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.
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.
Work goes on steadily and I’m beginning to understand now why they gave me an Exhibition – in fact, I’m beginning to wonder why it wasn’t a scholarship. It’s a pity to start getting megalomania again like I did at St. Thomas’ but I just can’t help it. Certainly, I’m quite sure I won’t get a 1st since my Latin and Greek are comparatively bad. But as to judgment and so on, though the gap is smaller, I still feel most people are behind. That paragraph is by no means for general consumption. And it does alternate with moments in which I think I’d never get through the syllabus with the required thoroughness.
I did use my cold as an excuse to miss 2 lectures yesterday, including my lame dog whose attendance I probably halved thereby. It wasn’t really fair since I walked two miles up and down last night for the University 4s Championship. Needless to say, the Univ. 2nd 4 came last, though there was a tie. I just went out in a relentless drip to have dinner, which was surprisingly good – pork chops – and I’ve learned to grab the potatoes pretty efficiently now – prunes or greengages or something for pudding, though, which is pretty depressing – oh, for a biscuit pudding!
I’ve just returned from the Scottish Ballet’s production of Giselle. It was jolly good, but I nearly fell asleep half-way, I don’t know why since I went to bed early last night, resisting an invitation to a pub – how virtuous and also, I’m afraid, stingy – after a lecture by Galbraith on Bangla Desh. He held my attention for more than 30 minutes, which is more than any lecturer has done this term. I also ignored a knock on my door after I was in bed, despite being terribly curious since no one’s ever come to see me so late before. I have also, due to a desire to get up in time for Church tomorrow, refused a request for tea after he goes to the ballet tonight by my bridge partner – a far cry from the first few weeks when I tried desperately to follow tradition by having anyone who wanted anything anytime.
It is a nice system, though and though I’ve come to the conclusion I’m cleverer than most, unlike at St Thomas’ I don’t feel the vast majority of individuals are fools. Incidentally, the lecturer with the smallest attendance says thank you at the end now and rewards us with sherry. I’ve come to the conclusion that beer and so on are substitutes for meat – two chops would be an unnatural luxury in this land. However, I have learned to grab for the potatoes. Everyone’s stomach rumbles, including mine, and Martin’s – Dr West – which is a bit embarrassing at tutorials. Maybe he saw me smiling since I’ve got a horrible essay this week on ‘Book Production in Antiquity’ about which, having read two recommended tomes, I still know nothing. It’s one of Martin’s specialities – it’s fondly rumoured he proposed to his wife over a collation of papyri, and begat two children after reading Ovid’s ‘Ars Amatoria’ in an expurgated edition.
Despite all his lunacies though, I rather like him, and he certainly seems more intelligent than some lecturers, like the character who one week ago declared, ‘That’s all I have to say’ – each lecture consisted half of what he’d said the previous week, half what he was going to say the next. Another character’s taking a holiday this week, which means we’ve only got his immortal opinion on ¾ of the ‘Aeneid’. Martin, having galloped through 12 books of the ‘Odyssey’ in 2 days, is going to prove next that not Homer, but the Hittites, wrote them.
Tomorrow evening, due to a reading of a play in which I don’t speak, I’m missing bridge, the Chaplain’s punch party, and the Finals into which Univ advanced, despite my putting up the curtain before the lights went off. I did wind the gramophone, which was the only other thing I had to do, despite the august appellative of stage manager. I’m talking of Cuppers, the Freshers’ Drama Competition.
The Union elections were yesterday, and despite knowing no one, I voted mainly according to the names of Labour Club officials. The President, uncontested, is the Labour ex-chairman who chairs the Common Market Movement, a situation in which a contestant would have been unthinkable, though it made the Presidential Debate rather dull. I also voted for the sole Univ candidate, which I didn’t do at the Labour Club elections since I only got his propaganda after voting.
Listened to Leavis on Blake, he hacked Eliot ceaselessly, and leaving in a few minutes, after dinner, to hear Robert Graves reading poetry – adding to my collection of famous names!
….. Robert Graves was marvelous. Theory – virgin birth was due to a practice amongst cursed Jews of Judah’s tribe who crawled under the skirts of Levites to be adopted and made respectable; John the Baptist asked Mary, aged 12, to oblige Jesus, aged 30. Predictably, the Jesus cult is dying down while the Great Mother – Mary cult grows. All this amidst terrible poems and other lunatic remarks about Mushrooms and Isis and Mexico. Afterwards I went to Anil’s, whom I hadn’t seen since the 6th – Anil’s dinner – and invited them and Nim for tea tomorrow and stayed till nearly 12 though Anil was in his pyjamas when I got there and so was Avril. Today, for the first time, I was still in bed when my scout came to do my rooms – like in Ceylon as term draws to a close I’m getting up later and later. Today was West’s last lecture and yesterday the Tutorial actually lasted 10 minutes more than an hour with almost half of it not silence. We’re improving. I also like him because the ridiculous essay he set made me go to the last of a set of lectures I hadn’t been to, which end customarily with a sherry party which was a pleasant surprise. The university goes on strike on Friday against Mrs Thatcher’s proposals. Tell Thatha she seems a most barbaric female but I don’t think I can desert poor Russel and Aeneid VI – and the sherry with which he rewards the faithful.
Tomorrow evening I’ve got Collections, but there’s 3 of us in 5 minutes I suppose it’s quite simple. I’ve got to read the whole ‘Iliad’ and the 8 books I’ve rushed through mainly in English this term for next term’s Collections, however, which means a written exam. End of term Collections is just a report to the Master by your tutor on the term’s work.
I shall be going to Exeter on the 4th, and from there round about Cornwall and Devon till my money and inclination run out, when I shall go to London. In fact, I had enough money to go to Spain – my conscience only works when I’m in a mood for it, as you ought to know. I got my N.U.S. card and the international one which makes things a lot cheaper – only I suppose I should go through an English winter and the wedding and so on.
Last Sunday, at the 1st reading of ‘Oedipus’, I was quite pleased to discover I was the only freshman, with 4 graduates and so on. It’s quite crazy – I hope you know the play, there’s a copy at home of the Penguin version being done – with Russian costumes, the central monologue in bed, which is a hammock on which Oedipus depends and which doubles as womb and throne, and a female Teiresias, to say nothing of a Welsh Chorus. I hope they don’t discover I can’t act. Unfortunately the reading clashed with the Fresher’s Competition Finals – Univ made it – so someone else had to wind the gramophone, due to which, perhaps, we lost which was a bit sad. Afterwards was the Chaplain’s punch- party – the Carol Service had been before dinner, not too bad – and I managed to get back in time for just 1 glass, after which the ‘pagan elements’ as the chaplain calls them went round carol singing, including the College Secretary who was, I think, slightly tipsy, or else isn’t as dignified as I thought she is. She warned me that Thatha’s going to get six identical Christmas cards!
Did I tell you my scout produced an extra blanket? – it makes a vast difference at night.
Ceylon Today 29 April 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19976