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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.

 I should admit though that my affection for him may also be based on his initial reaction to my papers when I took the Entrance Examination in December 1970, when I was 16. I did not really think I would get in then, but did it as a practice run. Here is the letter he sent to the Warden of S. Thomas’ –


University College


19th December 1970



The Headmaster

S. Thomas’ College

Mount Lavinia


Dear Headmaster

I thought you might like to have a note about R. Wijesinha’s performance in the Classics admissions examination.  His marks were :


Classical General                      B+

Non-Classical General             B++

Latin Unseens                          B+   AB    A

Greek Unseens                         B-    B++  B-

Latin Prose                              B-

Greek Prose                             B

Ancient History                       a=


We awarded him an Exhibition, feeling that such a performance from one so young was very remarkable. Indeed his papers were read by several colleges in the group and very favourably commented on. My first reaction was that his mastery of English was somewhere near genius. I expect this was exaggeration, but certainly his  range of reading, his maturity of judgment and his style, were remarkable and we will watch his progress with great interest. The Classical tutors will be writing to him early in the new year, telling him what to read before he comes; but I expect his ‘A’ Levels will occupy him until July and then he will be due for a holiday.

Anyhow, we very much look forward to having him here and hope that he will enjoy his time in Oxford.

Yours sincerely,


George Cawkwell

Fellow & Praelector in

Ancient History




2nd January


Last Monday we went to Cambridge for the day – the colleges are beautiful but I prefer the Oxford atmosphere. Girton, though, looks really lovely. A few of the colleges were shut, though, since it was Boxing Day – what a name! Then on Thursday, through Enid’s daughter, I saw a dress rehearsal of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Covent Garden – with Parkinson and MacLeary – also Michael Soames – and piano – it was marvelous. Charmaine took me round the place afterwards and it was quite interesting. Yesterday was her brother’s wedding, a grand affair with food and drink flowing. I consumed 5 neat whiskies and wasn’t drunk while Glenville complained that I wasn’t drinking! – helped in the bar, which was most convenient – most people there were rather tipsy and there was rather uninhibited dancing, including baila – pity I’ll never be able to join in things like that – I’d feel far too absurd.


I meant to leave this morning, for a week at Stratford, but the Coach Station didn’t reply when I wanted the time of departure and we assumed it doesn’t work on Sundays. I’m not getting much work done certainly but I shall be back in Oxford on the 8th and I should be able to do some work in Stratford – if I get there. I think I should because it’s awful to feel I’m wasting my time, however comfortable it is.

I saw snow for the first time on Thursday. It was super feeling it on my tongue. The result of course was a feverish feeling, and disprins and panadols. It’s a bit annoying not to be able to collapse into illness and fuss relentlessly, but that would be a bit much here. The winter’s been relatively mild here, though – I’d love to go to Yugoslavia with the Kovacs next summer.


Yesterday I met Frank Wickremesinghe and his wife and his utterly cute kids.



9th January


I left Clara’s on the third, having at last discovered the time of the coach and got to Stratford – where the Youth Hostel only opened at 5. It was horribly cold and my cold was worse.  Luckily the housekeeper for a 92 year old man gave me a cup of tea nearby, and afterwards I waited in the cycle shed and watched two Australian girls doing acrobatics to keep warm. No English were out touring, only Canadians and suchlike.

Next day I went to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and the Birthplace, and the tomb, but wasn’t at all impressed due to the cold having turned into a headache and the day being very cold which effectively vanquishes any sense of history. Not even ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ at the R.S.C. theatre could rouse me but I don’t think I’d have found it marvelous even without a headache. Anyway, I thought the best thing to do was come to Oxford, which I did on Wednesday, to find 2 classics students already here cramming for collections, which is, I suppose, more important than it sounds. Anyway I‘ve stuck in my room, finishing the 2nd reading of the ‘Iliad’, just starting today on 8 other books, nursing my cold and feeling most upset there’s no one to fuss to – how nice it was to fall ill at home and expect everyone to dance round you.  When I was homesick in India, I remember, I decided to fall ill when I got home, just to enjoy that pleasure.


Anyway, the cold seems better now, though the weather isn’t. The snow doesn’t stay though, which I hope is a good sign.



11th January


I’ve enclosed the application form for Manthri – she should send it in as quickly as possible.  Her first choices should be L.M.H. and Somerville, according to Ovenstone ,but I’m sure Linacre would accept her if these don’t – perhaps she needn’t even put it as one of her choices. I’m supposed to ring up a Biochemistry fellow in an hour, I’ll let you know if he says anything notable.

I’m still cramming for Collections, which is on Friday, though less vigorously. My fees for this term, and last term’s extras, comes to 78.18 – 13.33 (Exhibition) = 64.85, which is quite good. Electricity extra is only 1.16, despite 5 lights, all horribly weak.


19th January


Sorry for the delay in despatching – the fellow in Zoo here is still carrying out investigations as Manthri will have to apply through the Department. However, there’s still supposed to be time on this side, though don’t fill in the form yet. If nothing comes today, I’ll let you know by next week.

Collections seemed to be tolerable, though I couldn’t think of anything to say in my essay. I’ll know the Latin results in an hour, after my tutorial with Hollis of Keble. Martin’s finally decided to admit he doesn’t know Latin so once a fortnight we have to trudge to Keble. Cawkwell, who’s supposed to be the paternalistic sort, summons all the Mods candidates and told me on Monday to inform him if it’s cold or the food is bad! He’s supposed to be quite a character.


On Sunday Mr Wijeyadasa invited me for lunch. I hadn’t seen him since the first time last term but he suddenly popped in on Saturday, so I went and had a jolly good lunch – also tasted arrack for the first time, I think, and found it nice! Mrs W. I discovered, is another descendant of the Weeratunges, niece of the character in Exeter.

That evening I had the fascinating experience of climbing in over the gates, due to an extended bridge game, nothing else, and a bit of confusion about closing time.   They’ve got spikes on top of the gates, but it wasn’t difficult. The next evening, after the first rehearsal of ‘Oedipus’, which was chaotic but interesting, I had the even more exhilarating experience of talking till 4 a.m. Of course, with my usual sociability, I think I managed to keep hidden the fact that I was waiting for the character in question to depart – I did think it was earlier though. Due to a bout of oversleeping Eric, the scout, informed me that I shouldn’t stay awake because I was too young for such things!

Patrick Olivelle came here on Sunday morning – I hope you do not make a regular habit of exhibiting my card to Sella (my old ayah). It was meant to thrill her, not intelligent adults in positions of responsibility. Anyway – I shall leave some space for Hollis …… 2 As and 2 Bs for my Latin Collections – not too bad, I suppose, though it means Cs for Greek – let you know all about that next week. Lectures seem to be better this term, I’ve found 4 good ones. Hope Anila enjoys university – I could just imagine her pouring forth yesterday.

Ceylon Today 13 May 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=20922