Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting in a conspicuously uncomfortable faux-velvet tub chair on the top floor of a building in Cambridge which is apparently very fine example of what is called Brutalist architecture.

Yes, well. Apt.

My coffee date, a brilliant ex-psychiatrist turned philosopher of psychoanalysis, noted that at least the view from the inside was nicer than the one from the outside. That's because opposite those nuclear-testing-site style windows is the river -- the Mill Pond, with geese and ducks wandering about on the banks and soft, billowy willows lush with new spring leaf, and punts sedately meandering. Very pretty, no doubt, and it's unusual to have a view of Cambridge from so high -- while we discussed representational states in preverbal infants I surreptitiously watched a sparrowhawk coast around in the distance, scoping for blue tit fledglings like an undergraduate queuing at the late-night burger van of death.

Of course, the view is even more lovely from inside this building, too lovely, caricatured by the contrast. The plate-glass aspect is startlingly pictorial, almost cinematic. Outside in 70mm. Only really, it was the building that was outside, with the pleasantly voyeuristic feel of being on the dark side of a one-way mirror. The outside in Cambridge is typically so ... within. Gardens inside walls, lawns squared by paths, bijou orchards hemmed by 20 foot hedges. Views out of a window in Cambridge are so often weirdly congruent -- with the window. A lush square of lawn with a blossom tree in the centre glimpsed through one of the many small panes of a window crumbling a little at the edges and closed with lever sporting a curly iron finial. A bit of the river through a window flanked with chocolately oak panelling. Maybe a spire and a tower and a flag or two out of an arched stone casement. In the other direction, a marble fireplace with grecian-style columns. Frilly. Fudgy. Victoria sponge. A cup of Russian Caravan with two lumps on the veranda. Inside outside. Outside inside.

To hell with the view. I loved the building. Bolts and slabs of concrete and a strange arty-industrial staircase inside with more bolts and glass and wrapped-around melty-looking bits of steel signposted san-serifly. Tongue-and-groove brushed stainless. Black olive pesto on a cracked pepper cracker.

The coffee was diabolical.

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