The English, their Scaffolding and a resolution

As I have been a bit remiss in getting posts up this week, and before I have a longer meditation on meandering out to the World War Two memorial at Madingley, I wanted to put up a quick reflection on … scaffolding.

scaffolding along King's Parade

Yes, scaffolding. The British seem to love it, as it’s all over the place in Cambridge. Now, it might just be because the buildings tend to be a bit on the older side (OK, very, very old indeed, which is cool, of course, for someone who fancies himself a historian, even if he is in many ways just a wannabe’ one, or at least a fledgling in the historical trade); older buildings tend to fall apart, of course, but from what I can tell, it sometimes seems like they throw scaffolding up just because there’s some excuse to do so … come to think of it, I’ve never seen any sort of crane about town, which might explain why methodical and very orderly metal-and-wood carapaces tend to sprout up all the time, all over the place.

it's practically ubiquitous! (I've been wanting to say that in a caption)

Along King’s Parade near the city centre (yes, “centre” with an “r” before the “e”), for example, scaffolding has lined the row of shops facing King’s College since the beginning of Michaelmas (autumn, or what we Americans call “fall”) term. I can’t quite tell why, but it’s still there, looking very official, and thus very English. Walking past it any number of times, I’ve theorized (and they would spell that with an “s,” as in “theorise”) that there must be something wrong with the roofs, or gutters, or something up high, and therefore requiring layers upon layers of orderly scaffolding right along the road. Back home, scaffolding seems to go up at construction sites and therefore away from the sidewalk, but here it’s very much part of the path. You are expected to saunter right through it. Just don’t stumble and shove the pylons too hard … .

I’m sure there’s quite a few good reasons for this affection (or what C.S. Lewis might call storge, pronounced with two syllables and a distinct “g”) for scaffolding, but I do suspect it’s very English in the sense that one schedules (“shed-ules,” yes, they really do say it that way, and declare, “you must be from the States!” if you pronounce the “sched”) scaffolding periodically.

It’s true that many of the buildings here predate our country’s independence from its motherland (notice that we’re now “cousins,” and no longer children). But many of them only do so because they’ve been rebuilt and remodeled and just generally redone dozens of times. So a “part” of a building might date from the Middle Ages, but big chunks might have been renovated by a king or queen a century or so after that, and then the south or north or east wing or floor or foundation or something like that was replaced by one of Cromwell‘s comrades (his head is here, by the way; I shall find it and blog about it soon, I promise), and then finally redone “recently” in the 19th century.

inside the grounds of Trinity College

Many of the “new” Georgian wings of buildings are really what we would consider old, in that regard. Some of my local friends roll their eyes with stories of dumb Americans (being one, I have empathy) who ask the perturbed porters if a truly medieval portion of their colleges is “prewar,” or it dates from “Queen Elizabeth’s time,” to which the porters will gruffly reply, “sir, this is from before the colonies became states and left us.”

But for all of its sometime silliness, I have been continually humbled by the history here, and feel calmer in Cambridge this quarter, realizing that my time here is rather limited, really, and therefore resolving to make the most of it.

I have been trying to explore the city and its surrounding environs more thoroughly this term, but I also want to venture a bit further afield, if possible, and get over to Oxford sometime later this month to see where the Inklings spent some of their time, at Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College (without the “e”) and the Eagle and Child (pub); I also want to get down to London at least a couple of times before I go home for the longish break (very much a working break, I assure you, from March 12 to about April 19).

To that end I’ve managed to procure a student “rail card.” All this is very new to me, as it’s my first time overseas, and so I am learning the hard way more often that not, but I am learning, a lot, all the time, which I suppose is the point of this self-reflecting exercise. Next term, however, I’d love to get up north, to Scotland, and maybe even over to Normandy, if at all possible, but I’ll save the fun stuff for later, once I get more done on my paper, Lord willing.

I sometimes remember that’s why I’m here (at least in theory): “oh yes, that paper … hmm … well, I guess i should work on that a bit more, I suppose …” .


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