perhaps, and a full realisation of the extent of my unease arose from that unexpected glimpse of my childhood in Clare's eyes, for it is during childhood that we feel most comfortable in the world, or to put it in a more precisely infantile way, when the world is most worldlike, when time has more substance and the dead are not yet one half of our lives.
After supper I went up to Cromer-Blake's rooms at the college to have a nightcap before going home to bed. Without taking his gown off, he got out two glasses and opened a bottle with assured, methodical movements. I thought: "Here in Oxford, the one really decisive factor is not just that I'm a foreigner about whom no one knows or cares, about whom the only fact of any biographical significance is that I won't be staying here for ever, it's that there's no one here who knew me as a young man or as a child. That's what really troubles me, leaving the world behind and having no previous existence in this world, there being no witness here to my continuity, to the fact that I haven't always swum in this water. Cromer-Blake knows a little about me, from some time back, through my predecessors from Madrid and Barcelona. But that's all, information received before I had a face and was still nothing more than a name. But that's reason enough - this friendship by proxy - to condemn him to being my strongest link with this city, the person of whom I will ask all those questions that must be asked and to whom I will come whenever some problem arises here, be it illness, infamy or a serious emotional crisis. He's the person whom I intend asking right now about the woman at supper, Clare Bayes. As soon as he's poured the drinks and sat down I'll ask him about her and her husband. Cromer-Blake, with his greying hair and pale face and the moustache which every fewweeks, in a state of perpetual indecision, he grows then shaves off; Cromer-Blake with his inimitable English accent that admiring students say is exactly the way they used to speak on the BBC; Cromer-Blake with his incisive mind and his extraordinary interpretations of Valle-Inclán, with his look of a man of the cloth expelled from the bosom of the Church and with his complete absence of family feeling, is condemned to being both father and mother figure to me in this city, even though he did not know me — at all — as a child or as a young man (I'm over thirty years old now, so he can't be said to have known me in my youth). The woman at supper knew nothing about my childhood or my youth either and yet, how, I don't know, she saw my childhood and allowed me to see hers, to see her as a child. I know, however, that in this city I can't rely on her to be either the father- or even the mother-figure each of us always needs at all times and in all places, whatever our age or our status. Even the oldest and most powerful of men need such figures right to the end of their days and if they find it difficult or are unable to light upon someone to embody those two figures, that in no way denies their need for them or belies the fantasies provoked by their search or by the sense of their lack, their need, their expectation and their imagination of them.
Cromer-Blake poured me a glass of port, apologised for the inferior quality compared with the port imbibed with our high-table desserts, then sat down in an armchair. I was already seated on the sofa opposite him, also still with my gown on. We were both fairly drunk but in him that never proved a barrier to holding a conversation. We spoke sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish and sometimes each in his own language.
"Cheers," he said and took a sip of wine. "It wasn't so bad, was it? Apart from your baptism of cider, from which, if it's any consolation, no one in college has escaped this year. There was no mischief intended in seating you next to him, you were simply the only one at table as yet unbaptised. Halliwell's newhere and that spiel of his is by way of being a very