It is truly a sad thing for a summer to end, and yet it is an inevitable part of the endless cycle of life. July was full of its annual rites: two weeks in Lebanon and then the traditional festivities associated with the return of the OMV contingent from Lourdes — jugs of Pimm’s at the Scarsdale followed by the manic dinner, drinks, dancing, and smoking at Pag’s late into the night. Miss S. had always avoided the Pag’s part of the festivities, decrying it as a futile attempt to prolong the jollity. She decided to come along this year, however, and enjoyed it so much she stayed well past two in the morning. In fact, I think she was still there when I left.
So it didn’t really seem like summer really kicked off until August. The first Saturday of the month we had a little pilgrimage to Our Lady of Willesden, a Marian devotion very popular in medieval times but then strangled to death at the Protestant Revolution, though revived at the Catholic parish in the 1930s. Fr Ronald offered an old-rite Mass in the church, followed by the Rosary, and then the whole gang of us then retreated back to South Ken for a summery Italian lunch that last til 5:00-something, after which we continued the fun round the table in St Wilfrid’s Hall. I left around 7:00pm as some pizzas were arriving and I suspect it went on rather late.
The next morning I was RUDELY awakened at some ungodly hour by a text from Sophia Mac. Her boyfriend was doing some cross-London bike race and she was investigating the possibility of a cuppa, as she was near the Cusackian digs along the route. I apologised, explained the absolute impossibility of rising, and went back to sleep. Though still rather on the hungover end of the spectrum, I managed to awake and make it to the 10.30 at the Cathedral, and who should I have sat just across the aisle from but the eccentrically talented playwright Sharon Jennings. She tapped a rather startled Cusack on the shoulder with an “I thought it was you!” and we exchanged hellos. (Sharon’s most recent production was Romeo & Rosaline, which deserves a proper West End doing. I wrote it up here.)
There were some exceptionally good parties in August. One of the best was hosted by Miss L., of whom we can’t say more because she is a terribly proper lady with all the correct received opinions of the champagne-socialist class. In fact, she is a future Labour MP. Her father’s a QC and mother’s an artist and I was once disinvited from a party at their house because the Shadow Chancellor was going and “it was thought inappropriate for anyone who was not a member of the Labour party to be in attendance.” What tortured, exclusive existences this hide-bound caste of bourgeois bohemians lives! Never you mind: it was a good party, with drink, cigarettes, and chat going late into the night. In fact, the last three of us left around midday the next day.
A prize must go to Alice H.: mid-August she threw the most amusing dinner party of the summer with an excellent guest list of people whose spheres overlapped but didn’t necessarily know one another. James regaled us with tales of the Indo-Chilean border, a mystical realm little-known to geographers but reputed to be the site of increased tensions. (He is now in China learning Kung Fu — no joke.)
She threw a house party later that month that I forced myself to leave round midnight. I rejoined the remnants around 2:00pm the following afternoon, the harried survivors retold tales of the evening — or early morning — that aroused peals of laughter from the deepest depths. The garden bore the scars of battle: stamped-out cigarette butts, broken plastic cups, and a scorned, lonely, half-eaten cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery sitting curiously unloved amidst the grass.
There were also a great many mornings of sitting in the sun with a cappuccino and cigarette, reading the LRB, the New Criterion, Monocle, and various scholarly articles on the French history, or a handful of essays by our favourite living counter-revolutionary, John Rao. Also Pierre Manent. Made it to two nights at the Proms: one night Parsifal (which was glorious) and the other was Beethoven and some Brahms. More recently: Beethoven at the Royal Festival Hall, a building I’m rather fond of.
There have been numerous recent outbreaks of jollity in Oxford recently. I had a very accidental day in the academopolis last month. M.J. had incapacitated her phone in India and I lent her the iPhone I had as spare while the insurance claim was being processed. This meant breakfast at TSK followed by an inspection of the oldest Wisteria plant in England in her nearby college. Then I met up with Jack Carlson (gent, scholar, author, etc.) to catch up on the universe. After briefly running into J.E., I rang Alexandra H’s bell and imposed myself on her for an hour-long cup of tea and exchange of information on the St Andrews mafia.
As luck would have it, S.P. was having a big silly old dinner party for sixteen in his college, and so an entire cast of characters was descending upon Oxford that very afternoon from all across the country. D.I. was the first to arrive and we went straight to the Bear for a pint — raising our glasses in honour of P.H., whose birthday it was. E.D. joined us for another pint or two before stomping down the High to invade Magdalen College Fellows’ Garden. I couldn’t stay, though, as there were two parties in London awaiting me that evening, so around six I hopped aboard the Oxford Tube to Holland Park Avenue, went home, changed, and highed off to Emily’s birthday drinks in Clapham — a realm previously unknown to me. (But that is an entirely different story.)
Yesterday was another silly Oxford day. I had the day off and M.J. — sleep-deprived from overwork and consequently laden with chest infection — had given herself the day off as well. Matt had a rugby match in the afternoon but that didn’t prevent him from joining us for a luncheon troika. Mutual insults were hurled, lies were fabricated, and incorrect conceptions of the universe were rectified, all before tucking into a delicious bread-and-butter pudding. Then we watched Peter’s put up a very unconvincing show against Jesus on the rugby pitch as the early winter sun lay low in the afternoon sky. After witnessing a sufficient number of tries by JCRFC (though none of them converted), I was called back to London for a few hours of work before a delightful pint or two in South Ken. This weekend, we eagerly await the arrival of a Hippopotamus from Edinburgh.