Though it may at first appear otherwise, this is not an elsie but a selfie. If you look closer you’ll see I’m holding the remote control in my left hand, whilst trying to act as candidly as possible. This is perhaps made easier by the addition of the cigarette, one of the occasional smoky treats enjoyed in what was to be my final phase of smoking. I’m sitting in the second-floor window of a house in the very narrow All Saints Passage in Cambridge, England, no doubt wondering what on earth to do with myself.
This photo has always been a personal favourite – it’s the only shot I have of myself in this house, where I lived for just over a month in the long and beautiful English summer of 2006. Having arrived back in Cambridge six weeks earlier, after a two and a half year absence, I relied on the charity of close friends and my old college, rather unexpectedly finding myself co-lecturing a summer school on South African literature, before finally settling into another house for a longer haul. My friend C and I had a lot of fun during this time, and, indeed, in this house, and we still occasionally refer with great affection to “The All-Saints Passage Years”. Though it may seem to be a deliberately placed prop, symbolic of the college context, the cricket bat is entirely accidental.
This low window, with its protective grate, was a splendid place to sit and smoke and watch people walk down the passage. It was a warm summer and I was still running on the energy of having made big decisions – clinging tenuously to a new life in England; or, rather, a nostalgic attempt to recapture the old. As will most such grand projects, it all ended rather disappointingly a couple of years later, but I still recall with great pleasure the intensity of the time and its romance. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff!