Letter: Let the skateboarders rip

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The Independent Online
Sir: Having recently returned from a term's sabbatical leave in Australia, and still reeling from climate- and culture-shock, I felt consoled and encouraged to see, on Sunday afternoon, a battalion of young skateboarders exercising their risky art on the steps and slopes of Cambridge University's Sidgwick Avenue site. Except for a few ghostly academics, this area is effectively depopulated at the weekend. It is, to all intents and purposes, an empty space, almost ideally designed for the pursuit of skateboarding. Needless to add, it is also plastered with signs saying, "No Skateboarding".

Quite rightly, no one was taking a blind bit of notice of this bureaucratic nonsense. For a moment, I was led to think that grey old England was at last starting to come alive. My seven-year-old son remarked, "This place is fun", something which has not often been said of the home of the Classics, History, and Modern and Medieval Languages Faculties. We were both wrong. It was not long before some censorious professor called time on all the excitement and one of the university's official spoilsports (garbed in a fluorescent raincoat) arrived to shoo everyone away and restore the faculties to their state of funereal Sunday calm.

This was a miniature tragedy. The University is missing a golden opportunity here to bridge the old town/gown barrier. We are wasting a space whose architecture can only be redeemed by having baggy-trousered urban surfers disporting themselves on its concrete shores. And, at no cost, we could be increasing the cheerfulness of the nation. But no - we would rather stamp it out.

In a spirit of renewal, let us take down those prohibitive signs and let the skateboarders rip. And where the University leads, a few other tired institutions - the British Museum, the National Theatre, for example - might follow. This could be the beginning of the un-greying of Britain.


Lecturer in French

University of Cambridge