I still haven’t found what I’m looking for


Finding activities that give me the ‘buzz’

Some of you will be aware that I used to do lots of dancing around five or so years ago. A combination of price, a lack of a ‘buzz’ at the clubs in London and perhaps growing out of it led me to stop completely. Despite its size, London does not have a large society or venue for ballroom and latin dancing in particular. It wasn’t for a lack of trying – I recall going to lots of different places just to try them out. Yet each of them was tiny in comparison to my old stomping ground Cambridge Dancers’ Club.

What struck me about London was that none of them seemed to emerge to become the size of say The Celidh Club (in Camden), London Swing (in Holborn) or Ceroc London by Great Portland Street. Every time I went to each of the above, the venues were full of people and the atmosphere buzzing, even though the dance styles (particularly the latter two) were not really to my taste.

One thing I never understood with London was why – even at the height of the ‘strictly’ bandwagon – no one was able to put on ballroom events on the scale of Vienna’s ball season. A problem of silos, egos, a lack of imagination, or something else? Why couldn’t they all get together and put on something spectacular?

Over the past couple of weeks, I popped my head around a few local haunts and was utterly depressed with what I saw. Not because the people there weren’t having a good time, but because (for two of the three of them at least) there seemed to be so few of them, and they all seemed to be lacking the energy and vibrancy that I’ve seen them all have at events several years ago. Where did it all go? It was if everything had stagnated before withering.

In the autumn of 2011 I really made an effort trying new things – not least because of a sense of needing to do something with my life post-civil service. Yet with each of the various things I tried my luck with, other than the teaching qualification I did, the lack of energy and vibrancy was crushing. This city (Cambridge) should be a hive of activity and interactivity. Instead what I was seeing and feeling was lots of different groups operating within their little silos. Some seemed quite content with the way things were – to the extent that a few wanted things to stay that way. Others wanted to reach out but seemed to struggle to know how. I can’t help but feel that Cambridge has institutions that are run as if the city is still a market town. The brand is huge, the city is expanding, the pressures are growing and the world is changing – fast. The institutions have to respond – and at the moment I’m not seeing nearly enough evidence of that happening.

Having a vision – and high expectations

I’m still trying to work out whether these are assets or liabilities to have sitting on my shoulders. The past few months have been incredibly frustrating – not least because of my health, but also a feeling of “Nooooo!!!! We are so much better than this!!!” The only thing that’s had any impact on my mood has been the Olympics – so a BIG thank you to all the competitors on that one! Yet it’s almost as if (2006 style for me) I have to go through a period of frustration to build up enough motivation, anger and energy so as to do something about it. Hence my thoughts around this “Cambridge L!VE” project.

What’s Cambridge L!VE got to do with all of this?

It’s my vision with high expectations. Health and money-wise I’m probably here for the next few years. I can’t – and don’t want to – spend that time waiting for stuff to happen. Yet at the same time I’m missing a vibrant sociable atmosphere. All-too-often it feels like a solitary road ahead – not just for myself but for others I’m friends with locally too.

One of the other factors at play here is me having spent time outside of Cambridge. I’ve seen how things are and can be done elsewhere – both for better and for worse. Also, I’ve gotten an idea of how Cambridge is seen through the eyes of people outside of it. The headline? “Brand Cambridge” is bigger than the city. Yet the institutions from all sectors within the latter don’t seem to have acknowledged that. This is something I want to help change. It’s things like:

  • Cambridge University’s Enterprise Office having no social media links on its landing page
  • The Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services not making easily available and accessible its list of charities and voluntary groups available in a useable format.
  • A meeting on parking problems organised by local councillors being organised outside of term time and not containing representatives of the institutions whose members are causing problems for local people.
  • Getting the train operators to talk to the bus companies to synchronise their timetables.
  • Having schools and colleges sending elected representatives to attend area committee meetings, and designating time for them to raise issues.
  • Getting some sort of co-ordination between the County Council that run Cambridgeshire.Net, City Council staff responsible for community centres it runs, and other community venues run by other organisations – such as Centre St Pauls.

And that’s just a few for starters.

I’m not going to pretend it’s as simple as getting everyone to use a Facebook or Twitter account. Social media can provide some superb tools, but it can only be as good as the people using them. I’m not just looking for that buzz in one group or organisation: I want it across the city.

What’s all of the above got to do with finding what you’re looking for?


Part of it is finding a purpose post-civil service. It’s also about improving my home town – which comes with all sorts of personal and emotional baggage. It’s also a challenge that’s waiting to be taken on. Sometimes challenges don’t need to have reasons. Why did George Mallory try to climb Everest (which would ultimately cost him his life)? “Because it’s there”.

Why not simply join a society locally and build it up that way? Well…I’ve already done that before. This time around, I want to go far beyond that. Rather than saying “Here’s a great society/activity – come and join in” (or a message along those lines) I’d rather harness something like social media and help organisations and societies already doing good stuff do even greater stuff – and grow their memberships as well as the number and diversity of people involved in them too.

But activity-wise?

The list is as long as my arm and I’ll never be able to do all of them in the space of time I’ve got. On top of that, there are some things that are not taught or run in a way that would be easy for me to get into. I’ve blogged about a number of these things too. Music is one of them – but where to start trying to get the equivalent of the ELLSO in Cambridge? I stumbled into one of the music shops in Cambridge, gazing at the wall of lots of people’s business cards advertising music lessons. So many of them – too many of them had been there for a long time – to the extent that the sunlight had faded them. As with the ballroom dancing clubs in London, lots of small-scale operations but nothing to bring them (or their clients) together.

I’ve wondered for years why Cambridge has never had an ice-rink. When growing up, we had to go to Stevenage or Peterborough for ice-skating or ten-pin bowling (until Cambridge Leisure Park built new lanes for the latter). It remains to be seen how long it will take to build Cambridge University’s new sports centre, whether it’ll have an ice rink and what sort of access the general public will have. Similarly with rollerblading, London is the only place I’ve found that does public rollerblading sessions where (amongst other things) you are taught how to stop and fall over properly.

Other things have stemmed from observations or Twitter conversations over social media – such as archery or horse-riding. While the latter is ages away for me to get to (along with hay-fever being an issue) during the spring and summer months, commuters on the London-Cambridge line often see archers in action on the playing fields where many years ago I used to play football.

Talking of which, the one football club I want to keep tabs on this season is Cambridge Women’s Football Club – again on the back of the Olympics. That and the men’s game leaves me feeling all “meh”. At the Olympics the women’s games were played in a completely different spirit to the men’s game.

There are also other things such as the various comedy nights at The Junction (where Puffles ended up on stage with Shappi Khorsandi) and the ADC Theatre (of footlights fame) to Cambridge Wine Merchants’ wine tasting sessions. There’s still the dancer in me that would like to head down to London with a group of friends for White Mink: Black Cotton – the electroswing night.

I’m in sort of ‘open ramble’ mode, continuously wanting to explore new things as well as making things better for those around me – while having fun at the same time. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. Actually, it’s the latter more often than not. But then isn’t that what makes those successes all the more enjoyable? The past few months have blown away some of the fog around the barriers. Now that I can see them more clearly, I have a better idea of how to get round them. If it makes a positive difference to people, I can live with that – even if I don’t find the buzz that I’m looking for.


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