The end of my first year was a whirl of activity, including a visit from my mother who was a bit startled at the intensity of the celebrations. There followed a whirlwind tour of Wales and Scotland, and then what I still see as one of the best weeks in my life, a reading party down in Cornwall, at Lamledra, the house built at the turn of the century by John Fisher Williams the eminent jurist. His daughters owned it jointly, but it was run to all intents and purposes by Jenifer, who was married to Herbert Hart, Professor of Jurisprudence.
The Dean and the Chaplain used to take reading parties down there in the April vacation before finals, but in 1972 they decided to take a group of freshmen down. In the end there were only four of us, and we had a marvelous time, reading much, talking more, eating and drinking far too well (the Chaplain was a fantastic cook, not least because he put lots of wine and cream into everything).
Electra, I should note, was the play I had written as a schoolboy, which Ernest Macintyre, then the doyen of English theatre in Sri Lanka, admired and produced, first as a radio play which was supposed to be broadcast in April 1971. It was cancelled because the SLBC got nervous after the JVP insurrection, and thought this ancient Greek tragedy was really a call to arms, to kill Mrs Bandaranaike on the grounds that she had killed her husband – as had been the case with Clytemnestra, whose daughter avenged the murder of Agamemnon her father.
Pam Gooneratne, the wife of our High Commissioner Tilak, was a great friend along with the rest of the family.
13th June 1972
Electra’s just returned from Ben Levy – look him up in Who’s Who – the judge of the ETC new plays competition – he’s missed the point completely, though he was slightly better to this than to some of the others. To quote, ‘I am not quarrelling with his colloquialism but his approach is often more suitable to a comedy of manners than to a tale of doom and bloodshed. If he had gone the whole hog and sent it up unambiguously from beginning to end, I would be with him’ – the penalties of being subtle. The high point, though, was ‘But it may be a bit reckless, to choose old masterpieces and, inevitably, challenge comparison.’ I should have thought it was obvious the relevant verb was ‘invite’. Anyway, looks as if Mr Levy’s not my road to fame and fortune.
It was super seeing Mum last week even if it was only for two days, one of which consisted wholly of rain. The programme consisted of a very queer play, in the fullest sense of the word, and a wine party in which everyone got tipsy, though Mum claims she was only sleepy, and a gallop round the Meadows and 2 colleges on the Sunday morning – she, very nobly, going to chapel.
Lots of fascinating news this week, namely being elected (unopposed with 7 others) to Treasurer’s Committee at the Oxford Union, and also the Executive Committee of the Labour Club, after a strenuous election which included being put on a ticket, opposing my college rep. who subsequently put me on his, mysterious caucuses including one to which I dragged poor Aruna Goneratne who was up for the day – anyway, she had the punting to make up – and wandering through the warrens of St Edmund’s Hall the night before. Also, I voted for myself – but everyone does that.
I hope your University isn’t too bad at the moment, despite the ragging, I am glad we didn’t have any of that here – I suppose it’s due to a need to assert oneself. I can’t quite understand why you go in the first place, unless you’re not quite certain of leaving for America – I don’t think at this stage you should hesitate in making up your mind – if you’ll pardon my little bits of advice.
Sorry for the writing – I’m afraid I cut my finger yesterday, and eating salted chips doesn’t help. As you can see, I’m at Aberdeen probably for the simple reason that I planned to spend a week in Wales before the reading- party in Cornwall. Having arrived at Colwyn Bay on the Saturday evening, I got a lift yesterday through the castles – Caernavon etc (Charles’ Investiture) – and a Roman camp and the mountains – and since the car was moving on to Scotland, I couldn’t resist coming along, though it’ll probably be somewhat expensive as I don’t have the energy to hitch-hike back.
Aberdeen itself is quite beautiful, with grey stone and wide streets. – I thought of Canada, whether relevantly or not I have no idea – but a rather dirty harbour too, stinking of fish. It started raining, though, and my attempt to read Homer in the public library was hindered by my continuously falling asleep, due to sleeping only in the car on the way up – which also, I fear, ruined a proper appreciation of the view though, having not passed the highlands, what I did see was not extraordinary. The Welsh mountains certainly were
Last week was devoted mainly to consuming all the magnificent food, and feeling sorry that term was finishing – though most people do have exams this week. Despite the strenuous efforts of the extreme left and right and yours truly the Union decided to go ahead with a building in the garden, commercial exploitation of the site apparently being essential for its solvency. However, the Senior Treasurer – a Univ don – did resign, due to left-wing pressures!
Collections weren’t too bad, though they’ve started to call me eccentric now, while our eccentric scholar’s moved on to bizarre. One character said my ingenuity and cleverness weren’t usually combined with factual accuracy, while another remarked that my theories were not usually acceptable – Martin, of course, commiserated with my unseens and too short essays, while the Philosophy guy said they were elegant! Lord Maud, having nothing else to say, announced that he enjoyed meeting my mother! Meanwhile I’ve heard the exciting news that Martin once hid behind the sofa during a boring tutorial, eccentricities being essential in addition to scholarship for professorships. He also goes about shooting people in the High, while on his bicycle.
St. John’s Wood)
July 7th 1972
Aunty Pam wants you to contact Janaki for the purpose of transporting to England through MPs various objects for a sale to be held in early September. She’s prepared to collect from anywhere if contacted. The strange process is due to a desire to avoid the H.C.’s cognizance, as he disapproves. Also, any small local objects or foodstuffs that are saleable as being typically Ceylonese, which friends or relations would be willing to send on my behalf would be welcome – such as tins of mangoes. For herself, she would like pani, brought by yourself when you come. I, myself, shall probably be leaving for Yugoslavia sometime this month, and my address should be, Kovac, Jenkova 32, 63 0001 Celje, Yugoslavia.
A fascinating week since my last epistle from Aberdeen, involving a ride through the Cairngorms to Aviemore, with the German student of the last episode, and a Scottish female who fed us wholesomely, before which we walked through the rain in the hills, after which we nearly were shut out of the Youth Hostel, due to lingering at a Pub. Next day I bussed back to Edinburgh and, having inspected the place, tried hitching back next day but gave up after 15 minutes, and read the ‘Iliad’ in the Library and took the night bus back to London and went straight to Oxford to play croquet with the Physicists who were recovering from Exams, and walk up Port Meadow pretending we were from Radio Oxford, interviewing people and tracking fish with radar, which was idiotic but amusing, though we got back too late to play croquet by candlelight.
Next morning I took the train to Cornwall, meeting one historian and one lawyer on the way, with a philosopher and the Chaplain and Dean already at Gorran Haven, whereupon we settled down to a week of sheer lunacy which has almost convinced me that I’d like to stay at Oxford for ever. The sole reading I accomplished were two books of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘What Maisie Knew’, the rest of the time being spent in playing Cheat and ridiculous games invented by Leslie with names like Botticelli, and taking pictures of him asleep in the sun while supposed to be working, and having a séance and being frightened of going to bed, and walking on the cliffs in the rain, once after three double sherries at the pub. We built sandcastles and played French cricket on the beach, with Burgess jumping six feet in the air and cheating outrageously, and once we went off to St. Ives to visit an acquaintance of Proust who sells camelias with Leslie imitating a ga-ga French duchess in a bathchair throughout the journey. Only we didn’t find her and had to buy a camelia instead. There were many other such absurd things which sound very boring but were magnificent at the time. A Univ man expelled from Russia the previous week also turned up, in a state of nervous exhaustion, so we played Consequences, with George Cawkwell and the College Librarian in a rose and barrel respectively, and other strange things. The food was magnificent since Burgess puts gallons of alcohol into everything he makes – the puddings were as good as Lakshmi’s – and we were excessively tipsy every night. Leslie cut his finger and fussed outrageously so we did the washing up, putrid puns abounded, and we finished the Times crossword nearly every day at lunch.
Leaving was miserable. I got a lift to Eastleigh, took the train to Oxford to change my baggage round, and got the last train to London and arrived here so late that I camped on the doorstep and watched the dawn and staggered in and slept all morning. A friend of mine from Ireland turned up at midnight on his way to France – he did have somewhere else to stay, though. Afterwards, just as we were going to bed, Uncle Tilak saw a thief climbing in through a window so we called the police and searched the house and felt quite nervous, but have survived the night safely.
Ceylon Today 10 June 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=22928