Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan - extract

Illustration of man and woman sitting face to face
Illustration: Satoshi Kambayashi/The Guardian

It was a pleasant break in routine to travel down to Brighton one unseasonably warm morning in mid-October, to cross the cavernous railway station and smell the salty air and hear the falling cries of herring gulls. I remembered the word from a summer Shakespeare production of Othello on the lawn at King's. A gull. Was I looking for a gull? Certainly not. I took the dilapidated three-carriage Lewes train and got out at the Falmer stop to walk the quarter mile to the redbrick building site called the University of Sussex, or, as it was known in the press for a while, Balliol-by-the-Sea. I was wearing a red mini-skirt and black jacket with high collar, black high heels and a white patent leather shoulder bag on a short strap. Ignoring the pain in my feet, I swanked along the paved approach to the main entrance through the student crowds, disdainful of the boys – I regarded them as boys – shaggily dressed out of army surplus stores, and even more so of the girls with their long plain centre-parted hair, no make-up and cheesecloth skirts. Some students were barefoot, in sympathy, I assumed, with peasants of the undeveloped world. The very word "campus" seemed to me a frivolous import from the USA. As I self-consciously strode towards Sir Basil Spence's creation in a fold of the Sussex Downs, I felt dismissive of the idea of a new university. For the first time in my life I was proud of my Cambridge and Newnham connection. How could a serious university be new? And how could anyone resist me in my confection of red, white and black, intolerantly scissoring my way towards the porters' desk, where I intended to ask directions
I entered what was probably an architectural reference to a quad. It was flanked by shallow water features, rectangular ponds lined with smooth river-bed stones. But the water had been drained off to make way for beer cans and sandwich wrappers. From the brick, stone and glass structure ahead of me came the throb and wail of rock music. I recognised the rasping, heaving flute of Jethro Tull. Through the plate-glass windows on the first floor I could see figures, players and spectators, hunched over banks of table football. The students' union, surely. The same everywhere, these places, reserved for the exclusive use of lunk-headed boys, mathematicians and chemists mostly. The girls and the aesthetes went elsewhere. As a portal to a university it made a poor impression. I quickened my pace, resenting the way my stride fell in with the pounding drums. It was like approaching a holiday camp.
Read the rest at The Guardian.