Chapter 11. Pembroke


"Trudge, plod away o' the hoof, seek shelter, pack"

--Merry Wives, I.3 

"Being nimble-footed, he hath outrun us, But Moyses and Valerius follow him"

--Two Gentlemen of Verona, V.3 

This college has not received from the photographers the attention it deserves. Human capacity is limited, and in the midst of plenty it is difficult to give adequate attention to everything that is of worth. Go to a fat-stock show and you will see farmers, sated with the sight of prize-winners, giving scarcely a glance to bullocks of the most tremendous girth. Wander through a show-garden, and after half an hour of magnificence you will give perfunctory glances to flowers whose beauty is unrivalled elsewhere. Had Shakespeare written a hundred more plays, you might never have read Hamlet. And if you are a climber in Cambridge, you may miss Pembroke.

Writing across a distance of many miles, we can record little of interest to the visitor to Pembroke. There are climbs without number, piled up close together like logs on a fire for the spirit of the eager climber to devour, but we have done few of them. Like bumblebees in a jam factory, we have buzzed hither and thither in bewilderment, unable to cope with everything around us. There are more climbs in Pembroke and Emmanuel than are dreamt of in the log-book, Percy.

We will start with the Bridge. This is simply a sort of Roland's Gap in the earth wall of the college. Tradition says that in the heroic days of old the Master was feeding with his fellows one day when the meat coarse was brought in. With a resounding "What, hash again!" the Master brought his spoon down heavily, causing the present breach in the walls. This story is of doubtful origin.

We start up the iron grille at any of the three archways. Without much trouble we get the right foot on to the narrow flange of the arch, with the left foot against the vertical grooves of the pillar to one side (see photograph). At head level is a row of spikes, drooping downwards like a shaggy eyebrow, and these spikes are quite firm. Grasp one of these in each hand.

You can now get higher by stepping backwards up the arch. Then step forwards, on to the ledge at the top of the pillar. By now you are holding the spikes from above. With a careful stretch you can reach the top of the balustrade. You may feel acutely conscious of the possibility of being what the French call éventré, but the chances of this are small. No climber's intestine has ever yet been found dangling from these spikes.

As this is sometimes used as a way of climbing in, climbers may perhaps wonder at our including it. We do so without compunction, as it is not as easy as several other ways. A man who can do the Bridge will never be kept out of Pembroke. A second way of climbing in, palatable only to a seasoned climber, is the north face, running from the Bridge up to the Pembroke Street porter's lodge. This can be done at any point along its extent. To facilitate the first few feet, it is perhaps easiest to start just right of the entrance to the college.

The ground-floor windows along this face have stone blocks at the side, over an inch deep. These provide a ladder up to the first ledge, between the ground-floor and first-floor windows. One can then reach the sill of the window above, and get on to the first ledge.

The window above has two cross-bars, the lower one of which enables one to step on to the sill.

Now comes the first difficulty. The stone crest at the side and top of the windows is out of reach, so there is nothing except the upper cross-bar to help one on to the lower cross-bar, which is hip-high. Both cross-bars are covered in the dust of ages, which makes them soft and slippery to the touch, as though they were covered in oil.

Get a knee on to the lower cross-bar, using half a pull-up and half a press-up on the bar above, avoiding the slippery dust with the fingers by gripping as close to the edge as possible. Your hair is now standing on end. With a forearm on the upper bar and a hand on the crest, things become easier, although the last bit is fairly difficult, the height and the stone pavement below making it unpleasant — or, in technical parlance, "interesting".

Coming down again, we will walk in by the porter's lodge, if it be before ten o'clock, and glance round the college from the inside.

There is a multitude of climbs in this, known indifferently as Lodge, or New Court. A number of ominous cracks run hap- hazard about the face of the building, but the stone is probably safe from a climbing point of view. A porter explained to us that the foundations of the building where inadequate; it is gradually subsiding, although quite new, and cracking as it goes. He also told us — informative fellow — that the name of the college was Pembroke, and Emmanuel was down the street. Because we asked for information, he took us for tourists. We thanked him.

It is not difficult to reach the roof in this court. We selected the north-east corner, and remember little of the climb except the last few feet. Here a broad ledge had to be surmounted without holds above until the bottom of the parapet could be reached. As it was in the corner this was easy, and the first climber, with his back to the corner, reached the roof in peace. The second climber, facing the corner, found himself looking at the ground through a crack in the ledge, reaching to the wall. It was a goad tenth of an inch wide, just by his knee. With the memory of the Old Library still fresh in his mind, he wasted little time in joining his companion above. No photographs were taken of this climb.

At the top one can climb up to the ridge of the roof, going up squatting backwards in the corner. The method is to press upwards and outwards against the tiles, using the thumbs only. It would seem that this should press one downwards, and it requires thought to understand how the stresses work to produce the contrary effect.

Coming down from the ridge, it is quite amusing to go along to the western end of the court. This is a very strenuous business of surmounting gable after gable, rising and descending ten feet for every ten feet forward, and will be found exhausting, At the far end, after the corner, the balustrade bridges a gap of about ten feet in space. It can be crossed and exploration pursued, if one be so minded.

Our own party were not so minded. Deciding that they were tired after the ridge and furrow business (which was worse than beagling in a nightmare), they decided to enter the nearest window. It was just too narrow for them, and they wanted help from within to pull them through.

A call to a lighted window below produced the usual Pembroke request to "buzzer off". At length a head appeared, and in a few moments five men were in the room above. Shedding superfluous garments, the two climbers managed to squeeze through.

They were warmly welcomed. Sherry was offered to them, and the traditional Pembroke salutation of a punch on the jaw wat conspicuous by its absence. After suitable congratulations on their climb, they were asked if they knew an easy way into the college. The Bridge and such ways were no good; it must be suitable for evening dress. The only easy way had been sealed up the previous term.

Their hosts suddenly became coy, and produced a tin box. There was a fund — it was still in its infancy — for providing a new way in, The visitors contributed their mite, and as the fund reached the sum of five shillings a cheer was raised.

Pleasant and hospitable as were their hosts, they were fine young Englishmen of the best Pembroke type. One of them wan in pyjamas; a friend — his best pal — had just poured a pint of beer over his trousers.

What will happen to the fund we cannot say-the idea is good; perhaps a workman will be hired to excavate a tunnel, or a duplicate key will be made. A mason may be paid to scratch away the mortar so that a stone block may be removed and replaced by a cardboard cover. For five shillings a knotted rope or rope ladder could be bought — but why go on with such conjectures? It will probably be used to bribe a porter to leave a side door open.

As we wander down an intricate passage into the next court, we come to Hall. On the left, at the south end, is a chimney of very comfortable width whereby the roof can be reached. It is rather short — about twenty or twenty-five feet-and not very interesting.

In the first court there is at least one method whereby the roof can be reached from the ground. There may be more; our exploration of this court did not last twenty minutes.

In the south-west corner, if memory be faithful, there is a square pipe running up fifteen inches from the corner. With the back against the side wall and the fingers round the pipe, one can place the feet against a vertical ledge, projecting for one inch from the side of the wall. It is not easy, especially as the pipe comes close so the wall at about two-thirds of the way up. The roof behind one is fortunately not very high.

The climber who went up here had the pleasure of watching the three others dutifutly "exploring" round the court. They were all a few feet off the ground, and there was something very comic ahout the whole affair. He was the least imaginative of the party, but tells us that they reminded him of fleas trying to jump out over the smooth sides of a porcelain bowl. Jump, bump, slither down. For jump, the elan with which they started; for bump, the pause to think, and the slithering down was similar but more regulated than that of a flea.

Much more could be written about Pembroke if we had the information. Its stone in good, its climbs legion, and we can thoroughly recommend any night climher to pay a few visits to it. Itn hospitality is lavish and sincere, and it breeds those strong, silent Englishmen who suck pipes in the Malayan jungle but do not pass exams.