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.
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..
To carry on where that letter stops – collections were tolerably good, Martin said I’d been working well, my proses seemed inexperienced but I was learning quickly – am I? – my essays were short but succinct and he enjoyed reading them and teaching me. The whole business barely took a minute. The organ broke at the choir concert and wailed ceaselessly, so I went and dropped Avril’s spectacles and had coffee at Nim’s. She’d left them behind when the three of them came for tea. On Friday, after Mr Russel lectured to 4, I joined the protest march against Thatcher which was simply enormous, somewhat like the Royal Thomian, and rather exciting. We marched down High Street from Magdalen Bridge and up Cornmarket to St Giles’ and had speeches including the N.U.S. president. Unfortunately I missed the free tea because I was expecting someone for tea who never turned up. After dinner I went to the S.C.U. party where, unfortunately, there was dinner also which I hadn’t room for. I missed the concert too because I’d arranged some bridge and spent the last evening of term losing miserably at rubber bridge. Next morning my bridge partner produced Bombay toast for breakfast before leaving to ski in Austria.
This was supposed to be a meditative letter, due to the news having gone in the other note, and seeing Robert Graves perhaps. That glorious lunatic talking sublime nonsense is what I’ve come to England for. It’s such a pity that the centres of Western culture are too far from Ceylon to allow one a sense of participation in it. I only hope that when I get sick of the whole business, Ceylon’s excellences haven’t changed. I suppose Socialist budgets are necessary, but there’s a certain quality of life that’s bound to vanish if houses have to be split up and so on. Imagine a situation where one has to go to a library to study because there’s no room at home – so common here that it was a delightful surprise to have a room to myself here, when there are 4 others and them not being crushed up due to me.
Birthdays at Lakmahal – and Old Place – were so nice, it’s sad to miss them. I suppose you’ve made your lovely love cakes by now. I’d hate to think sugar rationing prevented things like that.
I’ve had quite a fascinating week so far. I left Kettering on Wednesday, resisting an invitation till Friday since Charles was already starting work. I think they enjoyed having me as much as I enjoyed staying. Kettering’s quite a nice town and the train journey back was through rather nice countryside. I spent the rest of Wednesday at the Gooneratne’s, losing at Scrabble to Aruni despite a 7 letter word. I was stuck with the ‘q’. In the night Tilak gave her a driving lesson and we careered madly over London for more than an hour – she’s quite good, though Tilak got quite upset at times, just like Thatha.
Next morning I took the train to Exeter, 5 pounds 20 return, which was rather annoying. After Reading, the scenery was absolutely marvelous, and so was Exeter Cathedral. I also met heaps of interesting people, including Danny Weeratunge’s nephew who’s in charge of tea at Exeter; Cunningham’s ex-Secretary in the Army in ‘46 in Ceylon – she sat next to me, in the bus to Okehampton, and I vaguely remember hearing of Cunningham; the couple from Norfolk who run the pub at Okehampton where I stayed, the guardian at Okehampton Castle; the lorry driver who gave me a lift right into Cornwell near Newquay – he drives 5 days a week from Exeter to Taunton to Perranporth and back for the last 20 years – anyway, he’s offered me a lift back when I want one; the couple at whose house in Truro I am now – he only left England to fight in the 1st war and didn’t even want to do that, as his wife says – she keeps feeding me though I didn’t ask for meals; the staff at the café where I work, dishwashing and peeling Brussels sprouts at 1 pound 25 for 6 hours a day, including a Spanish chef – it’s called the ‘Rendezvous des Gourmets’ but I suppose that was due to the former Italian owner; and the farmer I met on a walk today who knew a Ceylonese surveying student 15 years ago – if only I knew Sextus Senadeera I could have exclaimed at the smallness of the world, but I don’t – he told me the Cornish don’t like the English.
And the scenery’s marvelous and so’s everyone you ask directions from including the people at the Labour Exchanges – I got this job at the Exchange at Newquay on the North Coast with a marvelous line of cliffs. Really, it’s not because of poverty that I’m working, but a need to feel I’m not wasting my time – I am reading 2 books of the ‘Iliad’ every day, despite the T.V. by the fire and the Sudanese student who likes conversation very much and stays here and also my landlady who’s quite philosophic at times. She produced roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch today – last week, at the Dutoys’ it was pheasant – followed by rice pudding. We also drink tea at meal times. At the café, the chef produces a better lunch for us than the customers, and as much coffee as you like and Cornish ice-cream. I only hope I don’t get a cold with my hands in the water, for the saucepans – there’s a dishwasher for the rest. The pay however barely covers my daily expenses and I did succeed in cutting my finger yesterday while informing the Manager that I was reading classics – he didn’t know what they were. I’ve come into a strata of society where I have to say I’m doing classics for law in case they think aimlessness is a privilege of the rich – I’m developing a great social consciousness though not very seriously, I’m afraid. I wonder if there is a class where children don’t work.
It’s a good thing it’s not too cold here so far to hitch, though the lorry driver informed me that long hair is a disadvantage since drivers don’t like hippies and think they smell – so far, I’m glad to say, the English I’ve met don’t, though I don’t suppose they do bathe too much – of course, it may be just my blocked nose, which I use as an excuse when I’m lazy and the bathroom’s not too clean – it wasn’t at Okehampton but here it’s antiseptic – the linen everywhere has been pleasantly clean too.
As you can see, I’m at St. Ives at the moment, of seven wives fame. I finished yesterday at the ‘Rendezvous’ and am rather relieved though it was a very interesting week. I’m sorry I’m not the type that works for money to pay for your fare here – for good money you’ve got to work somewhat permanently and I don’t think I could manage anything for more than a fortnight. Anyway I’m rather proud of my first paypacket, unopened still, with 8 pounds 75 in it for which I signed. They wanted me to stay on another week but I’d probably have been bored. The Spanish waiter and chef were in ridiculously high spirits because they are soon off on holiday. Everyone was rather ill though throughout the week with colds, the Manager was in hospital and one of the fat old Englishwomen who did quite a lot of my work for me lost her brother yesterday. Anyway, I paid off my landlady yesterday, 6 pounds for 8 nights and 3 meals and Ovaltine and cake before bed daily. I used to eat voraciously at the ‘Rendezvous’, toast and lunch with 5 sorts of veg. All in all, it was a nice week and I did read 16 books of the ‘Iliad’ too.
St Ives really is beautiful, with heaps of curving bays and reddish cliffs and even stretches of bright fresh green, 5 days before Christmas, mind. I walked along the shore today and over the rocks – there was a long tunnel in one but I think it ended just as it was growing too dark to proceed. I went up to a lovely church about 4 miles off, 12th century, next to a rolling golf course. Unfortunately an impossible river prevented further progress – there were all sorts of notices about the dangers of paddling and I convinced myself it was quicksand.
The town is lovely with little streets down which I wandered yesterday, looking for a place to stay. There were heaps of ‘Bed and Breakfast’ signs but very few operate in the winter. Anyway, I’ve ended up at the cheapest, 22/6 shillings a night – with another delightfully garrulous landlady with a son at the Westminster College of Education in Oxford. There’s another couple here, a 26 year old divorcee with 2 children, one 9, along with a Canadian biochemist. She wants to do Classics at the Education College at Keele or, what I thought magnificent, theology. They’re a very nice couple though, and told me all about the area – when St Ives was a village, the cottagers were sent to council houses – and then the condemned cottages were sold at fabulous prices to summer tourists. I suppose it is a spoiling of the countryside and it must be horrible in summer, but you can still feel the beauty in winter.
At the moment, I’m watching ‘David Copperfield’ on television – the ancient version with W.C. Fields – ‘This is either insanity or intoxication’. I hope it rains again this evening so that I can see the waves crashing on the cliffs beyond the pier. St Ives hasn’t got many Christmas decorations but all the other towns I’ve seen do. Truro blazes throughout the evening with a magnificent Christmas tree though I never saw the singing round that – I did see it at Camborne though, yesterday, in drops of rain, while the town shopped around.
Ceylon Today 6 May 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=20440