only four ‘reasonable excuses’ for leaving the house. Cambridge emptied: first of students, then of cars. Laurence and I couldn’t resist taking to the clear roads on our bikes. We’ve found new routes (some of which have become go-to rides), discovered picturesque villages and spotted adorable baby animals, clocking up 982km in the process.

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French Raspberry Tart | Tarte aux Framboises

[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] Which of a pâtisserie’s many treats takes your fancy? A tangy tarte au citron? A chocolate éclair, erupting with creamy crème pâtissière? Me? Almost every time, I’ll plump for a raspberry tart: a delectable combination of crumbly, sweet pastry, smooth crème pâtissière and juicy raspberries, topped with a dusting of icing sugar or a jelly glaze.

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Chocolate Coconut Slice | Carré Coco-Chocolat

[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] Coconut slice is a recipe I’ve turned to a few times in recent weeks, partly because it’s very tasty (one slice quickly becomes two in this house) and partly because it doesn’t involve flour (which is proving rather elusive right now). It’s my Gran’s recipe, but if it weren’t for my Dad craving a batch of coconut slice and asking my auntie for the recipe, this delicious treat would never have come onto my radar. Years later, it’s still a firm favourite. Enjoy!

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Alphabet Adventures: An A-Z of Adventures at Home

Life as we know it has changed, almost beyond recognition, in the space of a few short weeks. Staying at home – day in, day out – and only venturing out for food supplies or exercise is strange. Seeing Cambridge sans tourists on said outings is stranger still. Like you, I have good days (which mostly involve baked goods, calls with family and friends and sunshine) and bad days (which tend to feature stress-inducing supermarket trips and runners who don’t seem to know what two metres looks like).

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My Bookshelf #13 | March 2020

What a month it’s been. Exactly a month ago, I was admiring King Tut’s treasures at the Saatchi Gallery. Today, I’ve read a few chapters of Unnatural Causes, been on a rather brisk walk across Grantchester Meadows for my daily dose of exercise and eaten half a packet of Tangfastics. Pre-lockdown, I found some gems in Cambridge’s charity shops: Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild; The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion; Celeste Ng’s début Everything I Never Told You; The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling); and Peter Crouch’s autobiography How to Be a Footballer. I also stocked up on books from Cambridge Central Library, and bought a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from Heffers (ahead of what turned out to be our first virtual book club). Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping well. If you’re after some book recommendations to get you through the next few weeks, you’ve come to the right place.

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