I was lucky enough to have the chance to do postgraduate work at Oxford, with funding from the university – a personal grant in my first year. I was determined to live up to this, and I think did so, as my results proved. The letters in my first term however suggest that the sybaritic socializing of my undergraduate days continued, and this is not entirely inaccurate. But as also indicated I did work hard and my tutors were generally impressed.
Sharing a flat with Pat (sitting fifth from the left in the Vile Bodies picture), who later went on to a senior position in the Civil Service (which proved most useful when I was dealing with the Overseas Development Administration while in the British Council), also I think helped, because we had different interests, which meant that I could concentrate on work when I wanted to. And the flat was perfectly situated in that, while it was easy enough to walk into town, it was far enough away for me not to make that effort unless essential – which meant I got through the vast amounts of reading the course demanded. And I hugely enjoyed this, the Victorian literature, including the non-fiction, that I still see as the greatest flowering of prose in any language in any era.
En route to England I stayed over in Russia, with the ambassador but cared for by my father’s old peon in the Attorney General’s Department. He was extremely hospitable to many students and of course did wonders for me even though his wife was in hospital, her baby having been two months premature (and being wonderfully looked after by the Soviet medical system). He had booked me a train to Georgia, for I was determined to travel through the Urals, though I had to fly back given time constraints.
The saddest event of this term, and perhaps my whole time in England, was the death of Manoji, the daughter of my cousin Clara who had been so kind to me when I first got to England. Manoji, just a year younger than me, was a lovely girl, and was just in her second year at Manchester studying medicine when she suffered an aneurism. Oddly, she had found a boyfriend who had been in charge of the bridge club at Oxford and gone on to Manchester as a postgraduate. Clara was I think heartened that I knew him and liked him, she and Manoji having come to see me at Oxford the previous year in part to talk about it. Continue reading