Mornings here at the Sargeson flat are the same every day – rain clattering onto the skylight, birds chattering, the hiss of buses along Princes Street. I turn on the heaters and the kettle and the computer. There are various high-maintenance procedures involving the loathed tooth splint, over which I will draw a pocked acrylic veil. Most of the time I'm not sure what day of the week it is.
Here I feel I’m reverting to my student self. The one that lived in the little room above the kitchen at Eden’s Cottage, York, early in 1986. Snow outside around the apple tree, dormer windows cracked open to let in fresh air because I wasn’t used to central heating yet. My contributions to furnishings: a small, dark bedside table I bought at a school fair, and stacks of library books on the floor. The red boom box I bought when I first arrived in York, softly playing – Red Rose Radio, a Pennines station, I think. I’d work into the quiet of the night, long after everyone else in the house was asleep.
There wasn’t much traffic along Heslington Lane at night after the pubs were shut; campus and its creatures lay on the other side of the road, the colleges all facing the lake. I only spent one term in that room: that summer, I moved downstairs into the big room with the old black range and timbered ceilings and the latch door, and lived there for the next two years. The downstairs room was a great party room, and my friend Julia and I stuffed it full of rubbish, including two creaky red arm chairs bought at another school fair; we had to carry them along Heslington Lane, stopping numerous times on the narrow pavement to sit down in them and catch our breath, like spectators waiting for a parade.
But it was that first winter – when I escaped my dreary breeze-block room at Goodricke College and moved into Eden’s Cottage – that I started to feel at home in York, and in England, and started to get some serious work done at last.
Now I'm writing something quite different from an essay on Edith Wharton, say, but I still enjoy the quiet of night work. With all the rain, noise in the park has been more sporadic the last week or so. The time markers I can see from my window here in Auckland – sun and shadows, birds, council workers forking up rubbish, language students taking their breaks, teachers arriving and leaving for the day, buses dropping off Japanese school girls and their giant suitcases, cars parking and leaving – disappear. There's just me and the rain and the whirr of the heater. I didn't know that I still liked to work this way. I didn't realize, I guess, that nothing really changes.