Thursday 23 th june 2017
This year I visited Cambridge with Icha. She is a fan of Barbara and she also has her own website about Barbara (http://riverandlakerealm.blogspot.nl/2017/) . On this website she has also written about this visit.
I arrived in Cambridge on in the morning, Icha was going to arrive late in the afternoon. To pass the time I walked through the old city, looking for the place where the picture was taken with Barbara and her family near Kings college. This location was easily found.
I walked further along the banks of the river Cam past Grantchester meadows towards Trumpington. There I enjoyed tea with walnut cake in the tea garden The Orchard.
The path that I just completed was one which Barbara and I often walked, sometimes we would take her dogs with us.
Using the public footpath at Long road, past the botanical gardens I arrived in time at Parkers Piece to wait for the Icha at the bus station .
We first went to the former CCAT. It was late, the lessons were finished and the buildings were deserted. This made it possible for us to explore the old buildings.
We walked through the long and high corridors with old wooden or mosaic floors.
Also the classroom where Barbara followed her lessons was still there. This classroom was empty except for a setup for lessons teaching pupils to draw human figures. A cushion on the floor and a circle of chairs around it. I suppose this is where Barbara did her nude studies. Icha and I had a long conversation in this room.
We continued our conversation sitting relaxed on the couch in the hall where Barbara and I used to play badminton.
Talking like that with Icha took me back to those days in the seventies. Where Barbara and I also stayed as long as possible at school, in deserted rooms, talking all the time. Barbara didn’t want to go home to work in the fish and chip shop. Staying at school for as long as possible was an acceptable excuse to her mother for coming later to work.
From the CCAT building we walked to Bridgacre, the place of our apartment.
From here we walked to the centre of town, crossing Midsummer common, past the boathouses.
We had a very late dinner at an Indian restaurant. Around midnight I walked past a graveyard and heard coughing, hawking and spitting noises coming from the graves, probably from people who were sleeping there. At 1.30 am I finally got into bed.
Friday 24th june 2017
I met Icha at the cemetery. We got rid of the weeds, cleaned the grave stone, removed death and rotten flowers and Icha placed two new flower bouquets, one for Barbara and one for her mother. She placed one rose on the gravestone next to Barbara. The woman buried there never has any visitors and no-one was taking care of her grave.
The grave when we arrived and when we left
By bus we went to Histon. We first went to the house were Barbara lived after her mother moved from the fish and chip shop. The neighbour was cleaning his car. He told us that he remembered Barbara and her mother. He said that Barbara’s mother moved from this house because “the walls where too thin”. The neighbour was very friendly and talkative, we had a long conversation about all kinds of subjects. Following his advice we knocked on the door at Barbara’s previous house. The present occupant was also very friendly and found it no problem that Icha and I looked around and took pictures. He was also liked to chat. We were pressing for time now. I had an appointment with Andrew (Barbara’s godson) in the afternoon. Pity, because these guys had very interesting stories to tell, especially about politics.
We hurried to the fish and chip shop at Station Road. The owner immediately recognized me and greeted us enthusiastically. He even gave us free drinks. I had a small portion of cod and chips, which was still too much and Icha went for the mushroom fried rice, this portion was also too large for her.
The front of the shop and the back, the window between the chimneys was Barbara's bedroom
Luckily the bus took us in time back to the centre of Cambridge. Andrew was waiting for me in a pub at Regent street. For more than 3,5 hours we talked. About the new gravestone that is going to replace the present one, about the items he found so far, about places where could be more information about Barbara and about the sketch book he had found and brought with him.
We discussed the book I am writing and the further areas of research that still have to be done. We divided to topics of research between us and Sheila. There is still a lot to be done. He also told me anecdotes about Barbara which I hadn’t heard before. With the promise that we meet again next year we parted. I went to the Italian restaurant where Icha was waiting for me. That afternoon she had done some shopping and been back to the grave, placing there a few more flowering plants.
Saturday 26th june 2017
Icha and I met again at the graveyard. After taking care of the flowers we took the bus to Trumpington, visiting the house where my parents used to live. The present owner was sitting in garden. When I told her that I once lived in this house, showing her some photos to prove it, she invited us immediately in to come and have a look
Again we were pressed for time as Icha had to catch the coach to London in the afternoon. Again this was unfortunate as the owner was very talkative and certainly would have told us interesting stories. She was a former librarian of the Cambridge university. She invited us to come round again any time we want.
After saying goodbye to Icha at the bus stop I took the bus to Di’s place. That is the place where Barbara’s English friends meet every year. And as always, also this year everybody came. We talked, drank and ate till the early hours in the morning. We are all getting older now, needing reading glasses and some of us are already a grandparent. For those who still have hair, it has turned grey. We all agreed that the period in which Barbara was part of our group, was the best period in our life. Living without responsibilities and obligations, no adult guidance, lots of time, spontaneous actions without consequences and little discipline.
All of us stayed over in Di’s little house. Sleeping on every spot that was available.
Sunday 27th june
After a very late lunch nearly everybody left. Just Di and me stayed behind. We spend the evening discussing the book. We talked about the storyline, the themes and writing style. After several hours of discussion, weighing alternatives and a few bottles of wine we concluded “This book might work”.
Monday 28th june
My last day in England. Leaving Di, visiting the grave again. Someone had placed some new roses, removed wilted flowers and left a card and some money. The next stop were the botanical gardens. A place of happy memories for me. Barbara tried to meet me there on the Saturday afternoons. She would tell her family that she was going to the gardens to draw some flowers and I be waiting there. We had our hidden places where we undisturbed could cuddle, hug and kiss. It was lovely to see that lovers still meet there. The gardens have changed, the romantic atmosphere hasn’t.
After buying some books at Waterstones bookstore I walked to the Chinese restaurant Charlie Chan. This used to be the Pagoda, the place where Barbara played Mah-jong. I was hoping to speak to staff who still remembered that period. Unfortunately little help there. One waiter knew Barbara’s mother but never seen Barbara and the other waiter didn’t even know who Barbara was. It looks like I have to find the last owner (or his sons) to help me out. I just hope he will have some pictures from that period and can tell some stories.
I was very satisfied when I left Cambridge going to Harwich where my boat departed for Holland. I received new information about Barbara, had happy memories relived, there were positive comments on my plans with the book and I met nice people. Next year again. I wonder who will join me then.
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