I sense a valedictory note in these letters and those that follow, even though I still had well over a year to finish my course (and though this was not certain till the very end of my final undergraduate terms, I did stay on for further degrees). I am sorry that I have not generally mentioned individuals in these letters, because reading them brings back memories of the truly wonderful friends I had. I should note that the character disliked by the distinguished diplomats I mention was Tissa Wijeyeratne, who transformed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, very much for the worse, since he disliked the more sophisticated ethos of the individuals I mention such as Shirley Amerasinghe, who was internationally acclaimed – and then suffered from another extremist, when J R Jayawardene stopped him chairing the Law of the Sea Conference.
The one who produced champagne when I won the Junior Common Room Presidency of the College was the one I spent a week with on Hayling Island in the summer of this year, and with whom I probably had deeper and more wide-ranging conversations than with anyone else in my undergraduate days. I went about every fortnight to the opera in London with one who did not mix with my other friends, and became a Catholic Priest, and has just retired. He studied at the English College at Rome where I spent a memorable night in 1976. Then there was Benazir Bhutto, with whom there were long sessions of Monopoly, most memorably when I put her brother up in my rooms. And the mad Australian who was the livewire behind the Vile Bodies, and with whom I explored much of South East Asia in the years that followed.
One memorable day that is not recorded in my letters was the day the Vile Bodies went to Calais for lunch. We left before dawn, one of our number having stayed up all night on the top of All Souls Tower to which he had climbed, dressed in a Chinese silk dressing gown which astonished the citizens of Calais. The second car stopped for breakfast at the Ritz and so missed the ferry we caught, but we met up for a wonderful lunch where the only lady brave enough to join us – who later became a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall – consumed massive quantities of moules marinieres, with the champagne she seemed to live on (and to which in time she converted me, after the initial distaste born of my first taste of the stuff at Rheims, so very long ago).
4th March 1974
The love cake arrived two months late, half stale, to be wholly consumed a week before he fled Oxford to find peace in the foothills of the Himalayas by the Editor of ‘Cherwell’ – the Chitty whose friends you met last year. This, unfortunately, in addition to making all those who persuaded him to take on the job feel guilty, deprives one of my incognito post of Cherwell’s political correspondent – too soon, alas, since I hadn’t succeeded in publicizing myself sufficiently to be assured of winning this week’s Union elections. Still, 4 mentions in 4 weeks wasn’t too bad, most of them in letters to the Editor who obligingly published.
Anila seems to have told you I intend to return overland – which was only suggested – and have organized a ball, the future prospect of which was all I was deputed to consider. Despite the hopeful figures I made up, the Union thinks it too risky.
If I haven’t written since, my XI won the football match against the Dean’s XI very handsomely, which is a slight disaster as it’s traditionally a draw. Also the Ref., who’s meant to send the Dean off, got confused and sent us both off – of course, we were nearly the worst players on the field. I slept for about 12 hours after the match and spent last week in a state of complete exhaustion as we went to London on Monday and missed the last train back and had to spend the night in Reading, and then there was a spare ticket to the Opera on Tuesday as well, and the termly Chapel party was on Wednesday after the Ash Wednesday service, and I fell fast asleep at the party I went to on Thursday to watch the election results – just as well, probably, since I found it all very interesting to the indignation of the tight–lipped Conservatives round about. I shall probably collapse of exhaustion at the end of term and shall go away for a week to recover, but as I’m fairly ahead with my work as well, life’s relatively satisfactory.
At the Greats dinner, at the end of which George was persuaded to play ‘Murder’, which shows he was drunk, he was very complimentary about my capacity despite my ignorance of Greek.
13th March 1974
The usual chaos of the end of term is with us again, with the usual crop of not quite prepared essays – I barely survived my last Classics tutorial today, and I’m not quite sure what to put in the Philosophy essay. Still, Union elections have come and gone – I still survive on Standing Committee but failed to get an office which has convinced me I’ll never be President – as a direct corollary of which I shall run next term, helped by next term’s President who comes from Univ – another triumph for the machine. Unfortunately 2 other candidates didn’t get on and there seems to be a reaction to Univ in the political clubs – our last remaining cog in the Labour Club is fighting the battle of his life today, which involved 5 Republican Americans supporting a Socialist Organization.
In addition, the ‘Vile Bodies’ dinner has come and gone. I shall send the photographs, they look fantastic – the ‘Vile Bodies’ being the recreation of the Oxford world of Evelyn Waugh. The dinner was not a great success last term due to Union tribunal and whatnot, but this time even the waiters at Nuffield were exuberant.
Having succeeded in getting a room in College for next year almost certainly as well, I’ve decided I need a holiday and shall be going to Holland next week – for just a week, which is all I can afford, but shall then be back here for the rest of the Vac except for a day or two in London. I haven’t yet decided about next Vac. but I shall probably be away for August and September, and possibly for July as well, depending upon work. I have discovered a scholarship in English Literature for Oxford graduates in other subjects which I’ve decided to apply for next year, though not with much hope. It would be fun, though it does involve switching colleges and going to Corpus.
We play the 3rd round of the plate in Bridge Cuppers tonight – 1st time I’ve ever got so far – and it’s getting dangerous as the Dean’s in our team so we’re not supposed to win. I am looking forward to bridge, though, after a term of politics and being sociable – especially as there are bound to be lamentations in Univ if the candidate loses, and it’s embarrassing if you haven’t lost yourself.
2nd April 1974
I was in Holland and, per usual, saving money on postage – which was a help as I had to leave one day early when my money ran out. Still, I’d seen all I wanted to see, including the most fabulous Van Goghs – and the ‘Night Watch’ and lots of other Rembrandts. Got back last Wednesday to find Vernon Mendis and Shirley Amerasinghe at Tilak’s, all 3 jointly bewailing the rise to power of our friend from Paris. That will probably signal the end of any desire I had to join the Diplomatic Service.
Saw ‘La Traviata’ there, and the Scottish Opera is here this week and I’m also going up to Wolverhampton on Friday to see Sadler’s Wells on tour – in addition to which, having got back on Saturday, in addition to work I’ve had one lengthy session of Monopoly – this was at Nuffield, where Britain’s best brains are supposed to spring from – and one lengthy day round the Meadows discussing Union and other problems to which I’ve returned refreshed. It really is a very good idea to take a week completely off, even though it wasn’t very cheap – what with my Duty Free Drambuie which will have to last me all term again.
11th June 1974
Apologies again for not writing, partly due to the sheer exhaustion of summer term activities, partly due to a bout of flu in 5th week, not bad enough to prevent me going out in the evenings, but kept in bed all day by the College nurse just in case. I’m fully recovered now, but still tend to sleep most afternoons for at least an hour – except yesterday during the great SCR–JCR cricket match – scored 2 runs after all noble cricketers had missed several catches, followed by my party, given in conjunction with a mad Australian on the top of Nuffield Tower, which was a great success – I think. Had lunch with Ranjini in London on Saturday before ‘Carmen’ last week, and the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Shall stop now, on my way to the Bod. I shall be at Oxford all summer except August, working academically but otherwise free.
24th June 1974
Gaji’s account has been opened – promptly, and further communications should be by me.
I lost the Presidency – though I did get more votes than expected to, and stayed on Standing Committee. We’ve got 3 colonials now, the Australian of my party, B Bhutto, and me, and we’re establishing a great axis. Despite a plethora of parties, I’ve done all my essays. Collections weren’t too good – ‘Doesn’t work enough but could get a 1st if he wanted to’. I think they’re wrong about the second bit.
Saw the Bolshoi on Saturday – ‘Giselle’ in the afternoon and ‘Spartacus’ in the evening, being self-indulgent on the last day of term. Due to going off for drinks in between and having to rush back in a taxi we nearly had no money left! Of course, it was in the cheapest seats – I couldn’t help feeling incredibly lucky about the Royal Box at the Bolshoi itself.
Shall be here working all July – Roman History at last, which is fabulous. Must dash to see the last of my friends finishing schools – trouble is, I dislike champagne.
25th June 1974
When Aachchi’s in Oxford, there should be no problem about accommodation as she can always stay in College – anywhere else is excessively expensive during the summer unless one stays for very long periods as Sirancee did.
I myself, as I think I’ve said already, will be here all July and could stay on the 1st week of August so that it would be best if Aach came here first, and perhaps came back as I shall return around the 1st week of September. I could cancel August if absolutely essential, but this would mean letting other people down and, as far as I can make out, there would be places for her to stay in August. As for transport, once she’s at her first place, I can’t see people not helping her to go on to the next when necessary. Do write soon and let me know further details and requests, particularly, how long the stay will be. I started work for the Vac. today – it’s a great change and not for the better! Tell Thatha an American place would be fun and to keep inquiring if he can.
10th July (1974)
Sorry to hear you won’t be coming this year. I was rather looking forward to seeing you in Oxford, and so was the Dean and my bridge playing friends whom I’ve told that you’re responsible for my bridge. They wanted to play against the author of such great crimes against the noble game. In case you do change your mind – or for next year – I should really have you in College because everywhere else is miles away and there are ground floor guest rooms with baths nearby and, even though the place is now full of Americans at whom I growl when passing through the quads, a College is still the prettiest place to stay in.
I don’t know whether I’ve written since 9th week, after term ended, full of sentimental farewells, endless parties and an ordination in Southwark Cathedral. 10th week and this week were a necessary contrast, work, sleep, the quiet meal or drink with the few people still remaining, moving from my Main Quad room to the backwaters, and hard work preparing the College for the Ball which took place last Friday, a grand and pleasant occasion, despite being at work by 9 each morning transporting cutlery, crockery etc. and having only 4 hours sleep on the night itself due to the extremely efficient waiter service provided – gorged myself on smoked salmon and strawberries in the midst of work! Contrary to public opinion I survived the tasks and displayed astonishing (quote) energy, compared with my refusal to climb mountains last year – something I shall refuse to do this year as well.
The Gooneratnes were here on Sunday with various dignitaries and Aruna came up today to get her birthday present and buy me mine – badly needed trousers, and one of my friends was up in a car for vivas which meant country pub lunches and long walks – remember Wytham Woods – during the last 2 days. Despite all this, the work hasn’t been unsatisfactory, and I should finish my texts by the end of the week before going on to essays. I go down next week to a place near Southampton for a week and, at the end of the month, I shall now accept an offer to fly to Toulouse for lunch at no expense, as the father of the friend runs BAC and its jets fly 3 times a week empty to France with regard to Concorde. The following week I drive – or rather am driven – to France to the Chalet for 3 weeks and come back early September for a fresh start of work. I shall feel terribly old next year coming back to 3 generations younger than mine – even though quite a few are older than me chronologically!