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Michaelmas Term 2013 - Volume 26 No.1
Bulganin and Khruschev
When the Russian leaders came to Oxford in 1956, as described by Michael Tunstall, (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) I photographed them on the steps of the Sheldonian from the Blackwell’s side of the Broad.
It only occurred to me later that I could easily have changed the course of history. I was using a telephoto lens on my Leica, with a pistol grip, and could easily have been an assassin as far as their bodyguards had been concerned if they had spotted me. A few months later, and in almost exactly the same location, I photographed the anti-Suez protest march.
Lincoln College, 1954
I was interested to read Keith Tunstall's memories of Bulganin and Kruschev in Oxford in 1956. He says that Kruschev's denunciation of Joseph Stalin was published two months after their visit; however I remember being in a crowd of undergraduates outside the Sheldonian, serenading them to the strains of Poor Old Joe. Were we prescient, as well as — we thought — extremely witty?
Lady Margaret Hall, 1953
I'm not sure that Keith Tunstall has got quite right the chronological relationship between Bulganin's and Khrushchev's visit to Oxford in 1956 and the denunciation of Stalin.
My one memory of the visit is of the Soviet leaders emerging on to the steps of the Sheldonian and the crowd packing the Broad raising a chorus of ‘Poor old Joe’.
University College, 1952
As Keith Tunstall says, it was a couple of months after the visit of Khruschev and Bulganin to Oxford that the text of Khruschev’s speech denouncing Stalin was published in The Observer. However, the general contents and nature of the speech were known in the West well before the time of the visit. When the Soviet leaders were driven along Broad Street some of those watching started chanting ‘Poor Old Joe, Poor Old Joe (in unison, and the chant was quickly taken up by a large part of the crowd, perhaps most of it). The visitors, who presumably had no idea what was being chanted, looked delighted. If my memory isn't at fault, at least one of them waved his clasped hands above his head vigorously in acknowledgement.
Balliol College, 1955
Keith Tunstall's comment on the reception given Bulganin and Krushchev when they came to Oxford in April 1956 is interesting. He says their visit to Magdalen “aroused curiosity rather than any enthusiasm”, adding that he “politely clapped as they went by”.
The reception given elsewhere in the city was very different. I was part of a vast throng of students standing outside Blackwell’s, blocking the whole of the Broad. As Bulganin and Krushchev emerged from the Sheldonian opposite, and, surrounded by square-shouldered bodyguards, came down the steps towards us, someone from the back of the crowd lobbed a brown-paper package over everyone’s heads, and it landed near the Russians. Amid jeers from the mass, bodyguards swooped on the apparently dangerous brown object and rushed off with it, while the jeers turned to the raucous singing of ‘Poor Joe is Dead’, in memory of the recent death of Joe Stalin.
Bulganin and Krushchev, I remember, stood there grinning and clapping, their hands high above their heads, presumably thinking that ours was a song of welcome.
After that, the beer in the White Horse nearby tasted especially good!
Trinity College, 1955
A curious sidelight on the British visit of Bulganin and Khruschev reveals one vast difference between then and now. As they sped out of Portsmouth Dockyard at the start of their journey, the sole security accompaniment for the supreme leaders of Communism was one Riley police car, leading the way. Bulganin, seated on the right in the limousine, peered out at the unappealing vista of the deserted railway station and ferry point, possibly hoping to wave to cheering crowds, but alas all he saw was a single schoolboy with better use for a lunch hour than idling in the school quad. Contrast that with, for instance, the huge security operation in 2010 – complete with a no-fly zone over much of Long Island – for the wedding of the daughter of a president, ten years out of office.
D Connor Ferris
St John’s College, 1958
Would anyone like to join me in creating an effective campaign to stop the granting of discretionary degrees to Oxford and Cambridge graduates? The practice is grossly unfair, (possibly) devalues other genuinely studied-for masters qualifications, and (certainly) devalues the reputations of Oxford and Cambridge.
Ideally, all the essentially bogus degrees granted over the years would be retrospectively removed – but if that proved cumbersome, what would help is a wide information campaign to inform the public at large that an MA from Oxford or Cambridge essentially means nothing, has no extra study or knowledge behind it, and is, essentially, valueless.
So, shall we stop this now? Who will join me?
Hilary Bichovsky (Little)
Somerville College, 1981
Making the British
I found the People of the British Isles article (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) fascinating, but am puzzled how the research by Donnelly, Robinson and Bodmer links to that by Bryan Sykes and his team over many years, to which no reference is made. They all appear to a layman to have been covering the same ground. Is it a case here of academic rivalry over some some issue too arcane for a mere historian to grasp?
The Queen's College, 1951
Many will have read with interest Judith Keeling’s account of the Oxford DNA project which can offer new answers to the question of “what happened to the Romano-British population when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded following the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain?”
Those interested in this question can profitably re-read the books and articles of AW Wade-Evans (Jesus College, 1893), and especially his conclusions in The Emergence of England and Wales (2nd. ed., Cambridge, 1959). Over many years Wade-Evans had maintained that the Brythonic population of what became England was neither extinguished nor driven westwards. He might well feel vindicated if he could read about the “substantial amount of ‘ancient British’ DNA” in the modern population of England.
Wade-Evans wrote as a nationalist who wanted his fellow-Welshmen to see themselves as essentially a political or civic community and not, as the age-old tradition had maintained, a racial group that had been displaced. That tradition has shaped the relationships of the peoples of Britain, and of all its outcomes the most decisive was the Battle of Bosworth.
Reading Wade-Evans we may, at certain important junctures, wish he would present more concrete evidence for what must have been, to him, certainties. But he deserves respect for his independent approach to some fundamental issues.
D Glyn Jones
Linacre College, 1964
I was particularly interested to read the article ‘What makes the British?' Do you know if the underlying research by Profs Donnelly, Robinson and Sir Walter Bodmer has been published in full yet? If so, where might I look?
St Peter's College, 1967
Ed: The research is indeed available, and you can find out more on the Royal Society's website.
Home Fires Burn
I agree with Harriet Wilson ([Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I don't think that I missed the point; rather, I think I didn't explain it properly. My observation is that government is increasingly trying to interfere in the administration of UK universities. I sense that many young people share my concern and are increasingly considering going to foreign universities, thus depriving the UK of their talents.
Merton College, 1950
Cash for Questions
Professors Daniels and James have unenviable tasks (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). Education, as all your readers know, is the most important of all human activities, as most of our behaviour is learned. Medicine may be second, as it maintains the machine that education has built, even though it has so dangerously interfered with natural population control mechanisms. The Home may be the most influential stage in education but the top is what the education practitioners look up to. Professors should be paid very much more in this money oriented society of ours.
In 1964 a Cambridge Colloid Science professor told me that, were it not for his very satisfactory private income, he would be working with ICI for a salary at least twice the size of his university salary. Salary differentials mattered then in 1964; they matter even more now.
Our current politicians seem to have minds so befogged with facts that they have no idea of where they really are nor where they should be trying to go. I hope Professors Daniels and James manage to penetrate these dull minds so that they come to realise how vital is the contribution which Oxford and Cambridge make to our future. These obtuse politicians should appreciate their responsibilities and do something useful for a change.
Take the Power Back
I was intrigued by the item in the Trinity 2013 edition of Oxford Today describing Prof. Trefethern's reconfiguring of the calculation for working out one's BMI. Would you be able to explain to me – I read History – how, with an ordinary calculator, one computes one's “height in metres raised to the power of 2.5”? It is not, I assume, the same as simply multiplying it by 2.5.
Magdalen College, 1981
Ed: You assume correctly. On a scientific calculator this is easy: simply type your height in metres, followed by the 'power' button, usually denoted yx, then 2.5. On a normal calculator, you need to multiply your height in metres by itself, and then once more by the square root of itself – which is exactly the same as raising it to the power of 2.5.
Graham Chainey lists many of the famous Oxford Dons of his time (Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I came up in 1973 and owe my Oxford education, and most memorable experiences, to one individual on his list: Sir Isaiah Berlin.
When my American academic advisor asked with whom I most wanted to study, I replied that I had not really found any theorist that I really wanted to study with, for a variety of reasons. He then prodded me to think harder and I said “Isaiah Berlin”.
He asked where he was based. I responded, “I think Oxford.” He suggested I applied. My response was: “How do I do that?” My advisor suggested I wrote to Berlin, then President of Wolfson College, so I did.
He replied to my letter and told me how to apply. Berlin also advised me that, because of his duties, he could only supervise graduate students. We exchanged letters and I answered his query regarding why I wanted to study with him.
When I got the application materials, Instead of applying for the Dphil – being unsure if I would be accepted – I decided to apply to read PPE as a second degree instead. After reviewing the materials, I really wanted to experience the tutorial-based Oxford education. It was a difficult choice because this meant I wouldn’t have a chance to work with Berlin.
So, imagine my surprise when Berlin reached out after I arrived and invited this young American to meet with him. I was invited to tea and conversation with him in his office; he invited me to meet him in his home in Headington, and then to walk with him, through the University Parks. On the journey he of course spoke in his inimitable way: producing a fast-paced torrent of words and thoughts, sentences as long as paragraphs, packed with observations, analysis, history, paradoxes, and questions – questions surprisingly directed at me! – all of which rolled out in such brilliant fashion that I was spellbound and fascinated each step of the way.
I felt guilty, however, in taking up Berlin’s time and offering him so little in return for what I was receiving. Regrettably, I did not make the most of this opportunity by seeking regular meetings. I was indeed privileged, however, to have this uniquely Oxford experience because of the graciousness of Berlin, who took the initiative and time to tutor this young American. I still read his essays and continue to admire his thought.
B Nelson Ong
Lincoln College, 1973
Graham Chainey may have revelled in the shooting sticks of brilliant talk during his time at Oxford, but his circle was somewhat restricted: nine historians, five philosophers, five dons of literature, two classicists, and an Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps it is just a further illustration of the two cultures that – nearly 50 years on – I recognised only 11 of his “22 household names”, but think that I would, in 1966, have recognised only six, and one of them only because he wrote two best-selling fantasy novels. The world of the science laboratory is a long way from shooting sticks along Parks Road.
Neville W Goodman
Magdalen College, 1966
Graham Chainey mentioned the great names of the necessarily narrow English literary world. In my time I learnt under the greats of the much wider world of Natural Philosophy including Nobel Prize winners and many FRSs’. Oxford in the mid 1950s was indeed world class.
Keble College, 1955
Goin' to the Chapel?
I enjoy reading Oxford Today, but was taken aback by the reference to “Christ Church chapel” on page 27 of the Trinity 2013 issue. Is this a clever new Oxford vernacular way of designating the Cathedral?
Nicholas de Lange
Christ Church College, 1962
It is surely a little unusual, although technically not incorrect, to refer to the Cathedral as “Christ Church chapel”? Stephen Green
Brasenose College, 1962
It is a god job Marcus de Sautoy is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and not of Architecture if he thinks the new Mathematical Institute (pictured on page 32 of Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) is “beautiful”. Like the new China Centre, it would probably enhance Liverpool John Moores University’s Birkenhead Docks Campus--but in Oxford? The University may have the best academic brains in the country but it clearly does not have the best architects if this sort of instantly forgettable mediocrity is the best that can be done.
Brasenose College, 1979
Colonel Raymond Ffennell, who gave Wytham Abbey and estate to the University, would have been pleased to see the notice in Trinity 2013's Oxford Today about the video series on Wytham Woods. He had originally hoped that the Abbey itself would be used for agricultural educational purposes, but would have rejoiced to know that his woods, in which his daughter Hazel had such happy times, are now one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world.
Oriel College, 1965
It was with great interest that I read about the success of the residents of Osney in harnessing the flow of the Thames to provide clean, sustainable energy to dozens of homes nearby. Most satisfying of all is the use of the ancient Archimedes Screw technology, which has provided a reliable, renewable source of power for homes throughout the world for centuries.
Certainly, one influential Oxford man would have been delighted to read how simple, small-scale and sustainable technology is still relevant in modern Britain. Unfortunately, the great EF Schumacher is no longer with us.
But the economic philosophy he developed as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and expounded in his seminal book Small is Beautiful still plays a huge role in the world. It influences politicians – David Cameron has acknowledged its continuing relevance to his thinking – and the work of Practical Action, the International charity he set up nearly 50 years ago.
Practical Action uses very similar technology to that employed by the good people of Osney to provide power to those who are most in need in throughout the world. Happily, Schumacher’s philosophy not only helps 40-odd people in Osney, but a million people throughout the world every year.
Amanda Ross (nee George)
St. Hugh’s College, 1973
The Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall discriminates against men by insisting they wear a tie, a rule not applied to women. The Club, which sports the coats of arms of both universities, has rebuffed my suggestion that it change its rules by saying it wants to maintain the standard of dress for both sexes. The Club Secretary, Alastair Telfer, does not recognise that the tie is obsolescent and dismisses the fashion sense of the Prime Minister who frequently appears in public without one. The Club does not even acknowledge there is the question of equality for men or that the tie cannot be made a requirement in national or local government.
Where are you Emily Davidson and Sylvia Pankhurst? Tieless men need you at this hour to chain yourselves to the Club rulebook until this symbolic change is affected and men can expose their necks at 71 Pall Mall without shame.
With apologies to both Milton and Samson.
University College, 1954
I thank Simon Horobin for an intelligent and pleasantly straightforward article on the need or otherwise for standards in spelling. He lists three reasons why he believes people want to maintain these standards. I believe there is also a fourth reason. The vast majority of well educated people have little difficulty spelling accurately, whether it took them years to master the skill or it came easily. For these people, bumping up against an incorrectly spelled word in the course of reading can be jarring, and – however much you want to gloss over it and move on – it interferes with the process of comprehension. If you're reading something long or complex, the last thing you want is to be hijacked by a spelling mistake, or a grammatical error, or any other form of non-standard expression. The basic purpose of all of these standards, however dumb many of them are, is to not get in the way of communication.
St Catherine's Collge, 1963
If the Humanities ever have to be justified on economic grounds, you are reaching the bottom of the moral pit. If governments meddle in university affairs, trying to influence the direction or justification of certain studies, the meddlers should be told in no uncertain terms to get lost, no matter what the consequences. It seems to me, and to some of my fellow-Oxonians in Vancouver, that Oxford is suffering adversely from American influences. Oxford has nothing to learn from Harvard or CalTech – except perhaps in the enterprise of fundraising.
Jack E G Dixon
Merton College, 1949
A German Legend
Thank you for a most interesting article about Alan Garner (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). The reference to the local legend of sleeping knights in a cave in the Edge, waiting to save Britain from peril, reminds me of a very similar legend I heard as a boy in Germany. In central Germany there is a mountain called the Kyffhaueser in which there is a cave where Frederich Barbarossa and his knights sit around a stone table, through which Barbarossa's beard is growing, waiting for a circling raven to awaken them when they will ride out and save Germany from catastrophe. Somehow, the raven missed 1945!
St Edmund Hall, 1960
Your Editorial for the Trinity Term 2013 issue of Oxford Today concludes with reference to something called a “website”. Since it is inaccessible in print, it thus creates an objectionable discrimination between the haves and the have nots, an unacceptable social division. I resent being considered a second-class citizen because I do not have whatever equipment is related thereto. I have raised this issue with others, for on this basis there is being created another class of people in a society riddled already with such divisiveness. Please make available your products to all of your readers, and not limit them to a selected group thereof.
J W Babb
Brasenose College, 1948
Ed: We're sorry not everyone has access to the internet. But with 52,731,209 people in the UK – 84.1% of the population – using the internet in 2012, we hope it won't be a social division that lasts for long.