The summer as noted was idyllic, though in fact lots of work was done. There was much business to do for home, including helping my sister who had got a Scholarship to Somerville for her Master’s degree. It was also nice to help Hope Todd, who was an old friend of the family, and had stayed at home for a few years when he started work in Colombo, before he married. His wife was my mother’s chief lieutenant in the Girl Guides, so that they have continued close over the years and in fact are amongst the few who still join me at home for Christmas lunch when we had to scale down a couple of years after my father died.
Since my letters do not cover this, I should note that, after a wonderful fortnight at Mallard Lodge on my own, I visited Tilak Gooneratne in Brussels before the rest of my trip. Pam had stayed on in London, but Tilak too was hospitable, and I am glad I continued to see him when he came back to settle down in London after the next government got rid of our best diplomats.
20 High Street
12th June 1976
Happy anniversary – and congratulations on having at least one exceptional child in the family. At least, I suppose Anila wouldn’t have sent a telegram unless she thought it a good thing to be branded a 1st Class train. Anyway, it makes me feel very proud, so give her my congrats.
I did succeed in handing my ‘George Eliot on Religion’ essay in on time, despite having had to come to town every day after getting back from London. I managed to spend Thursday to Saturday with Hope (stayed the nights at Jean’s), and accompanied him on a bit of business, as well as taking him to the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Opera. There wouldn’t really have been much point, even if I could have, in staying all week since he was quite busy during the day, but I’m sorry I wasn’t around to take him to the theatre a bit more. Yasmin did a great job, including the production of a super dinner on his birthday.
I had to persuade David Burgess to lend his car for me to be driven back on Sunday to Standlake, and then I had to come in on Monday, since Paul had finals and wanted the car taken back as the tyres were too bad for the car to be parked for the police to see it in town. I drove in, without any obvious mishaps, but was quite relieved to find two friends to come out for the night & drive. Unfortunately, the starter motor collapsed, and the exhaust fell off, and the brakes, which were ropey, gave way completely. But the car has survived several trips since then and is nearly back to normal (apart from the exhaust which was fitted on with a clothes hanger today). I feel very powerful as I’ve actually pushed the car into starting by myself on several occasions – and not been too tired to type my paper after.
On Wednesday I had lunch at my tutor’s – even though he’d thought I was an Indian when he spoke on imperialism the previous day. His wife writes children’s books and grows vegetables in an allotment, which she served up with lots of wine. It should be quite nice having him for my thesis as well, which is going to be ‘A Trollope on Marriage’. A clever title, don’t you think?
Corpus will give me rooms next year. I don’t know anyone there yet to investigate other Graduate possibilities, and I will check about the Somerville fees after the British Council has been applied to. I assume next month will be enough for the visa.
20th June 1976
Thought you’d prefer a late letter to a punctual card – happy birthday. Besides, not having heard from anyone from home for ten days, I suppose I ought to be more communicative – especially as I shan’t be from the 17th of July when I go to France for two weeks (Provence and Cyril Connolly country, as in ‘Enemies of Promise’) followed by the Chalet, ending up with Inter-rail and the Byron Conference. I shall be back by mid-September to do the first draft of my thesis, the title of which has at last got official approval – ‘A. Trollope on Love and Marriage’ (note the pun) and be ready to welcome you in October which I gathered from Palitha was when you were due.
Both my tutor and supervisor were exceedingly complimentary about my work last week which was very pleasant and I think not merely politeness. In addition, the melancholia of the last week of term was relieved by Vivien (you remember the Union saga last year) being elected, albeit to the Librarianship, which gives her a good chance of the presidency (again) next term. Her rival will probably be Benazir who has at last got an office – and Daddy’s given her permission to stay on to try to be President. That won’t do at all, since that would shut the door for other Asian females…besides, it’s Vivien’s by right. Still, I’ll regret having to oppose her once again.
Term finished on Saturday and Paul’s exams end on Wednesday, which will be a relief as there has been a marked increase of neurosis in the house. It must have been like getting Anila through finals, as a characteristic has been a desire to talk about work prefixed by ‘Shall I tell you how or why or what….’, usually involving rats or cerebellums as its psychology/physiology. I am as ignorant as before, even though some of it is quite interesting. My own work during the next 4 weeks, George Eliot being done, will be on Biography and Political Writing – Macaulay et al.
I’ve given Angus Wilson your address, if he does contact you please be very good about introductions and so on. Re Somerville, let me know what the latest position is so I can contact Mrs Craig if necessary. Unfortunately the Treasurer of Somerville, whose management has been appalling, has been retained as Senior Treasurer of the Union despite efforts to find a replacement – I restrained myself from going to oppose the appointment for a variety of reasons. I hope the British Council comes through!
7th July 1976
Though my responses are irregular, I do appreciate regular news other than from family.. The present hiatus, I must admit, is longer than most, but is due primarily to an attack of conscience a week ago when I decided I really had to cover 400 hours over the Vac. This meant canceling at least one section of my holiday, and for some time I was afraid Interail (& Missolonghi) would have to go, but luckily the July bit has now been abandoned and I shall only leave here in the 1st week of August and get back in early September, thus giving me plenty of time to draft my thesis before Anila arrives – early, as I hope and expect she will do, so as to get the feel of the place before term. I have dealt with the forms, could you tell her, with Mrs Craig?
Re Missolonghi – I had a very nice note including information about the Tour, so I wrote and said I didn’t quite have time or money for everything, but would dearly love to attend the Seminar if it were possible. The reply said fine, and could I confirm, which I did, but have had no acknowledgement. It occurred to me that it might seem improper to attend the Seminar without having done the Tour, which might explain Mrs Dangerfield’s doubts. If I don’t hear before I leave England, or if you don’t hear I’m expected, it might be best to skip it so as not to cause any embarrassment. I believe it’s’ more an Event than Academic – reading the Calendar in the Journal, one feels very proud of the seriousness of the Sri Lanka Byron society. I was very sorry to hear of Uncle Arthur’s death and was glad I’d had the chance to speak to him last year. The society will, I’m sure, be an enduring tribute.
I am in the midst of Macaulay’s ‘History’ at the moment – monstrous that I’d never read it before – interspersed with the lesser Trollope novels which, digested over the Vac., should contribute to the thesis. Plunging into them was a reaction from the mild – in past comparison but excessive-for-me–now – socializing that marked the end of 9th week. We had our own party, but very small as we provided dinner, out here, to which Ramani Hitchcock and Suhanya Devarajan came as well from Sussex. All the food was finished, though this may have been just as much because there wasn’t enough as because it was good. There was a reprehensible moment when the hosts gave themselves vast helpings of strawberries on the grounds that there weren’t enough for seconds – only to hear a plaintive voice claim it hadn’t had any yet.
The realization last week that I was treating the Vac like an undergraduate one prevented me from going down to the Oxbridge match at Lords – which, you were doubtless pleased to hear, we won by 10 wickets (I wonder why bother?). I also missed seeing L.W. with whom I am at last in contact – is the Byron Soc. still? Do write with lots of news.
16th July 1976
Haven’t heard from you for ages, but several things seem to need clarification. Could you let me know whether I’m meant to get you a ticket? Mum’s last letter was an even greater triumph of ellipsis than usual – she will probably exclaim when she sees this that she told me clearly, but she did nothing of the sort. Still one can’t complain, at least she writes. She also wanted to know about your room. Obviously I couldn’t see the particular one, but the type is just like the new undergraduate rooms, and are tiny – about 1/3rd the size of your present room. She’s probably thinking of my rooms – regrettably, women in Oxford get a much worse deal. I wouldn’t bother about bringing decorations for your room as transport and storage are not easy here. As for clothes, don’t bring more than 2 or 3 sarees. Trousers and longish skirts are the best – and warmest – value, plenty of sweaters and, if you can get them done there, coats. I had a very nice note from Mrs Craig, acknowledging the forms etc; she’s not writing to you separately and seems now only to need your actual date of arrival when you can finalize it. Incidentally, why did Mum mention a return ticket at some stage?
I had a letter from Yasmin Raheem today asking whether I could let her have the money she’d loaned Hope as she had a slight emergency. I suppose Lady Cannon hadn’t appeared yet as Hope had arranged so I sent her a cheque. It’s a good thing I hadn’t left yet, having decided to stay on here till the end of the month due to excess of work. Paul goes down tomorrow, having got his 2nd which led to a certain amount of celebration over the last week, especially as his brother was here as well and has got a 1st in Maths. He’ll be doing an MSc as well next year, in Pure. I’ve taken most of my things into Corpus, and go away for the week-end, but return on Monday and will be here by myself for a fortnight, living out of a suitcase and surrounded by about a dozen books. As the only bus leaves at 8, and my alarm doesn’t work, I shall really be very cut off indeed. However, apart from having to collect Sanjiva’s photographs, there’s no need to go into town.
Could you tell Thatha I urgently require some photographs taken recently – about a dozen of those taken last summer would be invaluable. Unfortunately, I am not eligible for a British Visitor’s passport as I’d hoped, so I need them for visas. Corpus have already had my 1969 specials.
I shall now creep across the High St. in my dressing gown to post this, as there’s no collection for 2 days after 8 this morning. Hope you’re grateful.