A few weeks ago now Giles Coren’s review of the Randolph appeared in The Times. It was accurately and amusingly bad, and intriguingly didn’t even mention the only newsworthy event about The Randolph recently, namely the fire that broke out a few years ago. My memories of the Randolph are from occasional cream teas that my parents took me to if we happened to be in Oxford, presumably because my parents wanted to spend the whole afternoon browsing through the giant stacks in the Blackwells basement. Back then, in the 1980s, I remember The Randolph serving delicious cream teas with piles of cream in a very beautiful drawing room, with a flower arrangement on every table.
When I was at Oxford (four words that I did hope I wouldn’t employ quite so often in a manner designed to indicate that I have some achievements to offer after all) in 1997, I went to The Randolph approximately three times – twice when there was some graduate recruitment event on in the evening, because they’d be serving free drinks, and once when my father wanted to go and sit in the bar in about 2001, just before I finished my ill-deserved degree. He was enraged at it being called the Morse bar, because apparently back when he had known it, it had some other name, and he hates anything derived from popular culture, except when he liked it first, in which case no one else understands the true depths of it (eg. Twin Peaks, Jenna Coleman). The service was pretty non-existent, with my father wandering off to find someone to serve him coffee. The coffee was bitter and served in an irritating cafetiere (which is of course just a cheaper way of serving filter coffee and making the coffee grounds the customer’s problem). I probably opted for an alcoholic drink, since it was after lunchtime and my father was paying. I used to opt for an alcoholic drink at pretty much any time after 12 pm. My honest recollection of Oxford has not all acquired a generic rose-tinted sheen of wonderfulness. There was the general self-absorption of being in one’s early 20s, the pressure of producing two essays and four translations each week, and of course the most important thing in the world, rowing. That was what gave everything a purpose, and the 6 am starts were completely worth it. Obviously these days I get up at 5.45, and it’s financially quite definitely worth it, but in every other respect, getting up early to go to work is a soul-sucking weight of expectation and disappointment. Unlike going out on the river at Godstow, breaking the ice at the side of the jetty when we lower the boat into the water, and watching the oars nearly turning while the sun rises over the frosty fields, with no other objective than achieving a stroke (or preferably many) that is both perfectly timed and perfectly powerful, work is a jumble of incompetence and politics.
My husband says I am not very happy at the moment. I suppose the simple reason for that is that I am suddenly disappointed by just how small my life is after all. In those days at Oxford, I suppose we all thought, in some nebulous way, that we would do something important in the world.
I quite quickly adjusted to the fact that this was very unlikely, and spent most of my 20s just trundling along in my job, not really trying particularly hard, and spending most of my time drunk in Mayfair. When I turned 30 we went on holiday to Greece, and a very unflattering photo made me realise that this lifestyle was doing me no favours, so I joined a gym and bought tomatoes more often. I always join a gym when there’s a bit of a dip in general life purpose. It seems like exercise is something I’m relatively good at, and it’s one of few areas in life where effort is directly proportional to outcome. At work, I can work until midnight and achieve very little, or I can write one very well-written, well-timed email which achieves the desired senior management response.
So why, at 38, am I so ungrateful? I’ll only be getting older, so there is little point in lamenting the fact I am not 19. Even in two years’ time I’ll look at photos of this weekend, and reflect on how much younger I looked. I have two lovely little children, I am married to Mr Perfect, I have a nice house (although it does seem to come with an endless list of home improvements), I am as thin as I want to be, we have enough money, and a great nanny. The one thing I suppose we don’t have is time. Weekends are about getting through the basic chores we don’t manage during the week, and entertaining the kids. Still, this weekend we went for a fairly long bike ride, went to a funfair, and went to a National Trust property with some friends. Perhaps I am merely slighlty disappointed at the fact work is all overrun by politics, which has resulted in the cancellation of a trip to Hong Kong. Would have been very hard being away, but nice to catch up with friends and generally get out of the daily routine of my life for a little while. Only a few days until the American election.