Some people like to think of life as a journey – it isn’t; I’ve been on lots of journeys and they were nothing like life – but there is some profound connection between movement and the feeling of being alive. Many years ago I used to visit the family of a girlfriend who lived on a remote island off the west coast of Scotland, and it involved getting an overnight bus from Victoria Coach Station (I couldn’t afford a train, let alone a plane) to Glasgow; from there we took a slow train to the coast, through a succession of drizzle-bound and increasingly desolate villages; then there was a ferry (good fried breakfast on the ferry if the sea wasn’t up) and finally another bus, for an hour, around the island. By the time we arrived, twenty-four hours after setting off, we felt as though we had pitched up on the far side of an unknown continent, and the week or so we stayed was charmed as a result, a succession of whales, eagles, basking sharks, haggis, and other wonders.
I hope the same is true of our long-range students. Most, I suppose, come from Europe, and in these days of cheap and frequent flights, no European destination is all that far away; but a great many come from further afield, from the Middle or Far East, for example, many time zones removed from Cambridge.
Capping all of that, however, is the journey of one of our current students, Valdeir, from Juina in the Mato Grosso in the west of Brazil, who had to travel by road for ten hours merely to get to an airport which could bring him to Sao Paolo, before he could even embark on his ten-hour flight to London.
A morning studying English on a wet Cambridge Wednesday in April must be like an out-of-body experience in such circumstances. We can’t offer seals and basking sharks, but we do have a nodding red cow and a bewilderingly odd assortment of teachers and students; and beyond that there is the arcanum of the university, the indecisive weather, and the mythical lakes of tea. Wonders, after all, are relative.