Cambridge blue has made me colour blind. Until I went to university in that lovely English city I knew the difference between blue and green. Now I am lost in the no man’s land between Wedgwood blue and eau de nil.
If you saw Cambridge winning the University Boat Race against Oxford on the Thames last Saturday (April 3), you will have seen them wearing the latest version of Cambridge blue. As well as a colour, a “blue” is both what you are and what you win when you represent the university in a sport – although some “lesser” sports award only “half” blues.
I have to say the shade of the colour does change a lot. In the 1970s the scarves worn by blues were DEFINITELY slightly green, although there was a “ladies’” version far closer to Wedgwood blue.
Then when I became a fan of Cardiff Rugby club in the late 1970s, they were the “Blue & Blacks” – and the colours were actually named as Cambridge blue and black. But in the early 1990s they, too moved over from a greenish hue towards Wedgwood blue.
I only fully realised I was colour blind in this area when on a course at work. It was in a room painted Cambridge blue. For some reason I mentioned it was blue and everyone was appalled and said no, it was green…
I have two jackets in the colour. I no longer try to give their colour a name and wear green necklaces with them out of cussedness.
It makes you realise that how we name colours is a very subjective area. It depends on what language you are speaking, too. For example in Welsh the word “glas” can mean grey or green as well as blue. It also means a stream. Perhaps that’s a clue – it refers to the colour of water, the sea, or even glass, in different lights…
Many names for colours that we think have existed forever weren’t invented until we had something to attach them to – here I am thinking there was no orange in our language before we had tasted oranges or pink before we had seen carnations and pinks?
Then look at the rainbow. We arbitrarily split it into seven colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. We take the trouble to name indigo between blue and violet, and orange between yellow and red, but we don’t bother to name that which falls between green and blue – which I think would best be called cyan, from the printer’s ink of that shade.
There clearly in a need for this – think of all the objects in nature whose names we also have to use to describe their colour, as we have no “real” word for it – turquoise, teal, kingfisher and peacock…
So far we have said little of eau de nil (water of the Nile). This is a pale yellow green colour much used in fashionable decor in late Victorian and Edwardian times in Britain (either side of 1900). To me the original Cambridge blue veered sharply in the direction of eau de nil.
However, it seems nowadays that the name eau de nil is being applied to items that are distinctly peppermint green (which also looks blue, doesn’t it – look at this peppermint green Porsche).
I challenge you to Google image search the words “eau de nil” and see what a range of colours you get – unless of course the screen images don’t reflect the “true” colours. Here are a couple of “blue” eau de nil offerings from Laura Ashley and Fortnum & Mason.
Finally, I find that Hunter, who made the wellies worn by the winning Cambridge boat race team this year, actually call the colour of those boots eau de nil. Yet they are the latest Cambridge blue – and to me they still look like peppermint green – or peppermint blue? I guess it’s still something of a grey area…