I Hope Aliens Don’t Find my Phone

There’s a lot of embarrassing rubbish on my mobile, including the logo.


As my husband pointed out, aliens could be mighty confused if they ever got their hands on it. I’m confused just looking at the memos. ‘Next book’ is one of them. Here I meant to jot down amazing plot ideas as they came to me while sitting on the 13 bus. But what could I have meant by ‘Dr Tiggywinkle’, and then something about cradling a fire extinguisher? It hardly seems the stuff of which Booker winners are made.

The shopping lists are easier to decipher. There’s no spellcheck on memos, so one list goes






Surely everyone likes a bit of Narnite on their bresd.

I have 389 bonkers photos, mostly blurred, which may be just as well.  Alongside Remembrance Sunday in Aldeburgh and the cat sitting on my neck trying to suffocate me, there are toilet facilities in Lion Yard, Cambridge:


Here’s Sigmund Freud clutching his belly in what can only be an attack of womb envy:


 I’ve kept this great memento of a shag on the beach: 


There are slides from a lecture by Roger Neighbour: 


Every cat owner has close-ups of their cat sleeping. I’m no exception.


I’ve kept some choice texts, like the one from Henk the oven cleaner, and the exchanges with wretched PPI claims companies. My usual text reply? PPISS OFF.

At five minute intervals, there’s a pop-up which invites me to validate my BlackBerry ID credentials. I’ve forgotten it, so that’s not going to happen.

There are a gazillion back and forth BBM exchanges from friends I never manage to meet, and WhatsApp messages from people I’ve never met in my life. One mystery missive asks me

Es tu cumple hoy?

If you speak any Spanish, you probably know this isn’t as obscene as it sounds.

I’ve no idea what else is on there, as the thing has just seized up. Excuse me. I’m just off to write a letter to Santa.

My next post should be a lot more festive as I’m going to a party. A Christmas blog hop, no less. And you’re invited too.




10 Things I Learned at Cambridge

Last weekend was the Alumni Festival, when Cambridge was invaded by hordes of people who look ancient (and probably think the same about the other alumni). Three days of talks, tours, and socialising helped fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. One thing I do remember: the beds in my own college are less than hospitable, so DH and I stayed in Churchill College instead. It’s where the Churchill Archives live, though they can’t be seen at weekends.

So here are 10 things I learned.

1 Founded in 1583, Cambridge University Press is the oldest publisher in the world (though Oxford, it pains me to say, is larger). Here are its headquarters.

The Pitt Building

The Pitt Building

2 Newnham College’s gardens are no longer a hidden beauty now that scores of alumni toured them at the weekend. They were even allowed – shock, horror – to walk on the grass.  

Part of Newnham College gardens

Part of Newnham College gardens

3 You can be a leading light in immunology, pioneer a vaccine for HPV, and still score zero out of 10 for tact. Here’s what the Vice Chancellor Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said to a gathering of alumni on Friday evening:

The quality of students has never been better.

4  There are too many sundials in Cambridge for me to count. If you happen to know the total number, please leave a comment! Meanwhile this is one of my favourites. Or rather two of them.

Sundials on St Botlph's Church

Sundials on St Botolph’s Church

5  There are now parking charges on Sunday, so bicycles are needed more than ever.

bikes against a wall

Bikes against a wall in Trinity Lane

6  It’s possible for a plant to have no leaves. An ephedra stem just has scales. If you’re wondering, the drug ephedrine comes from ephedra. This is one of the plants in the Botanic Gardens.

Ephedra major subsp procera

Ephedra major subsp procera

7  Thanks to the Whipple Museum, I can now tell the difference between a reflecting telescope and a refracting telescope. But I’m damned if I’d know how to use one.

Esquire Bedells can be female too. The role goes back to the 13th century but these days you don’t need a Y chromosome to carry a mace, perform ceremonial duties, or give a cracking tour of the Senate House. Here is an Esquire Bedell with one of her colleagues.

Senior Esquire Bedell Nicola Hardy & Pro-Proctor Tim Milner

Senior Esquire Bedell Nicola Hardy & Pro-Proctor Tim Milner

9  Because I couldn’t attend every event, I still don’t know:

Standing beneath the Tree of Knowledge aka Atlantic cedar

Standing beneath the Tree of Knowledge aka Atlantic cedar

How to strip and rebuild a single-cylinder engine.

Why cats make you sneeze.

Why we can walk, but robots can’t (yet).

What black holes are for.

Whether science can make a cyclist go faster.

What makes your brain efficient.

Why life is so complicated.

But maybe I’ll find out next year.

10  No matter how long it’s been since student days, you never forget how to drop curry on your lap like an undergraduate on a Saturday night.  I’ll spare you that photo.

What’s in a name, by George?

So it’s George Alexander Louis. Altogether more regal than, say, Clive or Keith, though I think it’s a shame William and Kate didn’t choose College. We’ve never had a monarch called King College Cambridge.KCC cropped

Baby Cambridge’s name doesn’t need to be hip and happening because it will set the trend for years to come.  He may grow up liking his first name (as most Georges seem to) or not.  A slew of given names brings the luxury of choice, though this is the first time in about 100 years that a Royal baby has had only three names instead of four.

Parents sometimes goof, as with the handle aired a while back on ITV’s This Morning.  Presenters Phil and Fern couldn’t contain themselves.  Who could, with a Hugh Janus?

When I was considering names for my own sons, I turned to the pages of the Financial Times for inspiration.  Perhaps names like Julian, James, Henry or Anthony would give them a leg-up on the ladder to success (I’ll get back to you).

Parents have to settle on only a handful of names for their own children, while writers get to dream up many more.  It’s fun, and if someone suggests something better, you can change it with just a few keystrokes.

In fiction, names can give away a person’s character.  You just know Dr Legg is going to be an orthopaedic surgeon, and Professor Sir Benjamin Bigpurse is coining it from his private practice.  Cruella De Vil is a prime example of a villain’s name, though Voldemort and Captain Hook are great too.

Reading To The Lighthouse, it’s obvious that Augustus Carmichael is a poet’s moniker and that Lily Briscoe is as complicated as hell, though perhaps the more obvious clue lies in the author’s name. Personally I’m still mystified by Seymour Glass, JD Salinger’s memorable if not wholly transparent choice.

As has been observed, even the naming of cats is a difficult matter. I’ve stuck to fruits for my own cats. Thus we’ve had Bananas, Peaches, and Cherries.

future's orange cropped

The current incumbent is Mishmish, meaning apricot in Arabic and Hebrew.  But did we miss a trick when we overlooked Paw-paws?