A time of gifts Trying to settle down

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By 2017-08-12

Rajiva Wijesinha

Hilary Term 1975 was when I had decided to settle down to study, and I did make an effort. I took a bet with the Senior Tutor that I would get to breakfast four days a week, which I succeeded in doing, but that proved counter-productive for I would then fall asleep in the morning. As can be seen my social life continued apace, and I also had the pleasure of being the principal confidant of the Union President.

In reading about the vacation before that, I was struck about the common friends I found during my stay at the Brentons. Renee Wickremesinghe was the wife of a brother of my grandfather, and she had left her husband after the war and gone to England where she married someone, though not I think the naval officer she had hoped to. She was alive when I got to England, but sadly died before I could meet her, though I got close to her children, two of whom were settled there.

Tony Brenton, who subsequently became British Ambassador in Moscow, turned out to have known Indrajith and Tara Coomaraswamy – the former being Gajan Pathmanathan's cousin.

The letters have more material than I recall about my attempts to find a place to do postgraduate work, but I suspect this is because my father was very concerned about this. I cannot now understand how I could even have thought of going to East Anglia, let alone the United States.

14 December 1974

Re scholarships – regrettably, the Corpus one isn't on offer next year; hence greater need for the other one, though I am toying with the idea of taking a year off, possibly working, and waiting to apply next year. Having gone through the American things again, the prospect appears even dimmer; occasionally I feel it would be better to return at once rather than go there. However, I shall persevere, though it might be wise to see about Foundation aid as well such as Ford and Hay. As regards the Cornell application, I'm not quite sure why 'years of a foreign language' got the answer Montreal 1958 – if you have any spare application forms, please send them on, else I shall make do with these.

If you think the application for aid is too complicated as well, I shall send off the form to Harvard demanding $10,000 over two years. The whole prospect is so ghastly, I begin to feel you were right in requiring concentration upon Oxford prospects – however, it's been an interesting experience. I can't really see myself being awarded an American Scholarship – the Oxford system simply won't stand up to their demands for progressive course marks et al – which would solve a great problem, as to what to do if I got an American Scholarship and not an Oxford one.

Having bored you sufficiently about my future – I'm back in Oxford, having had four delightful days at the H.C., punctuated by fascinating stories from Colvin about the BLPI (Bolshevik Leninist Party of India) etc.

I'm back now to work, having got copious notes to plough through from someone George described as the cleverest man he'd taught. I begin to think it would be a great pity not to have a Scholarship settled before the results were out – though I am trying desperately to develop a passionate interest in Greek history! I shall be away for a week after Christmas, but the rest of the time will be here.

3 January 1975

I believe I haven't written for quite some time, due to the sheer exhaustion of travelling all over London, to produce your Christmas presents. The rising cost of feminine cosmetics made a present for father impossible on the cash in hand. I've dispatched my American application forms at last. I regret to say I couldn't but insinuate when asked for my reasons for applying that I felt a change would be good – being complimentary about the course would have been difficult. Meanwhile, the number of people here who say life would be unthinkable next year without me is quite flattering – so much so, I am more and more convinced change would be good in fact! I've been looking out for Scholarships for you, but none have been advertised as yet, and I don't know if there will be any.

I had the usual delightful Christmas here, service at the Cathedral and dinner at the Cawkwells – no lunch as well this time – and lunch and pantomime at the Dean's next day. The College was absolutely beautiful in complete silence – the rooms I'm in unfortunately weren't, since the scout, whose relations are Portuguese, Saxon and Indian, or various admixtures, lived in and had her family up over Christmas. They all kept screaming and watching television with doors open while she apologized and offered me sherry while I very politely assured her I adored children and didn't mind noise at all – silly old bat! I was heroic, if hypocritical. The two quads, however, were fantastic, especially as for the first time, this year, they didn't even have a night porter on.

On the 27th, after a vain attempt to console the new Union President, who'd just returned from Morocco to find all his guests had refused, I went down to London for a night and then got a lift to a friend's near Portsmouth where the Naval Establishment were in the midst of their parties. This particular one, which started at 11.30 a.m., served moose-milk, consisting of brandy, cream and Tia Maria.

Hazily during the 4 hours that followed I met millions of people who'd been in Ceylon, including someone called Russel Knights who expanded on the pleasures of Renee Wickremesinghe's company. I'm not quite sure how we got through lunch, and I have vague memories of the Dictionary game and when the senior Brentons returned – they'd had another party – we played bridge from which the Captain had to be removed to bed, because he kept discovering the infallible defence of losing a card! I believe we carried on playing for quite some time, and with 3 disprins and an Anadin I was quite recovered next day, and even learned to play golf, at which I'm not really too bad, I was delighted to discover. Apart from 9 holes in 55, that day and the next consisted again of lots of bridge and gin. I did very well with Nick's brother who'd been at Cambridge with his wife while Tara and Indrajith were up – I don't know if I mentioned another Indian friend of theirs I met last time I was at the Brentons – an extraordinarily small world, this.

Got back on the 31st for a very sedate survivors evening, when not even a fire extinguisher was let off, though the Dean who was giving up the position that evening intended to, and then write a note to his successor, promising the assistance of his experience in disciplinary action. The last afternoon and yesterday I seem to have spent principally asleep, though on the 1st the Master had the staff party where I was roped in to help, and then, after dinner, the Senior Tutor and I listened to Handel and decided we could do better, so that bizarre caterwauling could be heard from his rooms at all hours of the morning. To work now. Between Oxford and London

10 January 1975

The jerkiness of the letter is due to its being written in a bus between O and L, where I'm going to see 'Madame Butterfly' today and 'Cymbeline' tomorrow, and since I'm not returning in a day a bus comes much cheaper. The performances themselves are self-indulgence but in case I don't return I must stock up on 'kultur' – at least, that's my excuse. Trouble is expenses mount up due to the desire to occupy the whole day; a film, then like last week a taxi since I was late to meet someone, dinner, etc. However, a Schoolsman needs relaxation, a proposition hard to justify, as I've done scarcely any work this week.

Settling down after Christmas is near impossible, and was complicated by 'Richard II' last Saturday – the one with Pasco and Richardson doubling the 2 roles – and lunch and dinner on Sunday that took all day, and a party in London on Monday to which we drove down, while Tuesday was occupied in driving back and recovering, particularly as bridge had gone on till dawn. And since people are starting to come back now and don't want to start work, they keep dropping in on those who are settled in which is fun but not work-productive. However, I have succeeded in reading Aristotle's 'Ethics' through in English, but since it makes a little sense as before, it's scarcely a great achievement.

Christ Church Cathedral, having been reduced to men only last Sunday, is only having a said service this week which means we shall have to trot round Oxford in search of singing, since it's the last chance before the College Chapel starts. The Chaplain has returned from America in a splendid mood, because he preached in St Thomas', New York, when it was rededicated and he can't wait to repeat the Sermon. It sounded quite splendidly American, with a spotlight on the pulpit with all the other lights dimmed.

27 January 1975

I believe I haven't written since GRE etc. Tremendous fun but tiring. My neighbour of 2 years ago, who incidentally has got a Kennedy Schol., turned up too and we had a glorious time being very superior about the whole business –notwithstanding which one or two of the 430 questions were quite searching – distinguishing between Carlyle and Ruskin other than, as usual, 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'She Stoops to Conquer'.

My collections were disappointing again and you'll have to get used to the idea that I shan't get a 1st. George, however, still feels renewing my scholarship was justified and blames my exam technique rather than intelligence. He was, in fact, complimentary about my essay on Saturday, despite it being read after a drunken evening, when the Delusionists were famous criminals. The top PPE Scholar as Mrs Pankhurst kept inquiring of people in the street whether they supported votes for women, while Dr No (myself) attempted to kidnap a townie whose boyfriend disobligingly offered to sell her to us for 2 pounds – which no one had. At some stage in the evening the Junior Dean's dog was attacked, and various people collapsed full-length on the floor and had to be put to bed. You will be delighted to hear I was the most sober of the lot, though this was not for want of trying. The SCR staff who served dinner loved it.

This to assure you I'm not taking finals too seriously. However, I've got up for breakfast every day this term and, as I get used to it, more work gets done – it's also a very good meal, I am increasingly beginning to feel, even though the toast is always cold.
Sorry I didn't meet Benazir before you got to Pakistan – she wasn't in London when I phoned, and only got back to Oxford last weekend. However, I gather you met Bhutto and she says she's got a photograph of the delegation with Daddy – whose honorary degree here, incidentally, is running into opposition from students and even some dons – astonishingly enough, it's the right that's supporting him, presumably because, after all, he was at Christ Church!

6 February 1975

My exam is in the first two weeks of June, I'm not sure when the first degree date is, probably some time in late July – after the 20th certainly. Unless I'm not coming back somewhere, I shall quite probably return with you – I'm not entirely sure, but you can proceed on that assumption. You could be put up in Oxford from the 20th to the 22nd, possibly it would be sensible for the 20th when you could watch a debate, but since the 21st would be the last night of term here, I shall probably want to be very mad indeed, and you might prefer to be away.

Benazir gave me a picture of the Ceylonese Delegation with her father – the poor man's honorary degree has run into trouble here, which provides interesting conversational material for tutorials, but is probably terribly embarrassing for everyone. The Gooneratnes' old friend Richard Gornbrich is leading the struggle against, and his case seems fairly strong. Regrettably, Benazir's political rivals are using the issue to be rude about her. I myself resigned from Standing Committee after being fined for disorderly conduct in the House – getting the Monarchists to sing 'God save the Queen' – but had a splendidly formal correspondence with the President about how unnecessary this was, and an informal one about how upset he'd be, and have reconsidered. Unfortunately, he appears to be being attacked seriously about the fines, so I shall have to forego my own frivolous appeal, and lend support.

Despite excellent play by the ex-Dean and myself, we lost in our Cuppers Match – our worse half failing to bid 2 slams, and then, stung by our rudeness about the younger generation, bidding one that wasn't there by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it was a good achievement, since I was very ill indeed after the Music Society dinner, due to excessive quantities of Benedictine and Cointreau,

unusual at college dinners, but affected by the Treasurer. Though I failed breakfast next morning, I'm still winning my bet of 4 times a week – though still falling asleep during the day.

Gaji did quite well in the room ballot, and has got a good set for next year, centrally heated though, opposite his current bedsit.

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