My goddaughter, Sophia, was at Downe House. She was confirmed by the then Bishop of Oxford who delivered such a good sermon that I remembered every word when he repeated it at a subsequent Confirmation.
It was unfortunate that part of it stressed that he never repeats a sermon. Richard Harries did not seem especially pleased when I pointed out that he just had. He had the honesty to say that I might hear it again if I had a godson at Eton. I did, but he never got Confirmed. This is almost entirely off the point but I fell to musing …
Another former pupil of Downe House is Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen. I can hardly say that her novels are conventional as I haven’t read any but anybody can consult Wiki and read of her unconventional private life favouring both male and female long-term extra-marital partners. Well the butcher and baker don’t compete so it shouldn’t have been a problem, except perhaps for her husband. Frankly, I wouldn’t have mentioned her if I couldn’t think of anything else to write about and she has cropped up twice recently.
She was at Princeton when Kingsley Amis was teaching Creative Writing there and they became friends. He admired her for liking large tumblers of bourbon on the rocks – not sure what she saw in Kingsley. So I have met her on the pages of his Memoirs and coincidentally I am reading The Shelbourne by Elizabeth Bowen. It is a monumentally boring history of the hotel that she churned out in 1951. Praise from The Irish Times is limited to one word; majestic. I hope they paid her well for such drudgery.
A friend of my grandfather who had supposedly forsworn drink used to lunch in the hotel with his wife. Like Mr Salter at dinner at Boot Magna in Scoop, a clear and chilling cascade of water was poured but that gave him an excuse to go down to the gents. There a line of glasses of whiskey had been laid out by the barman, who knew his form, for rapid consumption. I might add that Kingsley’s Memoirs are rich in drinking stories. He takes particular pleasure in describing atrocious behaviour by guests in Visitors’ Rooms; one gets sick in the sock drawer. I was once sick in a waste paper basket. While I was appraising the situation from my bed at about midday my former Head Master accompanied, like something out of HMS Pinafore, by his wife and daughter appeared in the doorway. I hoped it was a nightmare. It wasn’t – well it was.