One of the most charming and illuminating memoirs I know is also the largest. A Way of Life: Kettle’s Yard by Jim Ede, published by Cambridge University Press in 1984, is almost a foot square and over an inch thick. It is large because its author was above all a visual man, and he wanted to give due prominence to the many subtly toned black-and-white photographs among which his words gracefully flow. The book is like an ideal visit to Kettle’s Yard, the unique house filled with art and objects Ede created in Cambridge. Through Kettle’s Yard and the way of life it embodies, Ede (1895–1990) influenced generations of Cambridge undergraduates and many artists.
I was one of those undergraduates. I had gone up to Cambridge to read English in 1963. I remember choosing a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Mill from the college loan collection to give my set of rooms a touch of gloomy distinction. It must have been in my second term that a friend told me about a man who opened his house to visitors several afternoons a week to view his collection – he even allowed undergraduates to borrow pictures. My callow imagination conjured up a flashy aesthete in a tall town house, probably with an agenda extending beyond the love of art.
Still I was intrigued, and soon my friend and I were standing outside the modest honey-coloured cottages off Castle Street (near Magdalene College) that Jim had transformed into a home for himself and his wife Helen and a place for art. The bell-pull was a ring of cork, the first indication of Jim’s talent for beachcombing. A chime within brought the owner to the door – a slim, white-haired man with bright blue eyes, wearing a denim-blue jacket. We heard ourselves being welcomed in a musical voice. Jim always wrote down the names of his visitors on a small piece of card kept in his top pocket as an aide-mémoire, careful to spell them accurately and learn them before his guests left. Another friend
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