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Coincidentally this letter appears on the 49th anniversary of my going to Oxford. I loved the place from the moment I got there, with an affection that increased every month. But this letter describes the period which set the seal as it were on my passion for Oxford, the Christmas vacation of my second year when I stayed on in College, and grew to love even the bare stones of the building.

The letter describes the great joy of that Christmas vacation, the sense of familiarity with, and indeed ownership, of the college, and also the development of another great friendship, with Tony Firth the only Univ man of the dons who lived in College.

There was also a wonderful outing to see a play by our Tutor for Admissions, who later became Master, John Alberry. And I describe too a party at a wonderful rambling house in Sussex owned by Sir Thomas Chitty, whose son Andrew had become a good friend.

The pictures are of Tony Firth at the College Chalet and Leslie Mitchell at Lamledra, two places where the College arranged reading parties which are indelibly associated for me with both of them. And then there is George Cawkwell with Pat at the river.

From the city of aquatint 24

17th December 1972

Life’s been great fun, this last week – term ended with throwing popping balloons down from the battlements, and I went off on Sunday for 3 days with Charlie, one of which consisted of a trip to London for the universities Rugger match, which I regret to say we lost, and lunch at the HC’s where Tilak beat poor Charles at table-tennis despite him being the College Captain. Charles’ family was just as delightful as ever, except one year older. Just before I left, I found out his father died in an accident – his mother must be a marvellous person.

I returned on the Wednesday to find interviews in full swing – one of this year’s freshers had to spend the night on my sofa as they’d taken his room for candidates and he should have left, but he produced some candidates from his school and we played bridge. On the bus from Charles’ I met 3 candidates, all looking very nervous!

I’ve still managed to get quite a bit of work done, despite being taken advantage of for being one of the few with a room still in College – which led to a 3rd year boring me to death on Friday evening for 5 hours, just as I was about to start on a novel, having finished my quota of work. This was followed by a friend, who spent the rest of the night reading poetry, all of which led to great depression when the College finally shut yesterday, in the beer cellar. Luckily Tony Firth the other History Tutor invited me for dinner, with the Dean and the Assst. College Secretary, in his cottage in the country, which was great fun and quite alcoholic – he kept pouring out, or threatening to, that strange Polish drink called Avocat, while consuming chocolates and conducting a Violin Concerto. He was the Tutor who organized carols round the College. Leslie suggested evensong at the Cathedral today and actually came to take me along. It was a beautiful service, with a marvelous choir and a sonorous Dean of Christ Church, about to be a Bishop, about to be Archbishop. Afterwards we tried to gallop back to the Junior Dean’s for drinks, and actually got one before they had to go for dinner in the SCR and the annual fight about who gets in, and I worked in the Library, all by myself, which is a beautiful experience. I’m certainly enjoying the vac.

21st December 1972

Life at the moment is rather sad due to the Dean & Chaplain having had to postpone their Christmas party till the 31st, due to the latter’s illness. However, having had two extraordinary days, I shouldn’t complain. On Tuesday the SCR had an outing for the 1st night of our Admissions  Tutor’s play, when we attempted to influence the reviews by applauding noisily – being rather drunk by this stage, due to gin & sherry & wine & whiskeyed coffee at dinner. We had champagne with the cast afterwards – the College Sec. had a hip flask of scotch which she shared with me, since we dislike champagne. Brandy in the bus on the way home also led to fervent singing and a Conga up and down the bus, led by my Tutor, and joined by George Cawkwell the Senior Tutor, to everyone’s amazement. Martin also indulged in carols in German, French and Italian, clad in a bearskin cap. It was an extraordinary & marvellous occasion – & the play was super.

Yesterday I traveled all the way down to Sussex for a friend’s party – his father’s Thomas Chitty, Bart no less, who writes books under the name of Thomas Hinde, which you must have heard of even if, like me, you don’t read him. Incidentally I’ve given his publisher, called George Unwin, our address for when he’ in Ceylon next January or February – also Mohan’s for India. The party was for the whole village, as well as ex-school friends, and quite a few people stayed on all night in a drunken stupor, which meant young Chitty and I had to stay awake to put them on the 1st bus, since his mother didn’t feel up to providing breakfast for dozens – as apparently she’s had to do for the last two years. The novelist himself made & dispensed punch, wandering around vaguely and artistically. The house itself is old and quite chaotic, since the family itself sleeps all over the place and low beams keep banging one’s head, and we had to hang curtains all over to keep the guests from straying where they weren’t supposed to.

I got back quite exhausted and shall probably sleep pretty early – even the Tutors leave tomorrow, though the Dean’s coming along on Christmas to take me to church and, as I’ve said before, I’ve got 2 invitations for Christmas lunch & dinner. Shall be working hard the rest of the time though.

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2020
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