birthday, part ii
I have been home for only a few hours when Blade arrives. He brings a pink bouquet and crisply-wrapped presents and a cake covered in Thornton's chocolates. It's late so we snuggle up in my bed and watch Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, and mock his very Nottingham-sounding American accent. It's been a long day, and I sleep like a log.
On Saturday we have a lazy morning, and then treat ourselves to cream teas in town. I try a strawberry and kiwi blend, and take the obligatory teacup photo.
Afterwards we try to go and drop off the last batch of textbooks for Read International at the storage centre, but I've forgotten that it closes early on a Saturday. We pop into the supermarket and pick up interesting and expensive ingredients for tea, and back home B cooks me his special ragu while I catch up on my reading. (Life doesn't stop for birthdays.)
On Sunday we have bacon sandwiches for brunch and set out to find a nature reserve I've heard rumours about. We find it not far from campus. The day is crisp and light and there are peeks of spring wherever we walk.
Thorns and buds
We stumble across an ants' nest. They are a black, buzzing mass on the forest floor and it makes me squeamish but I'm still intrigued. A little further along, off the beaten track, we find the remains of a campfire and, in the distance, a neon tent. I try out Acer's timer when I find tree stumps level enough to rest him on, and later the photographs makes me happy:
With Blade, Blean Woods
Monday is my birthday. I open presents at midnight, although I'm not technically twenty until 2am, and in the morning there is a knock on my door and a lady from the florist with an armful of flowers. The card says they're from home, and they're a beautiful surprise.
I have a lecture, but Milly meets me outside with a beautiful handmade card, and half way through I get a text from Blade to say he's dropped off all the textbooks. Afterwards we all go to find the girls at the Gulb, where we are buying tickets for Friday. (We're planning to see a film and go for drinks.) The woman at the booking office is extra patient with the ten of us even though it takes forever to choose our seats. Laura has brought me chocolate cupcakes, and on the way back to Parkwood B snaps a shot of us.
Naomi, Laura, Me, and Dorothy: taken by B
I choose to skip my seminar. (I'm still snuffly from my Uxbridge trip, although in honesty it's probably not an ailment which would usually force me to skip lessons...) Instead, B and I go for a wander with Acer. There is going to be a beautiful golden hour, though it hasn't quite tipped the horizon yet. Although I have been here now for almost six months I have never turned right when I've stepped out of our back door, so this is what we do now. Ellenden is the last court in Parkwood, and turning the corner is a little like stepping into a separate sphere.
There is a white house with sash windows and a tall chimney. Signs on the door state 'Do Not Enter', and perhaps it was once an administration office for the university, but now all the lights but one are off and dead leaves have piled up against the mossy bricks. It is surrounded by a forest of daffodils which have sprung up like bright suns in odd clumps. It cannot be fifty steps from my house.
(I dislike this photograph because it doesn't capture the way things were. A reference, not a description.)
We walk around the back of the white house and find a gravel pathway behind the high hedge, and a sign which reads 'Crab and Winkle Way'. I have heard about this trail but never investigated. Turning left at the hedge will take us to the main road and the hill into town. Turning right is the unknown. We pass the back of the playing fields and start to descend a hill. There is a sign here which tells us it is five miles to Whitstable. This path will lead us all the way to the sea.
We don't walk that far. The golden hour I predicted has begun to glow through the trees. Students pass us on their way back towards campus, and when we come across two boys with cameras I ask what they're up to (a music video) and what camera they're carrying (a Canon 5D Mark II.) They eye Acer suspiciously. I'm only a little bit jealous.
The descent ends at a bridge over a stream. Cyclists speed past us as we walk hand-in-hand, and we consider investigating the river but walk onwards instead, up the hill. There are still shades of autumn in the bushes, and I think about blackberry-picking here in September.
At the top of the hill we look back the way we have come, and I point out the different landmarks which make up my campus: the library and the biosciences building, and the strange satellite on top of a science building whose use no one seems to know. There is a bench here, and then I notice the gate behind it. Over the low stone wall is a small graveyard and a tiny church. We walk inside.
(The light is so beautiful I am focussing too much on the shadows when a bird flits through my viewfinder. This is the shot just behind it, a testimony to the moment escaped.)
There is a bonfire burning somewhere, and the sweet smell of smoke drifts through the hedgerows. I am a world away from campus. There is nobody nearby and the church door is locked, so we follow stepping stones and I sit on the wall awhile and just listen to the birdsong.
I have found a little piece of home, or maybe, a little slice of me. Here is my Camelot, and now I see that my camera is my set of other-keys.
I am twenty years old. It is springtime.