Farewell to Cottingham Road

Obviously my hair is a lot longer this time, but the suit is the same.

It is a very small proportion of blogs that get serious attention. The same is true of video channels, social network profiles, books, magazines, newspapers and academic journals. For every best seller or household star, there are thousands of obscurities whose volumes fill up discount bins and whose view counts barely break out of single figures. Indeed there are many whose authors just give up or even forget about them, and sit incomplete for eternity. This one was created just shy of five years ago, and this shall be the seventy-fifth published article. A glance of WordPress’s site statistics function shows that there have been 4923 views in total. The mean view count per post is therefore a moderately impressive 66.5, but an inspection of the ranked list shows that the median is a less impressive 6. Factoring in a margin of error for me reading the site myself, I suspect that at least a dozen posts – mostly those talking about student union meetings – actually had no other readers at all. Two articles seriously inflate the mean: The runner up is Interview at Selwyn College, detailing my ill-fated application to matriculate at Cambridge. By far the winner, made just fifty-three weeks ago, is Farewell to Cottingham, discussing my time at The Lawns. Today it is time for the sequel.

All satellite accommodation having closed, the only dwellings available were those in or immediately around the campus. Once again I was slow to investigate options and was primarily concerned with minimizing the expense, so instead of the luxurious newer sites I opted for a Kexgill-owned house with three others on nearby Cottingham Road. In contrast to where I lived before, the history of this house was not well documented, though what sources I can find suggest the road itself dates back to the eighteenth century while the nearby North Hull Estate was constructed between the World Wars, but the construction date of my particular residence and the other student houses adjacent is far from clear. As is to be expected with properties of this nature, a great many fittings and furnishings have been changed over the years to types bought in bulk by the owners, thus obfuscating the property’s true vintage. Buildings like this often have subtle vestigial features which hint at grander days gone by. In our case it was a stained glass window at the top of the staircase. A few dozen metres east of us were houses that had mosaic tile art in their porches. Otherwise they were indistinct from any other undergraduate digs.

The desks, cupboards, wardrobes, drawers and shelves were the same plywood varieties that were seen in the old halls, while the white goods often had panels that were turning yellow. Very little of the flooring in any room was truly flat and very few of the walls were truly straight. In particular my bedroom window had sagged a little on its hinges and did not properly line up with the frame. Full closure required a lot of brute force to lift it up at the same time as pulling it in, the strain of which eventually caused the handle to come off in my hand. The main problem which we experienced in the early months was the cold – even in September it was apparent that there was a sudden drop in temperature upon entering the house. The contract said that Kexgill remotely controlled the central heating for all their properties and so for a while it was assumed that they were leaving it as late as possible before switching it on to save money. As nights got longer and longer we eventually complained and were issued space heaters for our bedrooms. The house was advertised as containing a living room, but on viewing it was clearly a downstairs bedroom with the bed removed. Very little socialising occurred in my time but when it did it was invariably in the kitchen instead. The living room, whose only unique feature was an ironing board (but no iron) was mostly used for storing laundry.

It wasn’t all bad: We had a normal washing machine in the kitchen between four of us, rather than having to use an overstretched institutional launderette with a needlessly complex card payment system. The dryer was less of a boon, as it warped one of my old jumpers until it would have better fitted Mr Tickle. It broke in the spring and a new one was dragged in. The kitchen had further problems: In mid-October the lights broke, forcing me to cook dinner wearing a head torch for a few days. In April the radiator sprang a leak. It was dumped in the bush in the rear garden and a brand new one was fitted in its place. There were also signs of rot or mould having infected one of the storage cupboards. Supposedly this had been treated by spraying the area with bleach, the smell of which lingered for the whole academic year.

The main benefit of the place was that it was barely a two minute walk away from the university’s premises. The result was that I could pop home between lectures, and even access the library at night, without having to carry all the day’s necessary items on an arduous walk or an uncertain bus ride. It was also very close to a large number of food shops, which was especially handy in the last few months.

The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 caused a great upheaval, of course. At a stroke it negated the benefit of proximity to campus, as the university’s physical presence was closed and teaching became purely virtual. From then on the house might as well have been in the next county. The ensuing national lockdown reinforced how little space there was in the property – we had front and rear gardens, but they were a far cry from the large open space at The Lawns. With no access to the library, the lecture theatres or the student union, our house became our whole world – a billet for which it was obviously not prepared. Thankfully I had earlier taken a few steps to alleviate the drabness of the off-white walls, which eased my sanity during the long period of isolation: in October, when the university’s photocopiers were still available, I had printed off family portraits and hung them in my bedroom. In November I bought several rolls of robin-themed Christmas wrap and made wallpaper out of it. Constantly having to adjust the shifting blu-tack was a pain but if I squinted I could almost convince myself that I inhabited a place of greater splendour.

As mentioned on this blog many times before, there is often a lengthy wrap-up period in May-June when academic courses have concluded and students scuttle off home. This time around it started abnormally early due to lockdown, and two of my three housemates jumped ship straight away, returning only briefly weeks later to collect their belongings. In terms of practical space the departure of one’s co-residents is a benefit, as each remaining person controls a greater share of the communal areas. On a theoretical level, though, the space actually diminishes: their rooms disappearing from the map as the doors are forever closed. They also revert to being identified by number rather than by name.

The depersonalisation culminated today in my own departure. It was with heavy heart that I dismantled the decorations I had spent so long erecting, decanted the contents of my shelves into a pile of plastic bags and scrubbed away at the various empty surfaces they uncovered. By the end, as in all such cases, it was as if I had never existed, just like all of those before me.

The future of these houses, as with so much else in 2020, cannot be predicted with confidence. During my stay our rooms were measured for refits, so it is likely that, even if a new cohort eventually move in, they will not inhabit quite the same home that I did. On some level, therefore, the pattern continues.

1 thought on “Farewell to Cottingham Road

  1. Pingback: Farewell to Cottingham | Robin Stanley Taylor

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