A time of gifts Staying on

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By 2017-08-19

Rajiva Wijesinha

The record of my last term as an undergraduate seems now bizarre, in the combination of a desperate desire to stay on at Oxford with little effort to prove myself academically. But I have no regrets at all about having had a great time till the end, much theatre and opera in addition to an intense social life. And as it happened Oxford turned up trumps without my having had to get a first.

I had been told that, if they thought you were worthwhile, they would keep you on, and this happened. As the record of my tutors' comments over the years indicates, they did think I was extremely able. Though they despaired of my examination techniques, they worked together to find me a scholarship, since I had indicated that I did not think I could expect my father to fund me if there was no proof that I deserved to go on to postgraduate studies.

To my surprise my philosophy tutor's wife told me that she had heard I had just missed a first class on my philosophy papers. Sadly my worst mark was on Roman history, which was my favourite subject, but after I left the hall I realized I had got something completely wrong on the first question, and that would have deprived me of any benefit of the doubt for the rest of the paper.

18 March 1975

I'm so sorry not to have written for so long – the time passes so quickly that one doesn't notice, particularly, this last week, when getting to bed before 5.00 was a miracle. Despite this, I won my bet of 4 breakfasts a week, but spent most of the rest of the day in bed, which was useless workwise. Nevertheless my philosophy tutor said my work had improved distinctly while George called it an excellent term's work. 'I shall miss him,' he said. 'So shall we all,' said the Master – it was very comic but very sweet. Made up for not winning an office in the Union at my final attempt, and also for not being accepted by America despite my excellent marks – 97, 98 and 95 – it's pleasant to know I'm as mathematically able as my sister, by American standards at least. My rejection from America was welcomed here – it's quite touching the way even people in their present 1st year feel the place wouldn't quite be the same without me. I am beginning to succumb, though to do a BPhil would require about a 1,000 pounds more if I don't get a scholarship, and this just conceivably might be a waste. Meanwhile I have discovered a 1 year MA course in East Anglia which is both intellectually and financially suitable – the only trouble is it's in East Anglia. Shall keep you informed, nevertheless.

This summer, I shall be properly free from about the end of June, though in the unlikely event of a viva I shall have to do some work.

Term ends on the 21st, but things keep happening for about a week afterwards - I may be able to persuade someone to let me use a car for some time for Aachchi, but I'm not sure – since it would require persuading him to chauffeur as well. Benazir is still not cured of her dotty idea of returning overland, though I doubt whether anything will be arranged. She is still recovering from the shock of losing in the Union to one of the girls I gave my engagement party with last term – who incidentally may be President next Michaelmas, and wants me to help with her card.

I don't think I've written since my brilliant chairing of the Forum on the novel, with a load of lunatic writers like Braine, Amis and Sillitoe – 'Never use adjectives,' said Braine, 'I wish Iris Murdoch would write a real novel some time instead of twittering about complex psychology.' The Chitty father was in very good form, but his attempts at analysis were swamped by a cynical Amis and an illiterate Braine. My chairing was so good that, when the President was busy with a tribunal, I had to chair a talk with dirty films on 'Sexual Disorders' - a very different kettle of fish, particularly with Univ pseudo–moralists saying things like 'Don't you destroy people when you remove their inhibitions?', which quite confused the learned doctor. Apart from such literary pursuits, I've seen Wagner at last at Covent Garden, and won the bridge pairs in College after the dinner.

4 May 1975

Work having at last started, letters will be few and far between – not, you may say, that that makes a charge. I averaged 5 hrs a day last week, and that despite going to Stratford for 'Henry IV' a splendid production but a lunatic expedition, since Robert failed to find out the times of buses, and as the last bus wouldn't do, we persuaded a mad old lady who haunts the Union to lend us her car, after which he decided he couldn't drive a car with gears, so we dragged off someone else in the hope that there'd be a ticket. There was - but since the old lady doesn't like her, we went to vast extremes to make sure she didn't see us drive off – successfully, and we had a very good evening. The day before had been 'As You Like It' at the Oxford Playhouse, and 'Henry V' on the 6th at Stratford again - slightly better organized - so I'm not neglecting my cultural development wholly.

Of course I can meet you on the 22nd – pity you're not arriving slightly earlier since there's a garden party that morning which you might have liked which I shall nobly miss. I shall most probably not be flying back with you, since I'm trying to come overland – if I do, you'll have to put up some people, which I hope won't be difficult. I went for an interview at East Anglia last week, and I think it'll be good for my soul to go there, even though I shall probably be miserable. It's not Oxford and the rooms are tiny – those I saw since I only stayed an hour. Seriously, I think a year's the most more I should allow to test my academic capacities – and it's only half-a-day's journey from here, which I discovered on the way back, having gone through London, and for some very obscure reason finding myself spending the night in a seedy hotel in Ipswich, full of travelling salesmen and other such monstrosities. The landlady was horrified at my shoes when she heard I was going for an interview, and provided polish – she needn't have bothered. The person interviewing me wasn't wearing a tie, and bore a faint resemblance to an unemployed sailor – he was also called Crasnow. It's all made a very good story.

I went last Saturday for the first time ever to see Oxford play in the parks – unfortunately Gajan was out by the time I got there, but the 'Guardian' described him as one of the few Oxford players who could bat - lots of people know his name now, and it's a very good thing for his self-confidence.

I've just returned - 2.30 a.m. – after a visit from a Classicist who got a 3rd last year and has just got engaged, which we celebrated in the Beer Cellar, followed by a walk round town with a 1st year who wants to found a dining–club and required the benefit of my experience – very flattering I suppose – my first late night all term, except for staying up all right for May morning.

21 May 1975

(1) I shan't be able to leave before July 26th due to the possibility of a viva;

(2) The first degree date is

2 August, though if Mum can't stay I could leave before as well, as there'll be plenty in September or October when you're here;

(3) I shan't be coming overland, at least not by car – hence no one else; though if I can leave early enough due to no viva and Mum doesn't want to stay till the 2nd, I may take a student flight and stop somewhere on the way – I probably shan't get organized in time, though the cost makes it attractive;

(4) I could meet Mum on the 22nd – exact time, please? – but if the organizers could get her to Sussex that might be sensible in terms of luggage et al – I could go along as well and return that evening;

(5)A return ticket to Denmark is c. 70 pounds, plane or boat – it's probably worth Mum going – she'll have to stay at least six days. Tell me if I should book;

(6)East Anglia would be an M.A. in English.

I had a nice birthday, except for suffering from a slight hangover which meant retiring early to bed – also the weather for the punt party wasn't perfect, so after consuming the Black Velvet and Caviare we made a small insurrection upon St. Hilda's and demanded lunch. Despite this and tea at St Anne's, I managed two classes and stayed – I hope – coherent.

Despite the Union converting itself into a Charitable Institution this week and me being the only person on Standing Committee with any objection to the scheme – in details not in principle, but that's enough to make it exciting – work progresses apace. Going to classes serves more than ever to convince me of my intelligence and my ignorance – it would be very sad if the combination ended up in a middling 2nd. When I was sure last week I was going to get a 3rd, all the nice Tutors on no evidence whatsoever declared I'd just miss a 1st, which was quite encouraging! Still, do keep praying, I shall need it.

30 May 1975

This is rather hasty – exams begin on the 2nd and finish on the 11th – so do let me know the time of mum's plane, and of course she could be here till the 22nd and I'll see her to Sussex.

I regret to say East Anglia wouldn't have me. Also, I didn't get the Commonwealth Schol. here, but the Committee noticed I'd be eligible for the Chambers next year – the one I told you about originally – and suggested in their notice that I apply for a place here this year and the Schol. next, of course, warning me there'd be no assurance of either. I haven't applied yet, but I still might – if I do and am accepted, I'll be back in August and leave at the end of September. If I don't, or am refused, would it cause great inconvenience if I pottered back very slowly, before setting down at last!!?

I return the first forms in case of sensible scholarships. The Fulbright I don't think is; but thanks very much for trying.

Keep hoping – desperately.

11 June 1975

Finished Schools this morning, had half a dozen bottles to greet me, which was very pleasant – most of them champagne as well, which was nice in these days of sparkling white wine substitutes. Lunch in the Radcliffe Quad, with more to drink, followed by pink gins, followed by a drive into the country and a swim in the Isis and very dry dry Martinis – just got back, with half an hour before my Schools dinner.

Had to get this off today for two reasons – I'll be there to meet you on the 20th, and there'll be parties till the 22nd, so do bring lots of lovely sarees – you will be shown off. In fact, I'm planning – if I have enough money – to give a lunch myself. Second, good news, though uncertain yet, about my future. The English Board says I can have a special personal scholarship of 400 pounds per annum if I am accepted for a place. I've got an interview tomorrow and they decide on Monday, so keep your fingers, retrospectively perhaps, crossed. Having decided it was all over, this came as a rather nice surprise – so do keep hoping. I'll probably get the news when you're here.

Schools was fun – I wrote rubbish in two philosophy papers, and was a bit erratic in today's general paper, but the History papers were intensely enjoyable – it was a fantastic experience. The abstention I went through during the term had to be seen to be believed – restricting myself to half pints of beer over the last two weeks except on very special occasions made me feel very virtuous.

Must dash now for a bath and dinner – Sathi comes on Sunday to take Gajan and me out – and then I go on High Table! – arranged when I thought I'd leave.

24 June 1977

Happy Birthday – the delay being due to a desire to give you good news. I hope the enclosed photocopies are enough if there is any chance, albeit inessential, of exchange.

Isn't it a nice birthday present? I am delighted.

Had a note from Mum to say she's safe at Sussex. I think she had a nice, though tiring time here. Shall let you know further plans in time.

COLUMNS

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