Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day One, Part 1 (Really!)

Tuesday, 6 December, 1988
Coverdale College*, Oxford

ON THE ROAD TO FRANCE-- It was a very late night last night. Both dances, the country dance and the one with the blues band, were great fun, if one can overlook two significant gaps among the attendees. I did get to dance with Friedhelm Schneider*, who is leaving after this term, so at least I got to enjoy the company of one of my three favorite Coverdale* men.

Afterwards, organized by Ken Allenby*, several of us stayed up till 1:30 am, working hard putting the Dining Hall and Common Rooms back in order and washing up in the kitchen. That and the laying of the tables for breakfast accomplished, we-- Ken, Nic Chistlethwaite*, Theo Arnold*, William Raynes*, Friedl, Rob Tenby*, Darla Dawson* [an American fellow-student], and I-- sat at one of the tables drinking tea and eating toast and talking of this and that. It was pleasantly evocative of days at the fine arts dorm at KU, a sensation that was intensified when I went over to the laundry room and found that someone had folded my clothes from the dryer. (I suspect Nic or Ken, but said nothing to them of it: let them have the credit in Heaven.)

It was, then, 1:30 when I finally came upstairs. And I still had to remove the stage make-up red fingernail polish from the pantomime, get my travel papers and books together, clean up the general mess, and pack up the things to stay and the things to come with. The worst of that is the organizing, especially when one has had no sleep in thirty-six hours and has been engaging in all sorts of strenuous activities during that period. The mind doesn’t like to work quickly.

And the body almost gave up totally, but was prevented by the horrifying thought of what would happen if I wasn’t ready in time. It wasn’t till 5:30 that I could turn off the light and crawl into bed, setting the alarm for 8:30. I especially wanted to be up for breakfast, since Friedl had postponed his farewell to me, figuring he’d see me there.

And it probably would be my last chance before next term to see someone else, someone who came in tired and with a cold after a five-hour bus ride from Cambridge yesterday afternoon, worked very hard setting up for the festivities, then retired to his bed directly after the pantomime, giving me no chance to enjoy his company at the dance.

But as my own exhaustion would have it, I slept until 9:30, and it was strictly by Providence that I woke up then. I ran around getting dressed, stuffing last-minute items into bags and boxes, getting Chrissie van Luiken's* address in Canada and giving her mine in KC in return, obtaining the storeroom key from Mrs. Smythe* the housekeeper and putting my things into there (with help from Harriet* [another American colleague] and Chrissie), all the while resigning myself to the fact that there was no way I would be seeing Nigel* [see here] this morning; I would just have to put up with it.

At 10:20 (train at 11:00) I came downstairs to call a taxi. But somebody else was using the phone, so I went and got my mail from my pigeonhole. Christmas cards from Darla and Harriet and a new Bulletin from the Berlioz Society. I stood outside the phone cubicle, beginning to open these, and looked through the glass to see who it was in there. And Tu Christe rex gloriae! it was Mr. Nigel Richards* himself.

I waited patiently till he emerged and greeted me.

"You missed a great party last night," I responded.

"Oh, no, I saw the pantomime. I enjoyed it." (He gave me a "well done!" last night.)

"No, there was a dance. After you went to your room."

A sniff into a tissue gave adequate explanation of why that absence had transpired.

"Well," said I, "I’m going to call a taxi. I’m leaving to go to France this morning. I’ll see you next term. . . . "

He wished me well and went to the mailroom. I turned to the phone. But what taxi to call? I jumped the last steps to the mailroom and asked Mr. Richards.

"I really don’t know," he said. "I’ve never used one since I’ve been here. I got one for another student once but I forget the name."

I said oh, I could try the phone book.

And he very courteously followed me into the phone cubicle and said, "Let’s have it. We’ll take a look." Lots of taxi companies; most of them in Banbury or Abingdon or Wolvercote. Most inconvenient.

He found me a number down on St. Aldates then stepped back. "Well, I’ll let you make your call."

"I’ll see you next term, then."

"Yes. Quite right. Have a good trip!"

"And you have a good holiday!"

And he went out (after I’d gotten him to change a 20p piece for me, to save the phone rejecting it). He closed the door, smiled at me through the glass once more, and was gone.

I made my call, which didn’t get me much of anywhere since the lady said the soonest they could be by for me was in twenty minutes. And it was 10:30 already. I knew then I had to hurry to get out on Banbury to flag a cab down, but part of me wanted leisure to sit and savor what God had just given me.

God didn’t have to let me see Nigel*. Practically speaking, perhaps the less I see of him the better, because as a potential unrequited passion, this is not only doomed, it’s stillborn. Emily* [his steady girlfriend, soon to be his fiancĂ©e] is part of him; to lose her would be his bitter destruction. But as for me, despite whatever of him is of Emily, which is of himself, or what is of the overarching sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the more I see and talk with him the more admirable he grows.

I hope I don’t miss him too much in the next thirty-three days. I want to enjoy myself on this trip and I wouldn’t be able to alleviate a bad case of Sehnsucht by the thought that I was storing up things to tell him on my return. Our conversations are too limited and I’d rather hear him talk than me, anyway.


Viola Larson said...

Delightful, but you did make me feel very tired and I just took a nap. So does a romance ever happen between you and Nigel? you can tell I am very new to your blog!

St. Blogwen said...

Nope. He married the lady I'm calling "Emily" a year later and they have a passel of children. They're all still good friends of mine, have a thriving ministry over in the UK, and I go stay at the Rectory whenever I'm in their neck of the woods.

As I indicated, they were joined at the heart before I even met him.

Merry Christmas to you! You're in California, aren't you? Any snow out your way?