By the second term I was well into my stride with regard to work, helped by the fact that I was working this term on Byron, reading whom is one of life’s great pleasures. In these letters I refer more to friends, in part because my parents had by now met some of those I spent much time with, but also because my circle was now much smaller, since I was no longer in College with ready access to and for so many.
I did go away more often now in term, two or three times during this period to see Adrian who had been a great friend while an undergraduate, and to Leicester to see John Pike with whom I travelled recently in Cambodia and Laos and Indonesia, and to Winchester where my friend Richard was teaching (before also becoming a Civil Servant, with an A grade like Pat and others who stuck it out, though both of them left early).
I have a brief reference here to a social change at this period which was most interesting. For generations it had been thought an achievement to get into the Civil Service, and even the intake of what I term my Freshmen tried this. But in the end most of them ended up in the city, and financially have been much more successful than the more intellectually able of an earlier generation.
31 Rectory Road
15th December (1975)
I’m not in College to check my mail regularly. It’s an interesting experience staying on when there’s hardly any reason to go into town (10 minutes walk is a long way for the lazy) and I’m very well furnished here – I live on steak or black pudding or whatever and heaps of mushrooms which I doubt not I’ll soon be sick of. I went in yesterday to meet a few people and go to Evensong at the Cathedral (which was lovely – they sang Mozart’s ‘Lachrymosa illa dies’) but between Thursday evening and then I didn’t talk to anyone, except for two people who were in the neighbourhood and dropped in but whom I sent away as I was busy, having talked to them through the window. Very good for concentration, and I’ve got quite a bit to catch up after being away.
I had intended to go to Winchester for a few days last week, but didn’t due to confusion about lifts and ended up in Leicester for a day. The car broke down on the motorway on the way up, but my friend’s father owns a garage and (a bit like Thatha) two mechanics soon drove out and so did father who took us home. We spent the evening drinking a great deal of gin and arguing about capital punishment, the family vs the two visitors – I was thought bloodthirsty enough but the other’s a female Plymouth Brother who takes the Old Testament very literally, which upset the Pikes who are all liberals no end. They’re very nice though and I was sorry not to be able to accept an invitation to go to Turkey with them this Vac, but I had neither the time nor the money. We got back from Leicester on the Wednesday, and I slept for twenty hours, and failed to be organized in time to get to the opera on the Thursday – it was going to be ‘Salome’, in London.
I don’t know whether I mentioned last week that I served in the Cathedral last Sunday, and the Sacristan keeps introducing me as a Bishop’s nephew – mainly because he feels guilty about having me serve as I’m not a regular member of the congregation and the members of the Anglo-Catholic society are queueing up to serve. Ecclesiastics in the family do help!
23rd December 1975
Since no one else seems to be writing to me (a slow tear dripping down my cheek), you shall have the benefits of my verbosity again.
I am currently at Leslie’s for a night, having been working exceedingly hard since last I wrote – I have now read all the poetry Byron wrote, monstrous as it is to consider that work. Apart from evensong on Sunday, it’s been absolute solitude since last Wednesday, when the chap from Trinity at No. 51 – who gave the all-night dinner party at my flat, so that I was hardly awake when I had Jenny Ward for lunch – went down. This was after, having decided on Tuesday I needed a break, we’d got very merry and played Monopoly and then trotted off to see a Senior Scholar at St John’s who was the only other person around and read Tarot Cards (see ‘The Waste Land’) and only got to bed at six after a great deal of philosophic absurdity. A necessary change, and the work’s been exceedingly concentrated since – the sensation of being completely out of touch with everyone is new (though the people upstairs make a great deal of noise) and most enjoyable, so much so that I am only spending the one night here to get back to work tomorrow (this morning). I think I should have caught up what I missed (being completely one’s master makes one very conscientious) by the end of the Vac., even though I spend the last two weeks away, and have a few days here over the New Year – here being Leslie’s new (1823) cottage, which he bought as part of the attempt to grow up (and be middle aged – mortgages save tax).
When I checked last time, the train to Denmark was almost as much as the plane and, as you haven’t much time, I shall book you on a plane. Please give me the largest period you can spend there as soon as possible, since booking 3 months ahead makes things much cheaper. I’m trying to get a travel grant from the University – could you get details of the Byron thing from Seelia and ask her whether I should try to go – also as soon as possible as I should start arrangements now.
I had a very heartening letter from Clara today, she’d got yours. Give my love to Benazir if you see her, but don’t mention that she lost the Treasurership of the Union by 3 votes – it was to Sandra, so I can’t say I’m upset! – but her speech was good. Vivian – last term’s victor – lost the Presidency by 12. Alas!
27th January 1976
A letter as demanded – in the midst of ‘ The Duke’s Children’, Trollope’s last Palliser novel ([the main subject of my thesis if approved) which is about the Duke of Omnium’s attempts to cope with his children with regard to marriages – the heir wants to marry an American, the daughter a commoner – and money – Lord Gerald having just lost a great deal of money at cards while contracting debts at Oxford, albeit minor ones compared with the heir’s 70,000 pound loss on a horse. It’s very well handled – you should read it. The Duke’s intended to end up as the hero of my thesis, which is meant to be a moral diatribe on the collapse of standards towards the turn of the century – hence the Galsworthy comparisons. I shan’t inflict further details on you as I did last week on the Commonwealth Office, the Chambers Trustees and Unv’s SCR where I’ve also applied for a research post – as Leslie said, ‘You haven’t a hope, but there’s no harm applying – it’ll give us all a good laugh.’ George said I should certainly apply as it wasn’t entirely monstrous – little comfort, that, but I live in hope. Keep your fingers crossed about the others.
I hope there aren’t any serious doubts about where to send Anila – I even promise not to try to make her President of the Union. Talking of which, I have just done a reference for the present Treasurer – Sandra, who beat Benazir. Very exciting being cited as a referee – it was for a job in the Hong Kong Civil Service. Meanwhile, most of my friends except Pat, who has her interviews tomorrow, have failed the Civil Service Exams. Very amusing the thought of my flock – came up as freshman when I was JCR President – having to go out into the world and work soon. You’ll be amused to hear I gave one the very good advice that he should register for his Solicitors’ Exams as it would do no harm and will always be something to fall back on! So wide the gulf between precept and practice – not even to become a great man in oils and fats do I see myself as a barrister.
We had the first Byron class yesterday, which didn’t quite get off the ground as the paper was too general. The other class didn’t occur again yesterday, which was most upsetting as my 7000 word paper on 19th Century Education seems to be going waste.
12th February 1976
The cake arrived on Tuesday and, despite temptation, I duly waited till yesterday – and even till after 6.30 there. A letter from Chitra also arrived yesterday so I shall forgive her for the postponement. I trust everything went off well and that Thatha didn’t get too excited – Aachchi’s letter today referred to the raising of the wall which sounded wonderful. I hope my card arrived in time.
After getting 7 days’ work done in 4 last week, I had a very splendid weekend in Cambridge with Adrian – whom you met in the Chinese Restaurant, the musician who failed to get a 1st but is doing a PhD there – that included a champagne (or sparkling white wine, rather) tea party in my honour, Cambridge being very impressionable, as I’d heard but never actually experienced before, about the good life as led here. I think the fact that the Colleges are much larger reduces the sense of community and leaves people much more earnest, or self-consciously not. But perhaps I ought not to generalize.
Work hasn’t been so successful this week, due to bridge which lasted all night on Monday and, though I then decided to stay in all week without going into town, a series of visits prompted by the latest Union crisis. I suppose it’s quite flattering, people coming all the way to Rectory Road to see me, even though I’ve stuck to my resolution of not attending debates – I begin to feel like the Wise Old Owl, though I hope this doesn’t mean being a ‘rascally father’ to quote Aachchi on Sir Oliver). The problem in the Union is that Vivien, whom you may recall being disqualified and losing by 12 last term, has decided to run again and this has to be presented as not being a usurpation of Sandra’s right to run, her being Treasurer. Added to this is the fact that, though Sandra’s withdrawn voluntarily, she would probably have enjoyed running, had she not felt the urgency of V’s claim. The possible permutations lower down all this has led to has created confusion as to what various individuals should do – and I suppose I’m thought not to have an axe to grind, while knowing enough about the business to advise. The one consolation, though it may not seem so from this lengthy paragraph, and though I will do what I can, is that talking about elections is now beginning to bore me, particularly as Sandra’s not going to stand. I suppose I’d better keep my hand in, though, in case Anila wants to be President. Tell her I have forgiven her for her rudeness and I should have addressed this letter to her but she doesn’t know anyone.
The saga of Pat, meanwhile, reaches epic proportions, the latest being that her boy friend refuses to sleep with her on the grounds that he like her too much – this might have seemed mean were it not that the poor boy just hasn’t got the courage to break things off directly. Besides she’s swallowed it. Though occasionally it gets very tedious and I have to cut short her tales and flee into my room, the ramifications are too amusing to have missed – you’ll have to forgive me if only for that. It’ll probably make a better story than the British Council one – I don’t actually like anything that hasn’t been justified being read. Leslie thinks my novel is good.