Cambridge, Day 3

Cambridge being not a million miles away from London, Saturday provided me with a rare opportunity to have lunch in the Big Smoke with Maggie. Regrettably, it meant I missed a day of lectures at the conference we’ve been attending down here. But them’s the breaks.

I emerged from Liverpool Street Station into bright London sunshine. The weather has been glorious the last few days, which has been a tonic for us Northerners, suffering as we have been under a grim grey cloud recently. I installed myself on a stone seat outside the station and absorbed the warmth. Before long my phone buzzed, and I wandered across the road to greet Maggie and her parents.

We meandered along Brick Lane and around the area famous for being Jack the Ripper’s domain, stopping for coffee somewhere that my sister promised me was authentically independent. “Although they have four shops now.” How many outlets can a local independent outfit grow to before it loses its character and identity and becomes a faceless chain? And further, can a company long deemed the underdog in its field, making esoteric products for the discerning minority, become a corporate global success without losing its appeal to its hardcore fans? Like Apple for instance – their success with the iPod has meant they are the iconic brand for mp3 players. However, Microsoft retain their stranglehold on the PC OS market, and Apple Macs are still the underdogs as a result. Some part of the British psyche (or maybe it’s just mine) likes the underdog and wants them to succeed against their bigger brothers. However, if they do succeed and continue to grow market share, they inevitably become the big bullying brother themselves and, to some extent at least, lose their appeal. Perhaps this explains the Tall Poppy Syndrome so prevalent in our media.

Anyway, the coffee was good, and I tried not to look overtly out of place in the ultra-chic interior. We moved on to a 24hr Jewish bakery where Alison replenished the family’s bagel supply, and then headed on somewhere for lunch. I almost passed a record shop, then thought better and popped inside for a browse. I had already succumbed to a Van Morrison LP purchase in Notting Hill earlier in the morning. This time, a triple-pack Groove Armada record caught my eye – one of the Back to Mine series on the DMC label. I have no real idea what any of that means, apart from guessing that there should have been three discs in the sleeve. There were only two. The shop assistant, spotting me looking puzzled, apologised for the missing disc and offered to chop a third of the price. I was just glad that triple pack wasn’t some street term for two LPs, and decided to take him up on his offer. I know only one Groove Armada track – “At the River” – which is probably highly unrepresentative of their general output, but is absolute genius.

“I actually work for the record company – DMC – that the Back to Mine series was released on,” the assistant told me proudly.

I tried to look impressed.

“We’ve got Coldcut doing the next one – it’s due out next year. “Very excited about that!”

I nodded and smiled.

“Cool.”

I really wasn’t. I tried to look like I was equally excited, despite only having vaguely heard of Coldcut.

Better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt – so says the adage. I think perhaps that could be adapted, in my case, to:

“Better to stay out of cool record shops in East London and be thought square and unhip, than to go inside and remove all doubt.”

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