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From the City of Aquatint 15

This notes the two very minor plays in which I had very minor parts this term, both garden productions which were most enjoyable. And it mentions punting which was such a pleasure over the years. The pictures are of Eights Week and of punting, but from later days.

26th May

Life’s been quite fascinating this past week, due particularly to going punting, on two super days in between the continuing winter – which I think I feel more than last term, due to so many rehearsals and plays in gardens. The ‘Frogs’ last week was a tremendous success – so was the cast party in that it started at 6 and I felt I had to stagger back to bed by 9 – having fallen asleep at Evensong during Punch’s old Tutor’s sermon, which I dutifully attended despite the rigours of punting all afternoon. Luckily I’m so bad I’m never allotted more than a token 10 minutes.

Due to having to go all the way to the Cherwell Boathouse, and punts being allowed for 3 hours only, we took our lunch with us – including a bottle of wine though only due to the fact, I was told, that I dislike Double Diamond beer. But we forgot a corkscrew which made the whole business rather chaotic. It took 15 minutes to moor the punt, and someone fell in, and my records and player got soaked. Anyway, it was great fun though, due to everyone having exams except me and rehearsals and things, we have to wait till Sunday for a repeat, which means another lengthy walk. It also means missing the Ceylon Society Punt Party, which gives me twinges of guilt for not being patriotic, but the Secretary, Ravi Tennekoon, whom I met last week and had over for dinner, said everyone else would be old as the hills and deadly dull and I’d probably be expected to be energetic and punt, which provides a possible excuse. However, I must get down to going for one of their activities sometimes.

Incidentally, this is Eights Week, supposedly the greatest time of the year though the wind’s so strong that going down to the river is a duty – which I did accomplish once, to watch our 2nd crew bump someone – they’re climbing and so are the minor ones, though the 1st remains static, 9th on the river, and the Football VIII keeps dropping. If this sounds chaotic and you want to know what I’m talking about – it’s not worth knowing.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to strawberries and cream teafy, due to continuous rehearsals – due to very few people being idiotic enough to want to be expendable Incas, even after being killed 8 times, the few there are have to keep coming back for more!

Our rooms for next year have been given out and I’ve got my 2nd choice which is all right since I quite like Jeremy who got my first and will be next door. They’re in the Radcliffe Quad, which is the old one next to the Main Quad, overlooking the High and Logic Lane. I just had a Tutor come in with 2 boys hoping to come in in 1973 and looking at rooms – tends to upset concentration but I’d better get this finished. For the rest – the girls from Somerville so enjoyed our first bridge session that they came back for more, but we played  mixed and  I had to partner a rather clueless one which was a bit upsetting – anyway, I’m due to play with the intelligent one at the University pairs tonight. Last night, I saw ‘The Oz Trial’ with our Eton Classicist playing the judge to perfection – Oz being a magazine tried for obscenity – there was a discussion afterwards with Germaine Greer being very vocal!




From the City of Aquatint 14

This deals with my first summer, a glorious time I am still sentimental about. It was when I got to know well the Dean, Leslie Mitchell, who continues one of my best friends. And it notes my first foray into politics.

2nd May

The high spot of a quite fascinating week was dinner on Saturday with the Dean, there being 8 of us of various descriptions – it’s part of his duty, I believe, but he does like performing and he does so extremely well, sprawled on the hearthrug with all of us sitting round filled with sherry and mulled claret and madeira – and some quite good food too sent up to his rooms from the kitchens. He held forth for ages and ultimately had to throw us all out since we couldn’t bear to leave. There was a super English scholar too with an array of atrocious puns which were hilarious at that time of night – even though all his imitations did sound alike.

Leslie and he ended up doing Barbara Cartland and/or Ralph Richardson – fully worth missing ‘West Side Story’ for. Luckily I’d arranged for someone to wake me up next morning for church, which made me quite woolly through the whole of the next day – in the course of which I wrote, or rather translated into doggerel, 50 lines of Ovid, due to having attended a class on translation by an eccentric Jesuit due to an excessive flood of enthusiasm. I’ve subsequently discovered that quite a lot of those who came to the first class have backed out!

I don’t think I’d recovered from Leslie’s liquor by evening, so, since I decided to wake up for May morning, I borrowed an alarm clock and slept early instead of staying up all night. That was what most did, including the mathematicians downstairs, who’ve all decided to get depressed and go and see the doctor, and have been falling asleep in lectures and libraries since. Besides which May morning turned out to be highly over-rated and my bridge partner’s pancakes didn’t materialize due to too many people and too little flour – also, not having sugar, he put icing sugar in our tea – it was all very depressing.

Anyway, I’m told the Magdalen schoolboys might not sing next year so maybe it was worth it, even though they were inaudible – and the Morris Dancers unviewable due to the crowds. There were only 2 punts on the river and, according to my scout, ever since the war, students haven’t had the guts to spend all night on the river. I don’t really blame them, since the weather’s still unpredictable, despite some pretty hot days.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of canvassing, both in college and out, for the Labour candidates for the Council Elections. It’s a bit sad discovering how many people I know and like are so definitely anti-Labour, but very interesting to listen to views being put forward in quite intelligent sincerity. It was also fun meeting people in the town – and even explaining policies I don’t understand!

Lectures have been quite interesting so far, including a bead-worrying Greek on Philosophy – which I’ve been reading quite avidly without understanding a word. This week’s Philosophy Tutorial was better than last week, though I was confused about quite a lot still – not as badly as in the historical one on Catiline, where my knowledge of the texts was atrocious.



I had to admit to Martin that I was as clueless as he was about what I meant by ‘the analytic march of civilization’ in my essay – it sounded nice.


From the City of Aquatint 13

I obviously enjoyed the production of Oedipus much, and all that went with it, but that was sadly my last experience of a good play.

The Union results I mention had to be annulled because of gross cheating, the main culprit being the eccentric Leofranc Holford Strevens. So the only undergraduate to stand, Patric Dickinson, was declared elected. The former became a reputed academic writer, the latter a senior officer of the College of Arms.

Julian Priestley, the incumbent President, was thought involved, and had to resign, though I still recall the impressive way he ended his speech with the comment that he resigned not in shame but in sadness. So Pradeep Mitra, who had been Librarian, ‘got his Presidency after all’ as he put it. Mitra went on to be Chief Economist at the World Bank and Priestley Secretary General of the European Parliament.

5th March 1972

I’m out of air-letters, and I couldn’t get any yesterday as I overslept, due to drinking well but not wisely at the cast party for Oedipus the previous night – an interesting occasion, with the Experimental Theatre Club arty crowd all quite drunk, which manifested itself in various ways. I had been quite nervous at the prospect earlier, due to knowing hardly anyone except the cast but, per usual when I have paroxysms of shyness, aided perhaps by wine and cheese, it all went off very well. Luckily the gate into Helen’s Court was open when I got back  – with a lift – climbing over it with the sharp mediaeval spikes on top wouldn’t have been very easy in the condition I was in.

The production itself seems to have gone down very well and we even had a quite favourable review in the ‘Guardian’. The Oxford papers weren’t too good, but we played to full houses the last two days and all my friends who saw it thought it was magnificent. It was marvellous getting ready in the theatre, hearing the ‘calls’ over the intercom – unfortunately, due to the desire of Teiresias to meditate for ten minutes in her carriage, surrounded by her attendants, we never had any – and, of course, having champagne in the Green Room after the first performance – unfortunately it was Moet-Chandon which, with its associations of France last October, I disliked intensely.  To my horror, I had a cold and my weird noises didn’t quite succeed – also last night, in the general anxiety about the party the previous day, Teiresias’ carriage was on the wrong side and the Chorus nearly gave us our cue looking right away from where we entered – anyway, since everyone had nerves, I didn’t feel too bad myself.   I’m extremely glad I gathered up the courage to audition last term, after my inconclusive argument with Martin West.

Last Saturday I went at last to Charles’ Grampont House Lodgings run by Opus Dei with Spanish priests and Humphrey Bogart films and so on – it was quite fascinating, particularly meeting a Univ Classics student in his 7th year – remembers the origins of Martin and other strange characters whom one thinks firmly established – doing a DPhil subsequent upon a BPhil.

In the meantime, my bridge partner had unloaded two Germans in my room for the night – they were quite nice really and I didn’t mind, except that I wondered what Eric’s reaction would be – he was quite nice in the end himself and, so they said, didn’t even make a noise with the waste-paper baskets. Clara & Co. were due on Sunday and the Germans took the hint and vanished – where and how I have no idea, since Dave was in the throes of flu – and we had a super day, going out to a Chinese place for lunch – they wouldn’t hear of me paying, I was feeling pretty bad since Univ doesn’t provide a hot lunch on Sundays – after which we played Cluedo.

Union Elections were held this week and an Indian Postgraduate from India’s the new President – the Balliol machine triumphed, though the Exeter one had the distinction of offering an Undergraduate as opposed to 3 Postgraduates. The Presidential debate was super, with everyone saying very rude things about everyone else, unlike last time when Julian Priestly got in uncontested.

This year’s Mods began on Wednesday and our predecessors go about with looks of distraction on their faces, amidst comments that the papers were easy which means we’ll suffer next year – very helpful. Incidentally, tell Ano that, having 3 months more experience of University than she has, I can assure her work’s not meant to be taken seriously at all until Finals, unless one wants to gain or preserve the reputation of a gnome.





From the City of Aquatint 12

Mention here of what my reading had convinced me Oxford was about, intellectual conversations late into the night. There were some of those, but most fun was more mundane.

It was fascinating to look at the internet record of the Oedipus performance, and recall the names of some of the actors. I have already shown Mel Smith and Faynia Williams, the best known, along with the director Elijah Moshinsky. Sadly I could not find a picture of his wife, Ruth Dittman, who played Jocasta. But I think I have identified the wonderful Welsh chorus, Glyn Welden, looking as he looked then (though he had added Banks to his name); the stolidly ambitious Creon, Peter Wight; and the dignified messenger Hugh Sykes, whose long face came back to me when I saw it in older guise, who it seems had a distinguished career as a journalist.

26th February 1972

I’m at the 11th volume of Proust at the moment, unfortunately in English – I’ve been told the translation’s terrible, but the whole effect is marvelous except that at times I wish he’d contain himself. Albertine’s just died and there’s a hundred pages of melancholy reflections. Anyway he’s also helped me to meet Jeremy, someone whom I can look up to intellectually – the first of my own age for I don’t know how long – though it does involve things like wondering helplessly for hours whether heterologic is heterologic if you define it as not heterologic – sheer fascination.  I suppose the reason why I’ve found talking till all hours of the morning before this, if interesting, not quite as fascinating as it sounds in Virginia Woolf, was simply this horrible feeling of superiority which, while I know it’s quite unjustified, I can’t help having – considering that on any given essay topic, due to sheer ignorance, I can only think of half as much to say as the other scholars.

‘Oedipus’ has got into the costume stage now and – surprise,surprise – I’m still in it. It’s marvelous watching Oedipus being splattered with blood, Creon swathed in what looks like a bath towel, waiting to take over Oedipus’ velvet cloak, the trim and dainty Jewish Jocasta stamping excitedly on the Chorus’ costume to get it dirty, and the messenger in ancient costume with dark glasses carefully placing sweat, in the form of coffee, on the shepherd’s costume. Unfortunately Teiresias and her carriage together are somewhat heavy but so far I’ve managed to survive till the end of the scene. I’m not going to be balded though, luckily, unlike the other two parts of Teiresias.

Last night, due to a lack of players, due in turn to potential power cuts, University bridge was cancelled and we played rubber bridge with the county – the old ladies who are supposed to scratch your eyes out according to our Dean. They seemed quite nice though, and I won threepence. Of course, needless to say, we lost in the first round of the College Championship last Sunday – ‘Cuppers’ – and I can’t really blame the rest of the team because I’d fallen asleep and missed dinner and got up to suddenly realize I had to play competitively in a few moments and, by the time we started, I was in a thoroughly bad mood.. The nice thing though is that we all found it extremely funny, which is better than feeling miserable.

On Thursday, the Victoria League struck again – the collection of dotty old ladies with cats called ‘Thomasina’ who uphold the commonwealth – very nice people really, though they did issue invitations to a supper party so that I signed off dinner, and then produced coffee and biscuits. However, they sent a car for me – a Canadian Professor of English on Sabbatical, Merton and a pupil of the famous – just to make sure you know her, no one else does –  Dame Helen Gardener – during whose lecture on the ‘Waste Land’ I regret to say I fell asleep. Anyway after five minutes of everyone patting Thomasina, the conversation went with a swing and I’ve even issued two invitations to tea – with five pounds left of my quota for the term, I suppose I can afford to be extravagant – though I have been crunching glass this past week due to a constitutional inability to throw away a bottle of peanut butter that broke.

I saw a decent student production this week, Bond’s ‘Early Morning’, with the sadistic Victorians engaging in high jinks, by St. Cat’s and the Polytechnic. Despite prejudices as to these modern institutions, it was good. In a few moments I’ve got to be at Oriel for their Summer production of Aristophanes’ ‘Frogs’ – I’ve got the two-minute part of Charon. Unfortunately today’s read through means missing the Ceylon Students’ party this evening  at the Gooneratnes’.

From the City of Aquatint 11

A couple of interesting figures here, Richard Gombrich who had done much work on Sri Lanka and Fr Cornelius Ernst, sister of my grandmother’s friend Joan. Sadly he died quite young, a few years later. I could not find a picture of him though there is much about his books and his life on the internet. The pictures are of Herlan Gardener and Rohan de Saram and Richard Gombrich, the last two still living.

15th February

Aruna turned up later with Rohan de Saram, and spent the day here with periods at St. Hugh’s and, as she’d wanted to meet him, I had Dr Gombrich who was meditating in Ceylon a few years back for tea. It turned out it was Rohan who wanted him but we did keep going – he’d been to school with Martin West, whose ambition was to be Regius Professor of Greek – and then Gombrich enlarged on Harvard Hippy Habits, quite startling, in the calmest tones. Fascinating. .

A Ceylon Society was convened yesterday, though I couldn’t go due to a bridge date. Wijeyadasa was elected President and Avril Treasurer, though she doesn’t sound too keen. I did go and congratulate Wijeyedasa whom I approve of.

I met Fr. Ernst who’s a marvelous character. I don’t think he’s quite sure of the connections, but we got on rather well. I’ve also met a super chap at Univ whose grandfather wrote a book with Robert Graves. I nearly collapsed to hear it said, not quite naturally, but almost – did I mention Lloyd George’s grandson’s presence, though I’ve not seen him yet? I’ve been reading the Grace this week, with beer twice from the Dean, though it’s usually given just once a week when it’s well read, for the whole spell. I’ve also got an invitation to bridge in his rooms with I think 3 fellows – who don’t bite, I was assured. My prose this week for Hollis was a bit disastrous – ‘Very nice but there’s absolutely no style’ – and I’ve almost decided – again – to give up proses.

19th February 1972

For the last three days I’ve been lunching on bread and peanut-butter and maple-syrup, which tastes super, followed by cheese biscuits. The maple-syrup was a present from my bridge partner, in exchange for a pair of elephants. Unfortunately he chose the nicest pair of the ones I brought with me.

Our first and last match (in the bridge competition) is tomorrow, being the last possible day for playing, due to the lunatic activities of the other half of our four who set up a Computer Dating programme, just before the power cuts put the computer out of action. They have been inundated with applications for boys with cars from girls from the Sarah Churchill College of Education, 6 miles out and looked down upon by all Oxonians.

I was just beginning to bewail the lack of literary people in the College – I’d just discovered only one person who could explain to me the relation between Proust’s life and his book – with the exception of the Dean who now thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart – when my scout began to comment on my bedside literature! He’s decided to turn a blind eye to my oversleeping as I did twice, missing a lecture and church, despite falling asleep immediately after dinner on the latter night before. I haven’t fallen asleep in the Bod. this week, but I did at a lecture on the ‘Waste Land’ yesterday by Dame Helen Gardener who, I’m assured, is famous.

I went to Church at 9.00 pm on Ash Wednesday – though virtue was not predominant there since there was supposed to be a party afterwards – unfortunately there was only white wine and squash and the Dean standing in for the Chaplain and being wicked about Parker’s false teeth. He gave a sermon last Sunday, on whether ‘agape’ should be translated love or charity – it was exciting.


From the City of Aquatint 10

These extracts are from my second term when I began to feel really at home, and did much more. The Russian grandmaster noted at the end was Karpov, then very young though soon enough he was world champion. Sadly the chap who beat him committed suicide some years later.

Eric was my scout, a lovely man who looked after me with care and affection, producing as I have noted an extra blanket when I needed it. Many years later I went to see him in retirement, which he spent mainly in bed, surrounded by cats. Even in those days the old Oxford scout system was dying, and over the years that followed my rooms were done by women. All, with one exception, were extremely kind and helpful, but I am sorry that the old tradition of male college personal servants, immortalized in so many novels, has died.

The production of ‘Oedipus’ was of course the high point of the term, and even now I marvel at my luck in having taken part in the top university production of the term) in my second term.

The pictures are of George Cawkwell and Anatoly Karpov in days of yore, and then recently, and also one of Mr Wijeyedasa

19th January

Cawkwell, who’s supposed to be the paternalistic sort, summons all the Mods candidates and told me on Monday to inform him if it’s cold or the food is bad! He’s supposed to be quite a character.

On Sunday Mr Wijeyadasa invited me for lunch. I hadn’t seen him since the first time last term but he suddenly popped in on Saturday, so I went and had a jolly good lunch – also tasted arrack for the first time, I think, and found it nice! Mrs W. I discovered, is another descendant of the Weeratunges, niece of the character in Exeter.

That evening I had the fascinating experience of climbing in over the gates, due to an extended bridge game, nothing else, and a bit of confusion about closing time. They’ve got spikes on top of the gates, but it wasn’t difficult. Due to a bout of oversleeping Eric, the scout, informed me that I shouldn’t stay awake because I was too young for such things!

28th January

A new craze seems to have struck Oxford and everyone goes running at all times of day in the freezing cold, and night too – needless to say, I shall never succumb to the infection – in fact due to a constitutional inability to run, I’m reducing the number of lectures to manageable proportions – 6 from next week, including 3 with 1 rather interesting character – doing Juvenal, if you know what that means.

I spend at least 3 hours a day in the library which is very creditable, I think, though I have developed a tendency to drop off repeatedly, though altogether I don’t sleep for more than 10 minutes. However, I have succeeded in getting up by 9 every morning, except, of course, on the morning after the bridge dinner which is an occasion when everyone including the Dean and the Admissions Tutor get drunk and play bridge

I have persuaded myself to buy an electric kettle and for the first time yesterday I believed someone who said my tea was good. It does make a difference, it better, being 4 pounds.

The other fascinating news of the week is that at last I plucked up the courage to make a speech at the Union – mainly to prove to myself that I am not a coward. It was on the Rhodesian settlement, and it lasted half the time it should have and was rather ridiculous but most floor speeches are so I don’t feel too stupid. I have joined a Debating Society which meets at Merton once a week and consumes port but it only charges 5 pence a meeting. It’s a bit silly really, but when I first went they gave me half the weekly award so I had to go this week, and this week they didn’t, so I have to go next week.

I saw a grandmaster – Russian, chess – on Monday, playing about 20 boards simultaneously with the University players – and he won everything except two draws and one loss – it goes without saying, to a Univ Freshman.

Oedipus rehearsals go on apace, and I’m learning to snort and go into trances, and it’s all rather exciting! I hope I survive. The only trouble is, this Sunday they might prevent me seeing Cliff Richard ‘who will sing and answer questions’ – see the advantages of going to church!



From the City of Aquatint 9

I move now to 1972, and new experiences. And some nice pictures, though not my own, of Cambridge and Stratford.

2nd January

Last Monday we went to Cambridge for the day – the colleges are beautiful but I prefer the Oxford atmosphere. Girton, though, looks really lovely. A few of the colleges were shut, though, since it was Boxing Day – what a name! Then on Thursday, through Enid’s daughter, I saw a dress rehearsal of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Covent Garden – with Parkinson and MacLeary – also Michael Soames – and piano – it was marvelous. Charmaine took me round the place afterwards and it was quite interesting. Yesterday was her brother’s wedding, a grand affair with food and drink flowing – most people there were rather tipsy and there was rather uninhibited dancing, including baila – pity I’ll never be able to join in things like that – I’d feel far too absurd.

I meant to leave this morning, for a week at Stratford, but the Coach Station didn’t reply when I wanted the time of departure and we assumed it doesn’t work on Sundays. I’m not getting much work done certainly but I shall be back in Oxford on the 8th and I should be able to do some work in Stratford – if I get there. I think I should because it’s awful to feel I’m wasting my time, however comfortable it is.

I saw snow for the first time on Thursday. It was super feeling it on my tongue. The result of course was a feverish feeling, and disprins and panadols. It’s a bit annoying not to be able to collapse into illness and fuss relentlessly, but that would be a bit much here.

Yesterday I met Frank Wickremesinghe and his wife and his utterly cute kids.

9th January

I left Clara’s on the third, having at last discovered the time of the coach and got to Stratford – where the Youth Hostel only opened at 5. It was horribly cold and my cold was worse.  Luckily the housekeeper for a 92 year old man gave me a cup of tea nearby, and afterwards I waited in the cycle shed and watched two Australian girls doing acrobatics to keep warm. No English were out touring, only Canadians and suchlike.

Next day I went to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and the Birthplace, and the tomb, but wasn’t at all impressed due to the cold having turned into a headache and the day being very cold which effectively vanquishes any sense of history. Not even ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ at the R.S.C. theatre could rouse me but I don’t think I’d have found it marvelous even without a headache. Anyway, I thought the best thing to do was come to Oxford, which I did on Wednesday, to find 2 classics students already here cramming for collections, which is, I suppose, more important than it sounds. Anyway I‘ve stuck in my room, finishing the 2nd reading of the ‘Iliad’, just starting today on 8 other books, nursing my cold and feeling most upset there’s no one to fuss to.



From the City of Aquatint 8

Pictures of places again, or rather a place and an old film, in this extract from my university time diaries, recording my holiday in St. Ives after working in Cornwall, an idyllic couple of days.

19th December 1971

As you can see, I’m at St. Ives at the moment, of seven wives fame. I finished yesterday at the ‘Rendezvous’ and am rather relieved though it was a very interesting week. I’

m sorry I’m not the type that works for money to pay for your fare here – for good money you’ve got to work somewhat permanently and I don’t think I could manage anything for more than a fortnight. Anyway I’m rather proud of my first paypacket, unopened still, with 8 pounds 75 in it for which I signed. They wanted me to stay on another week but I’d probably have been bored. The Spanish waiter and chef were in ridiculously high spirits because they are soon off on holiday. Everyone was rather ill though throughout the week with colds, the Manager was in hospital and one of the fat old Englishwomen who did quite a lot of my work for me lost her brother yesterday. Anyway, I paid off my landlady yesterday, 6 pounds for 8 nights and 3 meals and Ovaltine and cake before bed daily. I used to eat voraciously at the ‘Rendezvous’, toast and lunch with 5 sorts of veg. All in all, it was a nice week and I did read 16 books of the ‘Iliad’ too.

St Ives really is beautiful, with heaps of curving bays and reddish cliffs and even stretches of bright fresh green, 5 days before Christmas, mind. I walked along the shore today and over the rocks – there was a long tunnel in one but I think it ended just as it was growing too dark to proceed. I went up to a lovely church about 4 miles off, 12th century, next to a rolling golf course. Unfortunately an impossible river prevented further progress – there were all sorts of notices about the dangers of paddling and I convinced myself it was quicksand.

The town is lovely with little streets down which I wandered yesterday, looking for a place to stay. There were heaps of ‘Bed and Breakfast’ signs but very few operate in the winter. Anyway, I’ve ended up at the cheapest, 22/6 shillings a night – with another delightfully garrulous landlady with a son at the Westminster College of Education in Oxford. There’s another couple here, a 26 year old divorcee with 2 children, one 9, along with a Canadian biochemist. She wants to do Classics at the Education College at Keele or, what I thought magnificent, Theology. They’re a very nice couple though, and told me all about the area – when St Ives was a village, the cottagers were sent to council houses – and then the condemned cottages were sold at fabulous prices to summer tourists. I suppose it is a spoiling of the countryside and it must be horrible in summer, but you can still feel the beauty in winter.

At the moment, I’m watching ‘David Copperfield’ on television – the ancient version with W.C. Fields – ‘This is either insanity or intoxication’. I hope it rains again this evening so that I can see the wives crashing on the cliffs beyond the pier. St Ives hasn’t got many Christmas decorations but all the other towns I’ve seen do. Truro blazes throughout the evening with a magnificent Christmas tree though I never saw the singing round that – I did see it at Camborne though, yesterday, in drops of rain, while the town shopped around.



From a City of Aquatint 7

At last some pictures of places rather than people, Truro and Exeter Cathedrals

This extract is about my first travels in England, after a few days with a friend who suddenly asked me to stay. I was keen to get to Cornwall, which had figured in many books I loved, and I had a delightful time there, including a week of work, the only paid labour I have done in my life.

12th December

I’ve had quite a fascinating week so far. I left Kettering on Wednesday, resisting an invitation till Friday since Charles was already starting work. I think they enjoyed having me as much as I enjoyed staying. Kettering’s quite a nice town and the train journey back was through rather nice countryside. I spent the rest of Wednesday at the Gooneratne’s, losing at Scrabble to Aruni despite a 7 letter word. I was stuck with the ‘q’. In the night Tilak gave her a driving lesson and we careered madly over London for more than an hour – she’s quite good, though Tilak got quite upset at times, just like Thatha.

Next morning I took the train to Exeter, 5 pounds 20 return, which was rather annoying. After Reading, the scenery was absolutely marvelous, and so was Exeter Cathedral. I also met heaps of interesting people, including Danny Weeratunge’s nephew who’s in charge of tea at Exeter; Cunningham’s ex-Secretary in the Army in ‘46 in Ceylon – she sat next to me, in the bus to Okehampton, and I vaguely remember hearing of Cunningham; the couple from Norfolk who run the pub at Okehampton where I stayed; the guardian at Okehampton Castle; the lorry driver  who gave me a lift right into Cornwall near Newquay – he drives 5 days a week from Exeter to Taunton to Perranporth and back for the last 20 years – anyway, he’s offered me a lift back when I want one; the couple at whose house in Truro I am now – he only left England to fight in the 1st war and  didn’t even want to do that, as his wife says – she keeps feeding me though I didn’t ask for meals; the staff at the café where I work, dishwashing and peeling Brussels sprouts at 1 pound 25 for 6 hours a day, including a Spanish chef – it’s called the ‘Rendezvous des Gourmets’; and the farmer I met on a walk today who knew a Ceylonese surveying student 15 years ago – if only I knew Sextus Senadeera I could have exclaimed at the smallness of the world, but I don’t – he told me the Cornish don’t like the English.

And the scenery’s marvelous and so’s everyone you ask directions from including the people at the Labour Exchanges – I got this job at the Exchange at Newquay on the North Coast with a marvelous line of cliffs. Really, it’s not because of poverty that I’m working, but a need to feel I’m not wasting my time –  I am reading 2 books of the ‘Iliad’ every day, despite the T.V. by the fire and the Sudanese student who likes conversation very much and stays here and also my landlady who’s quite philosophic  at times. She produced roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch today – last week, at the Dutoys’ it was pheasant – followed by rice pudding. We also drink tea at meal times. At the café, the chef produces a better lunch for us than the customers, and as much coffee as you like and Cornish ice-cream. I only hope I don’t get a cold with my hands in the water, for the saucepans – there’s a dishwasher for the rest. The pay however barely covers my daily expenses and I did succeed in cutting my finger yesterday while informing the Manager that I was reading classics – he didn’t know what they were. I’ve come into a strata of society where I have to say I’m doing classics for law in case they think aimlessness is a privilege of the rich – I’m developing a great social consciousness  though not very seriously, I’m afraid. I wonder if there is a class where children don’t work.

It’s a good thing it’s not too cold here so far to hitch, though the lorry driver informed me that long hair is a disadvantage since drivers don’t like hippies and think they smell – so far, I’m glad to say, the English I’ve met don’t, though I don’t suppose they do bathe too much – of course, it may be just my blocked nose, which I use as an excuse when I’m lazy and the bathroom’s not too clean. It wasn’t at Okehampton but here it’s antiseptic – the linen everywhere has been pleasantly clean too.

From the City of Aquatint 6

This records some of the great joys of Oxford, the opportunity to hear wonderful speakers like Leavis and Robert Graves, and the intense social life. After the Leavises and Graves (at Oxford 100 years ago) there is a recent picture of Donald Russel who only died earlier this year, at the age of 99.

1st December

Listened to Leavis on Blake, he hacked Eliot ceaselessly, and leaving in a few minutes, after dinner, to hear Robert Graves reading poetry – adding to my collection of famous names!

…. Robert Graves was marvelous. Theory – virgin birth was due to a practice amongst cursed Jews of Judah’s tribe who crawled under the skirts of Levites to be adopted and made respectable; John the Baptist asked Mary, aged 12, to oblige Jesus, aged 30. Predictably, the Jesus cult is dying down while the Great Mother – Mary cult grows. All this amidst terrible poems and other lunatic remarks about Mushrooms and Isis and Mexico. Afterwards I went to Anil’s, whom I hadn’t seen since the 6th – Anil’s dinner – and invited them and Nim for tea tomorrow and stayed till nearly 12 though Anil was in his pyjamas when I got there and so was Avril. Today, for the first time, I was still in bed when my scout came to do my rooms – like in Ceylon as term draws to a close I’m getting up later and later. Today was West’s last lecture and yesterday the Tutorial actually lasted 10 minutes more than an hour with almost half of it not silence. We’re improving. I also like him because the ridiculous essay he set made me go to the last of a set of lectures I hadn’t been to, which end customarily with a sherry party which was a pleasant surprise. The university goes on strike on Friday against Mrs Thatcher’s proposals. Tell Thatha she seems a most barbaric female but I don’t think I can desert poor Russel and Aeneid VI – and the sherry with which he rewards the faithful.

Tomorrow evening I’ve got Collections, but as there’s 3 of us in 5 minutes I suppose it’s quite simple. I’ve got to read the whole ‘Iliad’ and the 8 books I’ve rushed through mainly in English this term for next term’s Collections. Those however mean a written exam. End of term Collections is just a report to the Master by your tutor on the term’s work.

I shall be going to Exeter on the 4th, and from there round about Cornwall and Devon till my money and inclination run out, when I shall go to London. In fact, I had enough money to go to Spain – my conscience only works when I’m in a mood for it, as you ought to know. I got my N.U.S. card and the international one which makes things a lot cheaper, only I suppose I should go through an English winter  and the wedding and so on.

Last Sunday, at the 1st reading of ‘Oedipus’, I was quite pleased to discover I was the only freshman, with 4 graduates and so on. It’s quite crazy – I hope you know the play, there’s a copy at home of the Penguin version being done – with Russian costumes, the central monologue in bed, which is a hammock on which Oedipus depends and which doubles as womb and throne, and a female Teiresias, to say nothing of a Welsh Chorus. I hope they don’t discover I can’t act.  Unfortunately the reading clashed with the Fresher’s Competition Finals – Univ made it – so someone else had to wind the gramophone, due to which, perhaps, we lost which was a bit sad. Afterwards was the Chaplain’s punch-party – the Carol Service had been before dinner, not too bad – and I managed to get back in time for just one glass, after which the ‘pagan elements’ as the chaplain calls them went round carol singing, including the College Secretary who was, I think, slightly tipsy, or else isn’t as dignified as I thought she is. She warned me that Thatha’s going to get six identical Christmas cards!

Did I tell you my scout produced an extra blanket? – it makes a vast difference at night.



Rajiva Wijesinha


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