During my first year as a student at the University of Kent, between October 1970 and June 1971, I lived in room E1 S4 of Eliot College.
Why ‘E1 S4’? You may well ask. Simple really: it was room number 4 in the south corridor on the first (ground) floor of the east block of the college.
The room itself was as sparsely functional as this internal address.
The door opened into a narrow hallway – if something less than eight feet long could be classified as such – with a wardrobe and a handbasin on the right hand side. Beyond, the space opened out to the left into a rectangular box with white-painted brick walls. This side of the room contained a single divan bed with its head against the far wall. Next to this was a plain low table, beneath a window that looked out onto the grassy slope which led down towards the orchards and thence into Canterbury itself.
There was an armchair at the foot of the bed, on the wall above which I had pinned a large, poster-size black and white picture of a tousle-haired, sun-glassed, smoking Bob Dylan. Not unlike this one, in fact: Fixed to the wall opposite the bed were three metal bookshelves, below which stood a desk and a straight-backed chair. Next to the desk was a filing cabinet, on top of which sat my record-player and a box of albums: Dylan of course, Hendrix, Led Zep, Pink Floyd.
Apart from this, the room’s only other feature – apart from a rug so nondescript that I have no recollection of it whatsoever – was a cork noticeboard on the wall next to the window. On this I’d stuck a picture of John and Yoko, cut from the front page of Melody Maker. That was in black and white too.
Why, you may well ask, if I really were to be given the free run of space and time, would I choose to return to this glorified monk’s cell?
Because ultimately where you are matters a lot less than who you’re with.
I made two good friends at the outset of my time at university. We could call them Frank and Will. We shared similar tastes in music (it was Frank who turned me on to Leonard Cohen). There were nuances in individual preferences, but Bob Dylan was the one who really united us.
We also shared a penchant for Guinness and some of the other amusements of student life, which we would share in, if not riotous certainly highly convivial, evenings.
Most of these seemed to take place in my room – Frank being somewhat fastidious about guests and Will being, shall we say, immune to bourgeois concepts of tidiness. Also, my place was particularly handy for the bar.
It was just great, great fun.
This song (here performed by Bryan Ferry, but originally on Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ album) was playing one evening, and I can still remember looking around at my friends and feeling a pang of realisation that it wouldn’t and couldn’t always be like this:
“With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one*”
And if there is a moral to this story, it’s a very simple one: Carpe diem.
[Mostly I’ve been taking my subjects for posts this year from ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’. This, however, is slightly different. It’s based on WordPress’ current theme of ‘Writing 101’ and more particularly the prompt for Day Two: “If you could zoom through space in [sic] the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?”
The additional twist of ‘Writing 101’ in this particular instance is that the post should be organised around the description of a setting and that immediately brought this to mind. I’ve taken liberties with the laws of physics and assumed that travelling at the speed of light would allow me to go back in time.]
*Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music