I spend lots of time in Cambridge. Its official tourist Web page shouts: ‘Be inspired by its many beautiful museums and art galleries. Admire the beautiful architecture and majestic college buildings. Explore quaint passages…,’ and, well, you get the drift. “Tab” – Cambridge’s time-honoured nickname – is where it’s at for culture, aesthetics, and entertainment.
Yup, agreed. It’s no mean city. What surprises me, though, is how provincial most Cantabrigians may be. To them, there can’t be life east of the River Cam. For instance, when I let it slip I live in Bury, I catch a subtle but ripe whiff of bemusement. As if ‘Tabbies’ can’t imagine human life existing in such a far-flung outpost. Cantabrigians? Bah humbug.
As I fancy myself an unelected Bury town “booster,” I’m always ready to give an account for my well-founded belief that anything Cambridge can do we can do better, to paraphrase that fun old song from the film “Annie Get Your Gun.”
For my part, I’d rather take my wife out to somewhere like the Old Cannon Brewery or the One Bull, pay for a good glass of beer and a tasty bite, then walk across town to the Theatre Royal, buying cheap and cheerful seats that allow you to see the faces of the actors and hear their lines.
Then there’s our attractive cathedral, polished wood and brass, stone, and decidedly holy. After a pleasant hour spent there praying or meditating, I take whatever book I’m reading at the moment and slip into the Abbey Gardens to read in the sunshine. Being a frugal man, please note, like the air in the park, the above’s all free.
If peckish, I can buy a snack at the Abbey Gardens refreshment kiosk, retrace my steps to the cathedral’s Pilgrims’ Kitchen, or, if I’m in the mood for something a bit more exotic, I can cross Angel Hill and find anything from Thai at Giggling Squid to Greek at Café Kottani and everything in between including Italian, Chinese, and French in the town centre. After that, I go home to indulge in my hobby, writing.
Try this in Cambridge and you’ll need all or some of the following: buses, copious coins for ticking parking meters, and a powerful anti-bicycle shield to ward off kamikaze cyclists.
By the by, in case you think I’m anti-cycling, our household boasts no fewer than two bikes. My point is this: here in Bury St Edmunds, the average cyclist contributes to the quaint notion that they’re sharing the blooming road with cars and pedestrians. As such, they’re among the most courteous folks on our highways and byways. Anyway, green is clean, and in Bury, common sense prevails.
Ruminate on antiquity. Most Buryites take our historic town centre for granted, including our 12th-century Norman Tower, the nationally unique 17th-century apartments built into the 13th-century abbey walls; then there’s our 15th -century Cathedral Nave, the 14th-century abbey gate, not to mention our Georgian townhouses and the Athenaeum.
Finally, brick for brick, given Bury’s size, you won’t find a more eclectic historic centre in all of Europe. Add to that the abundance of reasonably priced parking, our visible and courteous police officers, our gifted rugby union football club and our famous Bury Football Club, one of the oldest in England, and most of the same shops and restaurants you’d find in Cambridge, and I ask you: Why would any sane person hazard into the quagmire of Cambridge where miles-long tailbacks, expensive parking, inadequate toilet facilities, and cruel and unusual road fines are the order of the day? Cambridge? Bah humbug.
Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his website at www.michaelapichella.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MApichellaPhD