The great wheel of time is turning… always at the same speed, we know, but it feels as though it has speeded up. Only in Cambridge could we have – on the same street (albeit sporting three different names along its length) – the Corpus Clock that has been built with absolute accuracy yet quirky unpredictability, the phenomenally reliable gravity-escapement Trinity College Clock, a pair of vertical sundials on adjacent buttress-faces of St Botolph’s Church, and the faint remains of a 14th-century Mass Dial on Little St Mary’s Church.
Here at Madingley Hall, the headquarters of the University’s Institute of Continuing Education we have a choice of the faded charm of the clockface on the Courtyard tower, a sundial in the gardens, and another sundial on the south-east wing (pictured) to check as we head to planning meetings or to see visitors. Although we are more likely these days to be checking hi-tech gizmos to keep us on time, just in case the sun is not shining. Incidentally, we’re hoping for clear skies on Monday 9 May, for the Transit of Mercury which should be visible - please note, Science Summer Programme participants! - for anyone living in the America, Europe and Africa. (If it is cloudy, we all have to wait until 2032, I understand.)
Time is relative, as we are reminded (particularly, this year, 100 years after the publication of Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory). Grasping the meaning is a bit of a struggle for this non-scientist, but the joy of the Summer Programme community is that I will find several people in the teaching team who can explain it very eloquently, no doubt. Einstein is never out of the news for long: I gather the French have just launched a satellite about to test one of his theories. (As a forgiveable aside, I hope, during the internet search for the satellite news I found myself diverted by a rather splendid Albert Einstein cake!)
One benefit of the passage of time is that is appears finally to have warmed up here in Cambridgeshire. The pairs of birds (woodpeckers, jackdaws, rooks, chaffinches, blackbirds….) outside my office window have an urgency, a purpose, and leaf-lets are bursting from twigs and branches. The daffodils are perishing (hurrah!) and fresh-faced narcissi have taken their place along the Madingley Hall drive, and the blue/purple ajuga (carpet bugle) looks stunning next to the lake. (We took the newly opened Capability Brown walk in the Madingley grounds at lunchtime.)
Clearly, nature is saying: ‘we’d better get on with it’, and – although we haven’t really stopped all year - there’s a new urgency as May begins, so that same message is on our minds, too.
We’ve recently added another 55+ plenary titles to the web, and are working on the rest. As swathes of courses meet their minimum target (on their way to higher enrolments over the next 10 weeks), we have started to confirm them with the Course Directors. The conversations between accepted students are already in full swing on the Student Forum (What’s the dress code? Who else is doing this course? Who else is travelling from the same country as me? Australia/Canada/France/Ireland…?) 10 Cambridge Summer Assistants (CSAs) have been hired, and will be ready to help as you arrive.
The clock is ticking: I will return to planning plenaries! I hope – if you have not already signed up for one of our programmes - that you will consider spending time with us this summer.
Sarah J Ormrod, 6 May 2016