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.
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.
I went to Museum Road, to find Mrs Hill’s house being demolished but a deaf old lady opposite told me to ask the Vicar which I did today and I’m due to go on Wednesday with his sister to see her. Incidentally, I believe I’m considered holy here because I go to church every Sunday – the Christion Union, St Aldate’s and the chaplain keep dropping notes down my pigeon-hole. Normally the C.U. is on Sundays so I can plead bridge but there’s a special thing today and I can’t dodge. I went to a Labour Party meeting yesterday and helped to defeat a common market proposition by 19 to 18. Hope it’s historic! The Union itself – I wasn’t there – voted 500 to 100 in favour which got quite a bit of coverage in the papers. At the Fresher’s Chess Tournament on Tuesday I got 1 point out of 7, but it was 10 seconds a move.so I can pretend I’m not too bad. Bridge is chaotic, since it’s duplicate, and I can’t bid and my partner can’t play. However, we don’t give up trying.
Lectures worth attending have come down to 5 but I am working hard.
I’m settling down to work here quite well, considering that there are so many distractions, films and plays and things, to say nothing of societies. In fact, I’ve joined six societies, thinking that was very little, and now I find I can’t make use of all as I’d wish, since there is so much clashing. The result is, I feel most miserable at the thought of the money I’ve wasted on subscriptions. The Union cost 13 pounds 50 and I haven’t yet been to a debate. However, the only thing to do about spilt milk is to try and lap it up.
Last Sunday my cousins came up for the day, and we went down to the river. I hadn’t thought of walking there since I thought it was too late for anything to be on. But there were punts on the river, the latest ever, it seems. The weather was really wonderful last week and the scenery at the river simply marvellous. I went to see Mrs Hills on Wednesday? Her vicar’s sister took me on her visit and we had a lovely drive across the Berkshire downs, passing small villages and thatched cottages and isolated farmhouses which I thought didn’t exist any more. Mrs Hills was rather feeble but she recognized who I was after some time and even remembered that the Colombo Cathedral is being built. She seemed reasonably happy – though, of course, lonely.
The lectures here are rather dull and I’ve decided on seven a week though, to be quite honest, it would be less if I didn’t feel that I ought to get something for the fees paid. The tutorials haven’t been too bad so far since I do prose composition and the tutor manages to drag out the correction over an hour with a little bit of vague discussion. The classes, where we do unseens, have turned out better than I thought or, rather, the standard of the others is not so much higher than mine, particularly in Latin. I spend my mornings at lectures or reading in English something connected with the classics, my afternoons at leisure, going on to almost 3 hours of classical reading, with various activities after dinner which is at 7.15 or 6.30. I do, however, try to manage a chapter of Gibbon before I sleep, though I’m afraid I don’t take in very much.
Last week we came 3rd out of eight in the College bridge, which was rather heartening since the captain’s team and the Dean’s were 1st and 2nd. I don’t suppose we’ll do as well next time. At the University Duplicate yesterday, we’d be very lucky not to end up ¾ of the way down.
I got up twice during the last 3 weeks to get to the College Church at 8.15 which is what only about 15 others do. However, the town churches which start later are supposed to be quite well attended and the Christian Union here is rather strong. Of course, quite a few of the churches do propaganda like lunches and sherry parties and so on.
My luggage finally arrived on the 4th via Rohan de Saram, I think. I didn’t go to his concert that evening, though – there was a debate on at the Union with one of the Editors of Oz – the pornographic magazine, in case you didn’t know. I don’t disapprove of that, but he was horribly sincere, and of that I do.
Sorry for the interruption, even if you didn’t notice it. I had someone over for tea, which I’d promised him ages ago, and could only give now, just I think when he was beginning to believe in the non-existence, or non-arrival, of my luggage. He’s my bridge partner, an American, whom I regard with kindly feelings since we came first last week in duplicate, despite the presence of the local bridge chiefs. After that, I decided to put in my regular evening session of work, while waiting for a visit from of all people, Indrajith Coomaraswamy. He’d come over for a rugger match and left a message and he’s just left after half an hour.
I should, strictly, do a little more Geek now, but I don’t think I will, since I’m going to dinner to Anil Gamini’s with Nim and Justin as the invitation says. I got it today, which means missing a play I could have gone to yesterday, if I hadn’t wanted to hear Kaldor at the Labour Club, before I discovered, as I was leaving college, that he wouldn’t be there. We had Roy Jenkins on Monday, and Richard Crossman on Tuesday at a Union debate. He was marvellous and very wicked. The Union Debates are quite delightful, with the Committee in White Bow Ties saying rude things about everyone in the middle of official pronouncements, with total chaos at the end when students make comparatively terrible speeches from the floor.
Sir Michael Redgrave was answering questions for the Drama Society yesterday and it was quite terrible since it was on two different levels. He didn’t seem very impressive but I can’t quite remember whether I’ve seen him on a film. I saw an ‘X’ film on Wednesday which wasn’t in the slightest degree indecent, so the English can’t be so very immoral after all. The dirty picture of the year, unfortunately, is on a Tuesday, when I have my tutorials, and can’t be worth missing dinner for.
After 3 weeks of proses, I’ve an essay this week on guilt in the ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’. My room looks pretty good as it is, with batiks and masks and Seelia’s marvellous picture. The chap beneath, incidentally, has rather ugly pictures of nude females. When I was hanging up the long batik, I saw a super scrawl on the wall near the ceiling – ‘Well, there’s always plenty of work you could be doing.’ Also he’s added, onto the notice ‘In case of fire’, ‘Yell fire and jump!’ Obviously a nice person to succeed to.
The worst thing, I feel, about being here is the rather regularly occurring feeling that I’m costing you a horrible amount of money and that I’ve got to do something to justify it. And the trouble about getting a first is that, with 5 terms to go for an exam, I can’t picture myself involved in the ceaselessly hard work that seems to be required. Already, after 3 weeks, I note my three hour’s work in the evening getting less and less.
And then, there are other little bits of annoyance like when I went to a lecture by Stephen Spender yesterday and discovered it cost 10 p, instead of a concert which was free. Not that I can’t afford it – I should have about 20 pounds of my allowance left at the end of term.
On Thursday there was a debate at the Union on Ireland and Bernadette Devlin arrived outside with demonstrators from a meeting she’d been addressing and banged away at the doors which made it all every exciting. There were heaps of police about and no one could get out for ages and a motion was moved asking for a demonstration at every debate to enliven things. That place is quite chaotic. The speeches from the floor are so very bad that I even raised my hand to speak – only because there was time for only 1 more speech and there were heaps of other hands waving like mad – that’s how I prove to myself that I’m not shy!
The lectures haven’t become any more inspiring but I’m realizing if Oxford Dons can’t do it, it’s because lectures never can be. In Ceylon I should probably have become a little more of a megalomaniac and looked down on the lecturers. Yesterday, we spent 1 hour on 15 lines of Vergil, but that’s one lecture I can’t stop going to because there are just about 4 people and the lecturer’s a dear old man who shouts ‘Come in’ hopefully at every tiny sound outside. Last Tuesday I spent 1 hour arguing with my tutor about the ‘Oedipus’ and neither convinced the other. I rather like him still, though. He’s been demoted now from one of the Schools to a small room since fewer and fewer people come for his lectures now.
Ceylon Today 22 April 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19518