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Sunday, 8 March 2009

My trip to Cambridge 2 - King's College

After the ArLT committee (see last post) Trevor had to go back to London for a gig, while Charlie took me to the Cambridge Royal Hotel for a luxurious evening and night.

After a lifetime of frugality, it seemed, we let go the reins and were prodigal.

Which in practice meant that we had a jolly good dinner in the hotel dining room. The staff were very friendly. The female 'waitron' (a unisex word for waiter that I hadn't met before) was from South Africa, and I think at least one of the male waitrons had a southern hemisphere twang. Anyway all helpful and nice.

I had soup of the day, and fish. Charlie had sardines and then another kind of fish. The magic of it was that it tasted superb. We tried to work out how and why, but we could really only marvel at the skill of the chef in getting all the tastes to balance and complement each other.

We even splashed out on a really good wine, a cabernet sauvignon. I toyed with a small glass, which was quite enough for me, but relished each sip.

We took an hour and a half over the meal. The only drawback was the thump of pop records coming through the floor, but it didn't really spoil the experience.

We bought internet access, which is why I was able to post the last entry here, and catch up with emails.

The bath in our room came complete with three plastic ducks! They looked cheerful bobbling about while I had my morning soak.

Trevor arrived in time for breakfast. He said the gig had gone well. We couldn't hang around over our muesli or full English, because we were going to King's College Chapel for the 10.30 Choral Eucharist. We arrived in good time, and as soon as the doors opened and the choristers had finished their last minute rehearsal, the vergers let my wheelchair in first, up a ramp, and another verger took out some seats to make room for me in the Choir. VIP treatment.

I was expecting the service to be beautiful, but I wasn't prepared for its effect on me. The setting was by Janacek, one that I knew nothing of. Stephen Cleobury conducted. The music wonderfully emphasised and helped one dwell on the words, and being unfamiliar made me listen even more carefully. Every statement in the Creed seemed to mean more. The final 'I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come' spoke directly to me.

The readings may not have been the easiest, but the Epistle, from Romans and about the faith of Abraham, was read by a lady who made the words live. The Gospel was Jesus foretelling his own death and resurrection. The Dean of Clare, from Australia, preached a very fine sermon, in which he contrasted two mistaken ways of dealing with Scripture, a liberal way that re-interpreted it to suit one's own desires, and a fundamentalist way that allowed no re-interpretation, with the third way, to do what St Paul did in Romans and re-interpret the story of Abraham in the light of Christ - and indeed as Jesus himself did, when he re-interpreted the Messiah as the one who would suffer, die, and rise again.

But the big surprise for me was what happened when we went forward to receive the Holy Communion. I have always known that this is a place where heaven meets earth, where Christ comes to us. I have always believed that this is happening. But this morning I felt it in a powerful way that left me weeping. The Bread and Wine seemed to me to be saying "Jesus came all this way down to be with you and to lift you up to be with him." OK, nothing new in those words; but they were made real in that bit of bread dipped in wine. Real.

Afterwards I wanted to thank the people that had helped this to happen. The Chaplain who celebrated, Richard Lloyd Morgan, greeted me kindly, and when I asked him to pass on my thanks to the reader of the first lesson, and the preacher, he invited Trevor Charlie and me to join them in the Senior Common Room where they gathered for pre-lunch sherry. Very kind. The lesson reader was there with a friend, Ann Hathaway, who had been the Women's Day speaker on Saturday. They talked kindly and amusingly to me, and then the preacher came to say hullo. I told him how I appreciated his sermon, and when I mentioned that I was reminded of Bonhoeffer when he spoke about letting the Word of God speak, he was delighted and told me that Bonhoeffer had been his doctorate thesis. He has links with Street, and sends his love to the village - I'm passing it on now!

So I have enjoyed my first ever time in a Cambridge Senior Common Room. I remember being very near at Trevor's graduation do.

Well, nothing could cap the Communion experience, but on the way back to the car Trevor took me into the Fitzwilliam Museum and we had a quick look at a special exhibition of Van Dyck etchings - he did only a few dozen, as opposed to Rembrandt's hundreds. Then a fond farewell to Trevor, and Charlie set out on the long drive home, which he did without a hitch.

A memorable weekend. Thank God!

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