Over a new year drink, I discovered that one of our neighbours — at the bottom of whose garden we live, not vice versa — has a remarkable Oxford connection. Said neighbour, a Cambridge University Professor himself, grew up in Rawlinson Road, Oxford, the son of Alan Bullock: founding master of St Catherine's College and Oxford's first full-time Vice-Chancellor from 1969 to 1973. I hastened home to find Baron Bullock's name listed on a 1960 Oxford University Almanack that happens to hang, poster-size, on my wall.
St Catherine's College was founded in 1962, built on land acquired from my college, Merton. Not only was my faculty, English, at the head of Manor Road which leads to Catz, but Merton's Sports Ground is at St Catherine's — actually, in this instance, I will say vice versa — and various Merton houses are situated on Manor Road, en route to Oxford's youngest mixed college.
Alan Bullock, historian and writer, was appointed Censor of St Catherine's Society in 1952 and elevated to college status a decade later. He is credited with raising over £1 million towards the cost of the new college, a stupendous personal effort and no mean feat in the face of contemporaneous competition from Cambridge for its new Churchill College. All this encapsulated in the Almanack hanging on my wall: a document that at first glance appears to merely tabulate the University's notable names and dates and which, hitherto, merited wall space only for its gentle, mid-century pen and wash image of the Radcliffe Observatory.
My husband and I happen to have three other Oxford Almanacks: mine, depicting Merton (1912); his showing Trinity (1902); and one which we bought from OUP's then shop on The High when our son was born, illustrating the Covered Market (1997). Unlike Cambridge, Oxford University has produced an almanack annually since 1676 — the one pictured here dates back to 1740 — setting out its dates, officers and heads of houses. Generously, the dates of Cambridge terms are included too.
A striking Oxford image, often specially commissioned artwork fills the top half of each one. Sadly for my pension fund, I don't own copies of the ones illustrated by J.W.M. Turner or John Piper, but I have renewed interest in those we do have, intrigued about the stories lying dormant in their lists of names and ceremonies. Who are today's Clerks of the Market? Why are the feast days of Saints Antony, Prisca, Fabian, Agnes and Vincent marked for January?
Lists seem to define each new year and I'm not keen on most: where to go, what not to eat, what objects to buy. They seem to suggest that previous years are inferior. Happily, and paradoxically, the Almanack's lists counter this effect. On them, the immediate future is described in names and traditions, many of which will come to define our pasts. It's a neat trick.
But now, the holidays are over and the making of lists complete; Monopoly has been put away, allowing tempers to cool and fiscal cliffs to be escaped. In fact, with the game's manufacturers currently polling to decide which of the playing pieces should be retired and with what it should be replaced, I wonder if there's room for an Oxbridge edition, alongside the existing Cambridge and Oxford ones. In the recent UK Here & Now version, Cambridge occupies a green worth £300 (Oxford Street in the original), just ahead of Oxford on a yellow at £260 (replacing Coventry Street). Both are mid-board winners, if you can build on them. A neat paradigm for the centrality of Oxbridge in the intellectual and economic life of the nation. As to potential playing pieces, there's something to consider on the cold, dark nights of January. Happy 2013!