Yesterday, whilst I was at the site of my former university hall of residence, I gave myself a mind’s eye tour of my small room in the hostel. I remembered my bed, with its bright yellow bedcover and, at the window, my red and yellow tartan style check curtains; my desk tucked in the corner of the room, where I laboured at my handwritten essays and painstakingly counted the required number of words, one by tedious one. There were dictionaries and books around me, and above me on the shelves, and not a computer in sight. Not a phone in immediate sight either, although there was a phone booth at the end of the corridor. At the other end of the corridor were the toilet and bathroom facilities. This was student luxury,almost, for my time.
I like to believe that I have near perfect recall of every room in the houses of my life but, as I write, I am suddenly perplexed as to whether my room was on the second floor, or the third floor of the building, and were the bathrooms really on my floor, or were they on the ground floor? If they were on my floor, why do I have memories of traipsing up and down the stairs in a dressing gown. Unless I have written such details in my ancient letters, now stowed in the attic, I will probably never know for sure. With the building long gone, there are no easy means to physically verify my memories. Does it matter? Not much, unless ,in future years, people are moved to investigate the hygiene habits of hostel students in the 20th Century with as much dedication as we currently study the bathing practices of Ancient Romans. Stranger things have happened. The point is not my tiny personal memories, but the memory process itself. It seems to me that as the building goes, so goes our memory. Fallen and fickle.
Still pondering on how our already flighty, tenuous memories become increasingly loose and lost without walls to secure them, I visited another site today, where once I rested my head, placed my desk and supped my student suppers, (bread porridge in desperate times!). And where the bathroom was on my floor, but the toilet was reached by going downstairs, through the living room, past the kitchen and out the back door to the outhouse. Now, that I remember clearly! Especially the trips in winter frost and chill.
Once again,however, the old building I lived in is no more.This is what remains. Gravel and a gate. When my cousin and I lived here, our residence was owned by the Public Trust and we paid a next to nothing rent. Later, many years later, the building was lovingly restored by others and became The Under the Red Verandah cafe. The well-loved old building was destroyed by the recent earthquakes. These days the cafe, Under the New Red Verandah, operates from transitional buildings at the back of the property. Hilariously to me, the toilet block, though new, seems to occupy the same position as our old outhouse and laundry did! Is that my imagination on overdrive, or an accurate memory trapped in plumbing systems?.
As I was taking photos, I discovered, to my great delight, that the bench seat, where I used to sometimes sit, under the verandah, whilst waiting for the bus, was still in place. Oh, the memories of freezing and freezing, and waiting and waiting and waiting for that bus, early morning after early morning, so that I could travel to the wind whipped central Square and wait ,yet again, for another bus that would deliver me close to the university, hopefully, on time for my first lecture of the day. I sat on the bench again, viewed it from every angle and smiled goofily for the joy of finding the seat where I sat, on the street where I lived.
The seat where I sat;
The street where I lived;
The garden, we never had
and the cafe which,unhappily, wasn’t on our doorstep to spare me the sadness of bread porridge.
By the way, in the house that is no more, I still had my yellow bedcover, but my bedroom curtains were blue, my study curtains beige and my trendy desk was a lively green and was slotted together without nails or glue. I had a red, round transistor radio; a phone downstairs in my cousin’s smoke-filled den, and a fabulous desk chair made entirely from cardboard. And, once again, no computer.