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After 20 posts of travels in Sri Lanka during my Peace Secretariat days, I go back in time for variety, to pictures relating to my Oxford days. It is almost 49 years since I first went to Oxford, on October 6th 1971, but I have already posted letters from that year. So I resume here with the first letter I still have from my second year.

This was written well into term, which I was enjoying thoroughly. Some of the pursuits were silly, but I am glad I was able to climb on the roof in days before safety regulations became rigid. I had what I still think was the best room in the college, at the top on the corner of the High Street and Logic Lane, a large sitting room and a very long bedroom. Outside was the trapdoor that led to the roof.

And it was great fun to meet W H Auden, who did his best to keep the conversation going. Apart from him, the pictures are of the Chaplain David Burgess and another including me taken at Gorran Haven the previous summer.

From the city of aquatint 21

6th November 1972

Very sorry again for the lengthy delay – life is just too complicated to communicate effectively. In fact, due to an essay crisis for tomorrow morning, I’m forced to abandon College bridge tonight after nearly falling asleep at a lecture in the morning and a class this afternoon. I should, however, have some sort of freedom from work after tomorrow – for essentials like playing bridge and carpet bowls on the quad at 3 am and climbing on the roof and watching the lunacies of Labour Club Elections. I’m safe on Committee for another term, and encouraging freshmen at the Union so as to build up an effective Univ machine. I have a tellership on Thursday and I’ve already got my borrowed Dinner Jacket and am contemplating wearing a frog instead of a rose like my tutor at the dinner.       

Incidentally, I start serving in Chapel in a few weeks time, while telling this time in favour of  ‘Christianity is a Myth’ – my conscience salved by the fact that I was going to abstain if I spoke from the floor, instead of against. Auden was at dinner on Tuesday and we’re organizing an expedition to see him on Friday – I keep seeing him all over Oxford. Last Tuesday I fell asleep during a special lecture of Dr Popper – a famous German Philosopher who’s quite loony – yesterday the Dean tried to teach me squash and I kept missing the ball.

This week I had only one essay and I finished it yesterday – even though I am writing during a lecture I ought to have gone to, especially as I’d arranged to play someone at chess afterwards. But I only got to bed at 5, due to an importunate 3rd year consuming my coffee – and mangoes – having lost the key of his bicycle and preferring to work all night rather than walk back in the cold. Since we’ve taken to playing hide–and-seek through the college after 2 am, I’m not getting much sleep at all. Also, this morning I’d left all my essentials in the laundry so it was too late to get them in time for the lecture anyway – so I excuse myself, guiltily since it’s the only real one I go to now anyway. Incidentally, before the hide and seek, certain lunatics were pouring water from my windows onto passers-by in the High Street, only male students to salve our consciences.

Since my last missive, I’ve been elected onto the Food Committee with another Gorran Haven lunatic to battle the Domestic Bursar, who actually dared to introduce a cafeteria system into lunch, with blue-coated ladies from Woolworth’s. I also made a not unsuccessful tellership at the Union with a superb dinner beforehand – being equipped in DJ, velvet bow–tie and violet geranium in my button hole by my 2nd year friends while the 1st year protégés of the Univ Union machine dutifully applauded thunderously and indicated to the rest of the audience where they had to laugh during my apologies for jokes – the laughs were in the right places. Incidentally I got a 40 pound bursary for buying a DJ. Leslie’s being terribly generous with some rich old American’s money.

Had an audience with Auden at the coffee-house where he hangs out waiting to talk to undergraduates, under the impression he’s Dr Johnson; organized a minor Univ charabanc, though the other organizer got cold feet and didn’t come. The conversation was halting but both sides tried and, approached in the proper spirit of reverence, was quite marvellous – the physicist who didn’t was quite bored. Progressed with my Union Chess competition, won my first game and filled half the 2nd round with Univ men; failed to dine with Peter Shore, since a traffic jam prevented him from coming in time to the Labour Club.

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2020
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