01 June 2009

from Gaudy Night, chapter 1 (Dorothy L. Sayers)

The room allotted to her she recognised, after a little calculation, as one that had been occupied in her day by a woman she particularly disliked, who had married a missionary and gone to China. The present owner's short gown hung behind the door; judging by the bookshelves, she was reading History; judging by her personal belongings, she was a Fresher with an urge for modernity and very little natural taste. The narrow bed, on which Harriet flung down her belongings, was covered with drapery of a crude green colour and ill-considered Futuristic pattern; a bad picture in the neo-archaic manner hung above it; a chromium-plated lamp of angular and inconvenient design swore acidly at the table and wardrobe provided by the college, which were of a style usually associated with the Tottenham Court Road; while the disharmony was crowned and accentuated by the presence, on the chest of drawers, of a curious statuette or three-dimensional diagram carried out in aluminium, which resembled a gigantic and contorted corkscrew, and was labelled upon its base: ASPIRATION. It was with surprise and relief that Harriet discovered three practicable dress-hangers in the wardrobe. The looking-glass, in conformity with established college use, was about a foot square, and hung in the darkest corner of the room.

She unpacked her bag, took off her coat and skirt, slipped on a dressing-gown and set out in search of a bathroom. She had allowed herself three-quarters of an hour for changing, and Shrewsbury's hot-water system had always been one of its most admirable minor efficiencies. She had forgotten exactly where the bathrooms were on this floor, but surely they were round here to the left. A pantry, two pantries, with notices on the doors: NO WASHING-UP TO BE DONE AFTER 11 p.m.; three lavatories, with notices on the doors: KINDLY EXTINGUISH THE LIGHT WHEN LEAVING; yes, here she was - four bathrooms, with notices on the doors: NO BATHS TO BE TAKEN AFTER 11 p.m., and, underneath, an exasperated addendum to each: IF STUDENTS PERSIST IN TAKING BATHS AFTER 11 p.m. THE BATHROOMS WILL BE LOCKED AT 10.30 p.m. SOME CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS IS NECESSARY IN COMMUNITY LIFE. Signed: L. MARTIN, DEAN. Harriet selected the largest bathroom. It contained a notice: REGULATIONS IN CASE OF FIRE, and a card printed in large capitals: THE SUPPLY OF HOT WATER IS LIMITED. PLEASE AVOID UNDUE WASTE. With a familiar sensation of being under authority, Harriet pushed down the waste-plug and turned on the tap. The water was boiling, though the bath badly needed a new coat of enamel and the cork mat had seen better days.

1 comment:

Lunnainn said...

Open doorways yawned blackly at regular intervals, with sash windows in neat rows. Each doorway led to a staircase. Over each stood a Roman numeral, and at the side was a board with names lettered in white paint on black. I crossed to Staircase I in the far left corner, stood on the age-worn doorstep, and read:
1. R. J. K. Talbot2. N. D. Singh3. A. W. Mortimer-Smith . . .
These must be the names of the undergraduates who had the rooms in term-time. Candidates’ names were on white cards pinned to each door.

The staircase was of massive timber. The very hand-rails were beams like battering-rams. At each landing there was a doorway to right and left. Each doorway was fitted with two separate doors. The first opened outwards and was propped back. This, I knew from my reading, was known as one’s ‘oak’. You closed it only when you wanted people to keep out – usually, if you were swotting for your final exam or something – and then in was called ‘sporting your oak’. You weren’t supposed to do it during your first year.

It was nice to see my name, W. D. Melbury,, even on a very temporary-looking card. ‘My’ rooms, I thought triumphantly – even though it was, as the posters say, ‘for one week only’.

The sitting-room was quite big. Its two tall windows looked down into the quad. There were stained and threadbare cushions on the window-seats. With these, and the two easy chairs, and the four not-so-easy chairs, ten people could be accommodated before anyone had to start sitting on the floor…I couldn’t help thinking, a room like this would be fun. With my own books along those shelves, my own crockery and cake-tin in that cupboard, the old typewriter on the desk in the corner…yes, it would be all right. A place of my own.

Another door led to a smaller room with an iron bedstead, chest of drawers, and wash-stand. The plumbing did not seem to have been improved since these buildings went up in James I’s reign. There wasn’t even any water in the dusty jug.

Not very inspiring, I thought.

I remembered on of old Kingsford’s anecdotes. One of the colleges had considered installing proper bathrooms – it was in those distant days when my headmaster was young. A venerable don had opposed the idea. ‘What do men want with baths?’ he had demanded scornfully. ‘They are only up here for eight weeks at a time.’

The view from the bedroom was inspiring. The single window looked over the great garden. Even in December it was beautiful, with the grey trunks smooth as polished ivory and the leafless boughs fanning out like wrought iron. Narrow paths ribboned away to vanish in mysterious shrubberies, and a grassy bank sloped gently down to a silvery glint of water, just visible through a veil of weeping willow branches.

From chapter 2 ('Rooms in College'), Geoffrey Trease, The Gates of Bannerdale (1956).