It's November and I'm spoilt for choice. I was tempted to write about Merton's arcane Time Ceremony — performed to welcome in Greenwich Mean Time — but I passed on the grounds that, while British Summer Time dates back to 1916, the port-fuelled prancing only began in 1971, when I was but a few days old.
Likewise, I've elected not to write about the Oxbridge ghosts no doubt stirred by Hallowe’en — some might say the two universities field enough ghouls in the land of the living after all — nor All Souls' Day on 2nd November, because the all-fellow college of the same name lacks a counterpart here in Cambridge. Onwards through November's first week, then, and both places will have had more than their fair share of fireworks, civic and collegiate, just for the fun of it.
As it happens, I might have lingered longer on pyrotechnics had they not been eclipsed by matters of more public importance. Though the skies have been full of frivolous smoke, not papal puffs, we have learnt that a Cambridge-educated former oil executive is to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Am I alone in finding this a curious coincidence in the year that Dallas has been reincarnated?
In trying to resist including the media's ubiquitous, extra, and usually prime, description that he went to Eton, I am evidently throwing that contentious crouton towards the burdensome soup of expectation into which he has been dropped. It's noteworthy that his university education doesn't appear to stand against him whilst his schooling does; though one might reasonably assume that he had less choice about where he went to school than where he studied for his degree. But anyway, The Right Reverend Justin Welby will leap from Durham to Lambeth as his predecessor, Dr Rowan Williams, arrives back in Cambridge to be Master of Magdalene.
In considering the Oxbridge-Canterbury connection, I admit to being struck by how suitably named many previous incumbents have been. While the new nominee sounds benignly Pickwickian and the outgoing incumbent is named after the Mountain Ash with its ring of Lenten piety, previous leaders have included the benevolent-sounding George Carey, Geoffrey Fisher (whose fame as a Freemason outshines his evangelistic surname), William Temple and the erstwhile Chancellor of Oxford University, William Laud, who lost his head for Charles I.
I won't catalogue the Oxbridge credentials of each and every preceding Archbishop of Canterbury back from the present day, save to note that, with the exception of Archbishop Carey, the line is unbroken until Thomas Secker, who held the position from 1758 until his death in 1768. Balliol, in particular, looms large on the list. Unique among them, though, Temple is venerated in the Church of England's calendar on 6th November, an honour defined by the 1958 Lambeth Conference and "limited to those whose historical character and devotion are beyond doubt". Rather makes one wonder about the rest.
Indeed, honouring the dead is arguably mid-November’s other news. Many of the colleges, here and in Oxford, have their own war memorials for members lost in conflict, and it is sobering that many are works in progress. The city of Oxford's war memorial, erected in 1921, is a stone cross that stands at the head of St Giles. Cambridge's is The Homecoming, created by sculptor and army doctor Robert Tait McKenzie. Unveiled in 1922 by the Duke of York, later George VI, it depicts a young soldier, striding home from the Front, eyes turned towards the Railway Station from whence his comrades will never return. It is a statue full of vigour.
By coincidence, November 11th this year was also the deadline by which Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum had to raise sufficient funds to part-purchase Nicholas Poussin's painting Extreme Unction. Saved for the nation, it is valued — at a mere £14million — as one of Western art's finest representation of the subject of death, and breathes new life into the Museum's collection. How fitting.