My last year as an undergraduate was also full of joy, but I was also fitting into the avuncular role that I have since fulfilled in my dealings with the young. The Delusionists for instance, a dining club started by a group of delightful lawyers in our second year, was passed on to me to run, and I filled it with my freshmen as I called them, those who had come up when I was JCR President.
My second year friends had been those with political interests, and I believe the senior lawyers did not want them in what was supposed to be purely a fun gathering, but they approved of my younger chums, and I think we did them proud in keeping the Delusionists going for several more years. The Dean had backed down when he decided to stop being the life and soul of the College, but I managed to persuade my Classics don, the brilliant Greek scholar Martin West, to join us, and he entered into the spirit of the thing with gusto.
Another don who proved socially dynamic, though I only met him the once, was A J Ayer, whose ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ was a bible for Oxford philosophy – and was the only book I had been enjoined to read before I went up to Oxford. I had found it incomprehensible, and several readings over the years left me still feeling I had not understood it thoroughly, but both the book and the man exemplified the sheer intellectual energy of Oxford in the period between the wars.
Chalet des Anglais
Pres de l’hotel au Prarion
9th August 1974
Thought I’d write before I left for France – letters will be appreciated at the address above until the 30th.
I’ve discovered another scholarship for English, though not as good, which I’ve applied for the Application Form for. My money for July arrived though not the fees yet. They really are mounting, due to the increase in Grants.
Gaji must be a favourite with the College Office, as they’ve given him a room that an Etonian had last year! Centrally heated, and quite nice though not enormous – if he has any inclination tell Anila to teach him bridge, it’s very useful. I’ll be back by October to meet him.
I have finished my 5 Vac. essays though there’s still quite a lot of reading to do when I get back if I’m to keep my scholarship. I had dinner with the new Senior Tutor last week and it seems dicey though I got the impression my tutors still approve of me – had to refuse George for dinner tonight as I’m going down to London this evening after an emergency Standing Committee, preparatory to driving down to France with two friends tomorrow.
Another friend and I gave a dinner party last Saturday and did all the cooking – it was very good, particularly my pudding and we even had to deal with 2 gatecrashers who’d come up for the day and heard that was where all the action was. We had a treasure hunt afterwards and badminton before and lots of duty free stuff from Toulouse to drink and from the cellars of Christ Church where my friend’s father is a don – vintage wines at ‘plonk’ prices. We had cucumber salad and a quiche which one of the guests brought – another was so hurt we hadn’t asked her to help, she had to be allowed to make the gravy – lamb with cabbage and roast potatoes, and the biscuit pudding made with Benedictine, from memory. A great triumph, despite which and Toulouse and quite a lot of distraction last week – a party at one of the summer schools for Europeans learning English – my schedule of work wasn’t unsatisfactory. Univ got 16 firsts altogether this year, which equals the record, though 6 in fact didn’t belong to our year – Chemists, 1 Classicist and my predecessor as President in Biochemistry.
2nd September 1974
Back in college again, after a failure to reach Germany due to an idiot at the Railway who tried to send me through Belgium – which I only discovered having got to Paris at which stage I decided to give up and flee back – good news here inasmuch as my application for the British Council to pay my fees has been approved here and only requires confirmation in Colombo. Perhaps Thatha could investigate, and save himself getting a permit for my fees if it goes through. As for requests for Gaji’s clothes, I suggest a dark suit and a sports jacket at least, about 3 or 4 more pairs of trousers, at least 3 longsleeved woollen jerseys – other things in whatever proportions he thinks reasonable. For his room, apart from sheets and towels etc, only any books he wants should be brought – it’s more reasonable to get cups and spoons here. I can’t really think of anything else but I’ve probably forgotten something. I met a friend of his called Senaka Abeyratne at the H.C. en route to Canada via Italy, also his aunt Brightie de Mel who has promised to convey to you how magnificent my pudding was – made yesterday mainly for my own edification. I got a new passport today expedited by Tilak’s Secretary – the normal time being a week according to the girl there – as the last one had at last run out of space. I gather Leslie’s got back too – he was threatening to have a mud bath in Vichy on the way back, which I must investigate. Sorry for the scrawled letter, but I thought I had to write about the British Council Schol, though I’m rather sleepy at the moment.
20th September 1974
Aruna and Rohan came up as well last week, and produced the splendid cakes, in addition to some rolls from Aunty Pam who is evidently worried about my diet. Living on lettuce is a nice experience.
In addition to work – I have just finished my collections – I’ve just moved in to my new room which, though a bedsit, is exceedingly attractive. The College Secretary says she moved a freshman out for my benefit, and Mr Blackler – to whom you might send some more tea if you are in a good mood – remember his iron last year – hunted high and low round the College to find me a Morris Screen with which if necessary to separate the bed from the sit part. In addition I’ve raided some rather attractive furniture from surrounding rooms which is one advantage of coming up early. The room itself, if you can remember, is at the bottom of Logic Lane and looks over Merton Lawn, and has views of both Merton and Magdalen Towers. There is also at last enough storage space for all my suitcases, though no basin in the room itself which I doubt being able to convince the college to put right. However, with a top floor again, I can’t complain!
After 18 days of fairly but not solidly hard work I have decided a 1st is, after all, not within my capacity, though I think I can manage to convince my tutors that I deserve a good recommendation for the Scholarships. However, do let me have details of American ones as well – a change might be good for me,. Let me know if you are going to Pakistan so I can tell the Bhutto – whose latest P.C. highlighted Mrs B’s visit and her being bitten by a dog. People have already started to trickle back, so much so that I’ve nearly decided to cancel my housewarming party as there are too many people I’ll have to ask. It’s odd having almost none of my own year returning – Ministry of Defence, Bar Exams, further work elsewhere – but I suppose one’s got to learn to grow old sometime! Luckily, in addition to promising frequent returns, they’ve also started keeping their promises already, which is one reason why 18 days hasn’t been solid work. Still, one tries.
4th November 1974
Overwhelmed with the difficulties of deciding what Aristotle really meant, I thought it was time to dispatch a long overdue letter. The College and I have both got letters from the British Council confirming the award, and the College has promised to let me know when the money comes through. As I may have told you before, George seems extremely happy with my work now – Leslie claims he must be weak in the head, or trying to justify keeping my exhibition – and even the Philosophy tutor has taken to saying ‘good’ after my essays, though it’s probably just politeness.
Do let me know about the American application forms – I heard from Shanthi today and she sounds astonished that I could contemplate the place. Admittedly, tearing myself away from here is going to be difficult though necessary. Last week, I met Ayer socially for the 1st time at the PPE Society dinner – a fantastically bouncy man who swept through Trollope and Dickens to Bertrand Russel’s sex life and ended up playing charades and barking about all over the floor in an attempt to portray Oedipus. The evening ended with Uncle giving this year’s JCR Presidency favourites good advice, inasmuch as anyone could be coherent or understood! The next day was Standing Committee dinner and a televised debate with the Irish Prime Minister, who’s incredibly boring, and probably stupid – I regret to say, though I am not going to the Union more than twice a week, 1 debate and Committee, I shall be standing for election again this term – also having another party, though with 3 other people, ostensibly to celebrate engagements – not at all really – and much cheaper. We intend to have 2 cabarets, gratis from Univ. – I shall send the invitation along, like the other, not to be taken seriously.
On Friday I went down to London to see Sibley and Dowell in ‘Manon’, which was lovely, and stayed the night with 2 friends who’ve gone down and started living in Suburbiana whilst earning their livings – they drove me up next day, as they had to get their degrees. The ceremony itself was great fun, the first I’d seen and we had champagne afterwards. I still don’t like the stuff. Yesterday, I drove down to Islip to have lunch in a super country pub with a friend, and we then drove off through country lanes in search of a super Georgian church, duly found and steeple climbed. Luckily, last week I hadn’t a history essay – this week will not be so self–indulgent! Cicero and Cilicia, regrettably, await me.
1st December 1974
Another long delay, no doubt requiring apology, due primarily to the ecstatic effect of actually having written twice in two weeks. Hope both arrived, sorry for the delay and lack of information – it’s English Literature – and thanks for the other application forms which I shall send off in due course, terrifying though they be in terms of bureaucratic donkeywork, uncullable in terms of the system here – course marks.
Life has been extremely tiring, including a 40 hour stretch of wakefulness due to late results of Union elections – 2nd again for office which is getting so boring, particularly losing to women, but mitigated by the fact that 3 out of 6 on Standing Committee are from Univ. and my mad Australian friend – remember the party? – was elected President, the 2nd person direct after just one term on Standing Committee. This, despite an enormous poll which made him neurotic all evening due to it increasing the chances of the woman Librarian, so that we had to go to a dirty French Film which was extraordinarily funny but kept everyone sane. Next term should be one of the best ever in Union history – and George didn’t disapprove when he knew I was running, and still seems to like my work.
Our party was a great success, despite depression caused by having to deal very firmly with a crasher whom I rather like but who was detested by my co-hosts, and who turned up in a blonde wig in his anxiety to get in. The Dean in the cabaret was fantastic, and as everyone tried to obey the ‘Pre-war dress preferred’ injunction, the whole place looked lovely. I have decided tails suit me, borrowed though they must be! Since the party was preceded by the Delusionists – theme of ‘John’ with everything from ‘Prester John’ by my mad ex-Greek Don to a pi-John – and followed by the Vile Bodies dinner, with everyone including women in tails, I had to postpone a tut., unprecedentedly. Though work – for it was impeded by having to trundle a piano up and down the High, and also by going to London to see ‘Boris Godunov’ with a man who’d sung in front of Czar Boris III, looked 700 years old and was celebrating his 25th anniversary at Covent Garden, which meant a gala night and endless applause – seemed to me inadequate, my philosophy Tutor said ‘good’ – astonishing how one can fool people. I am afraid that particular week I didn’t quite live up to my resolve of working at least one night a week – next term it’s going to be 3, which seems impossible, but must be done.