Kent: beginnings

The Canterbury Cathedral from the Bus Stop, University of Kent

The Canterbury Cathedral from the Bus Stop, University of Kent

I arrived in Canterbury into a chill evening, but it was dry, and I went out for a hot dinner at an Indian restaurant. The next days were all sunny even if cool. That served me well, allowing me plenty of walking while I hunted for a year's lodging. On the fifth day I found a place that suits me and for five days afterward I shopped for stuff for it. Now after two weeks light rain comes and goes, but I have a warm place to live in and the campus has many places where to settle with book and coffee. At the lectures it gets warm and one has to peel off their warm clothes.

Elsewhere the country is coping with flooding.

It is lovely in Kent. The campus is on top of St. Thomas' hill, from where are sweeping views to town from walkways, and meadows, and lecture rooms, and from the great high-ceilinged dining hall of Rutherford Block. Most students are about the age of my son, and I, much older, am designated a mature student. Now and then at dinner or at an induction lecture or on the bus I'm with young research students, and they've read so much and know so much, I wonder about "maturity." It doesn't matter what they call me, though, and I surely wouldn't mind if they called me an "older student." I wonder what euphemism they will use for old people ten years from now.

On Tuesday we had a reading by Gwyneth Jones, who read Bricks, Sticks, Straw. She paused during the reading and spoke of the constraints with which she began to write that science fiction story—an 8000-word limit was one. "I don't mind constraints," she said, "I make a game of my writing." But writing is serious work for her, like going to office. She begins writing early morning at her desk and finishes late afternoon, and cannot understand the popular exhortations to writers to write in cafés. She will not get up from writing to finish her washing: "I cannot understand it." Sometimes she works seven days a week, fourteen-hours a day. Gwyneth is sixty. She laughed now and then, freely, like a sixteen-year-old.

The imposing structure that dominates the view of the town below is the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, with its olden day tragedy that must come to mind each time you catch sight of the building. Here on the sprawling campus chill winds come unhindered from all round and play about these high grounds. I shiver now in autumn, and I'm readying the mind for winter. I am constantly bumping into students from India and Pakistan, and they seem very comfortable—and very happy.