There is much more about home in the letters from my postgraduate days, in part because I had renewed contact with the family when I went home after my first degree, and in part because more people were coming over, my mother now being on the World Committee of the Girl Guides, which meant she was over every year. What is missing is accounts of my travels, in April a whirlwind tour of some places in Europe (including Vienna which I had not been to before) before joining my mother in Copenhagen where we stayed with our Danish friends and went also to their country house in Sweden.
And that summer I moved to a little village for what I still see as an idyllic time, hard work and convivial evenings with Paul, whom I have seen very rarely since but whom I still count as one of my best Oxford friends on the strength of those two months together. His step-brother was in fact hardly there, and we both enjoyed cooking very simple meals and venturing beforehand to the nearby pubs, including one which had no bar, but just two old ladies who took orders and went into a backroom and came back with foaming mugs of beer. ‘The Speckled Cow’ at Nettleford, I think it was called, but I suppose now that I will never be able to check.
25th February 1976
I trust the excitement of the wedding has subsided by now. It sounded great fun. We had our own excitement here when David Burgess got married last Tuesday to a girl he’s known for years but whom no one thought he’d marry. She turned up on Valentine’s day and he claims what finally decided him was her saying, ‘Come on, be a sport!’ He had to phone Leslie’s cottage, where I was that night, to get a bed for her in College, and as he sounded rushed we decided that he was being an Iris Murdoch character again – but nothing would ever change. You can imagine our and everyone’s astonishment at the news. He came back on Wednesday, after a night at the Ritz, from where he telephoned his parents – the wedding had been very quiet with only 3 friends and grandchildren – and we had lots of champagne and tried to take it in.
Last Thursday was the 1st Union hack party for six months, given the fears after Vivien’s conviction in Trinity. The recovering of times past was quite wonderful – though inflation has hit students so much that I can’t foresee a non-bring-a-bottle party in the future. Not like the good old days, when one pondered whether to go. I had some people round for dinner and bridge after – my first entertainment this term, having just caught up with what I missed in 1st week – and did very well. Unfortunately, it was only a penny a point and I only made 67 pence.
On Friday, after going down to Covent Garden, I went down to Winchester – only getting there at five, due to the car collapsing on the way. It was very dotty being stranded in Guildford at a petrol station called the Demon which had no spanners, but dirty magazines and Noddy books. We very ostentatiously looked at the latter, at which itinerant taxi drivers were heard to mutter ‘infantile’ – though this may have had to do with our complete helplessness as regarded the car.
Things were even dottier on Sunday when, having finished dinner at midnight, we decided to go for a walk and were surrounded by fog on the top of a hill whence Wykehamists salute the dawn at the beginning of each term – it was all very Thomas Hardy, with weirs and mud, but fun.
I go away this weekend again for Manoji’s dhane, which is on the 28, though I shall try to get back on that night itself. Despite all these travels, my 40 hrs a week still gets done – not least because I have now mastered the technique of not talking to Pat, which makes me feel mean as she has nothing to do all day, but which is essential as she can go on for hours sometimes. I was getting slightly nervous that my old feeling that conversation was a waste of time was returning, but I’m assured by everyone else that it’s an effect Pat has on everyone. Before Mum declares that she knew she was right, remind her that she has to explain away David’s marriage.
31, Rectory Road
4th March 1976
Hope your exams are going well – and, whatever happens, enjoy the end. It’s a wonderful feeling, finishing finals – sheer relief so that it’s almost worth doing it all over again.
The wedding sounded enormous fun. Last week was Manoji’s dhane, and I went down – frightening, how one forgets. In the end, I suppose, one can only miss a very few, with built in insulation for the rest. I still half expected to see her there.
Tell Mum I’ve checked overland to Copenhagen – 52 pounds, which is very little less than the plane. It would be more sensible my travelling alone as I get a student reduction, so what I plan is to get her a ticket c. 8th & 16th, and travel overland myself. I assume there’s no point my staying on in London during her Conference if she’s living in. As for the 24th – 27th, perhaps we could go to Clara’s – unless she wants a day or so at Jean’s. I’m not sure whether I’ll have this flat then, as I’m very tempted to go into the country for the summer. Paul, whom Sharya met, refusing to be happy with any flat, has a house with a spare room which I refused for this term – but the sun’s come out now. Tell Mum spring’s arrived, and overcoats are scarcely necessary.
I’ve just finished clearing up after my first dinner party this term – Pat being in London. The food turned out quite good despite my putting Crème de Menthe into the wrong things in a moment of aberration. What with this – essential since I had my old Tutor who’s had me for dinner millions of times – and Vivien getting hysterical about her Union Presidential Speech (again), work’s suffered a setback this week – unfortunate, as I volunteered to produce 2 papers next week, having done none so far this term. One’s on ‘Don Juan’ – I shall send Seelia a copy if she wants – along with my brief comments on the plays, which were described as arrogant.
31, Rectory Road
16th March 1976
Thanks for your letter – I was getting quite nervous, particularly as Lene & Finn sent me a packet of notepaper, which I suppose was a hint. Nick, whom you may remember from ’72, has discovered a return flight that costs 55 pounds, and will get cracking on it now. Lene & Finn go to Sweden on the 13th and return on the 20th, which makes things convenient now you’re returning late. I shall leave on, I think, the 1st, spend a week in Holland, and join you in Copenhagen. Jean’s just written to say she’s got your letter and will meet you at the airport and put us up. If you get this in time, could you bring me 2 pairs of shoes – size 8 – black & brown casuals. My last are just about to collapse. Of books ‘Adam Bede’ and the ‘Oxford Companion to E. Literature’ would be most welcome, don’t bother about the rest or the pictures.
You’ll be delighted to hear I’m leaving the flat at the end of the week – mainly because I want to live in the country and a term would be ideal, in case I couldn’t stand it. I hope Jean will drive us up sometime so we could look at the house – it’s the one I was nearly tempted into at the end of last term, but it was 10 miles away and I couldn’t really let down Pat. She’s got an A into the Civil Service now which makes me feel much better, despite a sermon from David on the subject – Leslie was much softer and said I had no responsibilities at all to her.
The last 2 weeks have seen a decline in scholarship, though I wrote 3 papers (2 on Byron) due to Union elections, and George for dinner, and La Scala in London – I tried to get tickets for when you come, but the cheap ones are all gone – and Angus Wilson, whom I dined with when he appeared at the Union (you’d love him, you could gossip about him for hours) and people up for the weekend, since I’m trying to entertain everyone I should have here before I leave. In any case, I needed a break after the exceedingly hard work I’d been doing! Being so near to town, allowing myself to be distracted wasn’t difficult – Standlake, where I’m moving, should be better for work, especially as I’ll have the house to myself during the days.
I had a request from Corpus last week for essays which doesn’t seem too good – I thought I was meant to get the Schol. without consideration! Nothing so far about the Commonwealth Schol. I sent Ano’s fee on the day the letter arrived, so it should be there by now – it would be most appalling if she didn’t get a 1st. Besides, I’ve told everyone she’s coming here. The weather has turned foul over the last week, but presumably it can’t last much longer and Jean will probably have a spare coat anyway.
22nd April 1976
Got back this evening after dropping Mum by hitch-hiking, ludicrously enough getting a lift from a friend coming up, after Jean had dropped me on the London–Oxford motorway. Found some of my luggage shifted but was too late for a lift myself, so shall only move in tomorrow. To my chagrin, I discovered in the mail that had been collected for me over the Vac. an invitation to a party 3 weeks ago from Angus Wilson, the novelist I met last tern – I shall write a groveling letter about how miserable I was to miss it, and hope for the best. In addition there was a note from Sukanya Devarajan and Ramani Hitchcock, announcing their arrival in Oxford a week ago! I suppose one has to miss a few things to look after one’s mother.
I hope she arrived safely with all her luggage – she spent so many happy hours packing and repairing it that Jean and I thought it a shame it should ever be unpacked. Your godmother and I are looking forward to your arrival, to drive us round! My trip this Vac. restored my faith in my touristic capacities – I shall enjoy showing you Europe, and I hope you won’t refuse, like Mum, to see museums. Incidentally, though I might conceivably forgive Cornell, you can’t possibly go to a place called Carnegie Melon – it sounds like a very superior flavour ice-cream – however much love is attached to it. What news therefrom at the moment?
Could you send me Shanthi’s mother’s address again – dear mother tore up the letter before it could be acted on – and let her know why I haven’t contacted her yet when you write? I have loads of work to catch up on, but will write soon to let you all know my new address so that I can have lots of letters. No excuses now you’re only lecturing and not working any more. Let me know as soon as your results appear – Gaji agrees it would be lunacy not to come here.
20 High Street
I should have written ages ago to thank you for the letters and things, but I hope the reasons for my lengthy silences have been explained. I had 2 cards from Punch for my birthday, with the same stamp and the same message, except that one said the other had been underpaid – from which I gather he’s well. Christine and Andrew were very sorry to miss him.
I got the telegram too late to meet Hope on Tuesday, but got a message through to Yasmin who did the necessary, and saw him myself on the Wednesday. He’s due here (Oxford, where I’ve stayed overnight for him) today and I hope to persuade him to stay on another day, even though Palitha, who brings him, may have to drive back, so that he can see Mallard Lodge – as we’ve called our house. Please tell everyone to write to it, as we’re trying to make it an institution. I phoned Hope on Friday, and he seemed to be coping very well with his business in London – I wasn’t able to stay on to take him round but he didn’t seem to have missed it.
I’ve just had a letter from Angus Wilson, the novelist, reminding me that I’d promised him introductions when he came to Ceylon, which he’s doing on September 18th for seven weeks. Would it be all right to give him Punch’s? Could you ask him when he returns? – he may not approve of his private life. Could you also tell Thatha I’ve given him his name, and he might hear from him – also Bernard’s, WJ’s and Aunty Cynthy’s, and I’d be very glad if they were all very kind to him. He’s one of the best living writers in English.
Hope came on Sunday and we had a very good day, including a drive out to our cottage. I hope to go down on Thursday to spend a few days in London, if I can get a fair amount done before – I’ve got a paper to do for next week on ‘George Eliot on Religion’, and I don’t know where to begin at the moment. It’s got to be good though, since my tutor’s invited me to lunch which is an unprecedented honour I gather, and has to be earned! Love to all!