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.
Last night, due to lack of players, due in turn to potential power-cuts, University bridge was cancelled and we played rubber bridge with the county – the old ladies who are supposed to scratch your eyes out according to our Dean. They seemed quite nice though, and I won threepence – which didn’t pay for playing fees and coffee, though. I was quite horrified to discover one was supposed to pay, but we won the first few rubbers so it didn’t quite matter. Of course, needless to say, we lost in the first round of the College Championship last Sunday – ‘Cuppers’ – and I can’t really blame the rest of the team because I’d fallen asleep and missed dinner and got up to suddenly realize I had to play competitively in a few moments and, by the time we started, I was in a thoroughly bad mood. Of course, though we were bad, our partners, in the throes of learning the Blue Club, were much worse and succeeded not only in not bidding a cold game but even going 2 down. The nice thing though is that we all found it extremely funny, which is better than feeling miserable.
On Thursday, the Victoria League struck again – the collection of dotty old ladies with cats called ‘Thomasina’ who uphold the commonwealth – very nice people really, though they did issue invitations to a supper party so that I signed off dinner, and then produced coffee and biscuits. However, they did send a car for me – a Canadian Professor of English on Sabbatical, Merton and a pupil of the famous – just to make sure you know her, no one else does – Dame Helen Gardener – during whose lecture on the ‘Waste Land’ I regret to say I fell asleep. Anyway after five minutes of everyone patting Thomasina, the conversation went with a swing and I’ve even issued two invitations to tea – with five pounds left of my quota for the term, I suppose I can afford to be extravagant – though I have been crunching glass this past week due to a constitutional inability to throw away a bottle of peanut butter that broke.
I saw a decent student production this week, Bond’s ‘Early Morning’, with the sadistinc Victorians engaging in high jinks – by St. Cat’s and the Polytechnic. Despire prejudices as to these modern institution, it was good. In a few moments I’ve got to be at Oriel for their Summer production of Aristophanes’ ‘Frogs’ – I’ve got the two-minute part of Charon. Unfortunately today’s read through means missing the Ceylon Students’ party this evening at the Gooneratnes’ – however I did do my duty by telling all the others though, I’m afraid, hardly anyone’s going to make it, due to working wives, due again, in some places, to power cuts. We didn’t really suffer too much – the people who’ve got Mods did! – since you can always play bridge, besides which the cuts at Somerville were at different times so we rehearsed there – also, they sometimes spared Goodhart when the rest of the college was dark.
I shall probably be leaving college on the 11th in an attempt to see something somewhere before Thatha’s hoped-for arrival.
5th March 1972
I’m out of air-letters, and I couldn’t get any yesterday as I overslept, due to drinking well but not wisely at the cast party for Oedipus the previous night – an interesting occasion, with the Experimental Theatre Club arty crowd all quiet drunk, which manifested itself in various ways – I had been quite nervous at the prospect earlier, due to knowing hardly anyone except the cast but, per usual when I have paroxysms of shyness, aided perhaps by wine and cheese, it all went off very well. Luckily the gate into Helen’s Court was open when I got back – with a lift – climbing over it with the sharp mediaeval spikes on top wouldn’t have been very easy in the condition I was in.
The production itself seems to have gone down very well and we even had a quite favourable review in the Guardian. The Oxford papers weren’t too good, but we played to full houses the last two days and all my friends who saw it thought it was magnificent. It was marvellous getting ready in the theatre, hearing the ‘calls’ over the intercom – unfortunately, due to the desire of Teiresias to meditate for ten minutes in her carnage, surrounded by her attendants, we never had any – and, of course, having champagne in the Green Room after the first performance – unfortunately it was Moet-Chandon which, with its associations of France last October, I disliked intensely. Of course, to my horror, I had a cold and my weird noises didn’t quite succeed – also last night, in the general anxiety about the party the previous day, Teiresias’ carriage was on the wrong side and the Chorus nearly gave us our cue looking right away from where we entered – anyway, since everyone had nerves, I didn’t feel too bad myself. I’m extremely glad I gathered up the courage to audition last term, after my inconclusive argument with Martin West.
Last Saturday I went at last to Charles’ Grampont House Lodgings run by Opus Dei with Spanish priests and Humphrey Bogart films and so on – it was quite fascinating, particularly meeting a Univ Classics student in his 7th year – remembers the origins of Martin and other strange characters whom one thinks firmly established – doing a DPhil subsequent upon a BPhil.
In the meantime, my bridge partner had unloaded two Germans in my room for the night – they were quite nice really and I didn’t mind, except that I wondered what Eric’s reaction would be – he was quite nice in the end himself and, so they said, didn’t even make a noise with the waste-paper baskets. Clara & Co. were due on Sunday and the Germans took the hint and vanished – where and how I have no idea, since Dave was in the throes of flu – and we had a super day, going out to a Chinese place for lunch – they wouldn’t hear of me paying – I was feeling pretty bad since Univ doesn’t provide a hot lunch on Sundays – after which we played Cluedo, all of which was quite fascinating. They’re getting a new car and will be leaving for Belgium on the 31st for ten days. I’d forgotten arranging to spend the coming weekend with the Buchanans and thought of leaving for France on the 11th itself, which I think will be my final decision, getting back in time for the flight.
Union Elections were held this week and an Indian Postgraduate from India’s the new President – the Balliol machine triumphed, though the Exeter one had the distinction of offering an Undergraduate as opposed to 3 Postgraduates. The Presidential debate was super, with everyone saying very rude things about everyone else, unlike last time when Julian Priestly got in uncontested.
This year’s Mods began on Wednesday and our predecessors go about with looks of distraction on their faces, amidst comments that the papers were easy which means we’ll suffer next year – very helpful. Incidentally, tell Ano that, having 3 months more experience of University than she has, I can assure her work’s not meant to be taken seriously at all until Finals, unless one wants to gain or preserve the reputation of a gnome.
I’m sorry for not having written to you about Aunty Ida. As I told Ano somewhat confusedly, it didn’t quite seem real to me and I can’t help feeling not guilty about that, perhaps because, when I left, I somehow expected it though it wasn’t what I told myself. As such, I was left considering things from a very hollow and artificial point of view – though perhaps that’s been my own always. I hope you all can solve all the problems satisfactorily – I think it would be unfair to give my own views.
Ceylon Today 27 May 17 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21881