The Past is a Foreign Country...

“… they do things differently there.” So begins L P Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between, with its ageing narrator, Leo Colston, looking back at one particular summer in his childhood and his unwitting part in a secret affair.  This opening line also serves as a reminder that we stand on shifting ground whenever we survey the past. Our perceptions of those retrieved memories change with time and experience as I rediscovered last week when Tom attended an academic conference at my old university, UEA. Although my experience of studying at UEA was a positive one, the cumulative effect of a couple of bad decisions took its toll during my final year. I've always looked back with some regrets about what could or should have been, but as I walked round Norwich revisiting old haunts I started to be a bit more forgiving towards my anxious and confused younger self.  

I started St Andrew’s Hall which was the rather incongruous setting where I saw the Stranglers at the height of their notoriety and remembered people pogoing off my back and spitting at the stage (bleugh!).

At a bridge over the Wensum, I fell in step with a wonderful lady on her way to Cinema City - which I’ve never been to because I didn’t feel cool and arty enough to go there as a student! My companion told me she was a retired midwife, had delivered hundreds of Norwich babies and still receives visits from grateful families all over the world. It was a lovely conversation and my day felt richer for the experience.

At Elm Hill, in the medieval heart of the city, I stopped for a coffee in the tranquil Britons Arms before walking past the Maid’s Head Hotel where I worked for a summer and learned how to make beds in a flash and clean bathrooms like a demon. 

Once I’d completed my trip down Memory Lane, I walked to the university as I have dozens of times before… only this time I thought I was going to have to take a nap in someone’s front garden as it seemed so much further than I remembered!  After a yet another walk, this time to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts to take another look at the wonderful collection of Francis Bacon paintings, I gatecrashed the final session of Tom’s conference which was an address by the Vice-Chancellor, David Richardson, on his hopes and aspirations for UEA in post-Brexit Britain. The university motto is ‘Do Different' and as I listened to the Vice-Chancellor I began to feel that by doing just that, everything had worked out in the end. It’s something that really struck me after I’d dragged Tom off to Captain America’s the burger bar that was a fixture in my student days and which remains reassuringly the same.

Choc Lit have accepted my new novella so we were celebrating my fifth publishing contract. I found myself wishing I could tell the young woman I was about books, a loving family and all the good things in store for her… but somewhere inside, she knows.

Stop worrying ... everything's going to be fine!


Kathryn Freeman said…
Yay, so glad I have another Christine Stovell novella to look forward to. And look at you in those two photographs. Your 'now self' hardly looks different from your younger self. Blonder, yes, but not a lot older :-)
Chris Stovell said…
It's a start, Kate, after rather a long gap. Thank you, but that's grey not blonde - but I've earned those grey hairs through life's experience and I'm a much happier person than I was then! xx
Evonne Wareham said…
Glad to hear about the novella - something to look forward to. :)
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you Evonne! Likewise with your novel which is on my Kindle now! x
Frances said…
Dear Chris, this lazy blogger is little by little beginning to catch up with visit to favorite sites like yours.

Having once been to Norwich myself, I particularly enjoyed this post. (I had lunch at the Britain's Arms!)

My own college (university) class just held its 50th anniversary, but I did not attend. I've actually never been back to the school since graduation, although I have stayed in touch with some classmates. For me, those four years of studying gave me the link that allowed me to move to NYC and to be able to broaden my horizons. xo

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