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Chris Surridge knows a lot about plants and has been kind enough to instruct me now and then. He used to work at Nature (before I moved here) and now works for PLoS ONE up in Cambridge. He recently put these pictures up on Facebook and I thought I’d link to them because they recapitulate in part a little detail in Eating the Sun — the ride from the city centre to the village of Barton. This is the ride that Robin Hill used to take every day going home from the biochemistry department, though he would not have gone along Kings Parade, and I would imagine probably not down Newnham Avenue, either. Hill made a number of fundamental contributions to the science of photosynthesis, most notably the “Hill reaction” (which rather becomingly he did not refer to as such himself) in which isolated chloroplasts are induced to release oxygen and the Z-scheme, which explains how the two photosystems work together. Maybe some of the inspiration for one or other came from the cycle ride (which took him past the house of his friend and mentor David Keilin). Even if it didn’t, it’s a very nice ride to take on a dry afternoon at this time of year, and Hill’s destination, Vatches Farm, would be a lovely place to come home to:
Hill had admired, perhaps loved, Vatches for some time. As an undergraduate he had more than once cycled out to Barton to sketch it. Following in his bike-tracks on one of those perfect afternoons with which Cambridge so often and somewhat misleadingly sees in the new academic year, it was easy to understand the attraction. The main building is a long whitewashed farm-house just across the road from the duck pond on the village green. The south-facing garden—now divided between a few different properties, as the farm was broken up after Robin and Priscilla died in the early 1990s—is a lovely mixture of lawns, flowers and orchards, lit by warm, low sun. Under the old fruit trees he used to tend to the fallen apples perfume the air. Between two small lawns in the eastern part of the garden (for which its new owners have justly won awards) stands a striking, proud beech tree that Hill must have planted not that long after he and Priscilla bought the place. Nearby is what seems to be a relic from the trip to Singapore: an amelanchier of some sort, the current owner tells me, which in the spring fills the air with a scent of almonds and coconut. At the end of the main lawn a farm gate set in a line of trees opens on to farmland. A grassy track leads through a field already ploughed for winter wheat; a mile or so away, the dish of the university’s radio telescope at Lord’s Bridge Road slowly sweeps the skies.
I quite like commuting in over the Thames and past St Pauls, but those pictures do make me envy Chris a little.
Pictures courtesy of Chis Surridge and the Howe lab, University of Cambridge, rights reserved
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