Geoffrey Chaucer's emaciated Clerk of Oxenford must either have spent too long in the library or suffered a fourteenth-century winter as long and punishing as the one we're still enduring, over six hundred years later. Either deprivation might explain the bleak and punitive tale of patient Griselda which he inflicts on his fellow pilgrims bound for Canterbury. With the weather predictions we’ve had of late, I can't help thinking we know just as little about meteorology now as Chaucer when he wrote, famously, that “Aprill with his shoures soote/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote”. Granted, Oxford is now, and probably was then, the more temperate of the two places — but sweet isn't the first word I'd choose for some of these April showers, and I don't recall drought being last month's problem.
Blue extremities now a given, I blame protracted hibernation as a result of the weather for my failure to spot — until last week, during a rogue sunny interval — the blue plaque commemorating the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, student and fellow of Cambridge's King's College from 1931-34. Unveiled on the college wall last June, it sits well above head height, which rather depressingly reveals my customary demeanour as I scuttle about, bent forward into the easterly wind. I have since, however, sought and seen nearly half of the 34 blue plaques in Cambridge which commemorate famous people associated with the city. No surprise that most, like Francis Crick and James Watson, are connected with the University. Their 2003 blue plaque sits not on the wall of the Cavendish Laboratory but nearby, outside The Eagle, where they pondered the meaning of life. That's the real crucible of DNA.
Instigated by The Royal Society of Arts in 1866, English Heritage, which has administered the blue plaque scheme in London since 1986, announced its suspension in January 2013 due to a 34 per cent cut in its funding from central government. Oxford's scheme, funded by various bodies including The Bodleian, the University and City Council, currently has 79 plaques, more evenly split between town and gown — and forming just over 1 per cent of the national total. The newest, placed last September, marks the childhood home of colossus comedian Ronnie Barker at 23 Church Cowley Road. No news, yet, of any scheme suspension in either Cambridge or Oxford but I have my eyes peeled.
Blues of a different dimension distract, though, and not just those given to participants in the 159th Boat Race. The BBC saw fit to apologise for broadcasting the Oxford cox's colourful exhortations to his crew in a refreshing spin on the annual and predictable storm of debate on the event and its alleged elitism. Last year, of course, brought a whole different kind of controversy to the boat race. Released from six months in the Scrubs at Her Majesty's pleasure, 2012's decoy Trenton Oldfield has admitted, in print, that this year was too cold even for him to contemplate potential decapitation by blue blade - despite a kind offer from the Met's 'Police Liaison Gateway Team' to help him with any planned protest. He might never merit a blue plaque at Putney — but I suspect Ronnie Barker would approve.