All other Oxford courses had an examination in the course of the first year, and then finals at the end of one’s third year (with Chemistry then having a fourth year too). The exception is Classics, which is a four year course with just two examinations, in the second term of one’s second year, and then at the end.
We were then out of kilter as it were with our peer group, since when they were fully relishing Oxford with no examination pressures, we had to study, for what was also the longest exam in the system. This was Honour Moderations in Literae Humaniores, as it was called, with eleven papers.
As the letters indicate, I did not study as I should have, and continued to enjoy an intense social life. I also had much to do, because I had been elected President of the Junior Common Room, the College student body. I was half surprised at this myself, since I was an unusual candidate, not playing any games or running any societies – the other contestants were the rugby captain and the conductor of the college choir. But I won by a fairly large margin, largely I think because I had been very hospitable to the first years when they came in.
Other political ventures were not successful, as noted here, and the term ended in tragedy with the death of the husband of Clara, my cousin, with whom I had stayed when I first came to England. I got the news of his heart attack just when Mods started, so I could not go down, and he suffered another and was dead by the time I got there. I think I was of use, despite my recording a detachment that I regretted.
28th January (1973)
Life’s been terribly busy, and looks likely to be so for the rest of the term, though one problem has been solved, by the Balliol and Univ machines reaching agreement – we gave in, I regret to say, though perhaps wisely – on Labour Club officials for next term and, as part of the agreement, the following term. It’s all terribly involved, but I should be Secretary next term.
At the moment, we’re having a violent campaign on for the Univ JCR, where I’m the underdog candidate for President – though I do have the stronger ticket. My opponent happens to be Captain of Rugger, which doesn’t help. Unfortunately, the elections being next Monday, I’ve got to give up the Dean’s trip to Covent Garden, to see Sibley and Dowell, which is all very annoying. Still, I’ve got enough to keep me occupied – I’ve been offered my 1st paper speech at the Union, in favour of Euthanasia, along with Trevor Huddleston and other worthies, and though I don’t know whether I quite approve of Euthanasia, I accepted; having bought my dinner jacket last week for 28 pounds from my Bursary, which left 12 which will be swallowed up by the Union Anniversary Dinner and the Labour Club dinner, with Harold McMillan and Harold Wilson respectively. I should be on High Table for the latter, being the editor of the Club Magazine and so on – which I’m modelling blatantly on the New Statesman, with Competition and Diary – tomorrow, having a very Conservative and Social Chairman, we have Lord David Cecil speaking to us, with dinner beforehand. Most of the party regulars considered it anti-social to attend, so there’ll just be 3 of us, the Librarian of the Union, and Cecil – should be fun.
Collections went rather well last week and I’m more confident than before of getting through, though the Class will not be all that is desired. My tutor’s on Sabbatical this term, so I’ve got an eccentric man at Corpus who believes in lots of hard work, which is a bit annoying, though he was very kind about my Greek unseen last week – the Latin this week is bound to drive him nuts.
From the President of the Junior Common Room
12th February 1973
I just couldn’t resist showing off – after a strenuous and slightly bitter election, I am now a most important person, with a room in college next year and various other facilities, including the opportunity to organize dinner parties and football matches and other funny things, for the purpose of developing attitudes in the College. Life’s most enjoyable at the moment, what with a not unsuccessful speech at the Union – I’m afraid the review wasn’t too good though, so I’m not sending it – and Wilson at dinner this week, and the bridge dinner last week, and a birthday party last week where we played musical chairs with the Dean and drank the champagne one of my friends produced for my victory. He was so sure I’d win he’d bought it that morning, though I was quite depressed and had to be taken for walks round the meadows and fed orange juice and coffee and given varying and useless hints about a plan of campaign. Almost all my ticket got in, to the horrors of the ultra–left, and after about 6 different types of drink that night I collapsed into bed at 4, and had to produce the Labour Club magazine next morning, for distribution that day – which I managed to do.
As part of the perks of the Presidency, I’ve got all sorts of parties with Vice-Chancellors and Proctors and things which is all very interesting, though you never actually get round to meeting the great man himself – also, I’m supposed to chair JCR meetings, which promises to be a frightening job – however, the work’s going ahead rather well, though I have now conclusively decided that there’s no 1st available.
Life’s been chaotic, with JCR work, and Exams, and running for Labour Club Secretary which I lost after a weakening of left wing credentials, I think deservedly. It was getting difficult to balance JCR & Labour Club views on the S.R.C. – the Central Students’ substitute for a Union which is run by Communists for the most part. Exams start next Wednesday and I’m trying frantically to catch up on lost time, but probably shan’t, especially as I’ve got 3 dinners in the next 4 days and other interesting activities – as a measure of my busyness, I haven’t played bridge for 3 weeks, and having achieved office I’ve decided that I’m really a very quiet person – it’s fascinating, though.
The Gooneratnes came over on Sunday and we went to see a Buddhist Centre set up near here in 23 acres of land, in the ex-house of the Earl of Abingdon which is grotesque but magnificent. ‘Torpids’ is on at the moment, the Hilary substitute for Eights Week, and we’ve just gone up a place and come down again – Monday is the Dean vs. President’s football match, when people who’ve never played provide themselves with hours of amusement! Only hope I survive the cold. Do write soon and ask everyone else to.
18th March 1973
I myself have been here since Wednesday, rather surprised by Hector’s death, and slightly guilty in sthat I didn’t come down at once, and succeeded in persuading myself that he was getting better, ostensibly because of exams, really because I couldn’t bear to leave Oxford. In fact, I was planning to get back on the Wednesday night itself, for the theatre with the Dean as a reward for getting to bed early during Mods. – he kept shouting ‘Goodnight’ across the quads when he saw me out after 10 and the Union reception, exciting even though I didn’t make Standing Committee – 6th out of about 20, but only 5 get on – and our Mods celebration party and the mad Tolkien lunch. Mods itself was great fun, and I did better than I expected, considering the lunacies of the previous week – 3 dinners, the Dean vs JCR President’s football match which consisted of people who hadn’t played for 10 years, and which ended in a draw, though the referee had to disallow their goals and kick the ball for us and send the Dean off the field, the College Revue, with an item all about me which was remarkably restrained, and Tom Parker singing ‘I’m a Curate thin & pale’ which brought the house down, though I did succeed in working more than I’d done all term. It was great to have reached the end and stride down the High in subfusc and carnations, and a daffodil on the last day, prior to champagne and gin – just before I came down here, and the satirical self-defence I adopt towards funerals, and a too objective sympathy to really feel that I’m a decent person. I don’t think I am, though the horror is that I’m not particularly upset about it.
I shall hang on here for another week or so, and then potter back to college and try to summon up the energy to go somewhere – with the blasé onset of middle-age prematurely, I can think of nothing more desirable than curling up for the Vac in Oxford with innumerable novels, though I feel I shouldn’t give in. One of my innovations in College has been a magazine, though I was self denying enough not to demand the Editorship, though I got hold of someone I could rely on for it, because he admired my articles in the STC Mag!