Sadly there are no letters from the second vacation, in which I hitchhiked in France, ending up in Milan after seeing Illers (in pursuit of Proust, whom I had devoured the previous term)on the North Coast and Marseilles in the South, with in between the Chateux of the Loire Valley, and the Cathedral at Chartres which was also heart-stopping as Milan had been.
Fortunately my first summer term is reasonably well documented, with my first proper account of the longest standing friendship of my life. The Dean, Leslie Mitchell, was only just over a decade older than us, and proved a great friend to many. But I had the privilege of his companionship and hospitality also over vacations. The friendship formed over eight years in Oxford has continued now for nearly 40 more, and I try now each year to spend time with him.
These letters also record my first tentative forays into politics, both the Union and the Labour Club, plus the fun drama that takes over Oxford Colleges in summer, garden productions that are perhaps more enjoyable for the cast than the audience, even despite occasional showers.
The high spot of a quite fascinating week was dinner on Saturday with the Dean, there being 8 of us of various descriptions – it’s part of his duty, I believe, but he does like performing and he does so extremely well, sprawled on the hearthrug with all of us sitting round filled with sherry and mulled claret and madeira – and some quite good food too sent up to his rooms from the kitchens. He held forth for ages and ultimately had to throw us all out since we couldn’t bear to leave. There was a super English scholar too with an array of atrocious puns which were hilarious at that time of night – even though all his imitations did sound alike.
Leslie and he ended up doing Barbara Cartland and/or Ralph Richardson – fully worth missing ‘West Side Story’ for. Luckily I’d arranged for someone to wake me up next morning for church, which made me quite woolly though the whole of the next day – in the course of which, after discussing gaskets and other meaningless things at Communicants’ breakfast, I wrote, or rather translated into doggerel, 50 lines of Ovid, due to having attended a class on translation by an eccentric Jesuit due to an excessive flood of enthusiasm. I’ve subsequently discovered that quite a lot of those who came to the first class have backed out!
I don’t think I’d recovered from Leslie’s liquor by evening, so, since I decided to wake up for May morning, I borrowed an alarm clock and slept early instead of staying up all night. That was what most did, including the mathematicians downstairs, who’ve all decided to get depressed and go and see the doctor, and have been falling asleep in lectures and libraries since. Besides which May morning turned out to be highly over-rated and my bridge partner’s pancakes didn’t materialize due to too many people and too little flour – also, not having sugar, he put icing sugar in our tea – it was all very depressing. Continue reading