Friday, 17 October 2008

A natural scientist pre-remembers ...

Two weeks ago, we received a call from someone in our office asking about alternative routes into work. She was stuck in traffic because an accident was causing congestion. Later we heard that the accident had involved a collision between a cyclist and a school bus. Being a commuter/cyclist myself I had to admit that I thought "ooh; that doesn't sound good".

When I arrived home from work in the evening, I found out that my wife, Christine, knew the victim; she was the star pupil at the school where Christine works as a library assistant. She and the other librarian had got to know the victim, Sarah Waterhouse, very well - and she had told them she was about to apply to Cambridge for Natural Sciences. She was killed almost immediately, apparently attempting to cross the road, when the bus hit her. See this link for the full story.

Although I did not know Sarah, she knew about me - Christine had told her that I also had read Natural Sciences at Cambridge.

Anything that happens that touches you like that is bound to trigger a flood of memories - happy ones for me of my days in Cambridge - and, sadly, ones that will never happen for Sarah.

As I did not know Sarah personally, I am not able to remember her, as her friends do. I went on the Friday to the spot near the accident opposite the police station to see all the flowers that had been laid there - it seems she was well loved. But these memories that I have are a kind of pre-remembering of what might have been for Sarah, and, in my own way, are a way of remembering this person I never even knew existed before she died.

There are so many of them:

The thrill of receiving the offer of a place.

The slight pull of homesickness on the first day after my parents left me, only to be swallowed up in the thrill of being invited to lots of freshers events and quickly making new friends.

The early morning sun slanting across the stone courts of Trinity College.

The mist rising off the Cam after an all night punting expedition.

Glamour and romance by the river, all lit up for the College ball.

Drinking port that was older than me at a College feast ( very dry and rich, not sweet like ordinary port).

The weird juxtaposition of standing in a very grand college room, drinking port (ordinary port this time), wearing gowns after Hall dinner, playing backgammon with the mathematicians, and listening to punk rock at indescribable volumes.

The smell of stone in the old buildings.

The river of cyclists pouring down Tennis Court Road between Natural Sciences lectures in different venues.

The maths lecturer who covered 24 blackboards with hieroglyphic squiggles (the trademark of mathematicians) in the course of a one hour lecture.

Staying up over coffee till two o'clock in the morning putting the world to rights; or trying to come to terms with the philosophical implications of Quantum Mechanics.

And countless friends, some for life, some receding into the past as fond memories.

And my life after unrolling like a carpet; a Masters' degree; a career in a scientific institution, a family, children, a doctorate ... and so it goes on.

And all of these things would have been waiting for Sarah, too, were it not for the tragic accident that ended her life even before the first of the items on my list.

One can only say "Rest In Peace", but have the sad feeling that one whose life that had only just begun to unroll into this world that meant so much to me, should not be needing to rest.


Steve said...

Touched Iain. I have dear friends living in Cambridge of a similar age and who ride bikes. Also another dear friend in Oxford who is a keen cyclist. And yet another friend from Cheltenham who has just gone up to Cambridge. One of the Cambridge friends quite often rings me when she is on her bike and I worry. So relieved when the sound changes and I know she is in the tunnel that leads under her house to the shed in the back garden.

Iain said...


Thanks for listening!

I have seen cyclists pedalling along talking on a mobile phone and it scares the heck out of me - I can understand your concern and worry.

The police are still investigating the accident. However, I think I can work out what happened. From the paper reports we know that she was crossing the road from MacDonald's to the police station. The reason for this was that there is a cycle path on that side of the road (one which I've used frequently). The school bus wouldn't normally be going that way at all - but its normal route was blocked off because of the Abingdon fair, which is always on the same day of the year.