In mid-August, when it seemed as if my older daughter being accepted at a Sixth Form College in Cambridge was at least a tiny possibility (I was estimating it at 5 (five) %), I called our family friend, Mike, of Clare College, Cambridge. He and my father had met at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge when they were both working as lecturers at the University, and Mike and his wife Hilary used to swap off babysitting duties with my parents so that my parents (really: my mother) looked after their oldest children, James and Sally, and Mike and Hilary (really: Hilary) looked after me and my younger sister.
Our families have remained friends through my parents’ move to America, the birth of three more children to Mike and Hilary, and then the tragic death of Hilary. Mike is still very active in the college, running a fund for Clare graduates who need money to support them, dining in college every day, and doing the occasional meet-and-greet. He’s a ferocious crossword-puzzler of the cryptic kind. If he had been just a few years older, he no doubt would have been a boffin, a code-breaker, at Bletchley Park, helping the Allies win the war.
When I emailed him, he immediately offered to let us stay with him in his house in the Newnham section of Cambridge, just a ten-minute cycle ride to the colleges and the center of town, until we found our own housing. This was a tremendous help; it would allow us to scope out the rental market while having a place to stay. I told him we’d need a week with him, and he’d said fine.
We pulled up in a taxi late this Sunday afternoon, and greeted each other joyously. We’d last seen him just six weeks earlier during our annual summer trip to Derbyshire and Cambridge, so it was a bit of an odd home-coming, not that Cambridge was yet home to us.
Mike hadn’t had anyone living with him since his youngest daughter had left home several decades ago. We’d have to see how it would go: a confirmed bachelor used to living alone now inundated with a noisy, messy, and hormonal family of women and girls who weren’t even his own. A recipe for disaster–or a new temporary family in the making?
Katie and Meg at Clare Bridge over the River Cam. Mike is at the right of the picture.