Here’s the fourth chunk of Bewick Gaudy, my play about a reunion at an Oxford college. The other scenes can be found here: Scene 1 – Scene 2, Part I – Scene 2, Part II. The cast got very excited about the set for this scene, as it featured a) a sundial, which was A METAPHOR or possible SYMBOLISM, and either way they had seen Brideshead Revisited and were well up for draping themselves around it whilst being portentous and b) that fake grass you get in the windows of butcher’s shops, which was equally good for lying around on, whilst declaring dramatically “I’M JUST A PIECE OF MEAT TO YOU PEOPLE, AREN’T I?” It also contains a stage direction which resulted in what one reviewer called “the most hilariously bad stage kiss I have ever witnessed”, which probbaly has a lot to do with the way the dialogue leads up to it, and then away again.
Rereading this bit, I will concede that the stable-boy metaphors may not have been what David wanted when he asked me to really dirty that scene up. In keeping with my earlier comments about the use of space, I seem to have felt that once characters had talked a bit about sex and decided to have it, the scene was clearly over as they were unlikely to produce particularly interesting dialogue during the ensuing activity. After later reading David Lodge’s lengthy essay on his experience of seeing his play through development, I wondered how this scene might work out if Jeanie and Patrick disappeared, only to vie for the audience’s attention by appearing briefly in silhouette at an upstairs window, run the taps of a washbasin, etc; or indeed if the sound and light from the bar downstairs intruded occasionally on this scene when the door opened.
SCENE 3: THE QUAD. LATER THAT NIGHT
GEOFF: Bar Quad. The very best of quads. On a direct line between the Church of the Virgin and the college gardens, exactly fifty steps from the JCR, and one hundred from the high table of the Hall.
JEANIE and PATRICK enter from different sides and GEOFF slips into the shadows. The other two see each other.
PATRICK: Oh, hi.
PATRICK: Nice out here, isn’t it? Quieter than down in the bar.
PATRICK: Good view. Beat. Well, you can’t see anywhere but up.
JEANIE: “That little
JEANIE AND PATRICK: tent of blue” They laugh slightly at the recognition.
Pause, as they gaze at it, or apparently do so.
JEANIE: The fourth wall.
PATRICK: Yeah, it does seem like that, doesn’t it? There’s supposed to be a quad in some college, Oriel or somewhere, or is it northwards, anyway they’re supposed to have a quad that’s actually cubic.
PATRICK: Yeah, it must be really weird.
JEANIE: Why do you say that?
PATRICK: Well, you don’t see the open air as a part of a building, do you? I mean, you don’t usually think of it as a, dimension, or whatever. Using the sky as a boundary.
JEANIE: It sounds almost arrogant, doesn’t it? Cocky gits who built this thought they’d just latch in a section of the heavens to make it complete.
PATRICK: You don’t like it?
JEANIE: No, I…it’s not that I don’t like it, one way or the other. They told me I could get a first, you know.
PATRICK: Yeah? Cool. Did you?
JEANIE: No. My tutors told me I had a good chance, so I worked for quite a lot of the time. Got a good 2-1 in the end.
PATRICK: You weren’t happy with that? I mean, if I could be sure of any kind of 2-1, I’d be over the moon.
JEANIE: Oh, I just wish I hadn’t worked so hard sometimes. Enjoyed the city a bit more. If I’d spent a couple of those seminars lying in Parks by the cricket pitch. Sorry, I’m sure that isn’t what I should be telling you.
PATRICK: Yeah, study hard, and don’t go to New College parties, you’ll be grateful in the end.
JEANIE: Well, it’s not exactly the old, old, lie. But I would probably do it a bit differently. Fuck all this, I’m sounding like Rambling Ned. How’s your time here going?
PATRICK: Pretty well. Don’t do enough work, of course, but who does? Spending most of my time at the moment in the JCR, watching MTV. And bitching about the housing ballot, of course.
JEANIE: That annual disaster’s still going on, then.
PATRICK: Oh, yeah. I crashed in at seventy-four this time; I’m seriously considering applying for an exchange programme ‘til next year’s ballot.
PATRICK: Well, I think the Harvard and Princeton ones have been taken. But there’s always University of Scandinavia.
JEANIE: So there is. A tempting solution.
PATRICK: Not that you’d need one, coming in from the real world and snicking the best quarters.
JEANIE: Ah, yes, the Square Quad Hilton.
PATRICK: Running water, has it?
JEANIE: Mm hmm, TV, minibar, view of the pool, Old Masters. You should see it.
PATRICK: I bet.
JEANIE: I’ll show you if you like.
PATRICK: Tempting. It’d be nice to see how the likes of organ scholars live.
JEANIE: As opposed to your garret in the stable block? I’m offended you don’t ask me back.
PATRICK: Oh, my place is nothing special. You have to climb over a few mangers to get to the bed, but it’s somewhere to call home.
JEANIE: Mmm, well, I’ve always rather fancied trying a hay-loft.
JEANIE: Yes, it seems so much more dignified than a quickie in the tack room.
PATRICK: I’m not sure dignity is a word I’d associate with the rooms in Gate Building.
JEANIE: Probably fair. But it does have a certain rough charm. And there’s no coffee in my rooms.
PATRICK: That could be a draw-back. But I’m not sure I want coffee.
JEANIE: Well, then, yours or mine?
Pause. PATRICK doesn’t reply.
Sorry, is there a Bewick babe waiting for you back at Gate Building?
PATRICK: No, my staff quarters are how I like them; cold, empty, and piled with pizza boxes.
They kiss and embrace.
JEANIE: Well, at least come and get warm at mine. If the fire runs out, we can always throw some oak panelling on.
They kiss again. They move off. Before they leave the quad;
Whoever she is, she’s got you for the whole term. I’m only here tonight.
GEOFF appears from the other side of the quad.
GEOFF: The heavens latched to a square of turf by four slabs of mock gothic stone.
“The mason’s courses, levels all…”
Good old Gerard Manley, you were as overwrought as me. Probably less drunk, though, being a Jesuit and everything. What were we doing here? How did we spend three years crossing this quadrangle?
DAVID enters and sidles up.
DAVID: Oh, hello, it’s Mr. Lonsdale, isn’t it?
DAVID: David, I work for the Development Office.
GEOFF: Geoff. I was just taking a look at the old quad.
DAVID: Nice, isn’t it? Of course, it’s not at all the most impressive stonework in the college, that’s over at
GEOFF: Deep Quad. Yes, I don’t think that’s changed in ten years,
DAVID: Oh, yes, of course not
GEOFF: This quad is a bit of a favourite of mine, though.
DAVID: You had rooms here?
GEOFF: Hah. I should be so lucky. No, I was over at Gate Building for most of my time. But I did have tutorials here. I’ve been told by a book that the defining feature of Oxford is not the dreaming spires, but the college wall. I suppose that makes a quad the most perfect form in the city; it’s nothing but walls. Or it’s four walls around nothing.
DAVID: Er, yes, I suppose it is. If only it cost nothing to maintain, heh?
GEOFF: Yes. Thank god some Americans have the residual taste to pay up and keep decently quiet whilst they’re here.
DAVID: Well, yes, that’s one way of looking at it.
GEOFF: There’s another? Or do you already run the medieval banquets with college staff in jesters’ outfits and chainmail?
DAVID: Ha, ha, no, we haven’t had to go that far with college fundraising. (Pause) Most of our old members are very happy to contribute something towards the cost of the place.
GEOFF: I’m sure they are. It is a magnificent place.
DAVID: It is, isn’t it?
GEOFF: Anyone contributing must be happy.
DAVID: We try. It’s nice to be able to hold gaudys like this to let the old members see the place is still here.
GEOFF: Still latched to the same square of turf.
DAVID: Um, yes.
GEOFF: Sorry, what was the name of the office you said you worked with?
DAVID: The Development Office.
GEOFF: Ah, the worldly shepherd, then.
DAVID: I’m sorry?
GEOFF: Well, if I recall, the foundation of the college provided for a Provost and two chaplains alongside the tutors and scholars. But as far as I can see, there is only one chaplain’s room. Or do they share?
DAVID: No, we only have one chaplain; the Reverend Michael
GEOFF: Hare, yes, obviously the cure of Bewick souls requires fewer workmen than in former times. Perhaps student souls are less in need of working on than a few hundred years ago. Do you think we’re breeding a generation of purer and more unworldly students?
DAVID: I think it’s more likely the other way round; they’ve probably given up on them entirely!
GEOFF: You may well be right.
DAVID: Not that college doesn’t still respect the principles it was founded for, obviously. And the chaplain is available to speak to any student around the clock. Or, er, to put them in touch with a representative of their own faith.
GEOFF: Leaving you to take care of the material well-being of the college?
DAVID: We do what we can. The Administrative Office takes care of the day-to-day running of the place, our sphere in Development is more strategic; fund-raising, and so on. We have quite a lot of work simply keeping up to date the details we have of our members; the college files, you know.
GEOFF: Do you not find that a very depressing job?
DAVID: I’m sorry?
GEOFF: Well, I imagine much of it is quite dull and administrative, like most jobs, but usually you can justify that with some kind of end to it all; some kind of purpose.
DAVID: Well, I suppose education is our purpose. Isn’t that enough of an end? The government are always saying education is the only way for the country to compete internationally; that more people need to get into university, we need a high-skill workforce.
GEOFF: I suppose. I don’t doubt Bewick’s credentials these days, but don’t you sometimes get discouraged raking through the files of old members in search of spare cash? It all seems a bit far from the Groves of Academe.
DAVID: Well, we are in Oxford, aren’t we? This is about as academe as it gets. Though a lot of the tutors certainly seem to wander round with their heads somewhere else; could well be in a grove somewhere.
GEOFF: I’m sure.
DAVID: Our job does have to be done, you know. The college needs to be maintained.
GEOFF: Oh, no, I do realise that, believe me. I’d hate to come back and see Bewick doing badly.
DAVID: And some very distinguished alumni feel the same way. We’ve been very lucky here; the new sports facilities, the extension to the kitchens, the Tarleton lecture room; they were all built with funds provided by ex-members of the college.
GEOFF: Yes, I meant to ask you about that. I was, well I have been for some time, thinking about giving a little something to the college; just something every year, you know, and I wondered if there was any forms I had to fill in.
DAVID: I’d be more than happy to find you the appropriate paperwork. If you were thinking of giving on an annual basis there are certain tax breaks the college could take advantage of.
GEOFF: Well, I was thinking along those sort of lines.
DAVID: Great stuff. I’ll send you some material; we’ll have your address on the files!
GEOFF: Ah, yes, the files.
DAVID: The CIA has nothing on us, you know!
GEOFF: I’m sure.
DAVID: I’m so glad you’re enjoying the gaudy. There’ll be a breakfast in Hall tomorrow morning; no doubt I’ll see you there.
GEOFF: Well, that depends. I may just head back earlyish, but if not I’ll be there.
DAVID: Great. A pleasure to have met you.
GEOFF: And you.
DAVID leaves, and GEOFF wanders slightly disconsolately, finding ED sitting at the top of the steps.
ED: Hey. What’s up?
GEOFF: I think I’ve just sold my soul.
ED: That’s cool. Pause. How much you get?
GEOFF: Not much.
GEOFF: Yes. He exits.