Rupert Mountjoy

The Intimate Memoirs of an Edwardian Dandy, vol.II

Green grow the rushes

O, Green grow the rushes O; The sweetest hours that e'er I spent, Were spent among the lasses O!

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

CHAPTER ONE. A Freshman's Tale

'Here's a little trick which will amuse the ladies at your party tonight,' said Barry Jacobs, a fellow undergraduate I met during my second week of the Varsity when we were both chosen to play football for the college team on the strength that we had both captained our school elevens at soccer. He was a clever chap and though our life paths took very different directions after leaving Oxford, Barry and I have remained close personal chums. 'Do you have a pencil and paper to hand? listen carefully now, Rupert-take your age and double it; then add five. Right? Now, think of any number between one and ninety-nine; and now take away the number of days in a year. Finally, add one hundred and fifteen and divide by one hundred.

Now see where the decimal point comes. Your age will be to the left of it and the number between one and ninety-nine that you chose will be to the right of it! Isn't that amazing?' But dear readers, I feel that I am in too much haste in beginning these recollections of my splendid years spent 'twixt the dreaming spires of the internationally famous University of Oxford, in the heart of England's green and pleasant land. For those of you who have yet to read of my early exploits in the grand l'art de faire l'amour I had best swiftly sketch the bare details of my life so far. Although my family seat is in Yorkshire, I attended boarding school down in Sussex at St Lionel's Academy For the Sons Of Gentlefolk. I was initiated into the joys of sensuality, however, by Diana Wigmore, the beautiful daughter of a neighbour and my friend Frank Folkestone (who also crossed the Rubicon during that never- to-be-forgotten summer holiday) and I enjoyed further liaisons at school with Prince Salman of Lockshenstan. Salman, the son of a fabulously wealthy maharajah, liked nothing better than to fuck himself into a stupor at any and every opportunity and the girls of the nearby village queued up to receive his spunky libations and twenty pound notes which he generously distributed to his female companions. Nevertheless, all play and no work is a recipe for disaster as Dr Keeleigh, our dear old headmaster used to say, and Salman took his wise words to heart. My Indian pal was a diligent scholar and I was sorry that he did not accept the place offered him at University College, Oxford but preferred to continue his scientific studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. However, we did keep in touch from time to time as will be recorded in this narrative. My other inseparable schoolfellow was Frank Folkestone and to our mutual delight we were both accepted by Balliol College to study law. Our rooms were on the same landing in college which pleased us both and, as will be noted, this arrangement proved to be extremely convenient for, how shall I best put it, our often joint extra mural activities.

Hopefully this will set the scene for you, dear reader. Let us now return to a pleasant day in early October, 1899. I was walking down St Cross Road with Barry Jacobs after we had taken part in an hour's training for the football match against Brasenose College to be played on the following Saturday. It had been a dry, warm summer and the weather had yet to turn cold and walking slowly away from the playing fields I felt at peace with the world. In the quiet lane I thought I could hear some conkers falling and I noticed that the ash-keys were turning gold along with a few adjacent leaves-but all other leaves on the ash-tree boughs were still green. Barry had also been affected by the beauty of our surroundings and he exclaimed: 'We're really lucky chaps to be at Oxford, aren't we Rupert? How did the poet put it:

Towery city and branchy between towers; Cuckoo-echoing, bell swarmed, lark-charmed, rook-racked, river rounded; The dapple-eared lily below thee…'

'Very well said-especially coming from a mathematics scholar!' I joked, 'but frankly I'm thinking of a more down-to-earth matter. I've been invited to a reception this evening given by Doctor Nicholas Blayers at Jesus College. He's a cousin of the headmaster at my old school and probably the most radically minded senior tutor in the entire University. He believes in mixed colleges with boys and girls studying together. Now you know how resistant most Oxonians were to the idea of women being admitted at all and how today their colleges are strictly out of bounds to us. 'Well, because he believes (and quite rightly in my opinion) that undergraduates of both sexes should mix freely without undue hindrance, at his own expense Doctor Blayers is throwing a party for a group of first year female students from Somerville College and a similar number of male freshmen. Now I happen to know that several of these girls have come to Oxford from Trippett's Academy For The Daughters Of Gentlefolk down in the West Country. This is a school run by Dame Agatha Humphrey, the famous champion of higher education for women and frankly, I'm more than a little apprehensive about meeting sophisticated young ladies from there. You attended a day school in London and I doubt whether you can appreciate what a sheltered life one has to live even at a progressive English boarding school like St Lionel's.' Barry looked at me in some astonishment. 'What on earth have you to be scared about? What a marvellous chance you have to meet some girls- gosh, Rupert, I wish I had been given an invitation to such a spiffing party. I just can't imagine any problem or are you just very shy?'

'Yes, I suppose I am,' I admitted, for with the exception of my initiation into the joys of fucking by Diana and her friend Cecily, along with some uninhibited horseplay with some housemaids at St Lionel's with Frank and Salman, I had little to no experience of social intercourse with the female sex. 'I'm worried that I will find myself quite tongue-tied. How do I continue a conversation with a girl after enquiring about the state of the weather? To be honest, I'm uncertain about what to say next!' 'Now this can often be a thorny problem for boys,' admitted Barry as we trudged along. It has to be said that girls are not usually interested in current affairs (except those of an intimate nature!), sport or other masculine pursuits, and we are hardly enraptured by feminine chit-chat. Also, they have been told by their mamas that they must not be too forward in the initiation of conversation with young men and should only speak when spoken to-so this makes the situation even more difficult.

'My solution is to try your luck with subjects such as the weather, gardening, food, the latest plays or the current exhibition at the Royal Academy. This usually works although, of course, I cannot give you a cast-iron guarantee of success. However, just before I came up to Oxford my uncle, Sir Lewis Osborne, invited me to a splendid dinner-party to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of my cousin Philippa. I was sitting next to an extremely attractive girl named Adrienne and I tried my best to impress her with some smart, sophisticated conversation. In vain I went through all the subjects I have just mentioned but I couldn't raise the slightest glimmer of interest. I even tried talking about the magnificent dishes being served which were all strictly kosher but she barely concealed her boredom and was even beginning to yawn. 'At this stage I was frankly ready to throw in the towel but just then a footman approached and handed me a note on a silver salver. “A message from your cousin Philippa, sir,” he whispered into my ear. I opened it surreptitiously under the tablecloth and with difficulty deciphered Philippa's scrawl.

She had written: Try Votes For Women, so I pocketed the scrap of paper and tackled Adrienne again. “What do you think of Mrs. Pankhurst and the suffragettes?” I asked and voila! instantly into her lovely brown eyes leapt a bright gleam of genuine interest. 'Philippa had noticed how I was struggling and her kind message certainly did the trick for me. Adrienne was an ardent supporter of the emancipation of women and as I have never understood why women should be treated as second class citizens I could honestly put my hand on my heart and tell her that I agreed with every word she said. I told her of my father's letter on the subject which had been published a few weeks back in The Daily Chronicle. He had argued that women's suffrage would come once the present social, educational and economic changes now taking place had worked themselves through the system. The choice is not between going on and standing still, it is between advancing and retreating, he had written in his forceful conclusion. '“Oh, so it was your Papa who wrote that letter,” said Adrienne, now flashing a luscious smile at me. “How silly of me not to have realised that Leonard Jacobs was your Papa. I know of his reputation as a generous

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