I have gotten into the habit of taking the kids on a very beautiful walk in Cambridge. We cycle five minutes down to the west gate of Kings, lock up the bikes, and enter the college via its back door. We walk down to the college’s internal bridge over the river Cam, survey passing punts and geese, take a loop around the gardens, and exit the front gate to a tiny cake shop down an alley opposite. This is the pay-off for the children. Caked-up, the three of them gambol merrily around the corner to Clare College — to me the most beautiful — via whose courtyards, bridge and fellows’ garden we return to the other side of the river and our bikes.
It is hard not to feel pleased with yourself in such august surroundings with three attractive children behaving with reasonable decorum. I am normally too nervous of them to enter any of the college buildings. But today, seeing there is a service in Clare chapel I accept the request of the eldest to take a look. Arriving early, we mill around with devout, serious-looking old people in the narthex. After a couple of minutes, I am summoned animatedly by the eldest child, eight, to view a large book displayed in the middle of the room in which people are writing names.
‘What is this?’
[I ponder.] ‘It is an ‘In Memoriam’ — in memory — book where people are invited to write the names of those who have died in the last year so that they can be remembered in prayers.’
‘Grandpa died three years ago. Who can we write in the book?’
[Pause.] ‘I don’t know anyone who died in the past year.’
‘I do — Gaddafi.’
‘You are not writing Gaddafi’s name in that book.’
‘Why not? He died this year and someone should remember him.’
‘He died a few days ago… How do you write his name?’
Luckily, at this point the eight-year-old’s younger male sibling butts in with a very loud ‘I don’t like churches’. Before the four-year-old — who originated this refrain and caused a major scene in St Peter’s in Rome last year — can join in, I herd them out.