There it is on a road sign. It’s 1969 and I’m cycling along Chesterton Road in Cambridge. The road number has changed now, but the memory is vivid, the feeling that there’s a big wide world outside this bubble, and the A 604 to Kettering is proof of it. A lovely word, Kettering, unfamiliar.
The bubble in those days was little more than the walk or ride from lodgings in Mill Road to Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology on the Downing site, and then on to Queens’. A detour on foot through Pembroke was a treat. This was a rather strung-out sort of bubble, perhaps, and one in those days whose walls were rarely penetrated. Kettering was a bit of magic.
There were signs to Ely, St Neots and Royston. There might even have been one to London. But it was Kettering that fired the imagination. I didn’t see the sign that often since that side of the Cam was ‘injun country’ until 1971 when daily trips to the boathouse became part of the routine. Maybe it was the novelty.
Lichfield has a similar effect. Such a rich sound. When I was young, we had relatives near Stratford-upon-Avon, and being obsessed with cathedrals as I then was, I plagued parents to stop there on the way past Birmingham. They did once. Later, I saw the three spires from Euston-Carlisle trains (not any more: too built up now). A world I only glimpsed. And here I am now living only 10 miles away.
Lichfield still sings a siren song. I’m off to waste a bit of money in the cathedral shop. Detached from the inconsequential Barchester politics, the cathedral close is a reminder that there are some places that lift the spirit, oases of beauty and memory. Even the A 604 to Kettering.