Monday, 10 July 2017
I spent last week walking on the Western edge of the Chilterns with an Anglo-French group. As is our custom we took a day off from walking midweek and did touristy things. In this location the obvious choice was Cambridge, where we took a ride on a punt on the river, which was very good value, and a walking tour round the colleges, which had the cheek to charge £20 per head ( though as "concessions" we got it for £18) which included all " entry fees to colleges," but as we didn't actually enter any, or King's College Chapel, was a bit of a rip off.
When we were told of the original of Newton's Principia Mathematicae in the Wren Library (along with the drafts and sketches for Winnie-the-Pooh), the college to which Professor Stephen Hawkins belongs, and pointed to the pub where Watson and Crick relaxed whilst uncovering the structure of DNA, my British bosom swelled with pride.
A quick search on the internet will tell you that Cambridge University has, at 61, more Nobel Laureates than any other university in the world (Harvard is next with 48), and there are lots of other distinguished literary alumni (E M Forster, C S lewis and Bradford's very own J B Priestley) in addition to A A Milne.
I do not subscribe to the view fostered by our school history courses that Britain has been "top nation" for most of the time since the reign of Henry VIII until the Americans took over, but the Cambridge experience is a reminder that for the past few centuries we have been among the leading nations for science, medicine, exploration, literature, politics, philosophy, engineering, economics and culture.
Britons have made serious and significant contributions to making the world a more civilised, stimulating and comfortable place.
Nor do I suggest that, post-Brexit, no one from these islands is ever gong to write another decent book or make another scientific discovery. But if we go ahead with Brexit not only shall we be economically poorer - that seems now to be almost universally accepted - but we are deliberately dropping out of the big league. The implications, especially for science, are particularly severe.