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This article is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

Every Wrong Direction Dan Burt
CAMBRIDGE EXPOSES FOOLS in the nicest of places. Stupidity is denuded among the world’s best tended, charming, romantic lawns, river banks and studies. An understated question, diffident comment, private word pointing out misquote or wrong fact, a comment ignored, subject changed, unmasks fraud and presumption in the most delicate manner, the ensuing nakedness all the less bearable for the tact, delicacy and discretion with which pomp, cant and pretence are exposed. Sometimes it wasn’t until hours after being fatally skewered that I flushed, realising how dumb I’d been. A Cambridge college is a bad venue for parading in the emperor’s new clothes.

Completed in 1831, St John’s neo-gothic New Court is laid out in the classic ‘E’ pattern of an Elizabethan manor house. Hugh Sykes-Davies (HSD), St John’s Director of English Studies, had rooms in New Court’s Stairwell I, on the first floor of the E’s north-west wing. His set overlooked the Cam and Backs to the south, west and north through large mullioned windows, and was a college jewel. Beyond its oriel window seat, April through October, undergraduates and tourists punted sunward in the late afternoon, under the Bridge of Sighs, past Clare Bridge, King’s College Chapel, and on to Grantchester, while undergraduates, a lucky few with girlfriends in those pre-coed days, played croquet, lazed on the Back, or read in the Scholars’ Garden. December through March the westering winter sunlight, bent almost horizontal by the declined winter sun, kindled Hugh’s study, and the Wren Library across the Cam, as red-kneed choir boys in ...

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