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Go on reading. What can you say about the characters’ mentality ? In what way is it different ?
“What part of England do you hail from ?” For the first time his pronunciation faltered, as ‘hail’ came out as “heel”.
“Somerset,” I told him.
“Ah,” he said, “perhaps the most beautiful county in England.” I smiled, as most foreigners never seem to travel much beyond Stratford-upon-Avon or Oxford. “To drive across the Mendips,” he continued, “through perpetually green hilly countryside and to stop at Cheddar to see Gough’s caves, at Wells to be amused by the black swans ringing the bell on the Cathedral wall, or at Bath to admire the lifestyle of classical Rome, and then perhaps to go over the county border and on to Devon… Is Devon even more beautiful than Somerset, in your opinion ?”
“Never,” said I.
“Perhaps you are a little prejudiced,” he laughed. “Now let me see if I can recall:
“Of the western counties there are seven.
But the most glorious is surely that of Devon.”
Perhaps Hardy, like you, was prejudiced and could think only of his beloved Exmoor, the village of Tiverton and Drake’s Plymouth.”
“Which is your favourite county ?” I asked.
“The North Riding of Yorkshire has always been underrated, in my opinion,” replied the old man. “When people talk of Yorkshire, I suspect Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley spring to mind. Coal mining and heavy industry. Visitors should travel and see the dales there ; they will find them as different as chalk from cheese. Lincolnshire is too flat and so much of the Midlands must now be spoilt by sprawling towns. The Birminghams of this world hold no appeal for me. But in the end I come down in favour of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, quaint old English villages nestling in the Cotswolds and crowned by Stratford-upon-Avon. How I wish I could have been in England in 1959 while my countrymen were recovering from the scars of revolution. Olivier performing Coriolanus, another man who did not want to show his scars.”
“I saw the performance,” I said. “I went with a school party.”
“Lucky boy. I translated the play into Hungarian at the age of nineteen. Reading over my work again last year made me aware I must repeat the exercise before I die.”
“You have translated other Shakespeare plays ?”
“All but three, I have been leaving Hamlet to last, and then I shall return to Coriolanus and start again. As you are a student, am I permitted to ask which university you attend ?”
“And your college ?”
“Ah. BNC. How wonderful to be a few yards away from the Bodleian, the greatest library in the world. If I had been born in England I should have wanted to spend my days at All Souls, that is just opposite BNC, is it not ?”
The professor stopped talking while we watched the next race, the first semi-final of the 1,500 metres. The winner was Anfras Patovich,
“That’s what I call support,” I said.
“Like Manchester United when they have scored the winning goal in the Cup Final. But my fellow countrymen do not cheer because the Hungarian was first,” said the old man.
“No ?” I said, somewhat surprised.
“Oh, no, they cheer because he beat the Russian.”
“I hadn’t even noticed,” I said.
“There is no reason why you should, but their presence is always in the forefront of our minds and we are rarely given the opportunity to see them beaten in public”
I tried to steer him back to a happier subject. “And before you had been elected to All Souls, which college would you have wanted to attend ?”
“As an undergraduate, you mean ?”
“Undoubtedly Magdalen is the most beautiful college. It has the distinct advantage of being situated on the River Cherwell ; and in any case I confess a weakness for perpendicular architecture and a love of Oscar Wilde.” The conversation was interrupted by the sound of a pistol and we watched the second semi-final of the 1,500 metres, which was won by Orentas of the USSR. The crowd showed its disapproval more obviously this time, clapping in such a way that left hands passed by right without coming into contact. I found myself joining in on the side of the Hungarians. The scene made the old man lapse into a sad silence. The last race of the day was won by Tim Johnston of England and I stood and cheered unashamedly. The Hungarian crowd clapped politely.
I turned to say goodbye to the professor, who had not spoken for some time.
“How long are you staying in Budapest ?” he asked.
“The rest of the week. I return to England on Sunday.”
“Could you spare the time to join an old man for dinner one night ?”
“I should be delighted.”
“How considerate of you,” he said, and he wrote out his full name and address in capital letters on the back of my programme and returned it to me. “Why don’t we say tomorrow at seven ? And if you have any old newspapers or magazines do bring them with you,” he said, looking a little sheepish. “And I shall quite understand if you have to change your plans.”
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