A Time of Gifts – 12. The End of my First Year


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The end of my first year was a whirl of activity, including a visit from my mother who was a bit startled at the intensity of the celebrations. There followed a whirlwind tour of Wales and Scotland, and then what I still see as one of the best weeks in my life, a reading party down in Cornwall, at Lamledra, the house built at the turn of the century by John Fisher Williams the eminent jurist. His daughters owned it jointly, but it was run to all intents and purposes by Jenifer, who was married to Herbert Hart, Professor of Jurisprudence.


The Dean and the Chaplain used to take reading parties down there in the April vacation before finals, but in 1972 they decided to take a group of freshmen down. In the end there were only four of us, and we had a marvelous time, reading much, talking more, eating and drinking far too well (the Chaplain was a fantastic cook, not least because he put lots of wine and cream into everything).


Electra, I should note, was the play I had written as a schoolboy, which Ernest Macintyre, then the doyen of English theatre in Sri Lanka, admired and produced, first as a radio play which was supposed to be broadcast in April 1971. It was cancelled because the SLBC got nervous after the JVP insurrection, and thought this ancient Greek tragedy was really a call to arms, to kill Mrs Bandaranaike on the grounds that she had killed her husband – as had been the case with Clytemnestra, whose daughter avenged the murder of Agamemnon her father.

Pam Gooneratne, the wife of our High Commissioner Tilak, was a great friend along with the rest of the family.


13th June 1972

Electra’s just returned from Ben Levy – look him up in Who’s Who – the judge of the ETC new plays competition – he’s missed the point completely, though he was slightly better to this than to some of the others. To quote, ‘I am not quarrelling with his colloquialism but his approach is often more suitable to a comedy of manners than to a tale of doom and bloodshed. If he had gone the whole hog and sent it up unambiguously from beginning to end, I would be with him’ – the penalties of being subtle. The high point, though, was ‘But it may be a bit reckless, to choose old masterpieces and, inevitably, challenge comparison.’ I should have thought it was obvious the relevant verb was ‘invite’. Anyway, looks as if Mr Levy’s not my road to fame and fortune.

It was super seeing Mum last week even if it was only for two days, one of which consisted wholly of rain. The programme consisted of a very queer play, in the fullest sense of the word, and a wine party in which everyone got tipsy, though Mum claims she was only sleepy, and a gallop round the Meadows and 2 colleges on the Sunday morning – she, very nobly, going to chapel.

Lots of fascinating news this week, namely being elected (unopposed with 7 others) to Treasurer’s Committee at the Oxford Union, and also the Executive Committee of the Labour Club, after a strenuous election which included being put on a ticket, opposing my college rep. who subsequently put me on his, mysterious caucuses including one to which I dragged poor Aruna Goneratne who was up for the day – anyway, she had the punting to make up – and wandering through the warrens of St Edmund’s Hall the night before. Also, I voted for myself – but everyone does that.

I hope your University isn’t too bad at the moment, despite the ragging, I am glad we didn’t have any of that here – I suppose it’s due to a need to assert oneself. I can’t quite understand why you go in the first place, unless you’re not quite certain of leaving for America – I don’t think at this stage you should hesitate in making up your mind – if you’ll pardon my little bits of advice.


19th June

Sorry for the writing – I’m afraid I cut my finger yesterday, and eating salted chips doesn’t help. As you can see, I’m at Aberdeen probably for the simple reason that I planned to spend a week in Wales before the reading- party in Cornwall. Having arrived at Colwyn Bay on the Saturday evening, I got a lift yesterday through the castles – Caernavon etc (Charles’ Investiture) – and a Roman camp and the mountains – and since the car was moving on to Scotland, I couldn’t resist coming along, though it’ll probably be somewhat expensive as I don’t have the energy to hitch-hike back.

Aberdeen itself is quite beautiful, with grey stone and wide streets. – I thought of Canada, whether relevantly or not I have no idea – but a rather dirty harbour too, stinking of fish. It started raining, though, and my attempt to read Homer in the public library was hindered by my continuously falling asleep, due to sleeping only in the car on the way up – which also, I fear, ruined a proper appreciation of the view though, having not passed the highlands, what I did see was not extraordinary. The Welsh mountains certainly were

Last week was devoted mainly to consuming all the magnificent food, and feeling sorry that term was finishing – though most people do have exams this week.   Despite the strenuous efforts of the extreme left and right and yours truly the Union decided to go ahead with a building in the garden, commercial exploitation of the site apparently being essential for its solvency. However, the Senior Treasurer – a Univ don – did resign, due to left-wing pressures!

Collections weren’t too bad, though they’ve started to call me eccentric now, while our eccentric scholar’s moved on to bizarre. One character said my ingenuity and cleverness weren’t usually combined with factual accuracy, while another remarked that my theories were not usually acceptable – Martin, of course, commiserated with my unseens and too short essays, while the Philosophy guy said they were elegant!  Lord Maud, having nothing else to say, announced that he enjoyed meeting my mother! Meanwhile I’ve heard the exciting news that Martin once hid behind the sofa during a boring tutorial, eccentricities being essential in addition to scholarship for professorships. He also goes about shooting people in the High, while on his bicycle.

St. John’s Wood)

July 7th 1972

Aunty Pam wants you to contact Janaki for the purpose of transporting to England through MPs various objects for a sale to be held in early September. She’s prepared to collect from anywhere if contacted. The strange process is due to a desire to avoid the H.C.’s cognizance, as he disapproves. Also, any small local objects or foodstuffs that are saleable as being typically Ceylonese, which friends or relations would be willing to send on my behalf would be welcome – such as tins of mangoes. For herself, she would like pani, brought by yourself when you come.  I, myself, shall probably be leaving for Yugoslavia sometime this month, and my address should be, Kovac, Jenkova 32, 63 0001 Celje, Yugoslavia.

A fascinating week since my last epistle from Aberdeen, involving a ride through the Cairngorms to Aviemore, with the German student of the last episode, and a Scottish female who fed us wholesomely,  before which we walked through the rain in the hills, after which we nearly were shut out of the Youth Hostel, due to lingering at a Pub. Next day I bussed back to Edinburgh and, having inspected the place, tried hitching back next day but gave up after 15 minutes, and read the ‘Iliad’ in the Library and took the night bus back to London and went straight to Oxford to play croquet with the Physicists who were recovering from Exams, and walk up Port Meadow pretending we were from Radio Oxford, interviewing people and tracking fish with radar, which was idiotic but amusing, though we got back too late to play croquet by candlelight.

Next morning I took the train to Cornwall, meeting one historian and one lawyer on the way, with a philosopher and the Chaplain and Dean already at Gorran Haven, whereupon we settled down to a week of sheer lunacy which has almost convinced me that I’d like to stay at Oxford for ever. The sole reading I accomplished were two books of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘What Maisie Knew’, the rest of the time being spent in playing Cheat and ridiculous games invented by Leslie with names like Botticelli, and taking pictures of him asleep in the sun while supposed to be working, and having a séance and being frightened of going to bed, and walking on the cliffs in the rain, once after three double sherries at the pub. We built sandcastles and played French cricket on the beach, with Burgess jumping six feet in the air and cheating outrageously, and once we went off to St. Ives to visit an acquaintance of Proust who sells camelias with Leslie imitating a ga-ga French duchess in a bathchair throughout the journey. Only we didn’t find her and had to buy a camelia instead. There were many other such absurd things which sound very boring but were magnificent at the time. A Univ man expelled from Russia the previous week also turned up, in a state of nervous exhaustion, so we played Consequences, with George Cawkwell and the College Librarian in a rose and barrel respectively, and other strange things. The food was magnificent since Burgess puts gallons of alcohol into everything he makes – the puddings were as good as Lakshmi’s – and we were excessively tipsy every night. Leslie cut his finger and fussed outrageously so we did the washing up, putrid puns abounded, and we finished the Times crossword nearly every day at lunch.

Leaving was miserable. I got a lift to Eastleigh, took the train to Oxford to change my baggage round, and got the last train to London and arrived here so late that I camped on the doorstep and watched the dawn and staggered in and slept all morning. A friend of mine from Ireland turned up at midnight on his way to France – he did have somewhere else to stay, though. Afterwards, just as we were going to bed, Uncle Tilak saw a thief climbing in through a window so we called the police and searched the house and felt quite nervous, but have survived the night safely.

Ceylon Today 10 June 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=22928


A Time of Gifts – 11. My first summer


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Sadly there are no letters from the second vacation, in which I hitchhiked in France, ending up in Milan after seeing Illers (in pursuit of Proust, whom I had devoured the previous term)on the North Coast and Marseilles in the South, with in between the Chateux of the Loire Valley, and the Cathedral at Chartres which was also heart-stopping as Milan had been.


Fortunately my first summer term is reasonably well documented, with my first proper account of the longest standing friendship of my life. The Dean, Leslie Mitchell, was only just over a decade older than us, and proved a great friend to many. But I had the privilege of his companionship and hospitality also over vacations. The friendship formed over eight years in Oxford has continued now for nearly 40 more, and I try now each year to spend time with him.


These letters also record my first tentative forays into politics, both the Union and the Labour Club, plus the fun drama that takes over Oxford Colleges in summer, garden productions that are perhaps more enjoyable for the cast than the audience, even despite occasional showers.   





2nd May

The high spot of a quite fascinating week was dinner on Saturday with the Dean, there being 8 of us of various descriptions – it’s part of his duty, I believe, but he does like performing and he does so extremely well, sprawled on the hearthrug with all of us sitting round filled with sherry and mulled claret and madeira – and some quite good food too sent up to his rooms from the kitchens. He held forth for ages and ultimately had to throw us all out since we couldn’t bear to leave. There was a super English scholar too with an array of atrocious puns which were hilarious at that time of night – even though all his imitations did sound alike.

Leslie and he ended up doing Barbara Cartland and/or Ralph Richardson – fully worth missing ‘West Side Story’ for. Luckily I’d arranged for someone to wake me up next morning for church, which made me quite woolly though the whole of the next day – in the course of which, after discussing gaskets and other meaningless things at Communicants’ breakfast, I wrote, or rather translated into doggerel, 50 lines of Ovid, due to having attended a class on translation by an eccentric Jesuit due to an excessive flood of enthusiasm. I’ve subsequently discovered that quite a lot of those who came to the first class have backed out!

I don’t think I’d recovered from Leslie’s liquor by evening, so, since I decided to wake up for May morning, I borrowed an alarm clock and slept early instead of staying up all night. That was what most did, including the mathematicians downstairs, who’ve all decided to get depressed and go and see the doctor, and have been falling asleep in lectures and libraries since. Besides which May morning turned out to be highly over-rated and my bridge partner’s pancakes didn’t materialize due to too many people and too little flour – also, not having sugar, he put icing sugar in our tea – it was all very depressing. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 10. Increasing Intensity


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The rest of the record of my second term – the Hilary Term in Oxford parlance, the others being Michaelmas and Trinity – introduces many aspects of the whole experience, though reflections on these are perhaps excessively personal. I was glad though to find that I could be modest about my own intellect in comparison with better ones. 


The production of Oedipus was of course the high point of the term, and even now I marvel at my luck in having taken part in the top university production of the term (and the year, given the success we enjoyed) in my second term. I was also moved by the references to the brigades of old ladies, the sharp ones at the bridge club who still I gather go on, the gentle ones who tried to make students feel at home, a practice less in evidence now.


Eric was my scout, a lovely man who looked after me with care and affection, producing as I have noted an extra blanket when I needed it. Many years later I went to see him in retirement, which he spent mainly in bed, surrounded by cats. Even in those days the old Oxford scout system was dying, and over the years that followed my rooms were done by women. All, with one exception, were extremely kind and helpful, but I am sorry that the old tradition of male college personal servants, immortalized in so many novels, has died. 



26th February 1972

I’m at the 11th volume of Proust at the moment, unfortunately in English – I’ve been told the translation’s terrible, but the whole effect is marvelous except that at times I wish he’d contain himself. Albertine’s just died and there’s a hundred pages of melancholy reflections. Anyway he’s also helped me to meet someone whom I can look up to intellectually – the first of my own age for I don’t know how long – though it does involve things like wondering helplessly for hours whether heterologic is heterologic if you define it as not heterologic – sheer fascination.  I suppose the reason why I’ve found talking till all hours of the morning before this, if interesting, not quite as fascinating as it sounds in Virginia Woolf, was simply this horrible feeling of superiority which, while I know it’s quite unjustified, I can’t help having – considering that on any given essay topic, due to sheer ignorance, I can only think of half as much to say as the other scholars.

‘Oedipus’ has got into the costume stage now and – surprise,surprise – I’m still in it.  It’s marvelous watching Oedipus being splattered with blood, Creon swathed in what looks like a bath towel, waiting to take over Oedipus’ velvet cloak, the trim and  dainty Jewish Jocasta stamping excitedly on the Chorus’ costume to get it dirty, and the messenger  in ancient costume with dark glasses carefully placing sweat, in the form of coffee, on the shepherd’s costume. Unfortunately Teiresias and her carriage together are somewhat heavy but so far I’ve managed to survive till the end of the scene. I’m not going to be balded though, luckily, unlike the other two parts of Teiresias. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 9. My second term


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The letters home in my second term make clear how I so rapidly absorbed, and was absorbed by, Oxford. But I have also included references to some changes at home, because they indicate the shifts in perspective on someone both deeply sentimental about the past and understanding the need to move on. These start with reflections on the death of my great aunt Ida, elder sister of my grandmother. I had left out my feelings on the death of her brother Leo, which I had heard about while in Denmark the previous August, but this coming so soon marked a decisive break with my childhood. Alone of my family I had spent many happy holidays at the Old Place, the house in Kurunegala where these two stayed, while my grandmother herself had moved to Colombo and its very different perspectives. I should note though that my assumption that the place would be sold was wrong, and Leo’s daughter Lakshmi stayed on there on her own till the late eighties. I was thus able to spend many happy days there even after I came home from Oxford.


Aruna Gooneratne, a great friend in those days, was daughter of our High Commissioner in London, Tilak who with his wife Pam proved most hospitable over the years.


As a footnote, the Russian grandmaster I mention here was Karpov, who soon enough became world champion. My contemporary who defeated him was a chap called Nick Lloyd, who also played bridge brilliantly. But he suffered from depression and commited suicide subsequently.


28th January

A new craze seems to have struck Oxford and everyone goes running at all times of day in the freezing cold, and night too – needless to say, I shall never succumb to the infection – in fact due to a constitutional inability to run, I’m reducing the number of lectures to manageable proportions – 6 from next week, including 3 with 1 rather interesting character – doing Juvenal, if you know what that means. If not, you’re missing a lot and there’s a translation in my library which is at your disposal.


I did much better in my Greek Collections than I thought – ask if you don’t know what I’m talking about – B++, A—, B+, AB – whatever that means – and also AB for my essay which was, however, called little – not that I mind. Anyway I spend at least 3 hours a day in the library which is very creditable, I think, though I have developed a tendency to drop off repeatedly, though altogether I don’t sleep for more than 10 minutes. However, I have succeeded in getting up by 9 every morning, except, of course, on the morning after the bridge dinner which is an occasion when everyone including the Dean and the Admissions Tutor get drunk and play bridge. I believe I was since I didn’t stop talking from dinner except when weaving precariously to the bathroom but since that was occupied by people being sick – those who made it there, that is – I think I did rather well.  Of course, I did go down 1400 one hand and we lost – though, true to form, we did beat the winning team, Dean and all – they weren’t as drunk as they should have been. Besides my partner, who doesn’t get drunk, went down 1700 subsequently, so I don’t feel guilty. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 8. Stratford and back to Oxford


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I have not registered here quite how marvelous it was to get back to Oxford after the Christmas vacation, and feel I was getting back home. I still remember telling the wife of a tutor how I relished this, and her then telling me she understood, but the feeling would be nothing like I would have when I came back at the beginning of my second year. And she was right, but all that comes later.


I have kept here the references to Manthri Samaranayake, because they exemplify a trait in my father that was amongst the nicest of his outstanding qualities. He was proud of my getting into Oxford, but he then strove might and main to ensure that others benefited from the privilege. I spent much time over the next few years finding information for his protégés, and then engaging in advocacy on their behalf.


The Wijeyadasa I mention here is the outstanding Civil Servant who was Secretary to President Premadasa. And these letters record my first meeting with the Senior Tutor, George Cawkwell, who has been a tower of strength to me over the last near half century. I was with him last October for his 97th birthday, and the mind was as incisive as ever. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 7. My first vacation

I was determined to see as much as I could of other countries while I was a student, and this included parts of Britain I had read about. Top of the list was Cornwall, which figured prominently in the books of my childhood – Enid Blyton – and also those of adolescence – Virginia Woolf, whose ‘To the Lighthouse’ is about St. Ives.


6th December

In case you’re observant and wondering about the address at the back, at the moment I’m spending a few days here at a friend’s place, having got quite a surprise at being invited. He had mentioned it earlier but – after Tissa Wijeratne and his remarks about the terrible expense of putting people up – I didn’t really believe in Western hospitality. But, having phoned his mother at midnight on the 2nd, he brought me here on the 4th. It’s the 7th now, past 12, and I have tomorrow for a day in London before going on to Devon. I am having a lovely time, including a visit to a ruined Elizabethan hall yesterday, a walk in a village with a Norman church, and a drive to Northampton for a play – but nicest of all’s meeting the family itself. Four brothers in addition to Charles who’s doing law at Univ including Mark who’s tiny and violent and very sweet – he’s thrilled at having Charles back and we played firemen in a boat with him this morning. Mrs Dutoy’s very charming and pretty marvelous because Charles’ father died a few years ago.  His father came over from Belgium and we visited him and his wife on Saturday.    He was in the hat trade at Manchester and his son was in shoes. Kettering developed due to leather. It lies between Northampton and Leicester, about 1½ hours – at a terrific speed – from Oxford.

I shan’t say much about the last week in Oxford because anytime after the 14th, Mum should be contacted by a Rev. Patrick Olivelle –, Catholic, ex-St. Mary’s Lauries’ Road, who’s at Campion Hall, whom I met through the Indian girl of my luggage. I take the momentous step of inviting a girl for tea to my room – she brings her boyfriend – a Catholic priest – fantastic story. Anyway, he’s got a letter.. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 6. Early involvements at Oxford


Oxford terms are only 8 weeks long, and I am bemused now at how quickly I fitted in. My greatest stroke of luck was to be selected for a role in the Experimental Theatre Club production of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus’, produced by Elijah Moshinsky, who subsequently went on to produce opera at Covent Garden (and who remembered me when I saw him there several years later, though continuing the irritating habit of calling me ‘Rajesh’). There were 9 actors all of whom had major roles except for myself. I only had to carry the sage Teiresias on, breathing heavily after we set him/her down. The other stretcher bearer was Mel Smith, who doubled as the shepherd, and later did well in television.

I think now with wonder about how I was able to hear so many whose work I had relished – Graves and Leavis and Galbraith – in so short a time. Also startling is how swiftly I moved to confidence in my own intellectual ability, a trait I fear has not diminished, and which I realize causes much irritation.



20th November


Do write to reach me before the 4th so that I can get the details of the budget and send an impassioned plea to the British Council or wherever it is for some sort of assistance. Give me the address, please and also how to put it.

Overseas students are being allowed to stay on in College, but I don’t think I will since everyone else has to go and it’ll probably be deadly dull and it’s too early a holiday to work in. I hope to travel a bit in England or maybe even in Holland, but of course I might decide it’s too cold! However, marvellous though Clara and the family have been, I won’t stay there long. The trouble about traveling is that Enid’s son is getting married on the 1st and I think I should be there, which splits the holiday up. I hope I make up my mind by the 3rd at least – it’s so much easier travelling here, or so I think now. I hope I’ll be allowed to keep my luggage here, though.

I had the most horrible cold last week and I was a bit frightened I’d get fever, so I stayed in and took disprins and it passed – or almost. I went for the play I’d missed this afternoon, though, and it was jolly good – an adaptation of ‘Hard Times’. Last week’s one was rather disappointing. I went for an audition last week and I’ve got the fascinating role of Teiresias in the ‘Oedipus’. The tests are quite ridiculous – you have to pretend being things like a magician turned into a frog or a medium for Stalin and so on, and it’s rumoured that the big parts are given out to the officials of the Drama Society even before the play is decided on! I felt an utter idiot mediumising, and I’ve only got a part since ‘contrasts of voice and appearance are essential’, according to the director, whose name’s Elijah Moshinsky which I think crowns it all. Anyway ‘Hard Times’ was a success. Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 5. Settling down at Oxford


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There were no other Sri Lankan undergraduates in Oxford in those days, though I was lucky that Anil Gamani Jayasuriya, Ena de Silva’s son, was there as a graduate. I did not know Ena very well in those days, but had been touched when she turned up the day I was leaving with a beautiful sarong. Anil and his wife Avril were most hospitable, though I had hardly known them before, and they also introduced other contemporaries. I was also delighted when Indrajith Coomaraswamy, who was just finishing at Cambridge, dropped in one afternoon.

 One duty I am glad I fulfilled was visiting my uncle, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe’s landlady from his days at Keble. She remembered him fondly, and was deeply upset that he had not become Bishop of Colombo. He had not, of course, contested, since his commitment was to the rural diocese of Kurunagala.  



23rd October

I haven’t had even one letter from Ceylon for this week which is pretty annoying.  Cawkwell, who was the senior Tutor, incidentally – on Sabbatical at the moment – had asked a 2nd year from Singapore, as being from my part of the world, to talk to me and so on and he turned out to know the Kulas quite well.  His name’s Rafik Juma something. I’m not sure of the surname except the J..

I went to see Anil on Wednesday and spent nearly 2 hours with them. Anil gave me tea, because Avril returned only late from shopping. It’s a cute little flat, quite near the centre of town, and Nim and Justin la Brooy stay in the same building. On Thursday evening I collected part of my baggage which a singer friend of Rohan de Saram’s had deposited about a mile off – the flat is shared by an Indian girl who was the only person around when I got there and I had coffee there and stayed ages and missed an Aristophanes play in the process – an uncut version, only lately tolerated even in England – I read a Victorian translation in the morning which was quite chaotic.   Continue reading

A Time of Gifts – 4. Oxford at Last


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After a few weeks in Northern Europe too, I got to England where I collapsed, exhausted, at the home of my cousin for a few weeks. But I did enjoy something of London, before finally getting to Oxford on October 6th 1971. I fell in love with the place almost immediately, and have stayed enchanted since.



13th August

I’m having a lovely time here, doing hardly anything except enjoying the company of the Hjalsteds. I’d sort of looked on Copenhagen as an oasis in the midst of my odyssey – brilliant mixture of metaphor – and except for a short walk in the city and two long drives outside, I only roused myself to see Copenhagen today.  To my horror, I discovered that my passport and all were missing, this morning, and I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d brought it when I came, while the maid said she’d seen it here, and Lene rang up the airport and the taxi firm and was getting quite upset, and I even went to the Ceylon consulate to see what should be done in case it was really missing, and they had a message there from the airport police, and I went and got everything. Lene was already getting ready to buy my ticket to London.  Incidentally, I unluckily admitted that I had a bit of a cold and that I hadn’t slept well  on the first night and I’ve already been given Finn’s sweater and I’ve had to refuse Lenes brother’s old trousers and I’m still trying to pay for a pair of Bally shoes pressed on me.  I’m in very good hands and you need not bother at all. I’ll tell you when you must!

I went to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek today and, in addition to the Classical collection, there was a marvelous selection of French Impressionists and heaps of Gaugins. We go to Sweden for the weekend, but I must see a few more of the museums before I leave. The city itself and the countryside round about I think beautiful, with the little houses after the mainly flat monoliths of the rest of Europe.



27th August

I’ve arrived here safe and started being energetic again. Mrs Murugesu was here and this morning I took her for her train to Lourdes, missed it, spent the morning walking in a slight drizzle to Etienne du Mont and the Pantheon where Voltaire and Rousseau and Hugo and Zola are buried, got her into the next train and waited till it left – we got on very well and I felt rather sad when she left – and walked back with a visit to Notre Dame, along the Seine where I couldn’t resist buying one of the pictures from the book stalls, through the Arc de Triomphe and the Bois de Boulogne. I was horrified at the modern monoliths near the airport, but Paris itself is so beautiful and none of the buildings are vulgar though they are on such a large scale.

Denmark and Sweden were both lovely and it was so nice having people to rely on for everything. My clothes came out cleaner than since I left Cunji’s – I’d been washing them myself, since. We had beautiful walks in Sweden and beautiful drives in Denmark and all the houses are lovely, not least the new one and Lene’s parents’ one, though they sold 6 acres of garden a few years ago on which 30 houses have now come up. I thought of Harold Pieris, who has suddenly turned up here.



10th September

I arrived here on the 6th, quite thrilled with Paris in the end. I couldn’t go to Versailles for the opening but Nihal worked a miracle that very day and next morning, armed with a pass and a badge, I went for the sessions at the Bourbon Palace. It was even less dignified than our parliamentarians. I stayed the whole day and remembered how I’d listened to the Throne Speech debate in 1965 all through the day and felt quite sad that one has to grow up. I haven’t changed much, though – I enjoyed much more the party given in the evening by the President of the Senate in the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace – the whole Ceylon delegation fell single- mindedly upon the food that was marvelous and plentiful. Champagne was flowing too, but after one glass I switched to orange juice. I wasn’t so strong-minded, though during the excursion to Champagne on Sunday. At first it seemed as though I wouldn’t make it because invitations had to be personally picked up, but Mr Navaratnam decided to stay on in Paris, solely for my benefit. My conscience pricked, but I accepted his card. After a reception with champagne at Rheims, and the cathedral, we went to a cellar and the owners gave us dinner with 3 kinds of champagne and brandy. I ended up dead drunk, after about 15 glasses, and I can only remember throwing out disgustingly all the way back. I hope I only slept between dinner and leaving – I can vaguely remember swaying along to the bathroom and back and collapsing on the table.

I am having a marvelous time here now. Looking back now, I find my trip delightful on the whole but it’s a relief to be settled again. I went to London on the 8th and saw the Changing of the Guard and then went on a vast walk through the city. We went to Mme Toussaud’s which seemed somehow smaller – and less frightening – than I could vaguely remember – Henry VIII I remembered  quite clearly – and up the Post Office Tower – a fabulous view and we found a broken telescope so that we saw all the important things in detail at leisure – and saw St Paul’s and the Old Bailey and Trafalgar Square and so on. We also went on to St  Martin’s, and today I went to the Oval to see Surrey nearly win the County Championship. It was quite exciting because Glamorgan had just 1 wicket left at the end.

I was in a good enough mood to go by myself to Versailles last Saturday, and I rather enjoyed it though I have seen enough by now not to rave over lovely buildings and scenery for another six months at least, which is a pity since I enjoy exultation. The great lake however, was unusual and delightful. The fountains, unfortunately, though are hardly ever on.


20th September

I’m still being delightfully lazy, going along to the Wallington Library – where a girl suddenly informed me that I was ‘damned handsome’ and then added that she took psychiatric treatment – depressing! – and trying to read something mildly serious in between watching T.V. and wallowing in Amal’s Billy Bunters.

Last Sunday we went to the Windsor Safari Park, a glorified zoo, but I decided that the English countryside is very beautiful. I have also been  twice more to London, once to the Houses of Parliament where James Batten took Rohan and me around – he knows the building quite thoroughly, which made it most interesting. Before that we went to one of the galleries – Portraits. I’m just beginning to be interested in minor museums again though still not as effusively as in Greece and Rome.

In the evening we went to a play, a bedroom farce which was quite hilarious. I wanted the ballet, but Rohan doesn’t like ballet and he chose this, and I’d already dragged him to the gallery. It was only on the next day that I discovered the ballet took a holiday between that day and mid-October, so I’ll have to wait a few months at least – not that it matters, with 4 years to go. I’m just wondering whether to undergo opera, just for the experience. They’re having ‘Carmen’ on Wednesday, when I’m due to go to Parliament to hear the debate on Ireland.


9th October

I think Cambridge will have to go a long way to be nicer than Oxford. It doesn’t seem industrialized at all, despite Lord Nuffield or whatever his name was. The buildings are lovely – though I’m glad, in a way, that my rooms are in a relatively modern block with central heating – the others are supposed to be terribly cold, though the weather’s been quite good so far, no rain at all and very sunny except today. I shall end up as preoccupied as the English with the weather soon, if I’m not careful.

I have got a bedroom and a sitting room – with a window seat! – to myself and the bathroom’s just outside. The rooms are a bit bare still as my luggage is only due tomorrow. I arrived by train on the 6th with 1½ bags and I’ve managed quite well, except for books. There are only five others doing Classics here this year, and we met our tutor yesterday. He’s quite young like most of the fellows, which rather startled me. Lectures begin on Monday and my first Tutorial is on Tuesday, once a week and a joint class once a week also.

They had something called a freshers’ fair yesterday where all the societies engaged in enormous propaganda to enroll new members. I joined 5 – bridge, chess, drama, the Labour Party and the Union – which cost me 18 pounds. However, that includes Life Membership of the Union, 13.50 – terrible, but better than 2.50 for 9 terms. I’ve also paid my battels for the term – or year – it’s a very confusing calculation and I seem to have quite a lot of money left in the bank – wrote my 1st cheque yesterday – which seems quite important! I also bought a gown today, for they’re compulsory at dinner and recommended at tutorials – the Tutor informed us that he likes tradition and every Tutor must be the same because everyone’s going about in gowns today.

I was going to describe at length in this letter how disappointed I was with Paris, but I seem to be running out of space. Anyway, I’d always considered Paris as the cultural centre of the world and that, beautiful as the Seine and Montmartre are, it isn’t. All those palaces and things are so very artificial in the middle of the simply lovely boulevards – it’s as though the French, without realizing that their strength lies in the ordinary life – of Hugo and Zola and the Impressionists and the Left Bank – try to show how prosperous and great they are. I suppose that’s why Napoleon made himself Emperor after the revolution and why Pompidou’s banking accompanied de Gaulle’s grandeur. Somehow I wish the revolution of May ’68 had succeeded.

Ceylon Today 18 April 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19288

A Time of Gifts – 3. First Adventures in Europe


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I went straight on to England from India after my Advanced Levels in June. In those days one could enjoy almost unlimited stopovers, so I visited a number of European capitals, where my friends had arranged for me to stay with friends. But of course I went exploring, and managed to see much of Greece, and several places in Italy, plus much else before I landed in England, in September.



9th July 1971


I meant to write as I arrived but I went for a vast walk through the city and I was too tired when I got back to do anything but sleep.  And then, next morning, I left on a trip and returned only last night.

I went first to Corinth, by bus, saw the ruins of ancient Corinth and also climbed up the citadel where there’s a fort used in turn by all the people who have ruled Greece, including the Venetians  and the Turks. There I met a German who was on a tour too, and we went together to Mycenae, stayed the night there, and next morning, with a German couple from Munich, went to the excavations there, which include the Lion Gate before which Electra performed and the Tombs of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. From there I went on to Argos where there’s another fortress on a rock up which I climbed, without following the road, so that I was worn out and very homesick by the time I reached the top.  The view however, was lovely, and I managed to get a lift down to the town.  From there I went to Navplion, stopping on the way at Tiryns, the ruined palace of Hercules. I stayed the night at Navplion and next morning climbed up that citadel too, which was very nice, though there were 999 steps.  I also went to a Byzantine Monastery a little way from the town where an old nun showed me around, both of us talking bad French.  In the evening I had a swim and went up the smaller mount of the citadel.

Next morning I went to Epidaurus, went round in the morning and slept under the pine trees in the afternoon.  In the evening, in the theatre, I saw one of the old tragedies put on by the National Theatre of Greece. It was translated into modern Greek but I managed to get hold of an English version just before so that I understood what was happening when. It was a super performance. Afterwards, just as I was getting desperate because all the buses had been booked, I managed to get a lift back to Navplion, in the uncovered back of a car, which was very nice.

On the 5th I went to Sparta and Mystras, where there is another citadel, with monasteries and churches on the way up, full of frescoes and icons and chandeliers and things. It was quite tiring going up and I missed the bus back but I managed to get a lift. However, I had to spend the night in Sparta. Next morning I went to Kalamata along a lovely road through high mountains, sheer grey stone at times about you and then huge pine trees. From Kalamata I went straight up along the coast to Pirgos and from there to Olympia. The ruins there are wonderful and so is the museum.  It’s the same at Delphi, to which I went on the next day, getting there only at night after a trip by ferry across the Corinthian gulf so that I really saw everything yesterday morning. I returned to Athens in the evening and went around a little more, ending up at the Acropolis for it was a full moon night. I felt a bit bad because I returned only at midnight, and Mrs Calogirou was already in bed.

I stayed in Youth Hostels throughout except at Sparta, and ate very little but traveling is expensive and I’ve already spent over 10 pounds.  I am hoping to go to the islands of Mykonos and Delos tomorrow but perhaps it will be too expensive. Today I’m staying  here because my feet are really sore and I’m lazy to walk much more. It’s a bit difficult managing without a car after having got used to being driven around.

Could you please tell Thatha that Mrs Calogirou will write to him about the monkey after she consults her son. She intends to be away from Greece till the end of October so she doesn’t want it till then. Also tell Mum that Mrs Bhatkhal was very ill in Bombay, hadn’t been able to leave her bed for 15 days. I forgot to tell you that Mohan looked after me very well, and took me for dinner to the Taj, where I heard the Jetliners play and felt quite patriotic.




25th July


I’ve had a marvelous time here, as you know already. I’ve been rather lazy though, since I could easily have left a day or two ago, but it all turned out for the best, as a letter arrived from Shirley Amerasinghe asking me, if possible, to postpone for a day or two. As it is, I’d already arranged to fly through Florence and Milan, for just $1 more, with a train trip to Venice, only getting to Geneva on the 31st.  Andrew said Geneva had hardly anything and I’d be happier doing nothing here than there, so I’ve had quite a few afternoons and the whole of today lying down and devouring Billy Bunter and Enid Blyton, with two conscientious dips into Lawrence Durrell.

To resume – on the 20th, I went to the Vatican, the museum from which they threw everyone out at 1.45, and St Peter’s – they were both much better even than I’d expected – the Sistine Chapel is so clear, even though the pictures are so high up – and the Museum, with all the things the Popes stole through the years. Incidentally that old fox Pius XII managed to get himself buried opposite St Peter!

Unfortunately they don’t let you into the Vatican Gardens without special permission and St. Anglo’s castle was shut, so I went on, with a few peeks into churches by the way where occasionally you find something lovely, to the Coliseum again, and climbed right to the top this time. I thought it wasn’t worth 150 Lira the 1st time, but I’d got a card from the Youth Hostels that gave me free entrance by now!

On the 21st I went to Ostia, and met an archaeologist who knew Maranzi and Sigiriya and Ceylon, and showed me some of the locked rooms, which was very interesting. Then, on the 22nd, after getting my ticket changed and seeing the baths of Diocletian, I stayed at home during the afternoon, as I did on the next day, after a vast walk through this neighbourhood, which was Mussolini’s showpiece.   Yesterday I went to Tivoli, which was super, with all the fountains in the garden, and a little gorge some way off with grottoes and a huge waterfall and the ruins of villas and tiny temples, and also to the Villa Adriana with heaps of beautiful ruins, groves and ponds with passages under them and so on.




11th August

I shall write from Denmark to someone to reach Ceylon before this so I’ll only tell you about a rather exciting incident. As you know, I went to Czechoslovakia from Munich.  They make one change $5 a day, but the Trade Commissioner with whom I stayed said that, as I’d stayed with a diplomat, I could get back my hard currency and also that I could buy my return ticket with the Czech money.  However, they wanted German marks on the bus and, though I had enough dollars and pounds, I asked them to wait till I’d changed my money back at the border. However, at the border, despite the diplomat, the man said I couldn’t exchange the money and that I could – he used the German ‘kann’ as far as I remember, though I can’t be sure – either buy something with it or deposit it in the bank for heaven knows what. What mattered to me was changing it back to hard currency and since I couldn’t, being determined not to cash my traveler’s cheques, I decided to get a lift – there were heaps of German cars there. I’d  just got into one, with my passport stamped, with the now useless Czech money in my pocket – I’d decided against buying wine or something since I didn’t want to drink it and it would have been silly carrying it about and trying to send it home – when the policeman jumped out and accused me of trying to smuggle it out.  Then, for 15 minutes, he pretended to be very busy and made me wait, in the course of which I realized I had to leave the money in the country and it was illegal to take it out – having been concerned about getting back the original hard currency I’d exchanged,  I’d quite ignored the importance of the money they had made me buy to the Czechs.

Anyway, at last I was asked to sign a statement that I’d tried to smuggle their money which I refused to do, being quite convinced that I was quite innocent and that it was their fault for not having had anyone who spoke English. I was certain by now that I’d thought he was only trying to be helpful with his ‘kanns’ since I didn’t know what to do with the useless money – though probably I was too concerned about not being allowed to exchange to think at all about the Czech money itself !  Im not sure myself, it seemed so unimportant at the time.

When I refused to sign he grabbed my passport and told me I should go to prison. I’d been quite alarmed at first but by now I was righteously indignant so I went on insisting to the big boss who also said he didn’t know English – I’m sure he did. In the end they returned my passport without the signature but kept hold of the money and I decided to give in since it was getting late. I’d already decided to hitch and, as that had been my passage money, I wasn’t really down, but I rather regret losing it, it comes to over 5 pounds – 218 crowns. If you don’t think it’s too silly, draft a letter from me to the Czech Embassy in Ceylon placing a claim for the money, just so I can feel I didn’t let the matter drop. Sign for me so that you’re not involved!

I walked over the border to Germany and the guard there asked me where  and how I was going and I said I was hitching to Frankfurt upon which he arranged a lift for me in a tour bus of a small village near Cologne that was also on its way back from Prague. It was delightful and I began to love the Germans even more. They dropped me off near the airport, and Mr Handy picked me up from there, though I spent ½ an hour walking in the wrong direction, although there had been a signpost just in front of me.

Ceylon Today 8 April 2017 –  http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170101CT20170331.php?id=18790