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Foreplay for ‘Proceedings of the Byron Society, Vol. 2’

by Chris "Childe Harold" Oakley

Towards the end of the summer term Rob received the last visit and Grand Remonstrance from his cousin Jasper. Jasper had the air of someone executing a long-delayed but necessary unpleasant duty, an effect enhanced by his clear knowledge that he had failed to do himself justice in the Greek Unseen which had finished just twenty minutes before. With a minimum of opening pleasantries, he started:

‘Look, Rob, you seem to think that just because you live in Rawlinson Road that I don’t hear what goes on; but let me tell you that I hear all too much, and none of it to my liking. We all make mistakes when we first come up to Oxford — why, I myself got involved with the Keble Pyramid Restoring Society in my first year — which turned out to be a complete dead loss: it wasn’t till I contracted dysentery in the middle of the long vac. in Egypt that I realised my mistake — but you, Rob, seem to have gone, hook, line and sinker for the very worst set in the university.

‘I don’t know much about this Henrey character: I daresay he’s a waster, and of fairly dubious origins, but Hoey. Now there’s a man there’s no excuse for. It was only last week that they had to drag him from outside the Somerville college doctor’s surgery — wearing some theatrical cape and shouting some stuff like, "a woman’s blood is the devil’s libation". They have to have a policeman outside the hall in New Inn Hall Street when they do transfusions, just to keep him away. He is extremely strange. And if I were you, I would try to avoid being seen with Hector, as his penchant for peddling pornography is becoming common knowledge: it won’t be long before the authorities catch up with him.

‘And your clothes, Robert. When you came up I said that you should attire yourself as a Sloane Ranger would for a weekend in the country. Unfortunately your habitual garments seem more to be an unhappy compromise between Nosferatu impersonating a transvestite croupier in a Burmese gay bar and Rasputin the Mad Monk on a sightseeing trip in Brussels, as though you were some kind of eccentric young Lord.

‘Which brings me to another thing — I don’t know what your allowance is, but I don’t mind betting that you’re spending double.’ With a sweep of his hand he presented the all-too-apparent evidence of profligacy around him. ‘For example, is this paid for?’ (An Albanian ceremonial dagger) ‘Or this?’ (A Venetian carved "Monopoly" set) ‘Or these?’ (A pair of Dior designer Wellingtons with the family crest embroidered on the sides) ‘Or this peculiarly noisome object?’

‘Yes,’ said Rob, glad to be clear on one count. ‘In fact, I got the skull for nothing. It was of a Lyme Society member from Balliol who tried to crash a Byron Society dinner. Danny has the limbs, and George has the pelvis. The rest we gave to the chef who said that he could make some sort of consomme. Such a clever man.’ He paused and added, ‘I normally have a glass of laudanum about this time. Would you care to join me?’

Jasper declined brusquely and continued: ‘I can’t remember exactly what the rules are, but I’m fairly sure that keeping animals is not allowed — certainly, not sheep at any rate.’

Rob ran over to the corner of the room where his sheep, wearing a diamond-studded collar, was nibbling caviare from a silver dish. He flung his arms around it, saying, ‘There, there, Rosabella, don’t mind that horrid, horrid man. Robbie wants you here! Robbie loves you!’ He buried his face in its fleece mumbling nonsense to it. Jasper looked on this scene with considerable distaste, as though he strongly suspected that something sordid was going on, but did not quite want to believe it. He quickly changed the subject.

‘And your drinking habits, Robert; no-one minds if a fellow gets tight, and smashes up a restaurant with his friends, every now and again. In fact, it is expected of him. But you and these "Byron Society" wastrels seem to be either drunk, or bombed out on laudanum, or both, practically all of the time!’

‘It’s an essential part of the creative process,’ answered Rob. ‘When I write poetry I need to be in a state of heightened perception, for transcending the bounds of the material world is the first step to gaining true enlightenment. The cosmic wind that flows through all things — the Nouki — which is the same dynamic force that Byron used, is strange and subtle, and does not impart itself readily on mankind. One must therefore leave the dull world of sensation to experience it.’

‘I’ve never heard such tosh in my whole life! And it’s all so damned unhealthy. None of these Byron Society chaps carry any weight in their own colleges, and that’s the real test. They’re just namby-pamby wastrels. A fellow should spend his time more profitably. For example in rigging OUCA elections or getting off with ugly women under the tables in the Union bar. You have to look to your future, Rob, and there’s no way you’ll get a decent respectable career in a decent respectable outfit like GCHQ or the Courtald Institute if you’re seen to associate with those losers. And as for poetry, and creativity, and other such things, what do they care ...’