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.
Anyway, I’m told the Magdalen schoolboys might not sing next year so maybe it was worth it, even though they were inaudible – and the Morris Dancers unviewable due to the crowds. There were only 2 punts on the river and, according to my scout, ever since the war, students haven’t had the guts to spend all night on the river. I don’t really blame them, since the weather’s still unpredictable, despite some pretty hot days.
I’ve been doing quite a lot of canvassing, both in college and out, for the Labour candidates for the Council Elections. It’s a bit sad discovering how many people I know and like are so definitely anti-Labour, but very interesting to listen to views being put forward in quite intelligent sincerity. It was also fun meeting people in the town – and even explaining policies I don’t understand!
Lectures have been quite interesting so far, including a bead-worrying Greek on Philosophy – which I’ve been reading quite avidly without understanding a word. This week’s Philosophy Tutorial was better than last week, though I was confused about quite a lot still – not as badly as in the historical one on Catiline, where my knowledge of the texts was atrocious. What with a class for Virgil for Thursday for which I haven’t prepared, it’s quite a relief Martin’s cut his Tutorials down to l a fortnight too which makes it 2 tutorials, 2 classes – 1 voluntary – and 6 lectures a week. My collections were quite good, including one A though a C+ for scansion. The other grades were 3 x A–, 2 x B+, A— and AB, the last being for essays, the others for translation.
…. The few moments when I do feel Old Place really, for instance, can be quite miserable. A cult of the past – despite the attractions of wondering what you’d think of something later – is, after all, defeatist in its origins. Incidentally, the reason why I’ll never be a good philosopher is that I love making meaningless generalizations like that. I had to admit to Martin that I was as clueless as he was what I meant by ‘the analytic march of civilization’ in my essay – it sounded nice.
Life’s been quite fascinating this past week, due particularly to going punting, on two super days in between the continuing winter – which I think I feel more than last term, due to so many rehearsals and plays in gardens – the ‘Frogs’ last week was a tremendous success – so was the cast party in that it started at 6 and I felt I had to stagger back to bed by 9 – having fallen asleep at Evensong during Punch’s old Tutor’s sermon, which I dutifully attended despite the rigours of punting all afternoon. Luckily I’m so bad I’m never allotted more than a token 10 minutes.
Due to having to go all the way to the Cherwell Boathouse, and punts being allowed for 3 hours only, we took our lunch with us – including a bottle of wine though only due to the fact, I was told, that I dislike Double Diamond beer. But we forgot a corkscrew which made the whole business rather chaotic. It took 15 minutes to moor the punt, and someone fell in, and my records and player got soaked. Anyway, it was great fun though, due to everyone having exams except me and rehearsals and things, we have to wait till Sunday for a repeat, which means another lengthy walk. It also means missing the Ceylon Society Punt Party, which gives me twinges of guilt for not being patriotic, but the Secretary, Ravi Tennekoon, whom I met last week and had over for dinner, said everyone else would be old as the hills and deadly dull and I’d probably be expected to be energetic and punt, which provides a possible excuse. However, I must get down to going for one of their activities sometimes.
Incidentally, this is Eights Week, supposedly the greatest time of the year though the wind’s so strong that going down to the river is a duty – which I did accomplish once, to watch our 2nd crew bump someone – they’re climbing and so are the minor ones, though the 1st remains static, 9th on the river, and the Football VIII keeps dropping. If this sounds chaotic and you want to know what I’m talking about – it’s not worth knowing. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to strawberries and cream teafy, due to continuous rehearsals – due to very few people being idiotic enough to want to be expendable Incas, even after being killed 8 times, the few there are have to keep coming back for more!
Our rooms for next year have been given out and I’ve got my 2nd choice which is all right since I quite like the person who got my first and will be next door. They’re in the Radcliffe Quad, which is the old one next to the Main Quad, overlooking the High and Logic Lane. I just had a Tutor came in with 2 boys hoping to come in in 1973 and looking at rooms – tends to upset concentration but I’d better get this finished. For the rest – the girls from Somerville so enjoyed our first bridge session that they came back for more, but we played mixed and I had to partner a rather clueless one which was a bit upsetting – anyway, I’m due to play with the intelligent one at the University pairs tonight. Last night, I saw ‘The Oz Trial’ with our Eton Classicist playing the judge to perfection – Oz being a magazine tried for obscenity – there was a discussion afterwards with Germaine Greer being very vocal!
31ST May 1972
The Dean’s invited me to join what’s supposed to be a reading party in Cornwall in the 2nd week of the holidays. I’m not quite sure whether it’s because he thinks I’ve nowhere to go during the holidays or whether he likes my company – I incline to think the latter. So does the Chaplain evidently – he had me for port on Sunday with a few 2nd years – luckily people I knew – and we went on for 3 hours though admittedly someone even fell asleep in the process.
Life’s most exciting these days, due to cloak and dagger activities in the Labour Club – at about 1 am last week there was a mysterious knock on the door which I ignored since I was in bed, and discovered an invitation from a radical to run for Committee on his ticket – the College Rep is supporting the other ticket, but ours is a lost cause so I decided to go on with it, whereupon the College Rep offered me a place on the other ticket, due to fears of irrational liberal voting for foreigners. But that seemed a bit nasty so I’m going on with the first loony character whose supporters seem to be dwindling daily – worst of all, the process is going to cost me 70p. I’ve also got to make another speech at the Union if I’m to contest anything, which means getting away early from the present play – no great loss since it consists of standing in a chilling wind with very little on and getting massacred and shouting – in addition to which, it started raining yesterday – luckily, someone had brought marmite sandwiches.
I went along to Congregation yesterday to listen to the debate on co-residence – late, unfortunately, due to a Tutorial for which I’d scraped together some nonsense the previous day, to be told it was the best essay I’d written – made up for my dreadful unseen last week. Anyway, I missed the resolution designed to stop even the experiment, but was there for the attempts to get it to spread, resolutely opposed by our Master, Dean, and Chaplain, strenuously supported by the Tutor for Admissions – light–headed according to Leslie.
On Sunday, due to none of us having booked a punt, I had no excuse not to go to the Ceylon Society Punt Picnic – it was horribly cold and only 6 people turned up, but we had the river practically to ourselves, which helped due to the amateurish punting.
Ceylon Today 3 June 2017 – https://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=22388