Sunday, April 18, 2010

This and others like it are the source of all my privilege. I was sent to private schools, an expensive university and, at least when we were teenagers we had holidays in Majorca and Zermatt. We were never told that we were rich. In fact, on the contrary, we were always trying to save money, but the rich have a way, as Cate Blanchette says in, "The Talented Mr Ripley", of not caring about money. Ha, ha.

It is Sunday today and I don't even have any plans for the day except, perhaps, not to spend any more. My last two had their 21st and 23rd last week and, as before, one present was for us to give them the house for the night and the other was to take them all, plus a girlfriend, out to a swanky meal. I almost ruined both evenings by not being able to sleep in the middle of the nights, talking too much and generally engaging too many strangers in conversations. When I was younger, these bouts of hypo mania could be considerably harmful, but now, thank God , my body is petering out and I simply don't have the extra energy to do some of the outrageous things I did in my younger days. Yet "Still Crazy After All These Years". I wonder if Simon is, or was, or, more likely, knew plenty of people who were. Nice man. His Graceland tour concert at Maple Leaf gardens was the most fun I have ever had at any sort of musical concert.

Fiona Apple singing Paul McCartney is, (was), in my ear as I was writing. The head set is broken and I only hear one channel, (I'm not sure which), through my left ear. That's the less deaf one. Now its the wonderful Pavarotti singing a rather schmaltzy version of "O Solo Mio" with what sounds like a rabble of young boys and a rock and roll audience. Now, wat is dis, wat is dis? "Nessun Dorma". Good selection. An abiding fantasy is that I would have a radio show, maybe on a university radio station. Such an animal was unthinkable in my student days.

My university education, incomplete as it was, was, how shall I say?, somewhat dry, very academic and the tutors prided themselves on being among the best in the land. In those days, there were were only three prestigious universities in the British isles and even Trinity Dublin was mentioned at the end with a downward cadence. Because of my father, I had been steered, coached, bullied and persuaded to squeeze into Oxford. Here is my account that I wrote for my usually secret blog, which I called, "Before I Forget". Actually I had forgotten. The blog is called, "As much as I can remember". Anyway:

I went to university later than my friends who went. Tony Hauser and Stephen Balogh were at Oxford ahead of me. I had tried the year before to get into my father's college, University College. I wrote an exam not well and was confounded at the interview by a don asking me what I felt strongly about. Prejudice and Intolerance, I said. Can you be intolerant without being prejudiced, he asked me. I felt flustered and finally said that I thought I could. Tony was at Christ Church and I spent an evening with him and some friends playing poker. When I was on the train returning to London, I held on to a cut out of a black cat, which I kept in my wallet, and swore I would return in a year as an undergraduate. I remember the towers and spires of Oxford receding as I took my oath. I believed in that sort of magic in those days.
I was tutored in Henfield my a very short, brilliant teacher from Lancing College, Jeremy Kemp. He set me on fire with a glimpse of the latest theories of history and when I went up to try for his old college, Trinity, I wrote about Individualism and Imperialism. At the interview I felt at ease as I was in a suit and waistcoat as was one of the interviewers, Michael MacClagan. Trinity, as my tutor had expected was a little more snobbish and small, the church there was almost Catholic, I thought. Actually, I discovered later, eleven students applied to study history and eleven were accepted. I still had to wait a year to go up, so that Tony Hauser was two years ahead of me and I never saw him again, but my best friend at School, Stephen Balogh, had come up the year ahead of me and I visited him frequently. He lived on Paradise Square, which was soon to be condemned and demolished. He also lived out in the country for a while and I was able to go out on a 250 cc BSA which I had bought for ten Pounds. Hugh Pope, a friend in college, studied engineering and when the monster, as I called her broke down, he tinkered with her. He told me the front axle was completely sheered off the frame and I was lucky to be alive.
Despite failure as an academic, I was lucky to be alive then. It was then that I first seriously considered acting as a way to become eventually a film director. I was in two college plays, one out on the huge lawn behind the college and the other, A Man For All Season's, which we took on tour in the Lake District. I also rowed in an eight for my college and our boat won a race against all the other colleges' boats. My oar with the names of all the crew on the blade was given to me, but I left it behind, or never claimed it. I also had girl friends. In my first term, I was given small invitation cards with the college name in one corner. I handed these out on the streets inviting people to have tea in my rooms. At the second of these parties a bunch of girls from a local private high school came. And then there were women from women's colleges, older and usually more intellectual. I've just realised that elsewhere in these memories, I described my mother as almost an intellectual, I was about to say just now that I always got on really well with women far more intellectual than me. My girl friend from the high school, Gerry, got three A's at A level and easily got a place at Canterbury University. She broke up with me while I was away travelling during the summer vacations. In my last more miserable term I was consoled by a wonderful very tall woman from LMH. Despite an LSD breakdown in her final term, she got a good second in History. The summer of sixty six was glorious. Gerry, the first play, wine from the senior common room with prawn salad and fresh mayonnaise out on the lawn. More than once 1941 Burgundy, rowing in the eight, but also by myself in a skull, exploring the smaller streams that flow down to the Cherwell, visiting Stephen, who was a very early dope smoker and often passionate about some new research in human behavior. Through LMH I slightly got to know Libby Purvis, later famous, who was giving a speech at the union. She wanted a joke about a debating opponent. I had dabbled in surrealism and suggested ,"He likes to watch his pelicans go round and round in washing machines". She put it into her own words and used it. I was watching from the gallery and it got a good laugh. Still very satisfying forty two years later. Riding my bicycle down a hill near the station, I made up a bluesy song which I sing to this day. Probably the best thing about the summer was that I had passed all my first year exams and definitely the worst thing about the fall term that followed was that I failed exams at the start of term, for which I was late, and I was told that if I did not pass that exam at the end of term, I would be sent down. On each essay I was assigned I felt hopeful at the beginning and then hopeless as the essay became due. I was started on my elected special subject and found it way over my head. I was assigned to a brilliant researcher at All Souls, who thought nothing of assigning me to read seventeen books and write an essay in two weeks. I came to realise that up till then I had got by by being resourceful and clever, but that basically I was dyslexic and that serious reading put me to sleep. I remember waking up in the library more times than I remember trudging up the magnificent staircase. As a second year academic, I was totally out of my depth and drowning fast. I actually cheated in my final exam and still failed. The final blow was administered by Dean Norrington, who said that in the old days I would have been allowed to scrape through, but that there was simply no room for me. I agreed with him. I was becoming something between an anarchist and a socialist and I was mortified when he asked me whether I would not consider a career in advertising. Perhaps he was on to something that I could not acknowledge in myself.
I left Oxford with my tail very much between my legs. To lift me out of my depression my mother asked me to come ski-ing one more time. There were only two film schools in Europe and we decided I would learn Italian and apply for the one at Rome's Cinecitta. So it was that I went to stay in Florence and thrived again on too much privilege and too much money. Before I was twenty two I had lived so much of the rich person's life that I had no pressing need to replicate it in the years of ambition which followed.


French Fancy said...

Oh what a shame about the exams. In fact it was a surprise to me that you went to Oxford - only because I didn't realise you were still in Europe at this time of your life.

I recall you were a North Londoner (was it Barnet?) and just (wrongly) assumed you went to Canada when you were still quite young.

How exciting to have gone to film school though - at a time when it was still unusual.

marc aurel said...

Responding backwards. I did not learn enough Italian to go to film school and simply became a third assistant film editor.

I was born to a house in Barnet, we moved to Hampstead when i was three, Paris when I was seven, back to Hampstead at ten, then, really specially, to Soho when i was twelve. Later South Ken, Manchester and short bits of other places. I came to Toronto to stay when I was twenty six.

Oxford was wonderful and hell. I was a great sibaryte and lousy academic. I would have thrived on wikipedia instead of books, as I do now, when I take the time. When may we see your autobiographical exercises for your course?